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Daily Press Briefing

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 9, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing




1:43 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Just one thing at the top and then I'll get to your questions. I wanted to speak out briefly about the attacks earlier today in Baghdad, also give an update on Fallujah.

The United States strongly condemns the barbaric terrorist attacks in Iraq today that deliberately targeted civilians, killing at least 25 people and injuring many more. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims, families, and friends, and remain steadfast in our support for the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh. These attacks by Daesh, including the cowardly attack on June 7th in Baghdad and Karbala that targeted dozens of innocent Iraqis celebrating the beginning of Ramadan, are stark reminders of why we must defeat this enemy. The United States will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi people as they confront and defeat Daesh.

Also just on Fallujah, we commend the progress being made by Iraqi forces on the battlefield. We're encouraged by statements made by Iraqi leaders over the past several days urging for the protection of civilians who are fleeing Daesh and the pledge to investigate any cases of abuse and to hold violators accountable. The United States and our coalition will continue to provide training and support to the Iraqi Security Forces so they can continue to defend and protect the Iraqi people.

That's it. Matt.

QUESTION: I have one housekeeping thing --


QUESTION: -- before we go back to policy.


QUESTION: And that is the response to Congressman Chaffetz. Has it happened? Has you – have you sent it?

MR TONER: It has. Yes, it's been sent.

QUESTION: It's been sent? Can you give us a little more clarity about what's in it?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I think it's simply – well, it's at least partially in response to the letter that Representative Chaffetz sent to the Secretary. But it addresses what we know about the incident and what we've been able to determine by interviewing this person, the technician, and also looking at emails and basically giving a laydown of the events as we know them – a timeline, if you will. And then that's essentially it, and then also speaking to the fact that we have taken steps to make sure that it doesn't happen in the future.

QUESTION: Well, what is it that you have determined? Have you gotten any further than --


QUESTION: -- what we already know?


QUESTION: What you've already told us?


QUESTION: So there's no new – there's no new detail --


QUESTION: -- in the letter --


QUESTION: -- that's been sent?


QUESTION: And did you turn over any documents, which, of course, the congressman had requested?

MR TONER: No, not to my understanding. No, we did not. No.

QUESTION: How come?

MR TONER: I think we talked about the fact that we have gone through the emails, but I don't think we felt necessary – that it was necessary to share those documents with the committee at this point in time.

QUESTION: Well, are they relevant? Did you find any that are relevant to this?

MR TONER: No, no. I mean, we said this --

QUESTION: Well, if --

MR TONER: We went through all of – we didn't find any documents and we're not going to just hand over all of the emails that are, as you said, not relevant to the investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but the question – the question is that the reason that you didn't send any documents with the letter is that they didn't --

MR TONER: Is that they were not – yes, they were not relevant to it. Yes.

QUESTION: They didn't have anything to do with this?

MR TONER: Yes. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: What are the email systems – so you're – you said you're looking at emails. Are you looking at both classified and unclassified email systems?

MR TONER: I would assume both.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR TONER: I'll check on that. And I have not gotten an answer about personal emails. I don't believe that's the case.

QUESTION: You don't believe that you're looking at those?

MR TONER: That we're looking at personal emails.

QUESTION: And can you – and this may be just me that's interested in this, but can you get the names of the email system or systems that you're looking at?

MR TONER: How so? You mean --

QUESTION: I believe there's more than just classified and unclassified and there are other systems.

MR TONER: Sure, I can see if that's – if there's – if it's --

QUESTION: Okay. I --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.


QUESTION: And that's gone up to his office just recently in the last couple hours, or was it yesterday?

MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, I believe – you're talking about Representative Chaffetz?

QUESTION: Yeah, I'm just wondering – I'm just wondering if he has had time to respond. (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: I think it's – I think it was --

QUESTION: You have not gotten --

MR TONER: It was sent in the last hour or so. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So you have not heard back from him?

QUESTION: So it didn't go yesterday?

MR TONER: No, it did not go yesterday.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR TONER: We were just finalizing it – dotting i's, crossing t's.

QUESTION: On your – related to your opening statement on the attacks in Iraq --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday there was also – there was an attack in Israel in Tel Aviv. I know that you put a statement out, a written statement out about it, but do you have anything more to say about that in the same vein as you --

MR TONER: Well, obviously, as you said, and we --

QUESTION: -- spoke about the attacks that –

MR TONER: -- and I'm happy to once again condemn yesterday's terrible terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms. We extend our deep condolences to the families of those killed and our hopes for a quick recovery of those who were wounded in this attack. And as I said in the statement yesterday, these kinds of attacks can never be justified.

