Daily Press Briefing - December 2, 2015

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 2, 2015


1:39 p.m. EST

MR TONER: A couple of things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions. Obviously, many of you know the Secretary was in Brussels earlier today, then in Pristina, now in Belgrade. This morning in Brussels he participated in a series of meetings, including the NATO Ministerial session with Montenegro, the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting, as well as bilateral meetings with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier as well as Romanian Foreign Minister Comanescu.

He then traveled to Pristina, Kosovo, where he met with Kosovar Prime Minister Mustafa and then with alumni of the U.S. Government-funded programs. And now he’s currently in Belgrade, where he met with Prime Minister Vucic earlier today. And tomorrow he’ll remain in Belgrade, where he’ll participate in the OSCE ministerial.

And then on future travel, I can confirm that the Secretary will travel to Paris, France on December 7th to attend the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, so-called COP21. While in Paris, the President – or Secretary, rather – will participate in numerous events surrounding COP21, where he will underscore the importance of ambitious global action to address climate change and its devastating impacts around the world.

I think that’s all I have. I’ll open it to up your questions now.

QUESTION: Okay. Let’s start with Iran if we can.


QUESTION: So the IAEA report has been submitted to the Board of Governors, and I’m hoping that despite the fact that it’s still two weeks away before the director general makes this officially public – despite that fact, it is out, and that you will be able to respond to some of the things that are in it.

MR TONER: Sure. Well – go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTIONS: Hold on. (Laughter.) The summary of this says that the IAEA assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.

Does the United – does the Administration accept that? Does the Administration believe that this report meets the requirements for Iran to address the outstanding concerns about its PMD – possible PMDs?

MR TONER: Right, right, right. Dimensions.

QUESTION: Dimensions.

MR TONER: Right, okay. All right, a lot of questions there, but let me – so as you noted, today the IAEA did submit its report on the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program – as we all call it here, PMD – to the IAEA Board of Governors. We have received that report as well and are providing it – in the process of providing it to Congress today. And while we recognize that the board has yet to make the report public, it is important for people to understand some of the outcomes of the report and why it’s significant and how it generally fits into the overall process.

So some key parts of the report, and I hope – hopefully they address your questions: One is the IAEA has confirmed that Iran met its commitments to provide responses to IAEA requests under the roadmap for clarification of past and present issues, which is that agreement that – between Iran and the IAEA for Iran to respond to IAEA questions. So this roadmap was critically important for Iran to show that it was willing to fulfill the necessary steps in a process to address the PMD issue with the IAEA, and the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has done so.

Second, the IAEA report is consistent with what the United States has long assessed with high confidence, and we talked a little bit about this yesterday. We made this public first in our 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, and that is that Iran had a nuclear weapons program that was halted in 2003. And it’s precisely because of our previous assessments, as well as the international community’s serious concerns about these possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program – past nuclear program, that we embarked on this process, brought to bear extensive national and international sanctions against – on Iran, and brought them to the table to negotiate the JCPOA.

And frankly, once the JCPOA is implemented, that – we’ll have assurance that these kinds of past activities cannot occur again. We’ll have that kind of transparency, that level of access. This is something we talked about with the IAEA. We’ll have that ability to go in and see what’s going on, so if we do see a recurrence of this past activity, we’ll be able to immediately address it.

QUESTION: So it does --

MR TONER: It does?

QUESTION: -- close the book?

MR TONER: Well, there’s --

QUESTION: This chapter at least?

MR TONER: There is – and again, that gets into process, so --

QUESTION: Well, I understand.

MR TONER: That’s okay, and I’m happy to talk about that.

QUESTION: From the Administration’s point of view --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- the PMD issue is now resolved. Is that correct?

MR TONER: So it’s not just us to say this, and that’s why I want to talk a little bit about the process. So we, the P5+1 – and we talked a little bit about this yesterday – will now issue a report or a statement, rather, with a view towards closing this issue. And until that takes place – that’s going to be when the – the resolution, rather. I said statement; that was wrong. The resolution introduced by the P5+1. And that’s when the board of governors meets again on December 15th. And again, we’re submitting that resolution with a view towards closing the PMD issue, and then after that we can focus on implementing the JCPOA.

QUESTION: But you believe that this report gives you what you need to submit that resolution that would close the book on PMD.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Correct? Okay.

Iranian officials are saying that this report is proof that their program has been exclusively peaceful and it is a vindication of their position, which was that the rest of the world is wasting its time, basically, and punishing it for a program that it says it didn’t have.

MR TONER: I would just say to that, depends on your definition of “exclusive.” And also, we’ve been very clear about our belief of Iran’s prior activities. We believe that this report supports those.

QUESTION: Supports that the --

MR TONER: Supports our previous assessments.

QUESTION: That they did in fact have a nuclear weapons program. Is that correct?

MR TONER: That – it doesn’t – again, it’s – it is --

QUESTION: Well, that’s what you said. You said --

MR TONER: No, no, no, I said – that’s okay.

QUESTION: -- it’s consistent with the U.S.’s long-assessed --

MR TONER: Right, exactly. Yes.

QUESTION: -- that Iran had a nuclear weapons program that was halted in 2003.

