Daily Press Briefing
Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
June 7, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
2:11 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Hi, guys. Happy Tuesday.
QUESTION: Today's Tuesday?
MR TONER: Yeah, fortunately. Just at the top – and then I'll take your questions – I did want to speak briefly about the terrorist attack earlier today in Istanbul. The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack that took place earlier today in Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed, and we wish a quick and full recovery to those injured.
The United States reaffirms our strong commitment to work with Turkey, a NATO ally and a valued member of the Counter-ISIL or Counter-Daesh Coalition to combat the shared threat of terrorism.
Matt, over to you.
QUESTION: Oh, that's it?
MR TONER: That's it.
QUESTION: Nothing else? No grand announcements?
MR TONER: No, no.
QUESTION: Before we get into policy substance, I want to just do a couple little housekeeping things.
MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: One, is there anything new on the look into or the response to Congressman Chaffetz on the briefing video edit?
MR TONER: No, all – I mean, all I would just say in – by way of update is that we're discussing the letter with the committee and his request, the request in the letter to – for Secretary Kerry to testify. And we're discussing it with the committee, as we would any request, but I don't have any additional details to – or updates to provide.
QUESTION: Okay. Actually, that's not the letter I'm talking --
MR TONER: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: I'm referring to the one where he asked for the documents.
MR TONER: Ah, okay.
QUESTION: But thank you for the answer on the other.
MR TONER: That's right. But we are also planning to respond to that letter, the initial letter, tomorrow. They did request a pretty extensive amount of information, so we're going to provide what we can tomorrow, and we'll continue to try to provide additional information.
QUESTION: Do you know what that will include?
MR TONER: I don't, and I'll try to get a better grasp of what precisely we're going to be able to answer tomorrow. I think we're trying to simply manage this as one of – I think it's one of 10 outstanding requests that we have from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a broad range of topics, so we're just trying to, obviously, be responsive but with the understanding that we've got a lot of requests from that committee.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, has this bounced to the front of the line in terms of what you're responding to?
MR TONER: Well, that's a fair question. I think we're trying to be responsive to the deadline for tomorrow, so we're trying to answer what we can by tomorrow
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the request for the Secretary to appear and testify --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I mean, is it the department's position that this is a legitimate, valid request or legitimate, valid use of the Secretary's time to go up and testify? Or do you --
MR TONER: Well, I think we're still having that conversation with – through our H office, Congressional Liaison Office, with the committee directly, looking at a number of factors, including his availability as well as other issues.
QUESTION: So there's – and do those --
MR TONER: No decision has been made yet.
QUESTION: Do those other – right. Well, could you just give us an idea of what the other issues are?
MR TONER: Just, again, whether he's the appropriate --
QUESTION: I mean, does the department believe that he is the --
MR TONER: Right. Whether he's the – sorry, go ahead. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: No, no. You were about to answer.
MR TONER: Yes, that's okay.
QUESTION: Is he the appropriate person to --
MR TONER: Well, that's one thing we're looking at, whether he'd be the best person to answer the questions that they have and to speak to the issue. And then again, as many of you know, he's going to be on the road again next week.
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
MR TONER: So he's not often in Washington.
QUESTION: So he's --
QUESTION: Yes, you can say that again.
QUESTION: Where is he going next week?
MR TONER: We'll announce when we're ready to announce. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I thought you were about to say something.
MR TONER: No, no.
QUESTION: And then on the second issue --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- which is actually two issues, on the email, former Secretary Clinton's email. These two filings that were made, one in – the TPP one about – I understand that this is a rather large request, involving large amounts, but – of email that would have to be gone through and looked at, but is it really the case that it would take until almost December to --
MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, look – and you're right to say we don't comment on ongoing FOIA requests. But maybe to give you a little bit of context, and because there is – in the actual article that referred to this request, there are some additional details which allows me to give a little bit more context.
But based on the information in the original article about this FOIA request, this is a very broad request. I think it asks for any correspondence sent over a four-year period between – so 2009 to 2013 – between the staff of the Office of the Secretary and the staff in the USTR, U.S. Trade Representative's Office, that mentions TPP. So that's a – that's going to be a broad spectrum of emails. And so it's not just related to Secretary Clinton's emails.
So given the scope of that, we're trying to – and the fact, frankly, that we've got, as many of you are tired of hearing me say – but we've got – we received approximately 22,000 FOIA requests in the last fiscal year. There's a lot to go through. So it's not simply an estimate that we're throwing out a date like that. It's based on our best estimation right now.
QUESTION: Right. But do you have any idea of how – what the universe is of emails that you would have to go through to – I mean, is it like every single email that was sent between here and USTR that would have to be looked at?
MR TONER: I mean, that is the – again, that's the parameters. It's --
QUESTION: But that is – but that is smaller universe --
MR TONER: It is.
