Daily Press Briefing - December 1, 2015

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 1, 2015


1:50 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Everybody.


MR TONER: Hello.


MR TONER: Hello. Sorry to be – well, I guess I’m not technically late. That time is completely off over there. It has me at 3:30. Anyway --

QUESTION: That’s because it’s 1897.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) All right. In any case, happy to be here today. Welcome to the State Department.

Just very quickly, a couple things at the top, none of them very long. Did want to note that many of you have now in your inboxes a statement by the Secretary, Secretary of State Kerry, on – today is World AIDS Day – a statement recognizing the millions of people who are still impacted by HIV/AIDS and restating our commitment to achieving an AIDS-free generation and to ending the AIDS epidemic once and for all by the year 2030.

I do also want to note today that the U.S. assumes the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of December. And at 3:30 p.m., Ambassador Sam Power will hold a press conference previewing the program of work of the Council for the coming month. Tune in; I think it’s on UN Web, live-streamed. I’m sure, Matt, you have that on your --


MR TONER: -- bookmarked. And then also, briefly, I know Elizabeth spoke to the day one of these U.S.-Cuba meetings. Today, however, officials from the U.S. and Cuban governments are meeting for the second Counter-Narcotics Dialogue in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Coast Guard are meeting with representatives of the Cuban Government to discuss the ways – ways to stop the illegal flow of narcotics to and from Cuba and the United States, and exploring ways the two countries can cooperate on this issue. We’ll probably send you a fuller readout of those meetings later today.

And that is it. Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything that merits starting with, so I’ll pass.

MR TONER: Okay. Great. Sure, Dave.

QUESTION: Until – not for the whole thing. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: You have every right to come back into it and jump into the fray whenever you want. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Could you talk just a bit about how the appointment of Rob Malley as the President’s – relates to Mr. McGurk’s mission here? Are they equal partners in this? Is there an extra level of management being inserted into the anti-ISIS coalition management?

MR TONER: Well, I think – and again, I don’t have a lot of information. You obviously saw the White House speak to this earlier today from Paris. But his role is complementary. It’s to oversee the coordination, the interagency effort. And it’s certainly, as I said, just complementary to Brett McGurk’s focus on the counter-ISIL coalition. This is, obviously, an effort that’s going to take all of the interagency and all the resources of the U.S. Government, so I think this is an effort to have someone who is the point person on that, all those efforts. And we’ve talked about the five different lines of effort many times, but obviously, it’s also in keeping with the President’s strategy – and certainly we’ve seen that here within the State Department, but in the Department of Defense as well – to apply more pressure on ISIL and to seek to augment those areas or those efforts where we feel like we’re having success.

Please, Michel.

QUESTION: On Syria, the Syrian opposition has talked today about developing an anti-craft missile system in Latakia region. And they have now the system. Are you aware of these reports? Have you helped the opposition to get this system developed?

MR TONER: I’m completely unaware of those reports, Michel. I’ll have to look into them. I don’t know. You’re saying that they have developed an anti-aircraft system?

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR TONER: No, I’m – and these are – again, I’m sorry. I don’t – I just didn’t hear the whole question. You said moderate Syrian opposition has claimed this?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

MR TONER: No. I don’t have any details for you on that. Sorry.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: China. China.

MR TONER: China.

QUESTION: U.S.-China cyber dialogue just started today, as you know. I know it’s mainly the matter of Department of Justice and DHS, but I’m sure they are talking about cyber espionage or – and the – to protect the intellectual property of the U.S. private company. So what does the United States Government propose to China and what is the target of this meeting this time? I know it’s the first one.

MR TONER: Sure. Well, obviously, this is something – and certainly, when President Xi was here --

QUESTION: September.

MR TONER: -- I guess a few months ago, this was a big component of some of the discussions that we had, the President had with him. And coming out of that there was this commitment, obviously, to this working group.