MR TONER: Yes. Yes, yes, sorry.

QUESTION: And does that – so this – you would disagree with Iranian officials who say that this is proof that the rest of the world was wrong.

MR TONER: I’m going to let the report stand for itself and not get into a tit-for-tat with Iranian officials.

QUESTION: Okay. You are – and you are satisfied that the IAEA got everything it needed in order to – in order for it come to a conclusion?

MR TONER: Well, that’s the IAEA’s assessment to make, but we believe that’s the case.


QUESTION: How is that different than the report that was issued back in 2007 by the national intelligence service, which – the NIA, which actually said that Iran ceased all activities in 2003?

MR TONER: Well, again, viewing this across the spectrum or the timeline, that report in our national intelligence assessment --

QUESTION: National Intelligence Estimate.

MR TONER: -- estimate, thank you very much – National Intelligence Estimate, along with other concerns documented by other international partners, was what led to the IAEA to investigate this. And then also the IAEA – I think it was in 2011 – they, in fact – forgive me. 2011, November, the IAEA laid out its own concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program. And so this has all led us to the point where they had to investigate. Iran had to answer questions or provide access to the materials to answer the questions – outstanding questions the IAEA had about its possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?


MR TONER: Russia. Russia. Russia, sure.

QUESTION: Russian – yeah. Russian minister of defense showed satellite images accusing Turkey that thousands of oil trucks have been heading towards Turkey; that Turkey buys, process, and transfer this ISIS oil. What’s your comment on that?

MR TONER: Sure. Aware of those reports. I haven’t actually seen the photos. Look, we reject outright the premise that the Turkish Government is in league with ISIL to smuggle oil across its borders, and we frankly see no evidence – none – to support such an accusation. Frankly, we believe Turkey has taken the necessary steps, and Secretary of State Kerry spoke about this earlier today in Brussels, to improve the security of its borders with Syria. Does more need to be done? Certainly.


MR TONER: But let me finish. But in cooperation with international partners, these efforts will continue in the coming months and weeks. Talking more broadly about oil smuggling, it is a challenge what ISIL is doing. It certainly remains – or is necessary, I think, to shut this down. It’s a decades-old practice, frankly, that predates ISIL, of illicit trade in this region, and frankly, it’s a challenge that’s stymied ISIL’s own ability to generate revenue.

What we have seen, in fact, is that ISIL relinquishes ownership and sells its oil at the wellhead in Syria and Iraq, and that oil is sold to smugglers, middlemen, truckers. We talked a little while – a couple weeks ago about one of our airstrikes against one of these convoys of trucks. And ISIL gains revenue by extorting tolls, oil transportation within its own territory. And frankly, what we’ve talked about before as well is the fact that we believe that Assad himself is also one of the purchasers of ISIL’s oil.

Please, finish, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: So do you mean that this Russian satellite and reconnaissance images are inaccurate?

MR TONER: Are what? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Are inaccurate.

MR TONER: Again, I haven’t seen them. I just don’t know what to make of them. I don’t want to – I’ve heard secondhand that they don’t show much --

QUESTION: But was --

MR TONER: But again, we don’t believe there’s any truth to the fact that – their claims that the Turkish Government is somehow complicit in illegal oil trade with ISIL. It’s just not true.

QUESTION: And can you confirm that in general ISIL oil can be found in Turkey market?

MR TONER: I can’t confirm that, but it wouldn’t surprise me. As I talked about, is there’s this decades-old – frankly, older than decades – smuggling routes along these borders. We’re working with Turkey, as are other international partners, to secure those borders, but that’s a hard challenge in that part of – in that region. It’s very mountainous. It’s very difficult to get the kind of presence you need, but that’s something we’re working with Turkey and with others to address.

QUESTION: Oil tankers --

QUESTION: Was the U.S. aware --

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead. Yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. aware of ISIL’s oil being smuggled into Turkey?

MR TONER: We’ve talked a long time. I mean, we’ve been very much aware of ISIL’s intent, and in fact, ability to cash in on the oil that it’s been pumping out. As I just said, what we’ve seen --

QUESTION: But specifically into Turkey.

MR TONER: So what we’ve – sorry, let me finish. What we’ve seen is that ISIL very well – or very often sells its oil, as I said, at the wellhead, so as it comes out of the ground there’s smugglers, there’s middlemen, there’s truckers who then take that through these established routes. Some of them, as – no doubt probably lead to parts of Turkey. I can’t categorically rule that out. But it’s not what was implied, which is that the Turkish Government is somehow complicit in this arrangement. That’s just untrue.

QUESTION: But one moment --

QUESTION: And following what --

MR TONER: Please go ahead.

QUESTION: The Russian defense ministry also – it has published many, many aerial images of what it says are oil trucks going into Turkey. And it has published exact locations and routes of how ISIL’s oil flows into Turkey and where it goes from there. Is that information that the U.S. is interested in?

MR TONER: Is it information the U.S. is interested in? Look, we have our own ways of getting that information, of looking at that area. And it is our assessment that that is not true. I don’t want to --

QUESTION: Are you saying it’s not true that oil is being smuggled into Turkey?

