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Daily Press Briefing

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 28, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing




2:15 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. I apologize; I'm a little late. Welcome to the State Department. Just something to – one thing at the top, and then I'll take your questions. As we seek a solution to the Syrian conflict via political transition, in accordance with the Geneva communique of 2012, and a nationwide ceasefire, the United States continues to emphasize an independent and immediate need for access for humanitarian relief to all UN-designated besieged areas. The UN reaffirmed the urgency of this situation yesterday when it announced the number of besieged areas in Syria had risen from 15 to 18, the overwhelming majority of which are being besieged by the Assad regime.

The three additional besieged areas – first is Moadamiya, the second Madaya, and the third is Bqin – are home to an estimated 93,000 people who desperately need food and medical attention and who continue to suffer from the government's abhorrent use of starvation as a weapon of war. The UN estimates that over 486,000 people in Syria are living in besieged areas, and over 274,000 people are besieged by the Assad regime, roughly 200,000 people by I-S-I-L – ISIL or Daesh – and over 12,000 by non-state armed groups and the Nusrah Front.

All parties must allow for immediate, unconditional, and unfettered humanitarian assistance to reach those in need in all of the besieged areas, including these three. The Assad regime must comply with its obligations under the international humanitarian law, and we've been clear that UN members states, particularly Russia, must also unite to pressure the regime to grant access now, as all members of the International Syria Support Group committed to doing so last November in Vienna.

That's it at the top. Brad, over to you.

QUESTION: On this – in the same vein --


QUESTION: -- what is your update on the Syrian talks? It sounds like the opposition is saying they won't happen tomorrow. I see de Mistura is now pushing it off to the next few days. Are these in serious jeopardy already?

MR TONER: Well, Brad, we've also been, to be quite honest, following the reports out of Geneva. Obviously we've got some folks – a team on the ground – helping to support the talks. We would note the HNC's announcement that it – announcement earlier today, but would continue to urge and encourage its leadership to respond positively to de Mistura's invitation. As I said yesterday, this is really an historic opportunity for them to go to Geneva to propose serious, practical ways to implement a ceasefire and other confidence-building measures. And we still believe they should do so without preconditions.

QUESTION: Yesterday you described the talks as a test for the Assad government. After five years of war and, I don't know, 300,000 dead, of which you say the majority were caused by the Assad regime, what further tests should they be permitted? Isn't time up on them?

MR TONER: Well – so we've talked a lot about this over the past months, and indeed, as you say, years. First of all, it's pretty clear, and all the stakeholder members of the ISSG agree, and all of the parties at least say they agree – in Syria – that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria, that there's only a political transition – a peaceful political process – that can lead to a peaceful end to the conflict and a peaceful transition – political transition. And so that's what we mean by putting the Assad regime to the test. We won't know until it sends representatives to Geneva and participates in talks to judge whether it is, in fact, serious. So we're looking for actions, not words.

And as I said yesterday, we've talked about Russia's role. Russia has been a part of the ISSG and has also said they believe in a political solution to the conflict in Syria. So again, this is an opportunity for them to exert the influence that they do have on the Assad regime to convince Assad – to convince his regime to come to the table in Geneva.

QUESTION: And then my --

MR TONER: So, I mean, that's what I mean by a test.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: In your conversations with the HNC, what sweeteners are you either offering or they asking for in exchange for their participation?

MR TONER: Well, I don't want to necessarily describe anything, any support we give, as sweeteners. We recognize and we've been supportive of the Syrian opposition for many years now. We've certainly given, as we've mentioned many times – more than any other country, we've given humanitarian assistance to Syria, to Syrians who are affected by the conflict. But we've also provided support for many of these opposition groups in their struggle. And that support, as this process moves forward, will continue.

QUESTION: Regardless of whether they come or not?

MR TONER: There's been some misreporting about that. But right now, regardless of sweeteners, we believe that the opportunity that's presented by these talks should be sweetener enough for the HNC to come to the table and talk.

QUESTION: So just to --


QUESTION: -- your support for the agency will continue, regardless of whether or not they come to the talks or not?

MR TONER: We've said our support will continue. And that was misreported or mischaracterized a little bit in some circles.


QUESTION: But as things stand, the regime seems content to go ahead with these talks, and it's the HNC which is delaying its confirmation of participation.