QUESTION: On the subject of the attacks --


QUESTION: -- the defense minister over there, Avigdor Lieberman, has said that in future Palestinians that are killed while carrying out attacks will – their bodies will not be returned to their families. They're going to be interred somewhere. Israel has a cemetery for enemies, I think. Is that something that you're concerned about? Is that – or is that par for the course?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look – I mean, this is obviously an internal matter for Israel to debate. This is – I think a couple thoughts on that is – one is that we would just hope that any measures that Israel takes would be designed to not escalate tensions any further. But we certainly respect their desire to express outrage and to protect the safety of their people.

QUESTION: Is that an appropriate way to express outrage, to keep the bodies of the killers?

MR TONER: Well, again, we – I guess – again, the dynamic here is that we don't want to see any further escalation of tensions. That's something that they obviously should weigh when they consider these kinds of measures.

QUESTION: But you then went on to say that you respected their desire to convey outrage --

MR TONER: Well, I'm talking more specifically about--

QUESTION: -- and that --

MR TONER: -- frankly, about their reaction – or our reaction to their reports that they're going to freeze entry visas, or permits rather, and they're also going to plus up their troop --

QUESTION: Well, that was exactly what I wanted to get to next.


QUESTION: I mean, they said that they're going to revoke permits for 83,000 Palestinians and, as you said, that they've said that they're going to send several hundred more troops to the West Bank.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, are you trying to say in a very delicate way that that could increase tensions, which presumably it will since it makes it harder for people to work?

MR TONER: I think what I'm trying to say, Arshad, is that we understand the Israeli Government's desire to protect its citizenry, or its citizens rather, after this kind of terrorist attack, and we strongly support that right. But we would hope that any measures it takes are designed to – would also take into consideration the impact on Palestinian citizens, or civilians rather, who are just going – trying to go about their daily lives.

QUESTION: Yeah. But what about the impact on the victims of this?

MR TONER: I understand that. And which is why I --

QUESTION: I mean, I'm not sure exactly how it is that the Israelis are escalating tensions here.

MR TONER: Matt, I'm simply saying that --

QUESTION: I mean, two guys went into a restaurant with a --

MR TONER: I understand that. And that's why --

QUESTION: -- started shooting people point blank.

MR TONER: And why I prefaced my response by saying that we understand their desire to protect their citizens and to send a message, but we would only urge that any measures that it takes be done under – with the consideration towards the many innocent Palestinians who are simply trying to go about their daily lives.

QUESTION: So what does that mean? Does that mean you frown upon the measures that they are taking and think that they are escalating tensions? Or does this fall into the purview of being an appropriate response to a terrorist attack?

MR TONER: I think ultimately, first of all, that's something for the Israeli Government to ultimately decide about, decide on. I'm just simply trying to give a full sense of the dynamics here, which are that this is going to affect thousands of Palestinian civilians who are, again, just trying to go about their daily lives.

QUESTION: Right. Tens of thousands of civilian – Palestinian civilians.

MR TONER: Tens of thousands. Correct.

QUESTION: But the initial attack affects the lives of --

MR TONER: Of course. And I strongly --

QUESTION: -- many, many, many Israelis.

MR TONER: I understand that as well.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on this. Now, the Israelis --

MR TONER: And I strongly condemn these attacks.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Israelis thus far are saying that it was an individual. They could not tie it to any particular group and so on. So in this regard, and since they said that thus far there is no evidence indicating that they belong to any one group, are you calling on the Israelis to – for restraint and if – I know you alluded to that in your response to Matt and Arshad. But are you calling on them to sort of refrain from, let's say, vengeful thing against Yatta, the village which is now completely besieged? They come from a village in Hebron where they have been – the village has been subjected to a great many attacks by the settlers. Are you calling on the Israelis to refrain or have a restrained response against the village of Yatta or other places in the West Bank?

MR TONER: Said, again – and let me be very clear – we condemn yesterday's attack. We completely understand the right of Israeli authorities to ensure the security of their civilians and to carry out measures that they believe will, in fact, provide for that security. I would simply caution – and we've said this before – that in carrying out those kinds of measures that they do take into consideration the impact on innocent Palestinians and that they exercise restraint.

