Daily Press Briefing
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
January 20, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing
2:13 p.m. EST
MR TONER: Hey, guys. How are you?
MR TONER: Happy Wednesday. I was there, I was there. Just give me a second as we all – we're not quite slipped into blizzard mode yet, but we may get there. Anyway, welcome to the State Department, everyone. Michel, welcome. Let me just – a few things at the top and then I'll get, obviously, to your questions.
So as all of you have probably seen, the Secretary is today in Zurich and Davos, Switzerland. He met in Zurich with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where they discussed Syria, Ukraine, as well as other issues of mutual concern.
Secondly, and I just wanted – that we're getting details – a little bit more details about, in Afghanistan, a suicide attack on a bus in Kabul. We strongly condemn the suicide attack on a bus carrying media professionals and journalists in Kabul, Afghanistan and express our condolences to the families of those killed or wounded. Freedom of the press is a cornerstone to democracy, and despite such attacks, a vibrant media – the vibrant media landscape that has developed in Afghanistan over the past 14 years will endure. The international community's commitment to the Afghan people and our goal of a lasting peace in Afghanistan will not be shaken by such attacks.
And obviously, I wanted to just speak briefly – you saw the statement we put out earlier on the horrific attack in Bacha Khan University in Charsadda in Pakistan. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families during this time of grief. This was, again, a particularly appalling attack that the terrorists carried out yet again on an educational institution, clearly targeting Pakistan's future generations. The United States stands with the Government of Pakistan and their efforts to create a secure, stable, and prosperous country, and we will stand side by side with Pakistan in its ongoing fight against terrorism.
That's all I have for you at the top, guys. Over to you, Brad.
QUESTION: First, on the meeting in Zurich --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- have – was there any understanding reached on whether the talks can go forward on the 25th as planned – the Syria talks – or are they going to be delayed?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, obviously, they talked about plans for the UN-led negotiations between Syrian parties on January 25th and stressed the importance of maintaining progress towards a diplomatic and political resolution to the crisis in Syria. John spoke a little bit about this yesterday as well. I mean, our expectation is that the talks will take place on January 25th. Those are UN-led talks. It's really for the parties involved to reach agreement on who will participate in those talks, but we still want to see them take place on January 25th, and I think it's the Russians' sentiment as well. You'll, of course, have to ask them, but clearly, that's the date we're still looking toward.
QUESTION: So the Syrian opposition appears to have picked a delegation. I don't know if you saw that. Do you have any comment on the delegation that was announced?
MR TONER: I don't. I haven't seen the makeup of the delegation, but I mean, look, we've been very clear, Brad, that this is something for the Syrians to determine themselves – the makeup, the composition of the Syrian opposition. And if they've reached agreement, then that's something we would welcome.
QUESTION: One of the names that was mentioned was, I think, Mohamed Alloush from Jaysh, and this is a group that Russia and Syria's government has considered a terrorist group, but I guess you guys don't, and obviously, the Syrian opposition doesn't. Did the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov speak about his inclusion or, more broadly, the makeup of this delegation?
MR TONER: I don't know today whether they spoke about it. I do know when the Secretary was in Moscow before the holidays that they did talk about this – not specifically this group, but they did talk about reaching general consensus on the groups that are involved on either side of the equation, on either side of the talks going forward. That's something that needs to be worked out, obviously, within the ISSG, and acknowledging, frankly, that there's going to be clear differences of opinion on who should be involved in the discussions.
QUESTION: And then I just have one last one.
MR TONER: Please go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: The delegation, it's for the Syrian opposition to decide, but does this delegation, now that they've picked it, have to be approved by either the UN, the UN special envoy, or the ISSG?
MR TONER: That's a good question. Frankly, I'll take that question whether – for the purposes of these specific talks, whether that needs to be done or not.
QUESTION: There's been talk of de Mistura issuing invitations --
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- but – so that would imply that he gets to choose who he invites.
MR TONER: Right, and I would refer you to – right, I would refer you to de Mistura. I mean, this is, as we've said many times, a UN-led process. But obviously, the ISSG will have opinions. Again, these are all stakeholders from both sides of the conflict, and all of these parties bring their own concerns to the table in picking these groups or in deciding who's acceptable or not.
QUESTION: So Mark, what gives you that optimism that you can go ahead on the 25th if there is this – I mean, are you – do you have any information that the opposition and the government are ready to go to the table?
MR TONER: No. I mean, I think – obviously, I don't want to convey any sunshiny optimism, but I think we believe that the talks need to happen on schedule, September 25th. We still think – and again, for a lot of obvious reasons we want to keep momentum going. Once these talks take place, that obviously sets in place a timetable for an ultimately – an ultimate political resolution to the conflict. So these things matter. These dates matter. So we want to see every effort made to adhere to them.
QUESTION: And is Iran in that part of those talks or don't you know?
MR TONER: In part of what talks? In terms of --
QUESTION: On the – for January 25th. I mean, is this --
MR TONER: No, the – I mean, the January 25th is de Mistura, UN-led process, the regime as well as the Syrian opposition. Now, the broader context, and that was – speaks to Brad's question --
MR TONER: -- is the ISSG and Iran is obviously a part of that.
QUESTION: Would you --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up on the delegation and on Mr. Alloush in particular, he is someone that the Saudis are insisting on, isn't he? I mean, isn't that really the --
MR TONER: Again, I don't want to speak to – I'm not going to parse or speak to who the Saudis brought on board or not.
QUESTION: No, I'm not – I'm not asking you to parse or speak.
MR TONER: No, no, of course.
QUESTION: But isn't that what – if the talks are going to be postponed or pushed for another day, isn't that one of the reasons that the Saudis are insisting on who is – who will represent the opposition?
MR TONER: Again, Said, I'm not going to speak to --
MR TONER: -- who wants who in there, I mean, other than our own beliefs on this, but what's important is that they reach consensus – all of the members of the ISSG.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of – I mean, are you classifying Jaysh al-Islam as any – does it fall under the terror – terrorist groups or the terrorist list as far as the United States is concerned?
MR TONER: It's not, as far as I know, an FTO. It's not a foreign designated terrorist organization.