Look, we’ve been very clear all along that we want to encourage a transparent cyber relationship with China. And it’s in the interest of both the U.S. and China – and frankly, any global economy in this day and age – to have a cyber security regime set up in their country that will promote investment, that will promote long-time prosperity. If you’re a company or a firm or a business, an international business, you’re going to look twice at investing anywhere where – that doesn’t offer that kind of cyber security. So it’s in everyone’s interest to pursue that. And certainly, what we’re looking at going forward is to establish some clear guidelines about how we establish that regime.

QUESTION: One more things.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Do you still recognize the Chinese cyber attack against U.S. private company still continue after – particularly after President Obama and Xi’s summit meeting last time?

MR TONER: I’m not sure what you’re actually referring to. Which – I apologize.

QUESTION: This – I mean, the cyber attack from PLA or some organization which is affiliated with Chinese Government.

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t think we’ve ever – if it’s one I’m thinking of, I don’t think we’ve ever said clearly that – who was at fault or who was behind that attack.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Mark, on North Korea.


QUESTION: Recently, North Korea SLBM – launched the SLBM. How did you – comment on --

MR TONER: You mean the missile test that they held?



QUESTION: Submarine missile test.

MR TONER: Well, we’re obviously concerned by those reports. We continue to send a very strong and clear and consistent message – I would say the United States as well as all of its partners in the Six-Party Talks, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, and as well as Russia – to North Korea to refrain from any violations of UN Security Council resolutions or any other actions that raise tensions in the region and threaten international peace and security.

QUESTION: Regarding this, do you have another additional sanctions against the North Korea or asking to --

MR TONER: Nothing to announce at this time, of course.


MR TONER: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the brief meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in Paris yesterday. Do you have anything to say?

MR TONER: Prime ministers of India and Pakistan?

QUESTION: And Pakistan, yeah.

MR TONER: I don’t – I’m not sure that I have anything on that. I can check. Hold on one second.

QUESTION: Unless it ended in a fistfight, I’ll bet you’re happy about it. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Well put, Matt.


MR TONER: I was going to say – if I didn’t have anything specific in my book, I was going to say, of course, we always welcome these kinds of exchanges and dialogue between India and Pakistan, and certainly a constructive relationship between the two countries is not only good for the two countries but good for the region and the stability of the region.

QUESTION: Go to Iran?


QUESTION: I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about what the IAEA report that is expected this week. There have been a slew of reports in the last couple days saying that the report is expected to be inconclusive on the PMD issue. And I’m wondering, one, if that’s what you expect as well; and two, if the Administration has an issue, has a problem with that, if it is what you expect.

MR TONER: Well, I think you’ll appreciate the fact that I can’t speak about the contents of a report that has not yet been released, even though others may or may not have been speaking to its contents on background or anonymously.

As you know, this is part of the implementation of the JCPOA, and as part of that agreement Iran committed to complete the activities required of it in the roadmap with the IAEA. And one of those required providing – included providing information to the IAEA to enable the – enable it to address outstanding issues. And of course, the JCPOA called for the IAEA to provide a written report. And the P5+1 is committed – or has committed to submit a resolution to the IAEA Board of Governors with a view to closing the issue of PMD.

So all this is still to play out. We haven’t gotten the report yet. And then, of course, the P5+1 will offer its resolution on that report.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is it still the Administration’s position that Iran has to come clean, as it were, about what it was doing in the past in order for there – in order to implement the JCPOA and in order for there to be sanctions relief offered? Or are you – is the Administration willing to accept something less than a full accounting of their past activity?

MR TONER: Well, a couple of things to say about this. One is let’s broaden the lens here a little bit and remember that the JCPOA --

QUESTION: Well, actually, let’s not.

MR TONER: -- is in place --

QUESTION: Let’s talk about --

MR TONER: I’ll get to your question. I’ll get to your specific question. But the JCPOA is in place. It is – it exists to prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon or from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We’ve been very clear about our own concerns about Iran’s military dimensions – possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program in the past. We’ve been very clear about what we feel about that.