MR TONER: And again, this is coming down to the final hours as we approach Friday morning, and obviously we're six hours later in Geneva. So it's not over till it's over, in terms of meeting this deadline to start tomorrow.

QUESTION: Is there a risk, then, that this becomes a political coup for the regime, that they appear to be the reasonable party that are prepared to --

MR TONER: Again, I'm not going to speak to hypotheticals or what may or may not happen. Let's let this play out. It's still not Friday morning in Geneva, so let's give this a little bit more time.

QUESTION: So a spokeswoman for de Mistura, Khawla Mattar --


QUESTION: -- actually said that they are – that the meeting is going on.

MR TONER: I saw that.

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to go back to something that you said.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: You said that the incentive or the disincentive for the opposition – what is a disincentive if you already making it available to them, all this aid, whether they go or not? What is the disincentive? Or let me rephrase that.

MR TONER: Said, yeah, sure.

QUESTION: What is an encouraging thing to push them towards these talks if they feel they are going to get this aid no matter what?

MR TONER: So we talked about this. It's not – I mean --

QUESTION: I'm trying to follow it.

MR TONER: No, no, no. That's okay. So the aid is extremely important. The humanitarian assistance, all of that, is vitally important, believe me, to the besieged population of Syria. That goes without saying. And that support will continue. But what is presented, the possibility of these talks, is that we establish a serious political process that leads to peace in Syria. The Syrian people need hope. They need to see that a process is in place that will lead to a peaceful outcome, a political transition that they've been struggling for for many years now, going on five, six years now. And so as much as this process offers the prospect of a political resolution, that should be incentive enough.

QUESTION: But you seem to be putting the onus on the regime – you and the European allies and so on – while on the other hand, it seems that no matter what they do, they are taking a strong and entrenched rejectionist position in terms of attending these talks. What do they want, in your view?

MR TONER: You're talking about the HNC now?

QUESTION: The opposition, the HNC, yes. I'm talking about --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, obviously – and we talked about this a fair amount yesterday. They have their demands. And in fact, what I spoke about at the beginning of the briefing is among their demands, which is humanitarian assistance and access to some of the besieged cities. And their demands are, quite honestly and frankly, legitimate. We're just saying they shouldn't be preconditions to getting these talks going.

QUESTION: Okay. So you still sort of stick to the point that these should not be preconditions?

MR TONER: Exactly, that we believe these demands, while legitimate, shouldn't keep the talks from moving forward.


MR TONER: Sure. Go in the back and then move up. Yeah. Thanks. Sorry.

QUESTION: It's not Syria, it's actually Russia.


QUESTION: The Acting Under Secretary Mr. Adam Szubin told to his comments to BBC that the Russian president is corrupted and the U.S. Government has known about this for many, many years. So based on this statement, should we wait for opening the U.S. criminal investigation against Russian president? And could this statement lead to increased sanctions or extended sanctions against Russia or against Russian president?

MR TONER: So first of all, I'm aware of the interview you're talking about on the BBC show, Panorama, as you mentioned. I'd refer you to the Department of Treasury. Under Secretary Szubin is an official at the Department of Treasury, so I'd refer you to them for details on that specific interview. Broadly speaking, our concerns about corruption within the Russian Government are well known. We do remain concerned about corruption in Russia at all levels of the government, and we remain concerned about corruption as a malevolent force, if you will, in many countries around the world. I mean, this is something that we're very seized with. It is a corrosive – it does have a corrosive influence on democratic institutions and the democratic process writ large. It affects the economies, it affects investment climate.

So corruption is a huge problem. And as I said, we are concerned about corruption and its influence in Russia. We have urged and continue to urge the Russian Government to support efforts, including by non – by civil society, rather, and nongovernmental actors, to promote increased transparency and to – and other efforts to counter corruption.

QUESTION: What about the personal wellness of Mr. Putin? And is – what about the personal wellness of Mr. Putin, and is there any chance of opening against him a criminal investigation in the U.S.?