MR TONER: No, that – again, let’s be very clear the allegations that were made today, which is that the Turkish Government is complicit in oil-smuggling over – from ISIL into Turkey. That’s the allegations that were made out of Russia today, and that’s what I’m rejecting. Whether there is some kind of illegal oil smuggling going – taking place around the border region – as I just said, that’s been something that’s been going on for decades. It’s something we’re taking steps to address. And frankly, we’re hitting ISIL’s oil production facilities or oil resources harder than ever in the past month or so.


QUESTION: It’s – I mean, you talk about a difficult border, but oil tankers travel by road.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: It’s not all that complicated to track oil tankers.

MR TONER: Right. Well, I don’t want to – first of all, we did hit a convoy of these trucks a little while ago. The area – again, I don’t want to get in for a tit-for-tat talking about these satellite photos --

QUESTION: (Inaudible), the trucks are driven by civilians.

MR TONER: Sure, sure. And we actually dropped leaflets – in our efforts to avoid civilian casualties, we dropped leaflets to these truckers, letting them know that their trucks were going to be a target. But again, I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat over the credibility of some of these photos, but we’ve been – our understanding is that this is very difficult terrain for convoys of trucks to pass easily.

QUESTION: Mark? Yeah, I just want to follow up on --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the Russian-Syrian-Kurdish connection.

MR TONER: Sure, okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: There was a call by Russia today that there ought to be more cooperation between the Syrian regime and Kurdish forces in Syria, and in fact suggesting that they will be working with them. Those are the same forces that you, in fact, supported at one time or another. So do you find that this is good, bad? Or is it – does it happen at the expense of other groups and so on? How do you interpret this?

MR TONER: You’re saying that the Assad regime --

QUESTION: Yeah, the Russians are saying --

MR TONER: -- or the Russians have said? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The Russians are urging more cooperation between Kurdish militias and the Syrian regime.

MR TONER: I mean, to that, Said, I would simply – sure.

QUESTION: And that’s exactly what you did, let’s say, months back.

MR TONER: Sure. Said, what – to that I would say, first of all, we just categorically reject the premise that the Assad regime is legitimately going after ISIL or exclusively going after ISIL. They clearly have the moderate Syrian opposition in their targets and those groups that are fighting in a – what has become a civil war between Assad’s regime and these – again, this Syrian opposition. So for them to say they need to join forces is a bit disingenuous.

The Kurds that you’re talking about have actually been among the groups that we’ve been supporting through close airstrikes and other forms of support who are actually – been taking the fight to ISIS.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Yesterday, the President said that we will bring in parts of the opposition with whom, frankly, we don’t share much and so on because they do represent Syrians. Now, certainly, the regime represents Syrians as well. So why would you work with groups that you don’t share, that you have no commonality with, but you will not work with a Syrian regime that basically represents Christians, minorities, other groups, a great many Sunnis and so on? He does represent them, or they say, at least for now, that he represents them.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, just to get to the crux of your question? I apologize, Said.

QUESTION: The crux of my question: That – the President yesterday in his press conference said that we will bring in for the transition --

MR TONER: Right, great --

QUESTION: -- we would bring in elements of the opposition that, frankly, with whom we don’t share a great deal with. On the other hand, okay, you say you will not work with Assad and you can’t see him as being part of Syria in the future when, in fact, he does represent a portion of the Syrian population.

MR TONER: Right. So, a fair point.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the logic --

MR TONER: And I – we – I talked a little bit about this yesterday, so there’s a Syrian-led – or Syria; excuse me, forgive me – a Saudi-led effort coming out of the Vienna meetings to identify a legitimate, broad, representative group of the Syrian opposition, the Syrian political opposition, armed groups and civil society. So that process is going to take place in the coming weeks. I don’t have an exact date. But that’s all part of this – again, there’s two elements or two tracks here. One is obviously anti-ISIL and defeating ISIL; the other track that’s – that began in – well, began months ago but has really gained traction in Vienna – is this political process. Two elements to that: one is identifying those members of the Syrian opposition representative body who can then represent the Syrian people in this political transition. And part of that is – we’ve acknowledged this is going to have to – it’s certainly going to have to include members of the Syrian Government. You know our position on Assad. We’ve agreed to disagree on Assad’s future in order to move this process forward.

QUESTION: In Vienna (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Mark, can we come back to --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the oil thing, because --

QUESTION: No, no, can – a follow-up on Vienna.

MR TONER: Okay, I’ll finish and then I’ll go oil.


QUESTION: Yeah. Do you know when the foreign ministers will meet --

MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t have any other clarity on that today. I’ll try to get you a better answer tomorrow. It’s the Saudis who are setting the date.

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The foreign ministers --

QUESTION: Ministerial.

QUESTION: -- meeting who met in Vienna. Samantha Power has said yesterday that they will meet this month, and --

MR TONER: They will probably meet this month, I just don’t have a date yet certain. Yeah.

QUESTION: And do you know where?

MR TONER: Not yet.




MR TONER: Lesley and then --

QUESTION: Can we just come back to this oil thing?


QUESTION: Because the Russians have been very specific about this. What you’re objecting is that the Turkish – Erdogan and so on – are involved in this. That’s what you’re rejecting, right?