QUESTION: -- than every single email everyone sent.
MR TONER: Well, of course. But it is – but it's over a four-year period and it's between – and that's on a very hot-button issue of the time.
QUESTION: And the date given? I mean, does November 31st exist as a date in the State Department calendar? Or is – what's the deal with that? I mean, is that some – of these weird alternate universe kind of things?
MR TONER: No. Look, I assume they – whoever gave that date meant to say the last day of November. And again – excuse me. Again, just with the understanding that, as you guys know from the FOIA requests that we did with Secretary Clinton's emails, is these dates are subject to change as we work on them and process them. If we need more time, we'll let you – we'll let folks know.
QUESTION: So, and in fact, the correct date should have been the 30th of November?
MR TONER: That's right.
QUESTION: All right. And then the last one on this.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And the other one, the RNC FOIA request that you guys say it's going to take 75 years to complete?
MR TONER: And I actually did a little digging on this. And I mean, I'll – I mean, that is an incredible number. But – so I can't comment specifically because it's a matter of ongoing litigation, but I would ask you guys to look at the court filings that do provide the details on why we arrived at that figure. I mean, it's an enormous amount of emails, or rather – sorry – it's an enormous amount of FOIA requests and very broad and very complex.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. But this stuff would be released sooner than 75 years just under the regular records, wouldn't it?
MR TONER: Again --
QUESTION: I mean, Foreign Relations of the United States, the volume – I mean, that's longer than most classifications last until.
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, a lot of the stuff that's classified is for only 20 years. Seventy-five years seems --
MR TONER: Again, I'd refer you to the court filing. It's a very broad range involving a number of people over a period of, I think, four years. And it's not an outlandish estimation, believe it or not.
QUESTION: Mark --
QUESTION: It's not outlandish? (Laughter.) I mean, it just – I mean, if something --
MR TONER: I'll refer you to the – I refer you to the court filing. It gives the rationale behind this estimate.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I want to get on to the story of the UN removing Saudi Arabia from – the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist. The UN report actually said that children – and it was report on children in armed conflict. It was released last Thursday. It said the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year. Yet they've now removed the Saudi-led coalition from that blacklist after a lot of pressure, cajoling, and all kinds of things. And first of all, do you have a comment on this specific development? And number two, did the U.S. – has the U.S. raised this issue with the UN or the Saudis?
MR TONER: So first of all, just a comment on the report and the latest development that the UN will conduct a further review of the information. We have – we obviously note this latest development and we have urged the Kingdom's expedition – expeditious and transparent participation in the review process.
We take very seriously the protection of children in armed conflict in Yemen, and frankly anywhere in the world, and continue to urge all sides in the conflict in Yemen to protect civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. And that includes the obligation to distinguish between military and civilian targets and to take all feasible steps to minimize harm to civilian. We have regularly engaged with Saudi officials as well as other coalition members on the importance of mitigating attacks on civilians or injuries to civilians and the need to investigate all credible reports of civilian casualties.
And just – what you said – but you also asked me – we – whether we played a role. I mean, we have repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and to uphold their obligations, as I said. And Saudi Arabia has pledged to establish a commission to investigate credible reports of civilian casualties and deaths resulting from Saudi-led airstrikes – Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, rather, and they promised a clear and full – an objective report on their findings, and we're encouraging them to move forward with that as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: So when you said you spoke --
QUESTION: That's not an answer, though, to whether you --
QUESTION: -- lobbied the UN.
QUESTION: Did you --
MR TONER: I apologize.
QUESTION: Did you talk to the UN about this report after the publication?
MR TONER: We did not. I don't believe we spoke directly to the UN about this report, no.
QUESTION: So would you not think that the UN – that a UN report, a UN investigation, is an independent report in itself? I mean, why would the Saudis – it's like investigating my own murder in some ways.
MR TONER: Well, again, I'd refer you to the UN to explain the rationale behind their decision now to look again or conduct a further review of this report. All I can say is that – or all I would point you to is the fact that Saudi Arabia said that they would also look into these, that they would establish an investigatory body. We're going to obviously encourage them to do so and to do so in an expeditious manner. They have said that they are concerned by these civilian – reports of civilian casualties and they'll look into it.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Said.
QUESTION: Because the ambassador of Saudi Arabia --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- basically said that that'll never happen again. I mean, that was his suggestion today or yesterday.
MR TONER: That what would never happen --
QUESTION: In response to a possible review by the UN that the UN may revisit this issue again. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: I apologize. I just want to make sure I understand what his comments were that --
QUESTION: His comments were that it was wrong to begin with and that it will not – the UN will not do the same thing again. That's what he said.
QUESTION: In other words, that the removal --
QUESTION: Removal, yeah.