As part of the JCPOA, Iran agreed to work with the IAEA to allow them access to all of – or to – rather, to be able to look at all the aspects of their past potential military dimensions of their program. So --

QUESTION: But they didn’t allow them access.

MR TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: And you just – you said that and then you walked back from it because, in fact --

MR TONER: No, I didn’t.

QUESTION: In fact, they didn’t allow them access to Parchin.

MR TONER: What you’re saying – again, this is a report that is not yet submitted --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR TONER: -- which is why I’m speaking very carefully about it --


MR TONER: -- and what its conclusions might be. This is a part of a process for the – for Iran to get to implementation day, where they’ll get sanctions relief, where the JCPOA will get into effect. They have to answer questions, concerns about the PMD, about the past military dimensions of their program. Let’s let the report speak to that. The P5+1 will provide a statement or a resolution that speaks to closing out this issue, or with a view towards closing out this issue. But let’s, again, remember that the JCPOA is in place regardless of what comes out of this report so that Iran isn’t able to pursue a nuclear weapon in the future.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s what you said with broadening the lens, but I want to narrow the lens because – back to the PMD issue – because it was the position of the Administration that Iran had to fully account for its past activities, and you seem to be suggesting now that even if they don’t and even if the IAEA is not able to provide any conclusive answer to what they were doing, that, well, the JCPOA is still in place and so therefore it doesn’t really matter what this report says. That seems to be what you’re saying.

MR TONER: No, and I’m sorry if I’m just --

QUESTION: All right. So is it the Administration’s position still that the JCPOA cannot be implemented – we can’t get to implementation day --


QUESTION: -- and Iran cannot get the sanctions relief that it would get if the PMD question remains unresolved? Is that the position of the Administration?

MR TONER: So the steps that need to occur prior to implementation day include Iran fully implementing the roadmap for clarification of past and present outstanding issues, agreed with by the IAEA on July 14th, that will, as you say, address past and present issues of concern related to Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Well – but wait a second. I don’t know that what – that it will address them at all, and you’re saying that you don’t know either because you don’t want to speak to what the report is. You’re saying that mere – that simply doing what they agreed – what they said they would do is enough to get to implementation day, even if what they ended up doing and what the IAEA is able to conclude isn’t a full accounting of what happened in the past. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Look, let’s wait for the report to be submitted --


MR TONER: -- and then we’ll speak to the contents of the report and let the P5+1, which it’s committed to do, speak to the contents of the report and the findings of the report.

QUESTION: So this P5+1, when it – the resolution that it will take the IAEA report and say, okay, we got the IAEA report, they’ve – the Iranians have done all of this and either they have or they have not addressed the questions and concerns. But regardless of whether it is – they have addressed or they have not addressed, the JCPOA remains in place and Iran will still be – will still get the sanctions relief that it was agreed it would get – is that correct – regardless of the findings?

MR TONER: Regardless of the findings?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I mean, I realize this is a hypothetical.

MR TONER: It’s okay, yeah.

QUESTION: But if the IAEA comes back and says, we cannot say with certainty what Iran did in the past, it sounds to me like you’re saying that that’s okay – that that’s okay --

MR TONER: We’ve been very clear as a – as – the U.S. has been very clear what we assess their --

QUESTION: -- and that the JCPOA remains implemented, or it remains in place, and implementation day along with the sanctions relief will go ahead, even if the IAEA is not able to say with confidence or definitively say what was going on in the past.

MR TONER: So we and the P5+1, our partners, adopted a firm position that Iran must fully address PMD as part of any deal, and importantly, that this would be completed prior to sanctions being lifted under the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Right. But it sounds to me as though you’re saying that “fully address” now means just complete the activities that were required in the roadmap whether or not completing those activities actually lends – gives the IAEA confidence that it knows what was happening in the past. Anyway --

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: -- we can revisit this once the report comes out, and I’m sure we will.