MR TONER: I have no estimate in front of me of President Putin's personal wealth – or worth, rather. But – and I wouldn't wager to guess. In terms of a criminal investigation, I don't have anything on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Particularly on the issue of corruption, Minister for Economic Revitalization Akira Amari of Japan, he resigned under accusations of receiving money from construction companies. Do you think – he was a key player in the TPP negotiations. Do you think that this will have an effect on the implementation of TPP or the ratification --

MR TONER: I haven't seen those reports, and so I don't – I can't speak to the exact allegations or the reasons for his resignation. As I said, obviously, corruption's a serious threat in many governments around the world, in many countries around the world. I just don't have the specifics in front of me on this. Sorry.

QUESTION: But I mean, but it's expected that he's not going to be attending now, obviously, for the signing ceremony in New Zealand. Do you think – I mean, I guess – well, you haven't seen the reports, I guess, but is there any concern at all that this will have an effect?

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, I mean, the TPP is broader than one person. And as we've said many times from this podium and from elsewhere, that it represents a significant step forward in terms of trade relations and economic prosperity for the region, sets in place standards that will – environmental standards and other standards that will change the playing field for economic growth in Asia, in the Pacific region. And it's broader than one individual and we don't expect any delay in the signing moving forward with it.



MR TONER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Libya --

MR TONER: Libya.

QUESTION: -- it's going to be about. Pentagon officials say the U.S. is preparing for, quote-unquote, "decisive military action" against ISIL in Libya. What is happening in Libya that would warrant a decisive military action?

MR TONER: You're referring to what comments, exactly?

QUESTION: General Dunford's comments last week.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we've talked a little bit about Libya as a place where ISIL and ISIL-aligned groups have gained a foothold. And in fact, as we've said before, this highlights the need in Libya for a unified national government that can partner with the international community to address this threat. And so our focus, frankly, is on moving that political process forward, getting a government in place, and then seeking ways to cooperate more decisively with the Libyan – this new Libyan Government to take the fight against ISIL, but we certainly view it as a threat there.

In terms of what – rather, General Dunford said, we've noted our concern about ISIL in Libya before and we've expressed a willingness to take action against them. I know on November 15th, I think it was, the Pentagon did carry out a strike against an ISIL leader in Libya, and we said very clearly we're going to go after ISIL wherever they operate, and that remains true. And so we're – additionally, we're working with the international community, working with and want to work, frankly, and partner with a new Libyan Government to promote stability and strengthen government – governance in Libya.

Again, I think the very fluid situation in terms of the political climate in Libya, frankly, we believe allows groups like ISIL to have a foothold. And so our – we would urge the Libyan Government, the Libyan – various Libyan political groups to come together and form a unified national government as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Did the Obama Administration have any idea back in 2011, as it helped bomb Qadhafi out of power, that before long the U.S. would be back to Libya bombing terrorists?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, what you've got in many of these, frankly, fluid or ungoverned spaces – this is nothing new, we've seen it with al-Qaida as well – where these terrorist groups seek to establish a foothold. Again, it's what speaks to the importance of establishing good governance, establishing a government that can create stability through military, though police, also through good governance and --

QUESTION: Yeah, but Libya is not --

MR TONER: Excuse me, let me finish. Let me finish. And that's absolutely vital and that's certainly the case in Libya. We've seen it elsewhere. We've seen ISIL establish a foothold in Iraq, given some of the instability there, and we've seen it establish a foothold in Syria, obviously given the tremendous instability caused by the Assad regime there.

So I just acknowledged that we are concerned about ISIL being a threat, establishing – seeking to reach out and establish a presence in Libya, and as such, we're going to look at ways we can attack it there.

QUESTION: My question was: Did the Obama Administration see it coming as it helped topple Qadhafi back in 2011?

MR TONER: I mean, I don't think ISIL existed back in 2011, but --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: What's that?


MR TONER: Not in its present form, but you can argue with that, Brad. I'll give the question over to you next.

That said, what we would like to see in Libya post Qadhafi is the establishment of a Libyan Government that can, again, establish good governance and look at some of these security challenges, and we're absolutely ready to partner with them.

As for foreseeing what the threats were on the horizon back in 2011, let's remember in 2011 we had Qadhafi on the ground threatening to massacre huge amounts of the Libyan population at the time. And we stepped in with our NATO partners to prevent that threat and massacre of the people.

QUESTION: To what extent did the proliferation of terrorists in Libya catch the Obama Administration by surprise?