QUESTION: -- of Saudi from the list is irrevocable, and no matter what happens in any follow-up --
QUESTION: Right. Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: -- subsequent investigation, probe, review --
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- whatever, they won't be put back on even if it finds that they should be.
MR TONER: Again, I'm going to let the process play itself out. I think that's where we are. The UN said they're going to look again at the findings of this. Saudis said they're going to cooperate with them in this effort. Let's see what comes of that process.
QUESTION: Does the United States welcome the decision to look again?
MR TONER: I think we respect the UN's decision on this.
QUESTION: Well, we would expect though that if a – this review that's going to take place was to determine what was found initially, that it would be restored, right? That the findings would be restored?
MR TONER: Precisely. I said let's let the process play itself out. They have said they're going to look again at the findings, review the information in the report --
QUESTION: Right, but if the --
MR TONER: -- and they'll reach a conclusion that will respect --
QUESTION: I realize – I realize that this is a hypothetical question --
MR TONER: Yes, it is.
QUESTION: -- but presumably, if there was to be this review and if it were to come up with the same finding that they had initially – that it had initially found, you would – the United States would believe that the Saudis should be put back on this list, right?
MR TONER: Again, there's going to be – I'll just leave it where I left it --
QUESTION: So in other words, if the --
MR TONER: -- which is there's going to be a joint – there's going to be a joint review of the report's findings --
QUESTION: I got it. And if that joint review finds the same thing that had initially been determined, you would think – I mean, it would be logical to assume that the United States Government --
MR TONER: It would be logical for us to – it would be logical for you to assume that let's let the process play itself out. I --
QUESTION: Well, you're – you don't – you're not saying that if it finds the same thing that it found the first time, that they – that it should stay the same, they should be left off the list, are you?
MR TONER: No.
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: They just sent this --
QUESTION: That just sounds --
QUESTION: Was it odd to have it added on – suddenly on Friday, then taken out on Monday? Do you find that odd?
MR TONER: Again, I can't speak to the --
QUESTION: Because it was not on the list --
MR TONER: I can't speak to the internal processes of the UN. I would have to refer you to them on why they made the decision --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) respect the decision to reopen it. Do you think there was some weakness in the report as it was?
MR TONER: Again, I can't speak on behalf of the UN. All I can say is that in their estimation --
QUESTION: No, I'm asking you to speak --
MR TONER: No, but in their estimation --
QUESTION: Does the United States believe there was some weakness in the repot?
MR TONER: Well, I think in their estimation, they acknowledged that they want to review the findings of it. I'll take that for what it's worth.
QUESTION: But the UN has done that before. Israel was on that list; it was taken out, but they never really revisited the issue. I mean, if you want to look at precedent, the UN record is not quite good, is it?
QUESTION: Can I --
MR TONER: Again, let's let the process --
QUESTION: I know you're going to do the process, but I just want to come back to on the record that the U.S. – just want to make sure that the U.S. did not participate in the – in putting pressure on the UN to remove Saudi Arabia from the list until the next review had been done.
MR TONER: Again, no, I'm not aware that we had any – put any pressure on the UN. I – I mean, beyond what I have said --
QUESTION: Well, the Saudis are an ally.
MR TONER: -- is that we take these reports very seriously of civilian casualties. And all credible reports, as we've said many, many times, need to be investigated, and Saudis have pledged to do so.
QUESTION: Have the Saudis asked the U.S. to lobby on their behalf before the UN on this matter?
MR TONER: I'm not aware of that and I don't know that I would even acknowledge that if that was the case.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. even be – would that even be an appropriate request from a country with whom the U.S. has close relations?
MR TONER: Look, Ros, I think what's important here is that if there were concerns within the UN itself about the credibility of this report or even the integrity of this report – that it be the strongest possible report possible – that they should look again at it. And they have pledged to do so jointly with the Saudis. As to what role we would possibly play in that, I – we have said that we support investigations into allegations of civilian casualties.
QUESTION: What's really important here is that civilians, including children --
MR TONER: Precisely. Thank you.
QUESTION: -- not be killed in – not the integrity --
MR TONER: Thank you.
QUESTION: -- of a report --
MR TONER: I would agree. I would agree.
QUESTION: That would be more important, right?
MR TONER: I would agree, and, as we've said, that all sides in this conflict take every possible precaution to avoid civilian casualties.
QUESTION: This is just slightly related --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and I don't know – I can't honestly remember: Has the U.S. – is the U.S. a state – a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?
MR TONER: You know what, I will take that question. I don't know off the top of my head.
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you had a chance to review the speech made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before the People's Council? And do you have any comments on that? I mean, he basically --
MR TONER: It's a wide-open question, Said.
QUESTION: No, no, okay. Let me --
MR TONER: No, it's okay. I'm – yeah.
QUESTION: A bit more – let me narrow it down.