MR TONER: We’ll revisit when the report comes out, but I would just go back to my original assertion, which is there is now a framework in place under the JCPOA that will prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, I get that, but one of the – but one of the main points – one of the main parts of that was for them to address their – the past military – the possible military dimensions of their past work.

MR TONER: Correct, correct.

QUESTION: And so if they don’t do that, that doesn’t seem to me like they’ve completed their part of the deal there.

MR TONER: Well, I think they’re committed to doing that. Let’s wait for the report to come out and we’ll just --

QUESTION: All right. Well, we’ll see. Also on --

MR TONER: I feel like we’re arguing over – past each other, I think.

QUESTION: All right, okay. All right. Also on Iran, there is a report just came out about – a report about the execution of --


QUESTION: -- an Iranian American in Iran. Do you know – what do you know about this?

MR TONER: So – yeah, so this is – we are aware of these reports of the execution in Iran of a dual citizen, Mr. Hamid Samiei. Excuse me. We don’t yet have official confirmation of his death and are obviously seeking more information. This case was brought to our attention on October 28th, so a very short time ago, immediately after the foreign interests section at the Swiss embassy in Tehran was notified of Mr. Samiei’s impending execution.

We are not aware of any notifications to the Department of State or the Swiss foreign interests section of Mr. Samiei’s arrest, sentencing, or imprisonment prior to October 28th. So after October 28th, working through the Swiss, we did ask for a stay of execution and expressed our concern about the apparent lack of due process in this case, and frankly, in order to find out a bit more about who this individual was and more about the case against him. So --


MR TONER: We’re still waiting for that information, and again, we’ve seen reports today that he was executed, but we don’t have confirmation yet.

QUESTION: The reports (inaudible) he was executed for killing someone on U.S. soil. Are you aware of any unsolved murders in California?

MR TONER: Again, I would – I’d have to refer you to local authorities for that in California for the details of any pending murder cases.

QUESTION: What I don’t understand is that --


QUESTION: So you got in touch with the Swiss. Presumably you expected the same response that you always get from the Iranians when there is a dual citizen involved, which is --

MR TONER: Right. They don’t recognize dual citizens.

QUESTION: Exactly, and so we don’t have an American detained; we can’t – we won’t give you any information. What made you think that in this case they would give you any information?

MR TONER: Well, you’re absolutely right. Iran does not recognize dual nationality and does not, in that case, notify the U.S. Government or the Department of State when it detains dual nationals. That said, we did work through the Swiss to try to get more information about this individual, why he was being held, whether he received due process, et cetera, et cetera. And we asked in that – because we were so late in being notified about his sentencing, we asked for a stay of execution.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s just talk about “so late.” I mean, October 28th isn’t that recently. I mean, we’re now in December.

MR TONER: Yeah, but I mean – anyway, we don’t have any idea when he was arrested or how long he was held.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, does this give you pause about the – Iran’s willingness to cooperate when you seek help? I mean, you’re still waiting for information on Robert Levinson, you’re still --

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, I mean --

QUESTION: Your appeals – your appeals for release of the other Americans --

MR TONER: But Matt, I mean, there’s nothing – there’s nothing new here. I mean, we said long --

QUESTION: Well, there – yeah, there is. This guy has been executed.

MR TONER: But we said – what we said all along is that if you’re trying to refer this back to the JCPOA, that’s a completely unrelated issue. What we said all along is we don’t expect Iran’s behavior to necessarily change from one day to the next. We raised our concerns with them, just like we always raise our concerns about the other U.S. citizens who are being held in Iran on a consistent basis, and we’re going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but I didn’t bring it back to the JCPOA. I mean, that was your – I think you assumed that --

MR TONER: Sorry. I assumed you --

QUESTION: I’m just – I’m wondering, though, if – what it says to you about the cases of the other Americans who are detained. Not necessarily that they’ve been sentenced to death or they’re going to be executed --

MR TONER: No, no, I understand what you’re saying.