MR TONER: To what extent did the – well, I mean, look, I mean, we understood that Libya was a very ungoverned space in the wake of Qadhafi's downfall. We worked very hard --

QUESTION: But it wasn't ungoverned when Qadhafi was still in power.

MR TONER: Again, let's be very clear about the situation that you say when we intervened in Libya. And I – if you need me to walk you through it, I'm happy to do that, but we had the Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi threatening to wipe out cities. I think, and again, I'm paraphrasing now, but to hunt people down like animals or dogs and kill them – he threatened to do that to his own population, so we intervened.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up very quickly on this?

MR TONER: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: Now, there is a – everybody speaks of a report of hundreds, maybe even thousands of ISIS members going to Libya from Syria and Iraq and so on. Now, they are – they must be transiting through places like Egypt and so on. Are you working with the Egyptians to sort of catch these guys before they get to Libya?

MR TONER: I mean, it's a fair question, and obviously, that kind of foreign fighter flow is clearly a priority for us and how to prevent it and stem it. I mean, we've seen the same – we have foreign fighters flowing over the border to – from Turkey. And so yes, it is a challenge, yes we are taking steps with Turkey, with other – with Egypt as well to stem that flow. We're not there yet, so --

QUESTION: But I mean, if these guys go over land, then they have – they are going through countries that are allied with the United States like Jordan, the Sinai, Egypt, and so on, and things of that nature.

MR TONER: Sure, I mean, it's a fair question, Said. I just don't have the details on how these guys transit some of these countries, except to recognize that it's one of our major areas or efforts – areas of effort, rather, in combatting ISIL.

Sure, Abby.

QUESTION: Staying in Egypt?


QUESTION: Going back to something that was talked about --

MR TONER: That's right. We did land in Egypt after that.


MR TONER: Thanks to you, Said.

QUESTION: Going back to something that was talked about yesterday, there was discussion about the deterioration of the human rights situation there under al-Sisi.


QUESTION: And since the ban was lifted in March of military aid, I believe that the al-Sisi government is expected to receive $1.3 billion, second to only Israel in military aid from the U.S. Given this deterioration in human rights, is there any discussion of changing that policy?

MR TONER: So I would just say our relationship with Egypt is defined by both concerns about human rights as well as, I would say, our shared concern to fight terrorism and to fight ISIL. I don't have any changes to announce in our bilateral security relationship. In March, the President did announce changes to U.S. military assistance to allow for or designed to channel more funds to meet some of these primary threats to Egypt's security, and that includes terrorism and threats to its borders.

We believe countries that protect freedom of speech and assembly and encourage development of civil society are, frankly, best equipped to combat and defeat ISIL, and we regularly convey this message both publicly and privately to the Egyptian authorities. And any suppression of freedoms and certainly any human rights abuses certainly don't make any country safer. So it's a – it is a matter of concern. But as I said, the President made the decision, given our shared concerns about threats to Europe – Egypt's security overall, to channel more funds to meet those threats.


MR TONER: Iraq. Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Some significant amount of corruption remains a predominant drain on the Iraqi Kurdistan's economy, and there was a KRG delegation here in the U.S. about a week ago requesting for U.S. support as they tackle this economical crisis. My question is: What specific aids the KRG is now receiving in terms of providing their salary for their civil services? Has there been any promise given through the KRG officials here in the U.S. that the U.S. somehow would actually send them – send some financial support to actually come up with a solution for this economical crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan?

MR TONER: I don't have any significant new assistance to announce in terms of the Kurdish region of Iraq. We are aware of some of these concerns. I mean, obviously, all of Iraq but certainly that region is under tremendous threat right now from ISIL. We would encourage greater focus on that fight, but obviously, we stand ready to look at offering what assistance we can in terms of support for Kurdish – for the Kurdish region.

QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?

QUESTION: Palestine-Israel?

MR TONER: Let's do Israel and then I'll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Last week, Customs and Border Protection issued a reminder notice that products coming from the West Bank should be labeled as such. This has been reported widely in the Israeli media this evening as a new policy and as some kind of rebuke to Israeli settlement policy, and they specifically said that in some of the reports that it came from the State Department, though I understand the order itself came from Customs and Borders Protection. Obviously, I've asked them --


QUESTION: -- but I'd like to give you an opportunity to respond to these reports.