QUESTION: And how do you determine this? How do you determine it? What kind of criteria --
MR TONER: An FTO? It's --
QUESTION: -- to say that this al-Nusrah is, or Jaysh al-Islam, that basically --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- does the same thing is not?
MR TONER: It's a – sure. I mean, I can get you a detailed answer to that, but ultimately, it's a long process, involves many, many months of research and evidence. It's a – again, it's not something we can do certainly from one day to the next on --
QUESTION: This is about the Jordanian terror list, not the FTO, the --
MR TONER: Oh, I apologize. I'm so sorry, I thought you were talking about – I'm sorry.
MR TONER: Sorry. Thanks, Brad, for clarifying. I thought you were talking about foreign terrorist organizations, that designation. Again, I think that's all a matter of discussion ongoing. The Jordanians have taken the lead on that particular aspect of these – of this process. I'll let them speak to how that's being determined. All stakeholders within the ISSG have their own lists, if you will, or their own considerations in determining who these groups are, and that's all, of course, being weighed and with the goal of reaching some kind of consensus.
QUESTION: My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I'm a correspondent for Ariana Television Network from Afghanistan.
MR TONER: Thank you. Welcome.
QUESTION: Originally, I'm from Afghanistan. I feel very sorry for the journalist that has been killed today. What --
QUESTION: Can we stay in – on Syria?
MR TONER: I'm so sorry, can we just finish – I promise I'll get to you right away.
QUESTION: Oh, sure, no problem.
MR TONER: We just want to finish – we usually finish with one issue and then move to the next.
MR TONER: I apologize. Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah, Mark, the Syrian opposition has said that they won't attend Geneva talks on the 25th if the opposition will be represented by a third party. Who will solve this problem? Has the Secretary talked to Minister Lavrov about this, and they solved this issue to make the opposition attend the talks or the negotiations?
MR TONER: You're talking about – I'm sorry, specifically --
QUESTION: The third party – that means the list that Russia represented.
MR TONER: Again, I don't have any specific response to that. I mean, again, this is something that is being worked in several different channels. Clearly within the UN processes they're trying to reach consensus. They're working with the Syrian opposition. I'd refer you to the Syrian opposition to talk about their own requirements for participating in the Geneva talks. Again, our expectation is that we can move forward for the 25th.
QUESTION: But who will decide, at the end of the day, who will represent the opposition?
MR TONER: Who will decide? Again, that's part of the process that's taking place in the run-up to the talks in Geneva. Determining who represents the – and that's the high council, the Syrian council of the opposition that is determining – making those determinations who is on that list.
QUESTION: And did the Secretary solve this point with Lavrov, because they have a list and the opposition is against this list of representatives?
MR TONER: Well, I'm not going to get into that level of detail of their conversation today. I mean, they obviously spoke in detail about Syria and about the process, and about the UN-led negotiations between the Syrian parties and the importance of keeping that process on track. But I don't have any more – any more granularity to share with you.
MR TONER: Can we go to Afghanistan? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. As you mentioned about Afghanistan and officially to this attack, in currently time, the peace talk process going on, and people – expert and we all are very hopeful and we are very optimistic about it. On the other side, this kind of activity from the Taliban or any other insurgency increase. What do you think? You're still optimistic about the peace process, which is now continue in Afghanistan between Taliban --
MR TONER: Well, I mean, what do we think? We have long said that we believe in an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. Ultimately, we think that that's the way forward for Afghanistan, so we support any efforts in that regard. And it cannot be deterred by ongoing violence by those who seek to continue the conflict or to even increase the conflict there. We stand by with our support for the Afghan Government in its efforts to initiate or keep these talks ongoing.
QUESTION: Not that violence anywhere in the country is acceptable, but does the U.S. consider it worrisome that the Taliban was able to carry out such an attack in the heart of Kabul?
MR TONER: Ros – I mean, it's a fair question. As we've seen elsewhere in the capitals of Western Europe and elsewhere in the world, I mean, terrorists can carry out horrible, terrible attacks on civilians, on innocent citizens really anywhere if they're so committed. Everyone exercises – all governments exercise vigilance against these kinds of attacks, but if it can happen in Paris, if it can happen in New York, it can happen in Kabul.
QUESTION: But consider the fact that the U.S. has spent billions upon billions of dollars in training Afghan Security Forces, basically standing up new institutions to prevent this kind of violence, and is also providing training to try to help them retake provinces, particularly in the south and in the far east. What is the U.S., to put it crassly, getting in return for its investment if something like this, in a place that people would assume they could have some relative level of safety, aren't even safe?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, my response to that is we continue to have confidence in Afghan Security Forces, that they are continuing to develop the capabilities and the capacity to secure the country against this persistent insurgent threat. But returning to this young – this woman's question about the peace process, that's where we feel going forward is where efforts also need to be exerted. We agree that the best way to ensure a lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is through such an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.
MR TONER: Iran's fine.
QUESTION: Yeah, just some questions around this visa – Visa Waiver Program.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: As you probably know, a BBC journalist from BBC Persian was turned back at the airport in London, saying that she couldn't fly to America because she didn't have a visa. So --
MR TONER: Right. I'm aware of the reports.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, it's true. Just a question about Mr. Kerry's letter to the Iranian foreign minister. He said that the new visa requirements wouldn't interfere with Iran's business interests. Does that mean anything for dual nationalities in Europe, like people who are not specifically related to a business deal with the U.S.?
MR TONER: Well, speaking specifically to the case that you just raised, we are, as you mentioned, conducting a phased implementation of the new Visa Waiver Program legislation. Certain ESTA applications have been referred to a review process based on the enactment of the new law. But the U.S. Government has not yet begun denying any of these applications. So we'll have more to say on the implementation of the new Visa Waiver Program changes soon, but with regard to this case, I don't know.
QUESTION: But she --
MR TONER: What's that?
QUESTION: But she was denied.
MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, we – I can't speak specifically in great detail to this case, as these kinds of records are confidential. I just --
QUESTION: When you say it's a phased – was she unlucky? Did she hit the first phase?
MR TONER: We don't believe so. It hasn't been – these changes haven't been implemented yet. I'm aware that the embassy in London is looking into the case, but I can't really speak to it in any greater detail than that.
Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, there's an issue of Iranians in third countries that don't consider them – don't want to necessarily consider themselves Iranian anymore because they've left long ago, they'd revoke their citizenship if they could but it's too complicated illegally – I mean legally, sorry. So how does that apply? How does the U.S. see these types of citizens? They're still dual nationals, or they're still going to get hit by these visa problems?
MR TONER: I don't want to get out in front of these new changes that haven't been publicly rolled out, frankly, yet. I can say the Department of Homeland Security is working with the Department of State, obviously, on – to assess implementation of the new provisions of the Visa Waiver Program under the law that Congress recently passed – I think it was December, mid-December – and we're going to announce how these changes affect travelers to the United States from Visa Waiver Program countries as soon as that information is available. So we're still – I don't want to get out ahead of that.
QUESTION: And just to clarify, did you say that she hadn't been hit by the phased implementation? This wasn't related to the implementation?
MR TONER: No. Our understanding is that those have not yet begun.
QUESTION: So it was a confusion, maybe?
MR TONER: I'm not – I said the embassy in London is looking into the case, as far as I'm aware, so I don't have any more details to share.
QUESTION: So --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: -- to hammer it home, if she was denied entry to the United – travel to the United States, it was not because of the new visa waiver law?
MR TONER: Again, restricted as I am about speaking to specific cases --
QUESTION: I'm not asking --
MR TONER: -- it's my understanding, broadly speaking, that no, none of those – of the new provisions to the Visa Waiver Program have been – have gone – been enacted yet or been implemented yet.
QUESTION: Should travelers – British travelers or European travelers with family ties or dual citizenship to countries that are currently under suspicion – contact U.S. authorities before traveling even though they were traditionally --
MR TONER: So it's – that's a good question.
QUESTION: She did do that.
MR TONER: Yeah, it's a good question. So again, without getting ahead of what's going to be a public rollout very soon, of course we'll make every effort to provide accurate information to those travelers who might be affected by these changes to the Visa Waiver Program.
QUESTION: And who might be affected?
MR TONER: What?
QUESTION: Which one – travelers --
MR TONER: Again, I can speak to – there are certain categories; as you mentioned, dual citizens --
QUESTION: But these are categories of the new law, which you say hasn't been implemented yet.
MR TONER: Correct. I said once we do – sorry, was I unclear – yeah, right.
QUESTION: Right. No, but I'm saying you're going to roll out publicly what the new system is.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: In the meantime, there's at least one person being turned back already.
MR TONER: Again, I'm unclear – again, I'm restricted in what I can tell you.
QUESTION: Would it be worthwhile in the interim awaiting the public announcement of this law for these travelers to take precautions, to find out if --
MR TONER: We would always encourage any traveler with questions about their eligibility for visa waiver travel, Visa Waiver Program travel, certainly to call their embassy in their respective countries to get details on how their travel might or might not be affected, as a general rule.
MR TONER: And that would affect – yes, anybody who might be affected by these changes.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran for --
MR TONER: Michelle in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to --
MR TONER: I'm sorry, Michelle. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Because the – online it says that the Department of Homeland Security has begun implementing changes to the traveler eligibility, but then it says this Department of Homeland Security is going to announce those changes. And then it goes to the link, and then it doesn't give those changes. So who should be calling up their embassies? I mean, what are you advising people to do?
MR TONER: So normally, Michelle, what – how this would work – and again, speaking hypothetically, because this has not been rolled out – but any initiative to this scale that affects overseas travelers to the United States, even if it's a Department of Homeland Security lead on it, we would work through our embassies. They would be provided with detailed instructions and as well as make themselves available to accommodate any changes or any aspects of the new law that would affect travelers. So if people are affected, if they cannot participate in the Visa Waiver Program, our embassies, our consulates in those countries affected by this will certainly make themselves available to provide them with regular visa processes.
QUESTION: And have you seen people – I mean, have people already applied for this, this special visa?
MR TONER: Again, there's no special visa. So we have --
QUESTION: I know, but you have --
MR TONER: No, no, no, that's okay, Michelle. It's okay. It's – so I can speak broadly about – so there is the Visa Waiver Program.
MR TONER: That is applied to – I don't have a specific number of countries around the world – certainly Europe, many countries in South America, Asia, where people can simply travel without a visa to the United States. They're enrolled in the ESTA program. Their details are known to us in the – within the U.S. Government. It's not they're – it's not that they aren't vetted at all; they certainly are. Any traveler to the United States is. But it's a simplified process by which they can get on a plane and travel to the United States.
What we're talking about is a subset of people who would have to apply for a regular visa to travel to the United States – which, frankly, is not that arduous a process. It involves a bit more background checking, a bit more procedural details. But it's something that can be turned around in a matter of days. And so my point is there's no new special visa. There would be --
QUESTION: But they have to apply for a visa --
MR TONER: They might have to – certain categories of travelers – sorry, Michelle, I'm not trying to – certain categories of travelers may have to apply – who were affected by these changes may have to apply for a regular visa. And our consulates and embassies will be at the ready to accommodate them.
QUESTION: So have you seen an uptick since your announcement went out saying that you've begun implementing this?
MR TONER: I don't – no, I don't have – I mean, we haven't publicly rolled out the announcement. Certainly it was – there was a – when the law was passed in December 15th, there was some media coverage of that – I think it was December 15th. But we haven't actually enacted the new law yet. That's what we're looking at doing in the near term, in the short term.
QUESTION: What does phased implementation mean?
MR TONER: Well, I mean – what do you – I mean, it just means we're not going to do --
QUESTION: I mean, because this is – it's not --
MR TONER: -- from day one to day two. We're not going to just suddenly – we're going to – I mean, I'd actually refer you to the Department of Homeland Security to speak about what that means in terms of these aspects of the law.
QUESTION: But the first phase hasn't begun yet.
MR TONER: My understanding is it has not begun or they have begun reviewing some of the different categories. But no determination's been made yet.
QUESTION: But this journalist --
MR TONER: Let me just check on that.
QUESTION: -- was stopped anyway.
QUESTION: The website says it has begun. Your --
MR TONER: That's what I'm saying. But no – again, what I said at the start was certain ESTA applications have been referred to a review process based on the enactment of the new law. That would be part of the phased implementation.
QUESTION: So some (inaudible) have been referred.