QUESTION: -- but you’ve been calling for years and years for these people to be released or for – in Levinson’s case, for information on it, and you’ve gotten zero in response. So now you have a situation where a dual citizen has actually been executed, and I just wonder --


QUESTION: -- what that says to you --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- despite your appeals, even if they only started on October 28th.

MR TONER: Right. Well, obviously, we continue to raise at every opportunity the cases of Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, as well as for Iran to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson. I wouldn’t say we necessarily deal with Iran from a position of trust. That said, we’re not going to stop raising the cases of these American citizens and expressing our concerns that they’re being held and our desire to see them return to the United States.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you --

MR TONER: But I don’t necessarily want to draw that --


MR TONER: -- connection to this case as well. We still don’t have all the details about why this individual is being held.

QUESTION: Okay. You – and you – but you’re sure that he was being held; you’re just not sure that he was executed?

MR TONER: That’s our understanding, is that we’re not sure that he was executed today. We’re looking to confirm that.


MR TONER: We’ve just seen reports, but we don’t have a – we don’t have official confirmation.

QUESTION: Presumably – and I know this is a hypothetical so you’ll probably not want to answer it, but if he did – if he was, in fact, executed, and you’re able to get confirmation of that, I presume that you’re not okay with that. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Well, I think we’ll raise our concerns because we indeed asked for a stay of execution until we got more details about his case and whether due process was followed. We do have concerns over the lack of due process and the lack of consular notification.

QUESTION: Mark, on Lebanon?

MR TONER: Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: The Lebanese Government and the al-Nusrah Front have exchanged prisoners today. And the Lebanese Government expressed its readiness to talk to ISIL to release Lebanese army members captured by ISIL. Do you have any comment on this?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I would just say that we welcome the release, obviously, of these 16 Lebanese soldiers and policemen, many of who have been detained for over a year by al-Nusrah. We also understand, I think, the body of one additional soldier has also been returned. In terms of the – al-Nusrah as a whole, you know our position on al-Nusrah very clearly. We consider them to be an al-Qaida affiliate and designated them a foreign terrorist organization since December 2012.

QUESTION: And do you support the exchange, too?

MR TONER: I – I said our – I’ll just leave it at that. Our position on al-Nusrah is very clear. We certainly welcome the release of these prisoners who have been held for over a year in many cases, but I’m not going to speak to the decisions of the Lebanese Government.

QUESTION: Because the Lebanese Government has released prisoners from al-Nusrah, too.

MR TONER: I understand that. I said I’m not going to – I’m not going to comment on the decisions made by other governments regarding dealing with al-Nusrah. I’m going to – I said I welcome the release of these prisoners, these Lebanese prisoners, the 16 Lebanese soldiers. Our position on al-Nusrah is very clear: we consider them a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: And on the Lebanese presidential elections, too --


QUESTION: -- there are political blocs circulating the name of member of parliament Suleiman Franjieh to be elected as a future president. Do you support the election of Mr. Franjieh?

MR TONER: In answer, I would just say, look, we don’t support the election of one candidate. That’s obviously a process and a decision for the Lebanese people. Where we’ve come down in general on Lebanon is that we remain deeply concerned about the continuing paralysis of Lebanon’s political institutions, including the absence of a president since May of 2014. So we would continue to urge the Lebanese parliament to convene and to hold a vote on the president.

QUESTION: Do you have any contacts with Mr. Franjieh?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: You don’t know him?

MR TONER: Personally, no.

QUESTION: No, not you. The State Department. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I’m not aware – I don’t know. I can’t speak to whether our embassy has contact with him or not. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please. Hi, Abby.

QUESTION: It’s been reported in Saudi Arabian press that 65 Syrian opposition leaders have been invited to attend a meeting in Riyadh. And I was wondering if you would confirm that meeting, if there was going to be any U.S. representation there, and if you feel like you’re still on target to meet the January 1st target date of the meeting between Syrian Government and opposition leaders.