MR TONER: I am, and that’s been --

QUESTION: So that specifically?

MR TONER: Well, two points of clarity, or clarification, rather. That has been a central argument that they’ve been making for the past week or so, that the Turks, the Turkish Government is complicit in this smuggling. I can’t deny that there’s – or I can’t say categorically that there’s not smuggling taking place on the Turkish-Syrian border. As I said, that’s long established and predates ISIL. Let me finish. But what we’ve seen through our own intelligence and sources is that a lot of that transaction takes place, as I said, at the wellhead or at the source, and it’s then sold to the smugglers, truck drivers, whatever, who then carry out whatever that network of smuggling is.

QUESTION: The Russian --

QUESTION: Wait. You can’t --

MR TONER: Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: The problem with this is that you say you categorically reject the allegations that the Russians have made, but I don’t – can you speak for the entire – for all elements of the Turkish Government? Are you able to --

MR TONER: Matt, so --

QUESTION: Are you able to say that there isn’t anyone in the Turkish Government who is not involved in the kind of thing that the Russians are accusing them of being involved in?

MR TONER: We’re confident that the Turks are strong partners in addressing this threat on their border and they’re working in conjunction with – I can’t --

QUESTION: Can you speak for --

MR TONER: I mean, I can’t to a man say that some corrupt official in some --


MR TONER: Yeah. But what the allegations are --

QUESTION: You can’t say that about the Turkish Government --

MR TONER: No, but Matt --

QUESTION: -- much less about the U.S. Government. You just don’t know.

MR TONER: -- what the allegations have been is that the Turkish Government has – that Erdogan, president have been complicit in this, and that’s just – that’s not true.

QUESTION: What about the scale of the smuggling?

QUESTION: But you don’t – but you can’t – can you speak for them, really? I mean, how are you so sure?

MR TONER: We work very closely with the Turks. We’ve been in dialogue with them, discussions with them. They’re a NATO ally and a trusted partner.

QUESTION: But Mark, the thing is that --

QUESTION: But do you reject the scale of the oil smuggling that’s going on? Do you reject that too, the scale?

MR TONER: The scale of it?


MR TONER: I don’t have any --

QUESTION: These aerial images show huge convoys with what Russia says are oil trucks crossing the Turkish-Syrian border unhindered. And one of the images shows – and there are many – shows 240 trucks on the Turkish side of the border and over 40 similar trucks on the Syrian side of the border.

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Are you saying that it doesn’t raise any red flags here?

MR TONER: Well, look, first of all, I’m not going to speak to the credibility of your satellite imagery from this podium, certainly. Secondly, no, we’ve never said that oil smuggling from ISIL is not a problem. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no Turkish Government complicity in some operation to buy illegal oil from ISIL. It’s just – we just don’t believe that to be true in any way, shape, or form. There are smuggling – there is smuggling that takes place across that border. That’s one of the reasons why we’re working with Turkey to seal that border. But as to the scale of it, I don’t have any estimates to give to you.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, one of the things is that they say is that there’s no inspection of these vehicles. I mean, one would think, as my colleague David said, was that these are large trucks and you stop them. And the fact is that what the Russians are saying, nobody – I guess the complicity would be the fact that they don’t stop and inspect these things. So that’s what – so what has the U.S. been doing specifically on trying to stop this smuggling and from that oil getting into the international markets?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s something we’re working with Turkey. I’m not going to outline the steps. Secretary Kerry spoke to it earlier today, but we are actively working on ways that we can seal that border, that we can end these routes as much as they exist where smuggling may be taking place.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) it’s going to a refinery. Do you know which refinery it’s going to?

MR TONER: I don’t from this podium have that information.

QUESTION: Mark, are you talking about that 98 kilometers of border that Secretary Kerry was talking this morning?

MR TONER: That’s one of the areas. I think what the Russians are purporting is a different area of the border.

QUESTION: Can I follow that?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: It is not only Turkey. Maybe it’s because of the Russia problem with Turkey has just been focusing on that. It’s also – there are proofs of ISIL smuggling with other areas, including Iraqi border, inside Iraq, and also Jordan, other places. So if – don’t you think this is their – ISIS is exploiting the financial situation of these regions – for example, the Kurdish region of Iraq, Iraqi Government, and also Turkey? Because --

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: -- if they are successful sending --

MR TONER: So there’s – your – sorry, just – I didn’t mean to cut you off, but there’s obviously – yes, it is partly in due to the lack of stability in the region that leads to this kind of smuggling operation to take place. We’ve always identified one of the main efforts in our anti-ISIL coalition to be ending ISIL’s illicit trade in the region. Whether it’s through oil or through other devices or other products or resources, that’s key; you’ve got to cut off how they get their money, how they get their resources. So that’s absolutely – I mean, we’ve – since day one of this coalition we’ve said that that is a priority, and we’ve followed up on that priority.