MR TONER: But the U.S. Government has not yet begun denying any of those applications.
QUESTION: So it was a mistake? She was a mistake?
MR TONER: I don't know what – honestly, I don't – Barbara, I don't have the specifics of her case, and if I had them, I couldn't speak to it. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: We'll move on.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Still on Iran.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So Foreign Minister Zarif did the Davos version of the full Ginsburg today, telling everyone that the ballistic missile sanctions represented America's addiction to coercion. Do you have a response to that?
MR TONER: Well, my response would be something we've said all along, which is regardless of the progress we've been able to achieve in reaching and implementing the JCPOA, we still have a long list of concerns about Iran's behavior, about – beginning with its dismal human rights record, but it also remains a designated state sponsor of terror. And it has a missile program that we consider a threat to the region, to our allies and partners in the region. And so we've said all along that regardless of the sanctions relief they get under the JCPOA, we're going to retain the right and the ability to sanction them on their ballistic missile program.
QUESTION: Given that you negotiated over their nuclear program and you turned away from coercion in that effort, might you be willing to negotiate on their ballistic missile activity and turn away from coercion – the coercive effort of sanctions?
MR TONER: Well, look – I mean, broadly speaking, the JCPOA was a significant accomplishment in the fact that it was – it achieved diplomatically what many considered an impossible goal of getting them to – or turning off all the four pathways they would have to acquire a nuclear weapon. So I don't want to exclude any possibilities for those kinds of discussions going forward. I think we need to see – we need to be very cautious, though, in predicting some kind of broader sea change in Iran's behavior. So we'll wait and see how they conduct themselves.
QUESTION: Does Iran have to abandon its ballistic --
MR TONER: Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
MR TONER: No, no worries. Brad, you've got a follow-up, or no?
QUESTION: Go on.
MR TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead – he's here, he's not leaving.
QUESTION: No, no. Go ahead. Go ahead.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I've got some Iran questions as well.
QUESTION: Today the commander of the Basij force spoke about a $1.7 billion bribe to get these American spies, as he put it, out of a Iranian prison. Do you consider that the 1.7 billion that was paid under this Hague settlement was a bribe?
MR TONER: No. There was no bribe, there was no ransom, there was nothing paid to secure the return of these Americans who were, by the way, not spies. We've spoken to this in the days after their release on Sunday morning in great detail about how this process worked. There was this consular channel that was opened up to secure their release. What took place in The Hague, the funds that were transferred to Iraq were part of a separate arrangement we agreed to with – did I say Iraq? I apologize. Thanks – Iran related to – agreed to with Iran related to the U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal at The Hague.
QUESTION: But why did it come out then on the Sunday within hours of the release of the five of the --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- five – four of the five Americans?
MR TONER: Sure. Well, I mean, look, again, even though it was concurrent, and I acknowledge that, it was done on its own merits. This was a good deal for the American people. This is a longstanding mechanism that was put in place, I think, pursuant to the Algiers Accords on January 19th, 1981 and was set up specifically to resolve claims between the two countries and their nationals against each other. And so a large number of claims still remain to be resolved, but this settlement is one of a series of claims that we've been discussing over the last couple of years. And these kind of discussions on other settlements are going to continue into the future, so I can't --
QUESTION: So it's a coincidence?
MR TONER: Again, it was – so the issue of settling these claims has been raised a number of times in a number of different channels over the years, including --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) any time in the previous 20 years?
MR TONER: No, no, including – right. But including most recently --
QUESTION: Any time in the next 20 years?
MR TONER: No, David. But including most recently in the consular dialogue, it was raised.
QUESTION: So it was raised in the consular dialogue?
MR TONER: That's what I just said.
MR TONER: But the timing was not tied to the release of our detainees, our citizens, in Iran. And again, it's worth --
QUESTION: So --
MR TONER: So it's – sorry, Brad. Just to say, I mean, it's also worth mentioning that, and the Secretary's said this many times since Sunday, that this is – and including in his statement – this was a very good deal for the American people that we believe saved us – saved the American taxpayer a lot of money.
QUESTION: So my question – my question was why --
QUESTION: Do you think you would have gotten these guys back without the payment?
QUESTION: My question was why was it on Sunday?
QUESTION: Do you think you would have gotten these guys back without the payment?
MR TONER: Okay, guys.
QUESTION: Hold on, hold on.
MR TONER: Okay, let him finish, Justin.
QUESTION: I just want to – I just --
MR TONER: Let him finish, Justin. I swear I'll go to you next.
QUESTION: No, I should be quiet, yeah. I'll wait another 45 minutes to speak.
MR TONER: Okay. Brad quickly, and then let's go.
QUESTION: Why was it announced Sunday? Why Sunday? You said it was concurrent but that doesn't explain why it was concurrent.
MR TONER: Well, no. I said – sorry. You're saying why was it announced on Sunday? Because that's when we had time to – the announcement on Sunday. I mean, it was – there's a different process here, Brad. I don't know what you're pointing to. I mean, it was --
QUESTION: The court wasn't open on Sunday.
QUESTION: The court wasn't open on Sunday.
MR TONER: I understand that, but we timed the announcement to take place on the day after implementation day. We did so, but this process was not part of any grand deal or strategy to get our citizens free. That's all.
QUESTION: Which side raised it during the talks over the swap?
MR TONER: I'm going to go to --
QUESTION: Oh. Yeah, hi. So I guess my question was: Do you feel you would have gotten them back without this payment? I mean, do you really – you expect us to believe that the exchange would have happened without this payment?
MR TONER: Again, this settlement and The Hague trust fund or tribunal, rather – not tribunal. The – yeah, the U.S.-Iran Claims Tribunal, rather, is a separate process, a separate institution altogether that is specifically set up to resolve these claims. That there was progress made and a deal to be had on this track was, as I just acknowledged, linked to some of the discussions we had in the consular channel, but it was in no way a give-and-take or a – rather, a compensation for them to get the release of these Americans.
QUESTION: So why was it discussed at all in the consular channel if these were two separate issues that the two countries were trying to resolve?
MR TONER: Again, they've been raised – these kinds of issues have been raised over the years outside of regular channels. That's what happens in some of these negotiations. That's part of the process that takes place, and when we – again, when our lawyers looked at the deal, we found that it was in the interest of the American taxpayers to take it.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: No, I've got one more.