MR TONER: Thanks. Thanks, David. Yeah. No, we – absolutely right that it was U.S. Customs and Border Protection who reissued guidance on their marking requirements. So this guidance was simply a restatement of previous requirements that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear that it in no way supersedes prior rulings or regulations, nor does it impose additional requirements with respect to merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Israel. So there's nothing new. This is simply a reissuance of guidance.

So why did they do this? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That was my follow-up question. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. I'm guessing.


MR TONER: Our understanding is that this is simply because of – there were allegations of mislabeling, but I'd have to refer you to the CPB for more information on that.

QUESTION: So let me just --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this specifically?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.


QUESTION: This law has generally been enforced very poorly or not at all for the last 20-odd years. Does this mean you're going to actually enforce it, or are you continuing by restating it to restate your intention that this law exists but you're not going to enforce it?

MR TONER: Again, I'd have to refer you to the CBP to talk about enforcement issues of the law.

QUESTION: So – and you said this was because of – who – I didn't see these – who made these allegations? What did they – what did – what was the mislabeling? That Palestinians were mislabeling things, was Israeli – Israeli mislabeling things, is Palestinians? Explain it to me.

MR TONER: Sure. So I believe it was issued in response. I think there were a number of complaints – by a number, I mean around 9 or 10 complaints. I don't know who the complainant – complainants were alleging mislabeling of products originating in the West Bank. As you know, U.S. guidelines don't differentiate between products produced in settlements or anywhere else in the West Bank.



MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to follow up because I still don't understand. What is your position on, let's say, what the Europeans have done last week and so on, that they – they're saying that products made in West Bank settlements cannot be labeled as made in Israel. You are fine with that, because I think at the time, you spoke to it, correct?

MR TONER: Yeah, we did, yeah.

QUESTION: That position still remains?

MR TONER: And our position has not changed.


MR TONER: All this simply is, is a restatement of existing requirements regarding labeling from the West Bank. And again, we don't differentiate between settlements and the West Bank. We do differentiate between the West Bank – or, rather, settlements or anywhere else in the West Bank. We do differentiate. And again, this is something we talked about with respect to the EU labeling as well. This is – many countries around the world do this kind of labeling. It in no way represents a boycott or anything like that.


MR TONER: And we've said as much about the EU labeling as well.

QUESTION: I just don't --

MR TONER: Yeah, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So these allegations – it's unclear who did them --

MR TONER: I don't – I can get more detail. That's – my understanding is that there were allegations that it was mislabeling. I can --

QUESTION: Is this general – so if I say today, "I think Transnistrian products are going to the U.S. as made in Russia," you'll put out a notice from CBP on this now?

MR TONER: No, I don't think it's saying that at all.

QUESTION: Who – I mean --

MR TONER: Again, I don't have the details on the complaints, so it's hard for me and I don't know how much, frankly, I can share with you. I'd go to Customs and Border Protection to – for a little bit more granularity on what these complaints were, but obviously, they felt there was enough confusion that they needed to reissue the – rather, the requirements.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to --


QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on the Palestinian issue --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- if I may. Today, there is a Palestinian journalist in prison held under administrative detention by the Israelis. No charge has been leveled against him in any way. He's on a hunger strike. He's about to die, basically. And I wonder if you have – if you are concerned, if you would caution the Israelis to either bring charges against him or release him, and that they cannot continue to hold him. Do you have a position on that?

MR TONER: You're talking about --

QUESTION: His name is Mohammed Qiq.

MR TONER: He's a Palestinian journalist?

QUESTION: A Palestinian journalist, yeah. In fact, he was working for a Saudi outfit, I think --


QUESTION: -- a Saudi media outfit and has been held – he was in prison many times before but they keep putting him back in prison.

MR TONER: Sure. Said, I don't have the details of his case in front of me, I apologize. I mean, certainly, we call for the humane treatment of any prisoner, and for due process in any kind of criminal case or charges brought against anyone. And we believe that the Israeli justice system is more than capable of doing so, but I don't have the details in front of me. Sorry.

QUESTION: But in the name of freedom of press, you would urge the Israelis to release this reporter?