MR TONER: Sure, if I can just find it. So yes, so the – aware of these reports – dates and other details are still, as we understand, being finalized. But you’re right that they’ve been planning this for some time to hold this meeting within the next couple of weeks. Obviously, I would refer you to the Saudis themselves for more details. In general, we expect this to be a gathering of a broad and representative group of leaders from the Syrian political opposition, armed groups, and civil society. When Secretary Kerry met with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir on November 23rd, they obviously discussed this process going forward and the urgency of it, the fact that we want to see this process move forward as quickly as possible; working towards a consensus on who is their negotiators, what their negotiating positions look like as we are seeking to begin talks under UN auspices in early January.

QUESTION: Is it your assumption that these 65 will be the 65 proposed to go forward, or will some of them be invited to be warned that they’re not going to be acceptable to the process?

MR TONER: I don’t want to get ahead of the process yet – or the meeting hasn’t taken place, obviously. I think that this is an effort to encourage these opposition group representatives to reach a consensus, both on their negotiating principles, but also on their representation to the negotiations under the UN auspices going forward.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. be represented at this --

MR TONER: I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when we’ve figured that out.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Saudi? I don’t know if this came up yesterday with Elizabeth or not, but there were reports of a mass – plans for a – large-scale executions by beheading in Saudi. Do you have any --

MR TONER: A little bit.

QUESTION: -- thoughts on this?

MR TONER: I don’t have much more detail, frankly. We’ve also seen media reports about possible executions in Saudi Arabia, but we don’t have the specific details. Obviously, we continue to call on the Saudi Government to follow due process in all legal place – cases, rather – and ensure that judicial proceedings – and that includes sentencing – are transparent in accordance with international commitments and obligations.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any particular objection to the method of execution?

MR TONER: Again, I would just say what our concerns are is – are focused on – I mean, look, first of all, our human rights concerns about Saudi Arabia, if that’s your question, are very well detailed in our human rights report, so I’d refer you to that. But I think when we look at this – if it’s indeed an execution or death sentences on a mass scale like this, we’re certainly concerned and would call on the Saudi Government to make sure that due process was adhered to in any legal case, but certainly in this case, and that these proceedings were transparent.

QUESTION: But if the trials were fair, it’s okay to chop their heads off in the street?

MR TONER: Again, I think our – I’ll refer you to our human rights annual report that talks a little bit more detail about our human rights concerns with Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: On a specific Saudi execution case --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- Mr. al-Nimr has been warned that he’s quite close to execution now. Do you have anything more on that? Also --


QUESTION: -- 17-year-old --

MR TONER: Yeah. We’ve noted our concern about his case before. He was sentenced to death, I believe, while still a minor at the time of his arrest. And also concerned equally by allegations that his confession was made under duress, so we call on – again, we call on the Government of Saudi Arabia to respect universal human rights and its international obligations.

In the back.

QUESTION: On the former secretary’s emails that came out yesterday.


QUESTION: So Mr. Kirby – and maybe you’ve taken this question before – starting in August talked about a dialogue with the DNI about, I think, four emails that the DNI or the ICIG – Intelligence Community Inspector General – had raised concerns about. And you folks said that you would let us know when any of those four emails emerged from the review process.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: It appeared from something your colleague said yesterday that that occurred yesterday, but the ICIG is saying no, this is not one of the four emails we flagged as having concerns about; it’s part of some other thing where we told you that maybe the State Department had concerns or should have concerns about it. Can you provide any greater clarity as to where this document comes from?

MR TONER: No, I’m aware of the story that you’re referring to. Look, I mean, as we said yesterday, in yesterday’s release of the next tranche of emails – Clinton – Secretary Clinton’s emails – it included one of the two documents that ODNI referred to us back in – or back to the State Department in September as having no IC equities. And as we said yesterday, that – living up to our commitment, as you noted, to notify you all in the media when those documents – when any of those four documents were released, it was dated November 27th, 2010. It was titled, quote, unquote, “Follow-up.”