QUESTION: Can you provide any context to the other claims or settlements or what their worth might be that are – remain?
MR TONER: Sure. Hold on, let me dig through this. I apologize; I have it somewhere here. I apologize. I will get you more.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more on this?
MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, sure. Sorry, I'm just trying to say – just trying to figure this out. There are a lot of them. Apologize. I know I have it somewhere in here. So there remain some large claims pending before the tribunal, which include Iran's contract claims arising under the former military sales program. And that, in and of itself, that program included – or that case or claim included 1,000 – over 1,000 separate contracts between Iran and the United States. And so this partial settlement regarding the trust fund was part of that case. Iran also has claims for the alleged U.S. failure to transfer property that was blocked following the 1979 hostage crisis, the return of the former Shah's assets, and return of Iran's diplomatic property, and the U.S. is – mounted aggressive defenses to these claims. And we also have counterclaims against Iran arising out of the FMS program, this foreign military sales program, and are seeking damages against Iran.
So all of this is still being adjudicated. But that's just a taste of some of the – I mean, there's a lot of them, I mean, frankly – and a lot of them that have been resolved over the years since 1979 --
QUESTION: So since --
MR TONER: -- or since 1981, I guess.
QUESTION: -- there are two – two parallel, entirely separate processes, was it a mistake to announce to the weekend and allow this Iranian general to mis-portray it as a ransom – a presentational mistake?
MR TONER: Well, again, although it was concurrent, the settlement of The Hague trust fund --
QUESTION: I'm not disputing that anymore.
MR TONER: -- was done on its own merits. I'm not going to speak to whether the timing was a mistake.
QUESTION: Because the Iranians now say that you've bought your prisoners back – they've been given the opportunity to say that by your transfer of $1.7 billion.
MR TONER: No, but I mean, look, there's no question, frankly, that the settlement was in our U.S. interests, national interests. And the timing was critical because – given that there's hearings on these claims ongoing and that are being considered by the tribunal that we move as quickly as possible to settle them.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: One more?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday you were asked if the Secretary had spoken to Foreign Minister Zarif at all about the missing America's – it wasn't you, your --
MR TONER: No, no, it was Kirby.
QUESTION: -- in Iraq --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and he seemed a little confused by the notion. But I was wondering if you were able to check on that and whether he has indeed raised the issue with Foreign Minister Zarif.
MR TONER: No, Brad. Thanks for asking the question. I – all I can say about this case – and again, I'm restricted in what I can say under the Privacy Act waiver, which we do not have for any of these individuals – but obviously, their safety, their security is our highest priority. We're working closely with the Iraqi authorities on this case, on this matter, to try to locate and recover these individuals.
QUESTION: The Security Act does not prevent you from saying whether the case of unnamed Americans was raised. You said it time and time again with individuals who just were released for whom you did not have Privacy Act waivers and who you identified by name. So I'm just asking, yes or no --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- has Kerry raised this with Zarif?
MR TONER: I'm just not going to answer that question right now. We're looking at – we're pursuing every possible lead in this case, working in conjunction with the Iraqi authorities.
QUESTION: Can we go on to Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MR TONER: Yep, sure. I think so, yeah.
QUESTION: I know John responded at length to the comments made by Ambassador Shapiro yesterday, and he also commented on the report by – a human rights report – but – and your position on the settlement. But the Israelis today announced the expansion of settlements, about 1,000 dunams or 300 acres and so on. And my question to you – not pertaining to your stance on your settlements, which is quite clear – but it seems that the Israelis, every time there is a report or there is any – or there's criticism by you, by the Europeans, they go ahead and they just, like, poke you in the eye and just take more land and expand the settlement. Is that a pattern that you see?
MR TONER: I don't know if it's a pattern, Said. I mean, we're obviously aware of the reports --
QUESTION: You can almost --
MR TONER: No, I know, we're --
QUESTION: You look at it and you can see it every time.
MR TONER: We're – yeah, you're referring to the decision, the defense ministry's decision for – to declare some 400 acres in the Jordan Valley as --
MR TONER: -- yeah, as state land, and that obviously appears to be, as we've seen before, a step towards building settlements in that area. I don't know if it's a pattern. I feel as though I sound like a broken record, but we strongly oppose any steps that could accelerate settlement expansion, and we believe they're fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and call into question, frankly, the Israeli Government's commitment to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: I understand. But – and you said yourself that you may sound like a broken record and so on. How can you break that pattern? That you move from just saying statements from behind a podium, or by the Secretary himself, into some sort of action that can really bring some results, that can pressure the Israelis to stop or to end this rampant settlement expansion?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, ultimate – sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. I mean, ultimately, I mean, the Secretary, as we've said, remains engaged, speaks to Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently. But ultimately this is up for the – it's up to the two sides, or both sides, rather, to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. So we want to see a de-escalation. We want to see affirmative actions on either side that, as we've said, can create an environment where we can talk about moving forward in the peace process. Up to now, we've not seen it.
QUESTION: But surely you agree that only one side takes land for settlements and expansions and so on. The Palestinians don't do that, right? You can't blame both sides for the expansion of settlements, can you?
MR TONER: Well, but we've seen the violence carried out by Palestinian --
QUESTION: Okay, but that is an independent – an issue that is independent of the settlements. I'm talking about the settlements. What can you do to basically exert some sort of real, tangible pressure on the Israelis to at least slow down the settlement process?
MR TONER: Sure. Said, this is something we've talked about many times in the past, and I agree, it's a difficult challenge. Obviously, we make clear our disagreement publicly, and the fact that we believe that this is counter to any effort to achieve a two-state solution. It's detrimental to that process, and we say the same thing privately in our discussions with the Israelis.
QUESTION: There is a high-level meeting today at State regarding religious freedom – the Saudis. Do you have any readout? Is that a routine meeting?
MR TONER: I think you're talking about there was a meeting with Ambassador Saperstein.
QUESTION: Yeah, Saperstein.