MR TONER: Again, I don't have the details. I don't know what the specific charges are, so I'm hesitant to respond to whatever his situation is. I just don't know. I mean, more – other than broadly saying that he should be treated humanely, and that obviously, anyone has the right to due process.

QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment on this exchange between the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and the Israeli prime minister over the – Ban's statement on this continued occupation creates feelings of oppression and hopelessness and so on.

MR TONER: Well, I'm not going to wade into that exchange, as you can guess. We've stated many times there is no justification for terrorist attacks, and we strongly condemn any and all attacks on civilians. And – I'll stop there.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you about what he said.

MR TONER: Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, do you agree with the secretary-general when he says that this occupation that has gone on for almost 50 years creates feelings of frustrations and hopelessness that maybe – may push some people to commit acts of violence and so forth?

MR TONER: Well, again, I said there's – we believe there's no justification for violence against civilians. What we've said before and what I'll say again is that the status quo is not sustainable.


QUESTION: About the authorization for the use of military force against ISIL that Mitch McConnell put forward, do you have any concerns about it being effectively an international martial law declaration where the U.S. could take action anywhere with any number of troops and for any duration of time? Do you find anything concerning about this kind of authorization?

MR TONER: I haven't looked at the draft legislation. I'm sure that we're working with Congress. I'd also refer you to the White House on some of these issues, so I don't have any particular comment to that. What we want to see, as in any case like this, is a robust debate within Congress, and we're ready to look at any legislation once it passes.

QUESTION: It offers sweeping powers to the President. Do you think – would you like the next President of the U.S. to have such an authorization?

MR TONER: Again, without having it in front of me, without having studied it, I'm not going to offer a judgment on it.


QUESTION: Do you feel that this is a step to sort of augment the President's strategy in the fight against ISIS, Mitch McConnell's --

MR TONER: Look, again, this is something we've been back and forth with on Congress many times. It's an ongoing discussion. What I think we want to see is, as I said, is a robust debate within Congress on the AUMF going forward. We would welcome that.

QUESTION: And in the absence of a different kind of authorization, is the Administration – would the Administration be inclined to accept this sweeping one?

MR TONER: Again, we're looking into the legislation, working with Congress, but nothing to announce on that.


QUESTION: But the point is you still don't think you need this anyways, right? You're – you have a legal war as far as you're concerned.

MR TONER: We believe we have legal justification, yes.


QUESTION: On North Korea. I know we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but the South Korean Government has essentially basically confirmed that the North Koreans are preparing for some type of missile test or the launching of a rocket. Do you have any update or comment on that?

MR TONER: I don't. I mean, I can't really speak to what we would regard as intelligence matters, so I don't really have any other comment on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern that such provocative actions, as you call them, will continue to drive a wedge between the U.S. and China?

MR TONER: So I mean, I spoke about this yesterday, and the Secretary was just there, Deputy Secretary Blinken was just there. In both visits, we talked extensively about how we need to – or approaches we can take to get North Korea back to – into talks and to stop its provocative actions. We continue those discussions. We don't agree on every point or every possibility or every step of the way, but we're going to continue having those conversations. I don't know if I'd call it a wedge. It's among – we have a lot of issues in our relationship with China, and this is among them. It's one, obviously, that affects the stability and the security of the region and of the Korean peninsula, so we obviously take it very seriously. But we're going to continue those discussions.

QUESTION: Have you come up to any conclusion that – the nature of the test a few weeks ago? Is that a hydro bomb test or is it just a nuclear test?

MR TONER: No. I mean, we've said we do not believe it was a hydrogen bomb test, and our judgment at the time still stands.


QUESTION: And then --

MR TONER: Oh, go ahead. I'm sorry. Thank you.

QUESTION: -- there was some talk that today a Senate panel may vote on a legislation that was passed in the House regarding a tougher sanction against the DPRK. Would you support that – such legislation?

MR TONER: Well, I don't – we don't usually comment on proposed legislation. Certainly, we'll look forward to working with Congress on a more vigorous response to North Korea's actions.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: I have a quick question on Sudan.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. I'm sorry, Michael.

QUESTION: Yeah. Very, very quickly. I don't know if you saw this, but the Sudanese president today ordered the opening of the border with South Sudan. Is that something that you're aware of, something that you --

MR TONER: I am aware of it. Obviously --

QUESTION: For the first time in five years.