MR TONER: I mean, no, that's --
QUESTION: Because he said that he is intent on liberating every inch of Syria, which means that this war will go on until what he called all terrorists are rooted out.
MR TONER: I mean – okay, first of all, it was vintage Assad. There were no surprises in what he said, unfortunately. Would I – would all of us have liked to see him get up and say that – recognize his role in the carnage in Syria and to pledge to step aside and for that a political transition can take place? Sure. But I think --
MR TONER: I think I said would we have all liked that.
MR TONER: But he did not. He was – I said this was vintage Assad. He basically got up and said what he always says, which is that he's going to never back down, never step aside; going to keep up the fight and never recognize the role that he has directly played in creating the conditions that exist today in Syria, where Daesh has been able to get a strong foothold and establish itself, where you've got segments of the population cut off from humanitarian assistance deliberately by the regime. This is a reality that he has singlehandedly created.
QUESTION: I could never understand --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) plan to recapture the entire country, do you regard Syrian Government forces as being party to the cessation of hostilities?
MR TONER: I think that – well, look, I mean, there's a lot of rhetoric, obviously. I think we spoke yesterday about their – the authority that the Syrian regime has to go after Nusrah and Daesh, and that we respect that authority for them to do so as long as they don't go after parties to the --
QUESTION: But he said every inch of Syrian territory. That includes areas that are held by groups that are party to the cessation. He's declared an intent to attack them. Should they refrain from counterattacking?
MR TONER: Again, it's typical of his rhetoric. I think that --
QUESTION: And of his prior actions.
MR TONER: And his prior actions. Legitimate question – or legitimate point. I think what we're going to look – going forward though is the fact that we still believe that Russia, that Iran can at least appeal to those in the regime who still have influence on him to refrain from letting this political process, this cessation of hostilities, fall completely apart. But it is – again, there's nothing surprising in what he said today, but it was discouraging.
QUESTION: Let me just go back to a point that he said. He accused Erdogan --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- of sending lately – he used a word in Arabic which means "lately," connoting like a recent time –
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- thousands of fighters into Aleppo. Do you agree? Do you have information that thousands of foreign fighters have crossed into the Aleppo area in recent weeks or months?
MR TONER: No. I mean, I don't know – this is – these are – again, these are not new accusations or allegations thrown by the Syrian regime at Turkey or at Turkey's – Turkish leadership, I guess. Again, Aleppo is a very dynamic, very difficult place in terms of trying to delineate the good from the bad, and we recognize that. But we've seen no effort by Turkey to --
QUESTION: So you reject the accusation that Turkey sent in thousands of fighters into Syria, at least in recent times?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Hey, Mark --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: -- you said that you still hope that – or you still believe that Russia and Iran can appeal to those who have influence with Assad. Does that mean that you no longer believe that they have influence with Assad himself and – I mean, are we seeing what we were seeing back in the early days of this conflict, where there was an active attempt by the U.S. and by Europeans to split the government, to isolate Assad within his own regime --
MR TONER: I just --
QUESTION: -- or is that --
MR TONER: I was simply – sorry, I don't mean to – finish.
QUESTION: Or do you still think the Russians and the Iranians have influence with Assad himself?
MR TONER: I – we are hopeful that they do. I mean, because much of this hinges on that.
QUESTION: But it doesn't look like that, given the speech that he gave, correct?
MR TONER: That's why I – which is why I --
QUESTION: All right.
MR TONER: -- couched my response in that way.
QUESTION: And then you said, well, we'd like to get – see him get up and say to his parliament or to whoever, "Yeah, this is all my fault and I'm going to leave." But you don't --
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: -- honestly think that he's ever going to do that?
MR TONER: No. That's – no.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. take Assad's assertions --
MR TONER: I – yes, I was --
QUESTION: Does the U.S. take --
MR TONER: -- being somewhat facetious.
QUESTION: Yeah. Does the U.S. Government take seriously Assad's assertion that this new parliament to which he was speaking today is a legitimate government and thereby implying that his own leadership is legitimate?
MR TONER: Now, I mean, we've – thanks for bringing that up, Ros. I mean, we said at the time that calling for and holding parliamentary elections under the conditions such as they existed at the time and continue to exist, which the regime continues to carry out attacks on civilians that it purports to represent, rings especially hollow. So – and the fact that more than half of the country's citizens are displaced either within the borders of the country or outside the borders of the country, it calls into question the integrity of any kind of election.
QUESTION: So no commendation for electing a woman speaker of the house?
MR TONER: As – no. As – I'll let that stand.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Are we done with Syria?
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR TONER: Yeah, let's stick – let's finish the Syria. Sure.
QUESTION: When you – it seems the regime, backed with the Russians, are advancing into the province of al-Raqqa. Will you consider it positive if they liberate al-Raqqa from ISIL?