MR TONER: Yeah, with a delegation of Saudis. So yes, so Ambassador Saperstein and other State Department officials met with a delegation of Saudi officials this morning to discuss a variety of issues related to religious freedom, and these discussions addressed – again, they're ongoing or they just concluded – but my understanding is that they addressed the importance of freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship, the value of religious diversity for all individuals in Saudi Arabia and the role of Saudi Arabia's human rights commission.
QUESTION: Is the meeting with Ambassador Saperstein part of the preparation for the annual report on religious freedom?
MR TONER: No, those processes are separate, and same with our human rights report. Those are done for a lot of reasons, partly for the sanctity of the process or sanctity of the material or content that they report – those processes are done separate and apart from any discussions we might have. But certainly, this is part of our relations with Saudi Arabia. We're able to – obviously they're a close partner in the region and we consult with them on a lot of regional issues, from Yemen to Syria. But we also talk to them about difficult issues like religious freedom and human rights.
Please, sir, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan.
MR TONER: Hey.
QUESTION: Sir, one of the university in Peshawar, in Charsadda, in Pakistan, have been attacked in the morning.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: And more than 20 students have been killed. One of the assistant professor have been killed.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: While our ARY News bureau office in Islamabad also attacked by the terrorists. They claim that they were the member of the ISIS Afghan chapter. So first, I request you for your comments on these incidents. And secondly, how much you are concerned about the presence and establishment of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
MR TONER: So I did – at the top of the briefing I did speak – you're talking about the attack on Bacha Khan University, yes. So we've issued a statement about this, and I also spoke to it briefly at the top, just offering our deepest condolences to the victims and their families of this horrible tragedy. The fact that it's yet another attack – a terrorist attack on an educational institution is particularly appalling, as though they were targeting the future generations of Pakistan.
You spoke about – I'm sorry, I didn't hear the – you said --
QUESTION: Our ARY News bureau office in Islamabad was attacked by the terrorists. They claimed that they were the member of the ISIS Afghan chapter.
MR TONER: Of – I apologize. Sorry, Leslie sneezed at – (laughter) – an inopportune moment.
QUESTION: Should I repeat?
MR TONER: No, you said ISS?
QUESTION: Yes, ISIS.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: ISIS Afghan chapter claimed the responsibility for attacking our news office bureau in Islamabad.
And secondly, how much you are concerned about the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan and in Pakistan?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we're concerned about, obviously, the ongoing threat of terrorist organizations in Pakistan. We've said many, many times that no one suffers more from terrorism than the people of Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan, and we're committed to working with them to address how we can combat these terrorist threat, whether it's ISS or other groups that are active still in – in Pakistan, rather, going forward. And we remain committed to helping the government address these threats.
QUESTION: And so there's a special group working for the peace process in Afghanistan. U.S. is a member of that special group. But we have seen recently the Taliban intensified their attacks against civilians and including the security personnel. And you know about it that White House staff is calling Taliban as terrorist. So, I mean, how much you are optimistic about this peace process? I mean, Taliban are not stopping their barbaric attacks against civilians, so how much you are optimistic about this peace process?
MR TONER: I mean, I think we're clear-eyed in our assessment of the challenges that continue to threaten peace and stability in Afghanistan. That said, these are challenges that we believe Afghan Security Forces are developing the capacity and capability to confront. And ultimately we feel that the best way forward is for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. We welcome Pakistan's involvement and support for this process, but that's ultimately what's going to, we believe, end this ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
Go ahead, Justin.
QUESTION: Mark, what – do you have any update on the three missing Americans in Iraq? Can you tell us --
MR TONER: I just spoke to this earlier. I don't have – no, I'm sorry, it was asked earlier. I – so a) we don't have --
QUESTION: Can you tell --
MR TONER: -- Privacy Act waivers on these individuals. All I can say is we continue to work diligently with Iraqi authorities to locate their whereabouts. Obviously we take their security and safety very seriously, but I don't have a lot more to add to it. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what specifically is being done to look for them?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, we're working on the ground with Afghan – excuse me, I apologize – with Iraqi authorities. I don't have details to lay out as far as the investigation into their disappearance. Again, I'm restricted – none of these individuals have Privacy Act waivers, so I'm somewhat restricted in what I can say. But I can try to get more detail in how that investigation is going.
QUESTION: If you can, can you confirm that they were kidnapped by --
MR TONER: I cannot.
QUESTION: -- by a certain militia that is close to Iran?
MR TONER: I cannot. I cannot.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you a couple of other things on Iraq, if I may.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. ISIS, or Daesh, destroyed the oldest church in Iraq. It was St. Elijah's church in Mosul. And my question to you is: The longer you wait or the Iraqis wait to liberate Mosul, the more likely that we will see destruction as we have seen in Ramadi, in Mosul.
MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, first of all, I'm aware of these reports. We are aware of these reports. You mentioned it's one of Iraq's greatest historical religious sites. It's very disturbing. It's unfortunately not new; they've done this elsewhere. They continue to carry out these kind of depraved acts, and it really symbolizes or exemplifies their bankrupt ideology. And as we work to confront, destroy, degrade ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, we – obviously our concern is for the people who are under their rule or their threat, but we also recognize the need to preserve Iraq's cultural and religious heritage. It's a critical step, really, to preserving civil society and enabling reconstruction and reconciliation. So it's important. This stuff matters deeply. And so we, obviously, condemn in the strongest possible terms the destruction of this monastery.
As to next steps in confronting ISIL, that's really a question I would just refer to you – I mean, we're working in conjunction with the Iraqi military, but it's ultimately – this is a fight that they are in charge of, they're leading. And they're having success – we've seen that in recent months – in degrading ISIL. But as to next steps and the urgency of that, of course there's an urgency in taking back all the territory seized by ISIL.
QUESTION: But you are leading the training and equipping and --
MR TONER: Sure, of course.
QUESTION: -- the Iraqis, the Iraqi military. So --
MR TONER: I mean, we're doing a number of things in Iraq, yeah.
QUESTION: And in fact, today – I think it was today – Secretary Ashton said – Carter said that they are also looking for Arab countries to participate in the training and equipping and so on. But you talked about the urgency of the situation – we remember as far back as last spring when they were talking about --
MR TONER: Right, Said, but I mean --
QUESTION: -- liberating Mosul and so on.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: But the longer you wait, it seems that the longer that ISIS can also establish roots in the ground.