MR TONER: I didn't hear the last --

QUESTION: For the first time in five years they are opening the borders with the south.

MR TONER: Right.


MR TONER: I mean, look – I mean, it's a tentative step in the right direction. I don't have any further comment other than we've seen this before. We hope that it marks, as I said, a step in – or a more positive direction.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Mark, yesterday you discussed the issue of Turkey buying oil from the terrorists.


QUESTION: And I think there is a misunderstanding, because the – actually, the defense minister of Israel was the one who accused Turkey of buying oil from the so-called Islamic State. And it seems to me that the Israelis, they don't believe you at all on this issue. And he used strong language – I guess Turkey. And if you allow me, I will read his quote from BBC here. Can I do that?

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: Please. He said that Islamic State had "enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time." "It's up to Turkey, it's up to the Turkish Government, the Turkish leadership, to decide whether they want to be part of any kind of cooperation to fight terrorism. This is not the case so far. As you know, Islamic State enjoyed Turkish money for oil for a very, very long period of time. I hope that it will be ended."

And my question is this: Can you show to the world the evidence you have that Turkey and the family of the Turkish president are clean on this matter? Do you have evidence on this?

MR TONER: Michael, I'd ask you the same question. Show me the evidence that they are in league with ISIL.

QUESTION: You can ask your allies, the Israelis.

MR TONER: We don't agree with --

QUESTION: They accused the --

MR TONER: With all due respect to --

QUESTION: Yes, I understand.

MR TONER: With all due respect to our very strong alliance with Israel, we disagree on this.

QUESTION: But this is what their reaction is, that they --

MR TONER: Michael, I said this yesterday. I'll say it again. We reject the premise that the Turkish Government is in league with ISIL to smuggle oil. We did a very extensive background briefing, and I'd refer you to that. I don't have the date in front of me. We can get that for you.

QUESTION: I have that here.

MR TONER: In which a high-ranking State Department official spelled out, frankly, in very pragmatic and businesslike terms, why it made no sense, why we saw no evidence of this kind of allegiance. And I've said very clearly that doesn't say that smuggling writ large doesn't exist. But frankly, in terms of oil smuggling, what we've seen, what our intelligence shows us, is that ISIL, when it does refine oil, it sells it at the pump to various entities within Syria. It's not – it doesn't have a huge smuggling operation with Turkey or any other countries that we can see, and it doesn't make good business sense, frankly.

QUESTION: But what you are saying is that the Israelis are lying, correct?

MR TONER: And what – I'm not saying that at all. They're entitled to their opinion. I'm entitled to give you our opinion.


QUESTION: I previously asked you to what extent did the proliferation of terrorists in Libya surprise the Obama Administration. And from your response, I've got a sense that maybe it did not surprise U.S. officials. Correct me if I'm wrong. Looking --

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, it's an odd question because, to be perfectly honest, terrorist groups are constantly morphing, changing. Terrorism is a – and terrorism in that region of the world is very difficult, but it is possible to do – to destroy it and to degrade it and to disrupt those networks. Frankly, we, the United States, with our allies and partners, have done a pretty good job doing that against al-Qaida, and we continue to degrade and we will ultimately destroy ISIL.

But when you're asking whether we were surprised at the time, I think when you look at post-conflict Libya, anyone at the time would have said that you need to establish – and it's not just post-conflict Libya. It's any place where there is a transition after an autocratic regime, where you need to put in place some degree of governance, maintain security, all those things that need to happen and continue to need to happen in Libya. And that remains, on our part, within the State Department, a vital focus of our efforts in Libya – establish that central government so that we can partner with it on areas like security, on rooting out ISIL, on confronting some of these other terrorist groups that have taken root there – because that's what they do. They seek out these ungoverned spaces. We've seen this time and time again in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, and to establish footholds. So I mean, I --

QUESTION: Looking --

MR TONER: While no one can predict the future, I think it's hard to say whether we were surprised or not. Terrorism and these terrorist groups are very good at doing that.

QUESTION: Looking back at 2011, did the Administration see it as a possibility that Libya could become a terrorist haven?

MR TONER: I feel like I answered your question – I'm sorry – to the best of my ability at least.


MR TONER: Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)

DPB # 14

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