MR TONER: Well, so we're not – I'm not able to speak on behalf of what the Syrian military offensive may look like, where it may be in terms of advancing on Raqqa. I can't really confirm those reports. All I can say is that we, the counter-ISIL coalition, are supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in taking the fight against – or to, rather, ISIL – trying to retake land, trying to hit their transportation links, communication supply routes into Raqqa to weaken its grip on the city. And those efforts continue. And we recognize it's going to be a long process.
QUESTION: But you just said that you recognize that Assad regime had authority to fight ISIL and al-Nusrah.
MR TONER: I said I just – but I can't – I can't confirm the reports that they're --
QUESTION: No, I'm not asking about confirming.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I said if they liberated, will you welcome that?
MR TONER: I'll say what I've said before, when they liberated Palmyra, which is it's I guess relatively better than ISIL, but not much.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: One more on Syria?
MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Sure.
MR TONER: Yeah. Let's finish up.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to the statement put out today by The Washington Post editorial board, which was very critical of the Administration's policy on humanitarian assistance in Syria, specifically of the Secretary himself?
MR TONER: Well, I mean – yes, I mean, speaking about humanitarian assistance and the difficulties that we're still having – and by "we," I mean the international community and the UN – in getting that assistance to these besieged areas, we've said it before, it's unacceptable. The international community has pressed the regime to provide access, unimpeded access to all of these besieged areas. And these are areas that have been determined to be besieged by the UN, not by the regime, and that's really the only acceptable standard. I would just say that we expect the regime to approve the UN's request for access either by air or by land, and we've said before land is the preferred method, and we're going to keep pressuring them to adhere to the UN's demands.
More broadly, recognizing fully that we're not where we need to be in terms of humanitarian assistance and access, we can point to the fact that since the cessation of hostilities came into effect, I think something like 700,000 Syrians have received aid, and many but not all besieged areas have been reached. Again, it's not perfect by any means and I'm not going to claim that it is, but it's better than it was. But we need to keep the pressure on them.
And also, just the idea that this is somehow the U.S. – I mean, this is – we all agreed on this in Vienna. Russia, Iran, all the members of the ISSG who were in that room agreed that complete and utter – and full access to the besieged areas needed to be provided. This isn't some U.S. wish list. This is – all of the members of the ISSG and the UN agreed on this. So we need to continue to pressure and look at options, and the World Food Program is doing so.
QUESTION: Can I – just on the --
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just want to make – clarify or see if I can get clarified the --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- your use of the word "expect," which often has several meanings. When you say you expect the regime to approve the request, why? In what sense do you expect them to? You think that that's – that they should or you have some indication that leads you to believe that they are going to? Because as far as I can tell, they have said no to everything and for quite some – for quite some time to these – the besieged areas that were mentioned in Vienna in particular.
MR TONER: Sure. I'll go with the first definition. Look, the World Food Program is in communications with the regime regarding airdrop logistics because the regime has, up till now, not provided overland access. I know they're looking – I think they're looking at four specific communities. Daraya is one of them. And yes, we're going to keep pressuring them to provide access. We can't – I can't say that they're going to agree or not, but we're going to keep the pressure on them, and we expect Russia and Iran especially to put pressure on them.
QUESTION: Well, that's different than them – than expecting them to agree.
MR TONER: I agree. That's why I said my – I went with your first definition, which is that --
MR TONER: -- common human decency would --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: Can I get a – just to be clear about --
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: -- you said pressuring them, but you're not doing that directly; you're just asking the Russians to pressure them.
MR TONER: Correct. We are – we fully expect Russia to use its influence on the regime to get it to grant access to --
QUESTION: But you don't have any direct leverage of your own. It's just your association with Russia through the ISSG that's (inaudible).
MR TONER: Well, that's – yeah, I mean, that's the structure of the ISSG. That's how it works, for better or for worse.
QUESTION: Mark, something that you have --
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: -- left over, which is the refugees. I mean, we're coming into the end of the fiscal year --
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- in October and you've already allowed no more than 2,500 to the best of what I gather. So you have about 10,000 that were promised to be allowed in by the end of the fiscal year. So where are you with that?
MR TONER: So we are – we do remain committed to the President's plan to resettle some 85,000 of the world's most vulnerable of these refugees from around the world. And that includes, as you note, 10,000 from Syria. I think increases in processing capacity have improved our ability to meet the 10,000 target for Syrian refugee admissions. I think up – as of May 25th, we've – we're at the 2,500 mark. So we're not there. We're a good ways from it. But we do expect the arrivals to increase exponentially as we move through the summer, so we are still saying we're going to meet that 10,000-person commitment.