Again, the point I’m trying to make here is those aren’t ISIL trucks necessarily pouring over – or crossing the border, any border. There – these are smugglers; there are other truckers who are buying this from ISIL and then taking it elsewhere. The quality of the oil is not very good, frankly. That’s another component to this. I mean, there’s people in this department, frankly, who are far more knowledgeable about these routes, the quality of the oil, all this stuff than I am, certainly. But it is our assessment that it is not ISIL per se that – who are taking this oil across borders or trying to smuggle it into others. They’re quite content to sell it within their own – territories, frankly, that they occupy. Sorry.

QUESTION: But you are --

QUESTION: So is one of your arguments for this not – possibly for this not being true is that the oil quality isn’t good enough for the Turks? Yeah? I mean --

MR TONER: I mean, the oil quality is poor, yes.

QUESTION: So they wouldn’t accept poor quality oil? That’s what you’re --

MR TONER: Well, it just wouldn’t be – it’s just not very --


MR TONER: It’s not very desirable. But I’m not saying that that’s an excuse for – or that’s their reason for not participating in this. I mean, look, Turkey continues to be a strong partner in the anti-ISIL coalition. Do we all need to do more? Does Turkey need to do more to stop this kind of activity? Certainly. To seal up their borders, to secure their borders? Certainly, and that’s what we’re working with them on.

QUESTION: Are you saying that if ISIL’s oil is loaded on trucks that belong to some local smugglers, that’s no longer ISIL oil?

MR TONER: Not at all, but I’m saying it’s not ISIL truckers who are taking this across the borders. And that’s what the insinuation, at least, that was made today in Russia.

QUESTION: That’s still part of their business, isn’t it? That’s still part of their revenue. That’s --

MR TONER: Well, that’s what I – I think I made that really clear. I said that they sell it from the wellhead to these networks of smugglers and oil smugglers and drivers and others, who then take this across the border or take it to other parts of Syria.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. doing anything --

MR TONER: And by the way, they also sell it to Assad and Assad’s regime, and Russia is the number one supporter of Assad, so --

QUESTION: On November 17th, Secretary Kerry --

QUESTION: You mentioned Turkey is a strong partner, U.S. partner.


QUESTION: So do you believe that Turkey is unable to close the border? Is it, like, big challenge for the U.S.-led coalition --

MR TONER: It is a challenge. It’s – again, my understanding – and I’m not an expert on the territory, but my understanding is that it’s a difficult border to control, like many are.

QUESTION: Mark, you said that --


MR TONER: In the back.

QUESTION: -- Assad is buying ISIL oil as well and Russia is supporting it. Are you in touch with the Russian officials to stop backing up (inaudible) in this regard?

MR TONER: I think they’re – I think they’re well – well, I mean, look, Russia is well aware of our concerns about (a) their ongoing support for Assad, (b) Assad’s complicity in this oil smuggling, and then (c) the fact that we need to resolve the issue of the civil war that is taking place in order to turn our attention, (a) to stop the atrocities the Assad regime is committing on a daily basis, and then (b) to confront the broader enemy, which is ISIL.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I do a quick follow on that? Mark, if that’s really such an easy thing for ISIS to send oil, whether it’s through smugglers, it will be easy also to send their bombing men and also any other thing, if – if that’s easy for them. So don’t you think there’s a form of cooperation between these local authorities with ISIS? Because I know that the Iraqi border, even just one single man cannot penetrate the border with ISIS without any – being, like, confronted with the Iraqi forces or the Kurdish forces. Don’t you think there is a cooperation with these guys, or, like you said, middlemen? Have you talked to the Iraqi Government and also Turkish Government that – to deal with these middlemen?

MR TONER: Well, of course. We’ve been in ongoing discussions with both the Turks and the Iraqis about our concerns that they also share about possible smuggling of ISIL oil – ISIL refined, pumped oil into these other countries and across borders. Again, it comes down to strong border security, and that’s something we’re working on.

QUESTION: But you are not satisfied with their procedures to stop them, right?

MR TONER: Well, again, the Secretary spoke to this earlier today. We’re working with Turkey to take steps to address it.

QUESTION: On November --

QUESTION: Can we change topics? Can we change topics?

QUESTION: A follow-up on the wellhead.

QUESTION: Can I – one more – one more on this --

MR TONER: One more for you, and then Barbara, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I apologize.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, go ahead. (Inaudible) topic.

QUESTION: Thanks – thank you, Barbara. On November 17th, Secretary Kerry said Turkey and the U.S. started an operation to close the border with Syria. What stopped the U.S. and Turkey from doing it before then?

MR TONER: What stopped us from doing it before then? Look, this has been – I wouldn’t necessarily frame it like that. We’ve been in ongoing discussions with Turkey for well over a year, and talking about how we can take the fight to these ISIL forces or ISIL-occupied areas in northern Syria. We’ve talked a lot about how we’ve been doing that, which includes Turkey giving us the rights to fly out of Incirlik Air Base. But we’ve always recognized that 98 kilometers of border as something that we need to get firmer control of. The Secretary was speaking about our discussions, and indeed, our plan to close that border.

But I wouldn’t say that that’s when the operation began. We’ve been making these efforts and we’re going to continue to make those efforts to seal the border, so I wouldn’t --

QUESTION: But he was saying “started” and that this was --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- a beginning of the operation.