QUESTION: Have you been in contact with the Palestinian Authority or with – I know you have probably been in contact with Israelis on this incident or other possible incidents on their coordination, security coordination with the Israelis. Weeks back --


QUESTION: -- the head of the Palestinian security claimed that they thwarted some, like, 200 attacks and so on. Are you in touch with them on this issue?

MR TONER: Said, I'm not sure that we've been seen this attack yesterday. But I can – I know that we're in regular contact, talking about these security issues.

QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask you, Fatah, whose head is actually the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – they issued a statement basically saying that Israel must realize the consequences of its persistence to punish violence – to push violence and house demolition policies for its displacement of Palestinians, raze on Israeli – by Israeli settlers and so on. So is that – how do you perceive their – the statement of this group, which you basically support? You support the authority.

MR TONER: So a couple of things. There were a number of statements yesterday. I think President Abbas made a statement rejecting all violence against civilians regardless – and I'm quoting here – regardless of their identity and irrespective of the justifications. We certainly support the spirit and the words of President Abbas. We have consistently called on the Palestinians to condemn terrorist attacks, and this incident's no different.

There was also a statement by Hamas that we found deeply troubling that essentially tried to glorify the attack. And there was also a statement, as you mention, by Fatah – a Fatah official, rather, that – saying it was somehow justified. And again, we reject that. There's no justification for these kinds of terrorist attacks.

QUESTION: You saw the statement from Hizballah?

MR TONER: I believe so. And we --

QUESTION: You also have issues with that --

MR TONER: We would, yes.

QUESTION: -- with what it's saying? Okay.

QUESTION: One thing. I misspoke. I suggested that the permits that had been canceled were work permits, but they were not. They were to visit relatives.

MR TONER: That's correct, yeah. Yeah. Thank you for clarifying that. Yeah, just entry permits.



QUESTION: Mark, can I ask an Israeli question?

MR TONER: Hey. Yes. Good to see you.

QUESTION: Just to --

MR TONER: A question – I'm sorry?

QUESTION: It's an Israel question. I just want to clarify something.

MR TONER: Oh, okay. Great. Sorry.

QUESTION: A few days ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he would be open to peace talks based on a revised version of the Arab peace plan. I'm just wondering whether the U.S. would support that or whether it wants the parties to stick to the original version of the Arab peace plan.

MR TONER: It's a fair question. I recall the statement as well. I think – like, I mean, I think in the wake of last week's conference in Paris – and again, Secretary Kerry has spoken to this before. I think we're willing to look at all serious proposals, regardless of whether they involve a new or somehow revamped proposals – previous proposals, rather. Sorry. So I think we're open to any kind of serious effort and intent by Israel or by the Palestinians to, again, start direct negotiations. That's what we're – direct talks, rather. And that's what we want to see.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the Israel question?

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you would comment on this frequency of visits between the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, and the president of Russia, Putin – you know, that it's happening more frequently and so on, whether this is a result of a waning U.S. influence in the region, as some suggest, or is it basically they're trying to sort of --

MR TONER: I can't speak to --

QUESTION: -- to show contempt for some U.S. --

MR TONER: -- I can't speak to why Prime Minister Netanyahu would – is engaging more frequently with Russia. I would simply say that we continue to engage with Prime Minister Netanyahu on a weekly basis. I know Secretary Kerry speaks to him frequently. So as long as we're talking, we can't – we're not certainly going to restrict their ability. They're a sovereign nation and can speak to whomever they'd like to speak with.

QUESTION: So the Administration has, for some time, said that it is fully supportive of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and potential ratification by the Senate, although it does – not going to be ratified by the Senate, at least in its current form. I'm wondering if, in fact, it is still something that the Administration is interested in. And I ask this in the context of the fact that there's an anniversary, the 20th anniversary of the treaty, coming up on Monday.

There is a big meeting where all of the five – the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council were invited. All of them but Secretary Kerry are going. And although Rose Gottemoeller is going for the U.S., I'm just wondering – there used – there was a time not so long ago when you couldn't pry Secretary Kerry out of Vienna or stop him from going there for any reason. And I'm just wondering if CTBT is still an issue of priority for the Administration why it is he wouldn't be going when his four other perm-5 colleagues are?