QUESTION: Going to Iraq --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- since we're still talking about trying to fight ISIL, among other things: Last week you talked about Fallujah. There are more reports about Shia militiamen detaining Sunni men who are trying to flee Fallujah, and there are more allegations that they're being abused, that they're being tortured. Dozens is one rough estimate. Even the UN high commissioner for refugees is saying – for human rights, excuse me – is expressing concern about the situation, and he is also expressing concern that the Abadi government isn't doing enough to restrain the Shia militia from carrying out sectarian attacks. One, what is the U.S. assessment of the situation right now? What is the U.S. Government saying to Prime Minister Abadi? What is the U.S. prepared to do in order to basically keep the Shia militia away from Fallujah so that people who are trying to escape the fighting can do so safely?
MR TONER: Sure. Lots of very good questions, and obviously, it's a very difficult situation in and around Fallujah. The reports – and we've seen these reports as well – are obviously concerning. We do believe, though, that Prime Minister Abadi has made an effort to investigate abuses of Iraqi civilians at the hands of Iraqi Security Forces. I think he's even pledged to form a committee or has created a human rights committee to look at some of these abuses. We believe the Government of Iraq has made an effort to avoid civilian casualties and to hold accountable those in isolated cases of misconduct.
Now, there have been – and we talked – I talked about this last Friday – there have been efforts to screen citizens as they flee Fallujah.
MR TONER: And I think – I'm looking at my thing – I think some 15,000 civilians have already fled the fighting in and around Fallujah and have arrived and are safely being held at camps, and there have been screening measures put in place, and we have talked about that.
MR TONER: And partly that's common sense that Daesh or ISIL isn't using – trying to exfiltrate or get out of Fallujah, use it as an escape route. So – but let's be very clear that any kind of screening, while justified, needs to be done in a manner that is respectful of human rights and common dignity, and also done in a transparent manner.
QUESTION: There's already been a lot of talk, though --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: -- about the fact that in the effort to liberate these communities from ISIL, that the U.S. would not want to see Shia militia going in because of the very fundamental symbolism that represents. Is it appropriate for the Iraqi Government to rely on these militia, the PMF, to do the screening? Should the Iraqi military be using some of its own forces to do this screening? And should the Shia militia even be allowed anywhere near Fallujah? Why can't they be held to barracks, to use an expression?
MR TONER: Well, I would refer you to the Iraqi Government to talk about the composition of forces in and around Fallujah and how they're being utilized. I think that given the scale and scope of this operation, that they, frankly, need all the capable fighters that they have. But of course we're concerned about the sectarian tensions inherent to the dynamic that you just raised. And again, we have raised our concerns with the Iraqi Government, and they have also expressed a clear understanding of that dynamic as well and an effort to avoid it. The need – so if Shia militia are there, they are under the command and control of the Iraqi military. And they --
QUESTION: But then we hear about people being dragged away, bodies being turned up, some people so badly injured that they're now in hospital trying to get medical treatment that may not be easily attainable given that these are conditions of war. Here's an alternative suggestion: Perhaps the U.S. doesn't want to have its own people screening people leaving Fallujah, but there are other members of the coalition. Is it possible to ask the Arab countries that are part of the coalition to do the screening of people as they're trying to leave Fallujah?
MR TONER: Well, again, those are all good points and good questions better directed to the Iraqi Government. I would say that thus far in Fallujah, fully recognizing that we have seen reports and we've raised those reports on our concerns about them with the Iraqi Government, but we have seen thus far an effort by Prime Minister Abadi and his leadership to manage the offensive carefully, deliberately, with respect to ordering safe passageways – and I talked about the 17,000 Fallujah residents who have gotten safe passage out of the city – and made an effort to respect both property and the well-being of the civilians.
But again, as there are cases or allegations of these abuses – and you cited some of them – the Iraqi Government has pledged to create a committee to look at these allegations in cases, or rather incidents, and follow up on them. And I think that that is absolutely commendable and necessary.
QUESTION: Do you have confidence in this committee that they're standing up?
MR TONER: I think, again, we'll wait and see. But they have pledged to do so. Thus far, what we've seen largely from the Iraqi Government has given us confidence that they are aware of these tensions on the battlefield and are taking steps to mitigate them.
QUESTION: Did you confirm the reports by the UN human rights commissioner today that he said he have credible reports about these violations? Are you confirming his position?
MR TONER: I have not seen those. I do note that we've seen reports of violations and are concerned about them. I'm not speaking to his – I have no idea what he said. I'm sorry, I don't – I haven't seen his comments.
QUESTION: He said they have – he have credible reports about very sad violations against civilians fleeing from Fallujah.
MR TONER: I mean, again, we're aware of some of these reports and we're concerned about them as well.
QUESTION: On China?
MR TONER: Are we done with Iraq? Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: There has been another unsafe intercept of fighter jets over the East China Sea. Do you have any comment on that, especially given that Secretary Kerry is in Beijing? Do you know if he has communicated the issue with his Chinese counterparts?