MR TONER: Well, I mean, I would argue the opposite. I mean, with the systematic and steady approach that the Iraqi forces – again, with our assistance and with other members of the coalition's assistance – have been making against ISIL, they've been losing ground. They've been losing territory. And we're going to keep applying pressure. That's something we've talked about. But you can't let – I mean, there's just an urgency overall. Certainly, cultural preservation is part of it, the preservation of historical sites is part of it. But it's also, as I said, the constant threat that these innocent civilians under their rule or under their brutal dictatorship are suffering that also lends urgency to our mission.
QUESTION: A mirror image of that story around Mosul, overnight Amnesty International announced a report saying that the KRG Peshmerga – your allies in this fight against ISIS – have begun cleansing Sunni Arab villages that they've recaptured from ISIS, but now they're driving out civilians and destroy – and there's satellite imagery in the report showing destroyed buildings and large areas – maybe thousands of houses destroyed by your allies.
MR TONER: Yeah, no, we're aware of the report, David, and obviously take it very seriously. We're looking at its allegations and contents. And I can't comment at this point on any of the particular claims except to say that as government forces liberate territory from ISIL throughout Iraq, there must be security for all civilians to prevent the actions of those who would take advantage of the conflict to commit crimes or engage in any way in vendettas.
QUESTION: A Pentagon spokesman said on the same incident this morning that any questions about whether this would affect the U.S.'s relationship with the government in Kurdistan, that's a question for you guys. Could you anticipate that there will be questions – that there will be conversations with President Talabani about what KRG forces have been doing?
MR TONER: I mean, I can anticipate that – we have a relationship with the government of Kurdistan that we can talk about these issues, and these are ongoing concerns and issues that we've talked about not just with respect to Kurdish forces but throughout Iraq. And frankly, the new government in Iraq has, we believe, made an effort in – as these new territories are liberated from ISIL to bring back stability, reconstruction; to rebuild hospitals, schools, et cetera so that people can return and feel safe in returning to these liberated areas. That's absolutely a key component of our strategy.
I'm sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Real quick. Do you have any reaction to Vice President Biden's remarks this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos in support of LGBT rights overseas? He made some pretty strong statements in support of that issue. Have you (a) seen those comments; and (b) any reaction to them if you have?
MR TONER: I mean, I've seen the – his comments. And certainly, as we say many times, we believe that LGBTI rights are human rights. It's a fundamental, core part of our overall human rights program or initiatives around the world. And it's important to us as we move forward that we protect the rights of all people around the world and advocate for those rights, and wherever they're threatened, speak out against it.
QUESTION: Could --
MR TONER: Sure, go ahead (inaudible).
QUESTION: Biden – Vice President Biden specifically said that every time he and President Obama meet a leader of a country that doesn't respect rights, that's part of the agenda. Is it safe to say that when Secretary Kerry meets Foreign Minister Lavrov or Foreign Minister Zarif, that their own countries' LGBT records come up?
QUESTION: Or King Salman?
MR TONER: I don't know in every specific case, but certainly, in --
QUESTION: They say every time.
MR TONER: Okay. I just can't categorically – because I'm not Secretary Kerry, I'm not in every meeting, but I can say that certainly he raises human rights, LGBTI rights, as needed with leaders around the world.
QUESTION: Is it needed with King Salman?
MR TONER: I think it's needed in a lot of countries.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Syria?
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: The – de Mistura, the UN envoy, has just been reported as saying that it's likely – it's possible that talks will not happen on the 25th, and he'll only know on the 24th if it's possible to hold them. I appreciate you probably haven't seen those comments, but how much of a concern would that be given what you were saying earlier about the importance of the timetable and getting the whole process (inaudible) kick-started?
MR TONER: I mean – and certainly, as we've said many times about many different issues, deadlines matter. But that said, if it slips one or two days, that's not the end of the world either. We recognize – let me put it this way. We recognize that this is a difficult process, it has been a difficult process, it will continue to be a difficult process going forward. But we have to keep the pressure on and we have to keep moving forward.
QUESTION: A quick one on Thailand?
MR TONER: Sure. Thailand?
QUESTION: Yeah. In Bangkok, a student activist named Ja New was picked up on the streets by people dressed at least as soldiers. Do you have any reaction to this?
MR TONER: I've seen reports. I just can't – I don't have enough details to comment on the specific case --
QUESTION: Can you look at the --
MR TONER: -- other than to say – I'll just say other than we remain concerned by continued limitations on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Thailand, including undue restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and would urge the Thai Government to ensure full respect for freedom of expression and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. As to this specific case, as we get more details, we'll comment.
QUESTION: Yeah, Mark. I'll go back to Amnesty. Last October, Amnesty again --
MR TONER: Yeah, okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: -- released a statement on Syrian Kurdish PYD. Amnesty was saying that PYD forcing Arabs to leave their villages that liberated from Daesh or from ISIL. And that time, I remember State Department was – said that they are looking into the case. I was wondering if you came on any conclusion, as you just mentioned for the recent Amnesty report --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- that you are very concerned on the issue.
MR TONER: I mean, look, Amnesty International is a respected human rights organization. Any report that they issue is obviously taken seriously by the Department of State. I do remember the report. I don't know if we ever commented on the contents of it other than to say we are always concerned by allegations of human rights abuses or allegations that the security and safety of individuals who want to either return to liberated lands or who are there when these places are liberated is of the utmost concern to us, if only that it's part of a successful liberation either of Syria or of Iraq. You've got to have – and we've talked about this many times. We have a refugee crisis from that region. What's the ultimate solution to that refugee crisis? That these families can return to Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, where they fled. So you've got to create the environment to which they can return to. It's a key part of any long-term resolution.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last week, Inspector – the Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough sent an unclassified letter to the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman. He also sent a carbon copy to the inspector general of the State Department. And the letter dealt with the classification determination for former Secretary Clinton's emails. I just want to read you part of what the inspector general wrote because it deals with the State Department.
He said, quote, "To date, I have received two sworn declarations from one IC element. These declarations cover several dozen emails containing classified information – " by the way, this letter was posted as a PDF by The New York Times – "classified information determined by the IC element to be at the confidential, secret, and top-secret SAP levels. According to the declarant, these documents contained information derived from classified IC element sources. Due to the presence of top-secret SAP information, I provided these declarations under separate cover to the intelligence oversight committees in the Senate and House leadership. The IC element is coordinating with State to determine how these documents should be properly treated in the FOIA litigation," unquote.