MR TONER: I mean, I – certainly it's still a priority. I don't have anything to announce in terms of Secretary Kerry's travel, but he will be, I think, traveling next week. And I don't have details on why he's unable to make it to Vienna, other than that he has previously scheduled commitments. But I don't --

QUESTION: So this is not any indication --

MR TONER: This is not kind of a signal-sending, no.

QUESTION: Signal sending of what?

MR TONER: That we're somehow no longer interested in CTBT.

QUESTION: Can we – Syria?


QUESTION: The – Staffan de Mistura has said that he's received assurances that Syria will allow aid conveys – I think it's from this weekend – to all 19 UN-designated besieged areas. Have you, via the humanitarian task force or the ISSG, received the same assurances? Do you give them any credence? And will there be any consequences for Assad if he does not --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- carry through with this assurance?

MR TONER: Sure. Sorry. Didn't mean to cut you off there.


MR TONER: Well, obviously this is potentially very positive news. But again, as I said yesterday, we're skeptical and we're looking for action. We are, in fact, monitoring the first food delivery since, I think, 2012 to Daraya. And that should take place today. We understand a convoy is already en route and we hope that the people in Daraya are able to break their Ramadan fast this evening with food from this UN convoy. It is also our strong expectation and hope that all of the assistance that is in this UN convoy will reach Daraya, as well as to other besieged areas. We continue to call on Russia – we continue to call on all ISSG members to uphold the basic principle that it should be the UN who determines what assistance is necessary and what besieged community should receive that assistance. And we believe that the UN's full request should be met. There's no other standard. This is not something that the regime should be able to somehow edit or provide their own viewpoint on. The UN, we believe, should be the arbiter of these besieged areas and what they should receive.

So to answer your question more directly, look, we're cautiously optimistic. Again, we are very hopeful that this delivery will be made to the besieged community of Daraya and, as I said, that they can break their fast with much-needed food.

QUESTION: That's Daraya now. But he also talked about the other besieged areas.

MR TONER: Aware of that. And again, we'll be looking for evidence that this is being carried out. We're, again, cautiously optimistic.


QUESTION: Should these deliveries be an incentive to restart the talks, in your view?

MR TONER: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Will they play a role?

MR TONER: I mean, I think it's all – look, we've said there should be no preconditions for talks.

QUESTION: Right. I understand.

MR TONER: But the reality is that with a very spotty ceasefire or cessation of hostilities or a cessation of hostilities that we've seen seeking to strengthen and reaffirm in many places and with the fact that the regime is still withholding assistance from reaching these areas, it's hard. It makes it harder for these talks to get back up and running in Geneva. So we would look to any steps taken by the regime and by the opposition – but certainly, in this case, by the regime – as a way to build a more positive climate.


QUESTION: Did you hear from the Russians why they are not taking actions through – any --

MR TONER: We've not, no. I don't have anything. I asked that very question today and I – we don't have any updates. I would ask – I would direct you to the Russians, but I don't think they've responded.

Please, sir.



QUESTION: Just a follow-up from yesterday, have you received any communication from Japan regarding the incursion by the Chinese military vessels near the Senkaku Islands?

MR TONER: Hold on, I think – I don't know that I have an update on that. I apologize. I think I'd still refer you to the Japanese authorities to speak to it. We have been informed – I can report we have been informed by the situation – of the situation, rather, by the Japanese Government, and we're obviously in close communication with them. But I'd refer you to them for any further details.

QUESTION: Mark, can you explain what this situation is in Qatar that led to the ambassador to apologize for the video to --

MR TONER: Sure, I'll explain as much as – as best I can, I guess. So – and perhaps it's – it is an example of the ability of social media to send the wrong message. But my understanding is that there was a video posted during an event, a social event celebrating the establishment of the Army – the U.S. Army. And apparently, that video offended some who saw it, some Qatari citizens who saw it, and Ambassador Smith took it upon herself as ambassador to Qatar to issue an apology on Twitter, and also convey in person her apology to the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs.[1]

As to the specific content of the video, it's really a matter for the Department of Defense to speak to.

QUESTION: Okay. But --


QUESTION: -- I mean, did you agree that it was offensive?

MR TONER: Do I personally agree or do I --

QUESTION: Well, did the building agree? Or did she do this – did she --

MR TONER: I think it's not a matter of – Matt, I wouldn't say – so regardless of whether I personally or we – the matter is it's – people took offense to it, and so as a result, we felt and clearly Ambassador Smith felt that it was best to apologize for any misperception or any insult that was conveyed by this.