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s not – again, he – what he was saying was that we’ve been having discussions with Turkey. We’re taking – we’re beginning new efforts to secure those borders because we recognize that those borders are not yet secure.


QUESTION: Yeah, the British parliament is voting today on whether to join the airstrikes over Syria. How important would that be for the coalition to have a few more planes in the sky, a few more, like, RAF planes --

MR TONER: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: -- carrying out strikes at this point?

MR TONER: Thanks, Barbara. Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it significant?

MR TONER: Well, again, the Secretary also spoke a little bit to this in Brussels, but – and as the debate is still ongoing and out of respect for that, I don’t want to get ahead of the vote. I can – I would just say that we recognize that every country needs to make its own decisions about how they can contribute to the counter-ISIL campaign. That said, we certainly hope that the UK will join us in striking ISIL’s headquarters, training, and logistics facilities in Syria, just as they’ve done already in Iraq since the very beginning of this fight. I think, of course, in answer to your specific question, the UK brings strong capabilities in that area to really focus our efforts on ISIL and in support of those groups that are taking the fight to ISIL in northern Syria, so we would certainly welcome that.

QUESTION: Can I go to another topic?

QUESTION: I got one more on just ISIL. Have you seen this new video that’s come out with the beheading of the – apparent beheading of --

MR TONER: Yeah. So again, we’re aware of the video, obviously can’t confirm its authenticity yet. If it is indeed what it appears to be, we obviously condemn it.

QUESTION: What video?


MR TONER: It’s – I’m sorry, I apologize. Its’ a video of a – apparently of a Russian --

QUESTION: Russian, yes.

MR TONER: -- who is being held by ISIL. Again, all allegedly. I just don’t know if it’s authentic or not, but of course we would condemn that.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Very quickly to the Palestinian-Israeli issue.


QUESTION: Today the Israelis are gearing up to expand settlements – 850 housing units in Gilo, 900 in Pisgat Ze’ev, 2,200 in Givat Hamatos, and similar number in Ramat Shlomo. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the settlement activity?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yes.

MR TONER: Yeah. Well, I mean, our – we continue to be, obviously, very concerned. We’ve never defended or supported Israel’s settlement activity, and our policy hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: I just want to go back to Iran for – the Iran report for one --


QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MR TONER: Or – okay, you finish and then I’ll go to Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. So also, it’s been four months since a group of settlers burned a Palestinian family in the village of Duma and you’ve called on Israel at the time to go ahead and do a swift investigation and bring those perpetrators to justice. Has anything happened in that period of time?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not aware of the latest on that case. I do know that there was the sentencing of two teens the other day who killed a Palestinian teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir. So that’s the latest that I’m aware of. I’m not aware of the specific – I know the case that you’re talking about. I don’t know if there’s been any conclusion to that.

QUESTION: Okay. On that point, the main suspect, Haim Ben-David, who is 31 years old, was – the day of the sentencing was – the court accepted an insanity plea, which is really unusual on the day of the sentence.

MR TONER: You’re talking about – you’re talking about the Muhammad Abu Khdeir?

QUESTION: So there’s fear – yeah, yes. I’m referring to what you brought up --


QUESTION: -- because a different thing. And there is a lot of fear that in fact these – they might be – might go free. Do you have – do you think there is a double standard of, let’s say, swift justice, so to speak, by the Israelis against Palestinians and Israelis who commit the same act of terrorism?

MR TONER: Well, look, I think that there was a case brought against this individual. Due process was carried out. We’ve talked about this before that we do believe in the democratic strength – or the strength of Israel’s democratic institutions, including its legal system.

QUESTION: Now, well, just to give you an example how they deal with Palestinians, today the Israelis blew up the home of Ibrahim Aqari in the refugee camp, Shuafat. He rammed someone a year ago, so they go in and they arrest a lot of people, they blow up the house and so on.


QUESTION: We don’t really see similar activities against Israelis who commit such acts of terror.

MR TONER: Said, I am aware of that. No, I am aware of that and we believe that these kinds of punitive home demolitions are, frankly, counterproductive and can only exacerbate an already tense situation.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, of course.

QUESTION: I just want to get your – because while we’ve been in here, the other ISIS, the international --

MR TONER: Oh, yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The good ISIS, as they like call it. The Institute for Science and International Security has put out its initial reaction to the IAEA report, and their bottom line – I’ll just make it brief.


QUESTION: I want to make sure that the Administration does not agree with this assessment. They say, “The IAEA drew conclusions where it was able to. The bottom line is that the IAEA’s investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear problems” – I mean programs – “cannot be understood to be concluded, and certainly it cannot be closed.” You would disagree with that conclusion, right?

MR TONER: I would. I mean, again, this is something for the IAEA, of course, to speak to. But we believe that the IAEA was able to assess the credible information that it had access to and complete its report.

QUESTION: Isn’t that the key, though? They had – what it had access to?

MR TONER: Look, again, we --

QUESTION: I mean, do you think that they had the access – enough access to do what they --

MR TONER: We have confidence – we have confidence that they had the access that they needed.

QUESTION: And – okay. So you would disagree that this can – the case is not closed. You think that it is? And you will --

MR TONER: Again, let’s let the – I don’t want to get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: I understand that, but you will support a resolution in the Board of Governors to close this --

MR TONER: We believe – we believe that this report addresses that.