MR TONER: I mean, honestly, I would refer you to – he did a press avail earlier today with his Chinese counterpart obviously talking more broadly about the S&ED. He gave a – he and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave a press avail with their Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang, and, as I said, talked more broadly about all the issues in the relationship but also spoke about our ongoing concerns about the South China Sea.
QUESTION: Do you think that, I mean, this incident sort of undermines the – any of the discussions coming so soon right after their discussions?
MR TONER: Look, I mean, again, I think they had a very candid discussion about that issue. That's part of why we have these meetings so we can sit down and talk frankly and honestly and candidly with China about our concerns about their behavior regarding the South China Sea. We want to – look, our message hasn't changed. We continue to encourage all South China Sea claimants to avoid taking unilateral actions to change the status quo and to clarify their maritime claims in accordance with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. That message hasn't changed. It's been consistent. We continue to make that point to China and continue to look for ways that we can reinforce those peaceful mechanisms by which all claimants can have their voices heard.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication that this was intentional --
MR TONER: No indications, no.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: North Korea --
MR TONER: Yeah, I'll get around here.
QUESTION: Today --
MR TONER: I'll get – first you and then --
QUESTION: All right, thank you very much.
MR TONER: Thanks. No worries.
QUESTION: Today Secretary Kerry has mentioned that the United States and China would not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Would that mean that the United States, they think that can China can persuade North Korea for nuclear states, or they not accept North Korea --
MR TONER: Well, I think, again, this was one of the – obviously one of the topics of conversation over the past couple of days is concern over North Korea's continued provocative behavior in the region and the impact that has on the security of the Korean peninsula and, frankly, the entire region. And that's obviously an issue that we discuss frequently with China. China is concerned about North Korea's behavior, and we are looking at how we can apply adequate pressure on the regime in North Korea to convince it to respond to the international community's concerns.
QUESTION: Have the – do United States trust the Chinese – what they saying, or --
MR TONER: Do we trust the Chinese --
MR TONER: -- to maintain pressure on them?
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR TONER: It's been an ongoing conversation that we've had with China, as you know, and I think it's something that – China has concerns, but they also have influence. And so we would – we value China's influence on North Korea. And they can play a very pivotal role, so we're always talking with them about ways to enhance that role.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR TONER: No, let's finish up with – yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just wanted – on what my colleague was saying – so can you confirm that it came up in the conversations that the Secretary had with his Chinese counterparts?
MR TONER: North Korea?
QUESTION: No, the intercept over the East China Sea.
MR TONER: I cannot confirm that that actually – I mean, I know the South China Sea, but I don't know that this intercept came up. Frankly, I hadn't heard of it until I was just out here, so – please.
QUESTION: Just want to quickly ask you – so Judicial Watch yesterday released another transcript of Ambassador Mull's deposition, I guess on Friday.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And throughout it, at least according to the transcript of the deposition, he repeatedly said there was a lot he couldn't remember when he learned of Secretary Clinton's email setup; also why he couldn't remember emailing her suggesting she set up a State Department account. Obviously, he's held several senior positions here at the department, is now in charge of implementing the Iran deal. Just wanted to get your explanation – I mean, how can that be that there's just so much that he doesn't remember from his times --
MR TONER: Well, I'm not going to parse his testimony or his deposition, rather. He's spoke to his recollection of what happened and his knowledge of her use of email. And Ambassador Mull is a well-respected and very experienced Foreign Service officer, and I'll let his words stand for themselves.
I think that – and we talked about this with the inspector general's report a couple of – I guess last week – there was an incomplete understanding or knowledge of the extent of her use of personal email at the time she was in office, and we have acknowledged that. We've acknowledged that as a result of that we are now trying to improve how we in-process secretaries of state and senior officials at the State Department so we don't have that kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding in the future. But again, having a – some knowledge of personal use of email is far from having a complete knowledge of the extent of it.
QUESTION: But you don't think it's odd that – he was, I believe, her executive secretary – that he – there's so much about her email, the server, the setup that he doesn't recall?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think that – I don't think it's odd, necessarily, given how the system was constructed at the time. We've talked about this in the past. We've talked about the fact that really no one among the senior staff had a full and comprehensive knowledge of how much she was using her personal email. And if they had, they probably would have done it differently. She's also acknowledged that as well, so I'll leave it there.
QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?
MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: You're done? I have couple questions.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The secretary-general of the Arab League claimed that Secretary Kerry thwarted a strong French initiative last Friday, and in fact suggesting that he was responsible for that lackluster statement that came out of the meeting. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: Look, Secretary Kerry went to Paris out of a desire to sit down with the other participants to really help shape a constructive conversation or a discussion about a Middle East peace process --
MR TONER: -- and as I said, shape it in a constructive way. I'm not going to get into the internal deliberations about --
MR TONER: -- the final communique, but it's a joint communique. It reflects the views of all the participants, and not just the United States.