QUESTION: All right. And then just at the very top, you said --


QUESTION: -- it's an example of the ability of social media to send the wrong message. Well, I mean, social media doesn't send the wrong message on its own. Someone's got to actually actively put it up there, right?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: So do you know --

MR TONER: All I'm saying is we all need to be conscious of what we put out on social media. Let's put it that way.


QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on this --

MR TONER: Sure thing, please.

QUESTION: -- as well?


QUESTION: You said she took it upon herself to apologize in person. Did she take it upon herself or was she summoned by the Qataris?

MR TONER: No. My understanding is that she issued on Twitter and conveyed in person an apology to the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs. I don't believe that – I think she did this voluntarily and on her own volition.

QUESTION: She made an appointment to go see --

MR TONER: That's my understanding.


MR TONER: That's my understanding.

QUESTION: Can we go to Fallujah where you started at the top?

MR TONER: We can go to Fallujah, sure.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, could you give us an update of what's going on? And second, there seems to be, like, some sort of a campaign to aid the "Sunnis," quote-unquote, in Fallujah in places like Saudi Arabia and other places. A spokesman for the ministry of interior in Saudi Arabia says we cannot stop people's sentiments and so on. Are you concerned or would you sort of take this up with the Saudis to --

MR TONER: You – I'm sorry, just – I missed it. You're saying that there seems to be a – yeah, sorry, sorry. Yeah.

QUESTION: No, two things. First of all, can you give us an update? And then I'll follow up with --


QUESTION: -- other one.

MR TONER: Sure thing, hold on one second. Apologize; my book has grown too large.

So as I think I said yesterday, Iraqi forces are making progress, are advancing on the city. I'd obviously refer you to the Iraqi authorities to speak more about what progress has been made. I do know that – and I think I'm speaking to your – maybe your second question – but we are concerned about the plight of civilians who are fleeing Fallujah, and I spoke about this yesterday. Our understanding is that ISIL or Daesh is holding tens of thousands of civilians hostage and under terrible conditions. Iraqi Security Forces are trying to screen those who are fleeing the city to ensure that Daesh fighters are not hiding among these innocents – civilians. And it's difficult work, but we expect it to be conducted in a way that respects human rights and the safety of these civilians who are fleeing the fighting.

QUESTION: And it seems that the Fallujah battle is stirring or polarizing the Sunni-Shia schism; and in fact, in places like Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated countries are collecting contributions and money and so on being sent. Some fear that it might find its way to ISIS, or others fear that it will only exacerbate this --


QUESTION: -- sectarian schism.

MR TONER: Well – and we've, again, talked about this the last couple of days. I mean, look, we're obviously aware of the underlying dynamics and tensions inherent to this assault or this offensive to retake Fallujah. We understand Prime Minister Abadi has opened safe passageways for civilians to be able to escape. We've talked a lot about messages from Prime Minister Abadi as well as Ayatollah al-Sistani's message that Iraqi Security Forces involved in this offensive should protect civilians and civilian properties.

We are troubled by reports that civilians in Fallujah and the surrounding area have been subject to torture or abuse and in I think some cases even murder. I know Prime Minister Abadi has pledged to investigate all credible reports and hold those accountable – the perpetrators. He's issued clear instructions to Iraqi Security Forces, including the Popular Mobilization Forces, to protect civilians and respect their human rights. And we firmly support this approach.

I think that the Iraqi Government is saying the right things, pledging to do the right things, and we're obviously working closely with them to ensure that they follow through.

QUESTION: Finally, are you troubled by reports that suggest that Iranian General Qasem Soleimani is giving personal advice or field advice to – personally to Prime Minister Abadi on how to conduct the Fallujah battle? Are you aware of those reports?

MR TONER: I mean, look, this offensive – we've seen the reports, certainly, and I acknowledge that we've seen them. We're not in a position to confirm any of these images as accurate. We don't know about his travel schedule or where he is. I'd have to refer you to Iranian authorities to speak to that.

The Fallujah operation though, writ large, is under the command and control of the Iraqi Government, and we'd refer you to them to answer any questions about that. But this is a large-scale operation involving tens of thousands of Iraqi forces and with the support of these Popular Mobilization forces, and thus far it's a difficult fight. It's a long fight. As we talked about, there's – we're watching closely reports of – credible reports of abuses on civilians, but thus far we're hearing the right things from the Iraqi Government.

Please, sir.