And we did not – we went, obviously, through the normal FOIA review process, as we do with all of these documents, and decided we did not need to upgrade any information in this document. But we stand by our statement yesterday that it was one of the documents – this was one of the documents referred by ODNI to the State Department as having no IC equities, so – I don’t know – I’d have to refer you to ODNI to get their views on it.

QUESTION: Okay. And you indicated that they referred it back to you in September, but in fact, there were press briefings from August where Mr. Kirby is talking about having had these emails referred back to the State Department. Can you explain that discrepancy at all?

MR TONER: I don’t have the transcripts in front of me. I’m not sure that he was referring specifically to this email or those two documents that were referred back in September. I’d have to look at it, to be honest.


MR TONER: I just don’t know what he specifically said then, because there’s been other cases of emails that have been – and again, it’s just part of the larger process here, where, when we feel that these emails do involve the equities of other agencies, we do allow those agencies to look at them and decide if indeed they need to be classified according to their equities.

QUESTION: Okay. I think in an August 18th briefing he did say that there had been two emails that were deemed not to have Intelligence Community equities and sent back to State, so --

MR TONER: But that may have been – again, that may have been a separate – we talk about these four emails. I’m not sure whether that was the other two, but I’m just not clear on that, I apologize.

QUESTION: And one substantive question on the release process.


QUESTION: So one of the four documents that has been deemed classified in the release process is actually a document that Al Jazeera has had posted on its website for several years that describes, I think, Middle East peace process negotiations from several years ago. I’m a little confused about what the standard is for what would be withheld and released when you’re talking about media information. I could make a statement here about satellite imagery or signals intelligence that the government might consider classified, but I don’t think you would redact it from this briefing transcript, and similarly, people here probably exchange press reports all the time that potentially might have been based on classified information. Is the department’s policy to remove those when doing these kinds of FOIA releases, and if not --

MR TONER: It is – sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

QUESTION: Sorry. If --

MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: If it isn’t the policy, then why in certain cases remove them?

MR TONER: No, I think it is. Again, when we’re looking at these documents, these emails as we review them, they’re reviewed, as I said, according to the FOIA process both internally and then externally as we see other equities – or other agencies’ equities represented. And as a part of that process, it’s incumbent on us – and I recognize that, as you stated in this case, that email or the contents of that email have already been publicized.

Frankly, we did and do the same thing regarding some of the documents, the alleged documents to have been released during WikiLeaks, and I say “alleged” because we’ve never confirmed them. It’s an obligation on our part to still safeguard the confidentiality of the material in that even though it may be leaked or available publicly elsewhere. We obviously can’t in a free society – can’t go and collect all the information as it sits out there, but for our part as we release that information it’s incumbent on us to redact it as necessary. And we don’t – I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of these emails. We don’t necessarily redact the entire content. We just redact the parts that we deem confidential.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary meet with his Russian counterpart in Belgrade?

MR TONER: I believe that is – I don’t know if that’s confirmed yet, but I believe that’s his intention to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: They will talk about Syria? Anything else?

MR TONER: Look, I’m sure they’ll talk about, obviously, Syria. They’ll talk about next steps in the Vienna process. They may certainly very well talk about – the Secretary’s already raised the downing of the Russian jet by Turkish air forces. They’ll also talk – likely talk about Ukraine and the ongoing situation there and the need to fully implement Minsk.

QUESTION: And given that it’s in Belgrade, are you expecting him to criticize Montenegro’s imminent accession to NATO?

MR TONER: Expecting Foreign Minister Lavrov? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I’m not going to speculate on what Foreign Minister Lavrov may or may not comment on. We certainly support Montenegro’s ascension into NATO.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)