QUESTION: All right, thanks.

MR TONER: Please, Pam.


MR TONER: Sorry, Michel. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Mark, can you clarify a statement that the Secretary made earlier today in Brussels? This was in reference to Iraq. He was asked specifically about Prime Minister Abadi’s comment about foreign ground combat troops not being needed in Iraq. And in his response, the Secretary mentioned having respect for the work of Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership and a close relationship with Iraqi partners, but he didn’t specifically address Abadi’s statement. So how exactly is the U.S. responding to what Abadi is saying about there not being a need for foreign ground combat forces in – on – in Iraq?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have Prime Minister Abadi’s statements in front of me, but my understanding is that he said any kind of deployment would have to be under – with the approval and with the coordination of the Iraqi Government and Iraqi military, Iraqi armed forces. And I think that Secretary Carter said as much in responding to a question on this last night, or he spoke to it – addressed it and said that absolutely, we are – excuse me – any additional forces that we would put into Iraq or on the ground in Iraq would be taken in full coordination with the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: So the U.S. does not believe that Iraq is against ground forces in spite of this statement, but just wants coordination – but Iraq is asking for coordination?

MR TONER: That’s our assessment, yeah.


QUESTION: But he was clear today that there are not a need for U.S. troops.

MR TONER: Again, what’s – I just want to be clear on this and would refer you to the Department of Defense for any other details, but – because I don’t want to speak on behalf of them, but any steps, any additional troops that we would send into Iraq would obviously be done with the coordination of the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: On the word that they used, expeditionary force.

MR TONER: Forgive me? I didn’t hear what you said.

QUESTION: Expeditionary force. Is that – the term they used, expeditionary force. I mean, that takes us – that harkens back, like, to the Spanish-American War. I mean, this is – what does that mean, really?

MR TONER: I can’t begin to – again, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense to elaborate on why that’s different than, for example, Special Operations Forces, but I’m sure there’s very clear lines drawn between the different aspects of them.



MR TONER: Justin. I’ll get to you. Justin is in the back. He’s got a – right behind you, Justin. I’m going to --

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to ask a question now --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- one hour in. There’s a report that the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan is holding an American man and that – for – they’ve been doing so for about a year, and that this had not been previously reported on; this had been unknown to the public until a congressman brought it up. I’m wondering if you have anything on that that you’d like to share or not.

MR TONER: I don’t have a lot to share, but I do know – and certainly we’re aware of reports that a U.S. citizen is being held in Afghanistan, in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. We have – we reiterate our calls for U.S. citizens being held hostage around the world to be released and continue to use all the tools at our disposal, whether they be diplomatic, intelligence, or even military, to try to secure their release. We’re obviously engaged with both the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan at the highest levels to emphasize our commitment to seeing any and all of our citizens return safely to their families, and that would apply to this case as well.

QUESTION: And are you willing to share anything about his identity or --

MR TONER: I can’t at this point. I’m sorry, Justin.

QUESTION: Okay. And also, do you --

MR TONER: (Inaudible) and then I’ll --

QUESTION: -- have any information on what we were asking about yesterday, any further information on the Iranian American who was supposedly executed?

MR TONER: I don’t. We’re continuing to ask the Iranian Government for more information. As was pointed out yesterday, they don’t – they do not recognize dual citizens, so it’s – and it’s in a pretty opaque system in any case, but we’re trying to get, working through our Swiss protecting power, to get more information about the case.

QUESTION: Any contact with family or anything --

MR TONER: Not at this point.

QUESTION: -- that would indicate that there was actually – I mean, and – but you do believe, to be clear, that there is an American Iranian in --

MR TONER: Again, what we’ve seen are reports. We have not been able to confirm it yet.


MR TONER: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Can I – this is something I’ve been meaning to ask for a long time --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- as we get into this Iran not – do you recognize dual Iranian – in other words, if an Iranian American is arrested here in the United States --

MR TONER: We do --

QUESTION: -- does the State Department notify --

MR TONER: We do recognize dual citizenship.

QUESTION: So you notify the Iranian interests section or the --

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- Iranian mission to the UN?

MR TONER: If I’m wrong, Liz will throw something at my head right now, but I think I’m correct on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Have you not ever demanded some kind of reciprocity? I mean, I realize that you don’t have diplomatic relations with them.

MR TONER: It’s a fair point, but again, I’m not – I’d have to see, but I don’t believe that Iran is the only country to not recognize dual citizenship.

QUESTION: Okay, can I ask a question?

MR TONER: Yes, please. Sorry.

QUESTION: So we have reports that the Taliban leader Mullah Mansour has been wounded in Pakistan in a shootout. Do you have any confirmation of that?

MR TONER: No confirmation. We’ve seen the same reports. We’ve obviously looking into them, but we just don’t have any – we’ve been unable to confirm them.

QUESTION: And what about reports on the Iranian general, Soleimani, that he was either wounded or killed?

MR TONER: Also seen those reports, and just don’t have any way to confirm them at this point.


MR TONER: Turkey. Am I close to my get-off time? Or – thanks.