QUESTION: Thank you. Mark, day before yesterday Turkish president signed constitutional amendment to remove immunity from MPs at parliament, most of them involved with the Kurdish MPs. Couple weeks ago you stated your concerns about what would happen if this happened. So now the president sign. I'm wondering if you have any comment on this.

MR TONER: I'd just say, again, that we're very concerned that this amendment will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech across Turkey. Look, it's a common tenet in democratic societies that – or, rather, a common tenet is equality before the law. We believe that the freedom to engage in free speech and political speech is – or should be, rather, protected under the law. And this certainly involves speech by elected representatives of a country's citizens. So we're going to continue to closely monitor it. We're going to express our concerns with the Turkish Government.

Please, sir.


MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: According to today news report, the Pentagon has dispatched a second carrier to the Mediterranean. A) can you confirm; second, can you tell us what it is behind that unusual step in --

MR TONER: Unusual of having two carriers in the --

QUESTION: Yeah. It's been more than 20 years. The Navy hasn't had two carrier in the same time in the Mediterranean.

MR TONER: I – honestly, I have not seen those reports. I'd have to refer you to the Pentagon to confirm them. And as to the reason behind them, again, they can speak to the overall strategy and the mission of these particular carriers. I don't have anything to offer.

QUESTION: Is it related to what's taking place in Syria and Iraq, as they report (inaudible)?

MR TONER: I would be – I just can't conjecture to why those two carriers in the Mediterranean – if they are indeed. I just don't have that information in front of me.

QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up again – sorry – on the --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- China-Senkaku issue?


QUESTION: So you can't shed any kind of light on the communication between you and the Japanese Government on this?

MR TONER: I can't – I'm sorry, what was your question? I can't shed any?

QUESTION: Any more light on, like, the details, the content of the communication between the Japanese Government and this building?

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, I mean, we're obviously – Japan is a close partner and ally. We – they have informed us about the situation. You know our position on the Senkakus is longstanding. We don't take a position on the question of ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but we do acknowledge that they've been under Japanese administration since, I think, 1972. And as such, we believe they fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

We're obviously always concerned by these kinds of reports – something we watch closely and we'll continue to consult closely on with the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: Are there any steps that you're looking to take?

MR TONER: Not at this point, no, I don't believe so.

QUESTION: And finally, sorry --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- do you think that this incursion is a direct response to U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, we just left the S&ED in Beijing where, again, we had a very full and frank conversation with the Chinese about our commitment to freedom of navigation. That's not something we're going to shy away from. We've been very plain-spoken about it. We believe it's within our rights and within international law and we're going to continue to carry out these kinds of operations. As to whether this is related to that, we hope not, but we can't conjecture.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yeah, you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I have a question about Eritrea.


QUESTION: The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea held a press conference yesterday to report its findings to the media. The Commission of Inquiry says, I quote, "The commission has concluded that Eritrean official have committed crimes against humanity, the crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution, rape, murder, and other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign against the civilian population since 1991." And also, if you remember, the State Department also released its own Human Rights Report on Eritrea.

So what is the U.S. reaction regarding --


QUESTION: -- this new report from the United States --

MR TONER: Well, we're --

QUESTION: -- the United Nations?

MR TONER: Sure. We're reviewing the – I think it's the second report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. We're concerned by the commission's assertion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea since 1991. We have, as you know, repeatedly expressed grave concern about the human rights situation overall in Eritrea, and the findings of the commission only, I think, reinforce our concerns. We continue to support international efforts to improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea.

QUESTION: And a quick question. The Eritrean Government --


QUESTION: -- and its supporters rejected the report, claiming that it's politically motivated. Do you think it is?

MR TONER: Again, we're reviewing the report. The concerns – or the allegations it raises are concerning to us, and I think we would encourage the Government of Eritrea to honor its commitment to return the duration of natural – there's several steps that they can take, let's put it this way, to address some of the concerns about human rights. One, they can return the duration of national service to 18 months, they can also develop an independent judiciary, and they can also release persons who've been arbitrarily detained, and that includes journalists and members of religious groups. So we would urge them to take action to improve the overall human rights situation in Eritrea.

Sorry, you had a question.


QUESTION: Just speaking of UN reports, the secretary-general has come out and essentially acknowledged that the Saudis threatened to cut off tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars of funding for various UN organizations and programs unless they were removed from this child – this report on children. Is this the kind of thing that's acceptable to you (inaudible)?