QUESTION: But Nabil al-Araby has always made very positive and enthusiastic statements about Secretary Kerry and his efforts and so on. This is – I mean, this is the first time I saw a statement where it's the opposite.
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: So are you saying that he's wrong? Is he wrong in suggesting that?
MR TONER: I mean, again, I'm not going to --
QUESTION: He's your boss. I mean, you can say, no, he didn't – yeah.
MR TONER: (Laughter.) I'm going to say exactly what I just said, which is --
MR TONER: -- it was a joint communique. The Secretary went there – and he spoke about this before he went there, that he is willing to sit down with likeminded governments and leaders around the world to talk about this issue, but ultimately, it's going to take the two parties to sit down at the same table to negotiate these tough issues. And as much as he can help set the parameters and set the conditions for that, he's going to work hard at doing so.
QUESTION: But even statements made by U.S. officials, whether it's the advisor to national – to the President on national security or others, or even the Secretary himself, saying that chances for face-to-face negotiations under the present conditions – indeed, the current Israeli Government – are probably a far, far-fetched kind of idea. So in the absence of that, why not put the weight of the United States behind some sort of an international effort? I mean, I listened to Dr. Rice's speech yesterday, and on the one hand, she's saying this but on the other, she's saying we will stand against any kind of – any international effort, basically.
MR TONER: No, that's not true, but --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, that's basically what she said. She says we stand – in UN forums and so on where Israel's not perceived in a friendly way.
MR TONER: Well, that is true. I mean, and we've been clear about that in the past in some of the statements and other efforts that have – we believe have been politically slanted. But again, I don't think – look, I don't think – there's nothing wrong with having efforts like the French put on last week, trying to bring people together to talk through some of these issues to try to set the conditions, but again, let's be very clear – it is incumbent on the two parties to decide that they are at a place where they can sit down and talk through some of these issues. And once that – we get to that point – and we're all for working to create conditions that lead to that effort or that point in time – then we're going to – but until you get to that point, you're not going to make real progress.
QUESTION: Let me have a couple more questions.
MR TONER: Yeah. Sure. Quickly.
QUESTION: The UN adopted a resolution to support Palestinian women last Friday and it was overwhelmingly voted for, and – except for the United States and Australia. And my question to you: Why would you oppose a UN resolution that is intended to sort of empower Palestinian women?
MR TONER: Well, I think we put out an explanation of vote on this, Said. I mean, obviously, we remain committed to supporting the Palestinian people, along with many of our international partners, and that certainly includes Palestinian women in practical and effective ways. But in our view – and it speaks to your last comment – in our view, we felt this resolution was one-sided.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: That it, guys? Thank you.
QUESTION: No, no, no, wait. I got two. They're brief. Don't worry.
MR TONER: Please. Yeah, Matt. Okay.
QUESTION: One, semi-related to this: Do you, this building, or do you know, more broadly, the Executive Branch of the federal government in general have any comments on this – these regulations that Governor Cuomo of New York signed – put into effect yesterday on the anti-BDS – or on the BDS situation?
MR TONER: Matt, I'm going to – I'll take the question. I just don't – I'm not aware of that.
QUESTION: I don't know if you would or not.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I'm just curious, if you do, what it is.
MR TONER: No, we'll look at it. Yep, we'll look at it.
QUESTION: And then secondly, have you seen this announcement out of Iran that the Iranian foreign ministry has rejected visa applications from three Republican congressmen, all of them critics of the Iran deal who wanted to go to Iran to check out the implementation?
MR TONER: Yeah --
QUESTION: And is this the kind of – regardless of what their motive was --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- or is in terms of going, is this something that, in your contacts with the Iranians, you might object to?
MR TONER: I just – I found out about this just before coming out. I know we're aware of the Iranian response to visa applications by some members of Congress. And the response came to us, I understand, and then we then passed it on to these members of Congress. I don't really have any specific comment on it.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you – would you like to see members of Congress travel to Iran to take a look around?
MR TONER: Look, I mean, it's – if they would so desire to travel there, we don't want to impede them the ability to do so.
QUESTION: Right. I know. But I mean --
MR TONER: We don't have any – we don't have any diplomatic presence to provide support for any kind of congressional --
QUESTION: No, I understand, but this not like a – these aren't private citizens.
MR TONER: Yeah. So I mean, we wouldn't --
QUESTION: They are members of one branch of the government. Would you be --
MR TONER: And we certainly wouldn't want to --
QUESTION: -- willing to --
MR TONER: We certainly wouldn't want to impede their ability to travel.
QUESTION: Right. But would you be willing to go through the Swiss or whoever to see if they would reconsider?
MR TONER: I don't know. We'll see what they come back to us with. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Yep.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)
DPB # 98
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