Does the State Department in any way contest the accuracy of Inspector General McCullough's letter?
MR TONER: So you're talking about the ICIG, that --
QUESTION: Right, this is Inspector General Charles McCullough. He sent this letter to, among others, the inspector general of the State Department.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: This letter was posted as a PDF by The New York Times.
MR TONER: Sure, sure, sure, okay. Yeah, no, I just wanted to make sure I was – I had the specifics right. Look, a couple points to make. We here at the State Department are focused on – and we've said this many times – we're focused on and committed to releasing former Secretary Clinton's emails in a manner that protects sensitive information. We take this very seriously. We've said repeatedly that we anticipate more upgrades on these emails throughout our release process, but that process is still ongoing. That FOIA review process is still ongoing. Once that process is complete, if it is determined that information should be classified as top secret, we will do so.
QUESTION: Well, do you contest the declared statement, the sworn statement by this officer of an intelligence community element who says there not only were classified information, there was top-secret SAP information in Hillary Clinton's emails. Does the State Department contest that sworn declaration?
MR TONER: Again, I don't want to speak to allegations that the ICIG are making.
QUESTION: You think they're allegations, not facts.
MR TONER: No, no, no – look, I'm not saying that. All I'm saying is it's not for me from a public podium to question the findings that they may have. We've also said for some time now that while our role is going through these emails for ultimately for public release, redacting or upgrading or classifying them as necessary for public release – sorry, let me finish – that there are concurrently investigations looking into other aspects of these emails. And I'm not going to speak to those investigations or those processes. I just can't. The review process is --
QUESTION: The State Department does not contest the accuracy of the inspector general's letter? The State Department is saying there isn't something in there they disagree with?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I can't speak specifically to what he's referring to. I don't know specifically what the emails are referring to. What we've said in the past – and we've talked about the difficulty in determining classification that it is – and we, in fact, invited the IC into this process, so we have people working it as we review these emails from the IC integrated into our overall team. But these are going to be discussions that we're going to have within this group, within the interagency, determine ultimately the classification of these emails.
QUESTION: Ultimately. So I just want to clarify something.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: According to the inspector general's letter, he said – he said, quote, "I received two sworn declarations from one IC element." So someone under oath in a U.S. intelligence community element said the information that he got, which included that some of the material was confidential, secret, and top secret/SAP. It then says that, according to the declarant, these documents contain information derived from classified IC element sources.
MR TONER: Again, I'm not going to --
QUESTION: Is the State Department simply saying that this person's sworn declaration about the classification of these materials may not be correct?
MR TONER: No. I'm not going to speak to the specific allegations from this podium. What I can say is that as we continue to go through these emails, we're going to look at what among these emails must be upgraded or classified going forward.
QUESTION: He said – but the letter says, "derived from classified IC element sources." Is the State Department contending that this information, which came from a person who is sworn --
MR TONER: I understand what you're saying.
QUESTION: -- that it may in fact not be correct?
MR TONER: No. I'm just saying that we're going – we're looking at this. We're still clearing – going through these emails, preparing them for public release through the FOIA process. If it's determined that any information needs to be classified --
QUESTION: It is determined. So right now, the State Department does not agree with this IC element --
MR TONER: I'm just saying --
QUESTION: -- that these in fact were derived from intelligence community sources.
MR TONER: All I'm saying is we're continuing the process. We're looking at these emails. I'm not going to speak to what they've found one way or the other. So that's all I can say on it.
QUESTION: Okay. Because it says that this IC element is coordinating with State to determine how these documents should be properly treated. So this element – they're coordinating with you.
MR TONER: No, I spoke to that.
MR TONER: I just spoke to that, the fact that there are --
QUESTION: That you --
MR TONER: -- IC elements working within our FOIA processing unit.
QUESTION: It says, "the IC element."
MR TONER: Yeah, there is. I mean, we --
QUESTION: So the State Department may not agree with the sworn, under-oath declaration of this element of the U.S. intelligence community that this information was classified and derived from IC sources?
MR TONER: Again, I'm just going to leave it where I left it before, okay?
QUESTION: On Iraq?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR TONER: Sure, Justin.
QUESTION: So when you do eventually release these emails in question, under your FOIA release standards you will be required to make some sort of final assessment, whether it be based on the intelligence community or wherever, of what the classification ultimately is?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: So how do you mark – how do you handle a top secret email in a FOIA release? Do you – you just – I assume you redact the whole thing and then you --
MR TONER: Well, I mean --
QUESTION: -- and then you tell us that it is what?
MR TONER: No, no. That's not necessarily --
QUESTION: -- that it is top secret? How do you mark that?
MR TONER: Yeah, I mean – no, I – I mean, I don't --
QUESTION: Right, what's --
MR TONER: So you've seen thus far in some of the emails that have been upgraded, they're just – the portions that we believe are sensitive are redacted. I don't know specifically – I can't speak to the specific emails and say --
QUESTION: Or the --
MR TONER: -- whether it's going to be – the entire thing would be redacted or whether we would just withhold the entire --
QUESTION: But does it say --
QUESTION: But we're right to --
QUESTION: -- because this is classified, or because it's top secret? Or does it just say it's redactable?
MR TONER: I think we always acknowledge --
QUESTION: But the level that it's moved to --
MR TONER: -- in the release the level that it's moved to, yeah.
QUESTION: And thus far, nothing of --
MR TONER: If that's incorrect, I'll let you know, but I think we have.
QUESTION: Thus far, nothing of that level has been released in any of the public --
MR TONER: Tranches, no.
QUESTION: -- tranches, right?
MR TONER: Not that I'm aware of, no.
QUESTION: Saving those for last? (Laughter.)
MR TONER: All right, guys.
QUESTION: Can I get one more clarification on that?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: But you still maintain that none of the emails that have been released so far were – had – contained classified material at the time that they were sent? They were all upgraded after the fact?
MR TONER: Of the ones that have been released, that's correct, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Yeah, thanks guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 3.18 p.m.)
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