MR TONER: So we are – we have seen his comments. We share his view, the secretary-general's view, that the report describes, quote, "horrors that no child should have to face," end quote. And we believe that it's important that the UN be permitted to carry out its responsibilities pertaining to human rights and the protection of children without fear of reprisals.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means that you do not think that what the Saudis did was appropriate?

MR TONER: Again, we've seen his comments. We've seen reports about countries, governments, Saudis threatening to cut off funding.

QUESTION: I mean, is that an okay way --

MR TONER: It's --

QUESTION: -- to get your way at the UN?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think it's – we agree with the secretary-general that the UN should be permitted to carry out its mandate, carry out its responsibilities, without fear of money being cut off.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I mean, one of the reasons that I ask this is that it's pretty standard diplomatic procedure or procedure – pretty standard behavior of nations, including the United States --

MR TONER: I'm aware of our own track record.

QUESTION: -- to threaten to cut off funding to UN organizations if it doesn't do or if it does do things that it doesn't like. So why is it not hypocritical for you to be – raise an eyebrow or say that what the Saudis did is wrong when this government, through multiple administrations and sometimes required to by U.S. law, threatens the UN on an almost daily basis?

MR TONER: Again, I'm speaking to this very specific report that pertains to protection of children.


MR TONER: And I would say that our focus is on the way forward, which is that the secretary-general has invited the Saudis – the coalition, I think – to send a team to New York to talk about the report and to work through it. And we would certainly strongly urge the Saudis and others to participate in that process.

I said I fully acknowledge our own track record regarding the withholding of funds. That said, the UN should be able to carry its mandate and also carry out its ability to report objectively on these kinds of issues without fear of reprisal.


QUESTION: Well, does that mean – does that mean that you are willing now to ignore U.S. law and fund UN organizations that --

MR TONER: I'm speaking about this specific incident.

QUESTION: -- recognize the Palestinians?

MR TONER: I'm speaking about this specific issue and this specific incident.

QUESTION: So – but – so it's inconsistent. You're acknowledging an inconsistent U.S. position, yeah?

MR TONER: I'm acknowledging that we, in the past, for different reasons, have withheld funds, yes.

QUESTION: Was it appropriate for the UN to have removed the Saudi-led coalition from this blacklist in the face of these threatened reprisals?

MR TONER: Look, I'm not going to second-guess the UN's decision and the secretary-general's decision. It's up to him to explain and defend his rationale for doing so. But I think, again, he has offered a way forward here, which is that – it's to sit down with the Saudis to look at the report and to ensure that it accurately reflects the situation.

QUESTION: So do you expect that once the review is done – because your counterpart at the UN --

MR TONER: I'm not going to prejudge the outcome.

QUESTION: -- Stephane Dujarric, said that this is – we are going to review it. So --

MR TONER: I'm aware of his comments, but I'm not going to prejudge what the outcome of this process may be.


QUESTION: Have you had any direct contact with the Saudis about this issue?

MR TONER: Fair question. I'm not sure. Probably through our UN, but – through our mission in the UN, but I'd have to confirm that.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Why the Secretary canceled his visit today to Jeddah?

MR TONER: Oh, I – that was just simply I think scheduling problems. I don't think he could get the meetings he wanted.

QUESTION: I got two very brief ones.

MR TONER: Sure, and then I've got to step – yeah.

QUESTION: Both have to do with LGBT issues.

MR TONER: Of course. Okay.

QUESTION: One is there's going to be a march – a Pride Week march – in Ukraine – in Kyiv I believe this weekend, and there has been some threats to it. You are probably aware that there was some violence at previous ones; one had been canceled. I know that Randy Berry was just there. Have you guys expressed any concerns to the Ukrainian authorities about the – about this, about the threats?

MR TONER: Matt, I just don't have the –

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I don't know – I mean, I'm sure that we've sent a consistent message about LGBT rights and the rights for citizens to peacefully march and demonstrate. I don't know specifically if we've conveyed our concerns about this.

QUESTION: All right. And then there's some legislation --

MR TONER: I'll check.

QUESTION: -- in Moldova that is causing some concern. Do you know anything – it's – I believe it's similar to the Russian propaganda law.


QUESTION: If you don't have anything on it --

MR TONER: I'll check on that as well.

QUESTION: -- can you --

MR TONER: Yeah, I'll check. Fair enough. I don't have anything in front of me.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

[1] Ambassador Smith was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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