QUESTION: Yeah, the clock just disappeared.

MR TONER: I know. (Laughter.)


MR TONER: Time has stopped.

QUESTION: -- Selahattin Demirtas, the co-leader of the HDP, Turkey, is – he is now in Washington. Do you have anything on his visit to Washington? Are you going to have any official meeting with him?

MR TONER: Sure. Obviously it’s up to Mr. Demirtas to speak to his trip to Washington, but he is here I believe at the invitation of the Middle East Institute in – I think he’s – there’s a conference that he’s participating in. But while he’s here, I can confirm that he’ll meet with State Department officials to discuss Turkish domestic issues as well as regional issues, and this is obviously part of our normal process to meet with political leaders, a wide array of political leaders when we have the opportunity.

QUESTION: At any point, would you discuss the idea of having United States playing a role in the peace talks or peace process in Turkey?

MR TONER: You know our position on that. We consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization. We have called for affirmative action or steps that would lead back to the peace talks that were underway, but we haven’t quite seen that yet. And part of that is certainly PKK strikes against Turkish forces and Turkish police officers. Those attacks continue, so that makes that hard to get back to the --

QUESTION: But that’s not only about PKK. Mr. Demirtas is representing --

MR TONER: Right. Of course. No, no, no, I thought you were talking about – sorry, I thought you were talking about the PKK process.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) PKK’s fight can be continued in the mountain --

MR TONER: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: -- but also the peace process in the cities (inaudible).

MR TONER: Yeah, no – okay, look, I mean I don’t want to – I mean, we’re going to talk to them, as I said, about the political environment in Turkey right now, but also regional issues as well. I don’t want to try to preview what we may or may not discuss.



QUESTION: I asked you yesterday about the presidential elections in Lebanon and --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- and if you support the Suleiman Franjieh candidacy and you said that you don’t support the election of any one candidate.

MR TONER: That is correct.

QUESTION: And today David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post that under a political deal blessed by the United States and supported by Iran and Saudi Arabia, the vacant Lebanese presidency will be filled by Suleiman Franjieh and Saad Hariri will become prime minister, and he quoted a senior U.S. official confirming the tentative agreement on Franjieh’s candidacy and said it had Washington’s support.

MR TONER: Well, I’m aware of the article to which you refer. And David Ignatius is a great journalist and a very good writer and – but I’ll just reiterate what I said yesterday, which is that this is a decision for the Lebanese people to make. We’re not going to insert ourselves in that electoral process. Where we have been firm and very clear about publicly is saying that the paralysis of Lebanon’s political institutions is a great concern and that Lebanon needs a president and a fully functioning government to confront the many challenges that face it.

So what we want to do is – or what we want to see is this political process move forward.

QUESTION: Let me --

QUESTION: Mark, as I’m sure you’re aware, David Ignatius is also an accomplished novelist.

MR TONER: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The fact that you referred to him in that sense, as an accomplished – or as a journalist and a great writer would suggest that you’re not --

MR TONER: I’m not questioning --

QUESTION: -- you’re not taking it – you’re not taking any issue with --

MR TONER: I’m not – I’m just stating what our – I’m stating what our position is. I’m being somewhat facetious and I don’t mean to be that.

QUESTION: No, I understand that. But it would seem to confirm that these – the --

MR TONER: I’m just saying – no, what I’m just saying --

QUESTION: -- what he has quoted a U.S. official as saying --

MR TONER: -- is I take – anyway, I --

QUESTION: Do you mean that what he said or what he quoted is not accurate?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to – what I’m saying is we support the election of a president. Who that president is is wholly the decision of the Lebanese people.

QUESTION: But there is --


MR TONER: Nike, one more question and then I really have to wrap it up.

QUESTION: Yeah. There is an example that everybody knows in Lebanon now – that in 1998, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East, Richard Murphy, went to Lebanon and made the Lebanese to pick or to choose between Mikhail al-Daher, who was a candidate, and the chaos. What’s the difference between then and now? You’re saying that it depends or it’s a decision for the Lebanese people. And now Saudi Arabia, Iran are making this deal that Mr. Ignatius says that the United States supports.

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak to what anonymous U.S. Government officials may have been telling David Ignatius. All I can say is that we want to see a resolution come in Lebanon, the election of a president, and a fully functioning government put in place. That is what our priority is, and frankly it’s not our priority; it’s in the interests of the Lebanese people.


QUESTION: Right. Quick question on China cyber.


QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation that U.S. and China has reached a broad agreement to fight against cyber crime and to set up a hotline to address that issue? If yes, what difference between this agreement and the previous ones?

MR TONER: I don’t believe I’ve got that level of detail on the outcome of today’s talks. But let me try to get those – I’ll take that question and try to – see if I can get you --

QUESTION: Okay. And then do you – Chinese media is reporting that OPM hacking is actually not sponsored by the state. It’s a criminal case. Do you --

MR TONER: Who’s reporting on that?

QUESTION: The Chinese official reports, official media reporting that the OPM was a criminal case, not state-sponsored cyber attack. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not aware of those reports. As far as I know, that’s still under investigation.


QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)

DPB #199