Daily Press Briefing - December 3, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing:
Daily Press Briefing
1:45 p.m. EST
Today is the 500th day of the unjust detention in Iran of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. And this is a sad and senseless marker. Jason should have been free these last 500 days to pursue stories close to his heart, stories that promote understanding of Iran’s people. Instead, his continued detention remains an injustice, as pointed out by United Nations human rights experts, including the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists and other international organizations. We are aware that a change.org petition is being delivered today to Iran’s mission to the UN in New York with 500,000 signatures, calling on Iran’s supreme leader to immediately release Jason and let him come home. We support this position and will continue our own efforts to bring Jason home.
I wanted to also mention the situation in India, in Chennai. The United States stands ready to assist the people of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, as well as the Government of India as they face the worst flooding in decades. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the people who have perished in these floods, and our thoughts are with those families who are still trapped and whose livelihoods are affected. The U.S. is in touch with the Government of India to discuss ways that we can provide any assistance at this difficult time.
And very briefly, I did want to mention a group of senior-level police who are here from Somalia visiting the United States on a study tour that will take them to Minneapolis, also take them to Washington, D.C., where they’ll meet senators as well as congressmen on the Hill. This is an exchange program which affords the Somali police an opportunity to shadow U.S. police while they conduct their daily duties, with the ultimate aim of enhancing the abilities of this police force in Somalia.
And with that, over to you, Matt.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: In addition to that petition that’s being delivered or has been delivered to the Iranian mission at the UN, the publisher of The Washington Post put out a statement today to mark the occasion, I suppose one can say, of the 500 days. And in it, he says that the – that this case should give the United States and other governments, as well as all international businesses, pause about dealing with Iran. Do you – does the Administration agree with that?
MR TONER: Well, Matt, I would just say that – and we’ve been very clear about this in terms of our dealings with Iran – that we’ve always pursued Jason’s case as well as that of other Americans who are being held there – Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati as well – independent of the other issues, whether it’s Iran’s nuclear program or other issues on the ground. We don’t want to link the two. Our message has been clear to Iran that these individuals should be returned home, independent of any other issue or involvement – or matter.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that. But the publisher of the Post, along with quite a few other people, think that their inability, to put it kindly I suppose, or their refusal, to put it perhaps more accurately, to respond positively to any of these appeals that you’ve made suggests that they’re not trustworthy.
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: Do you agree with that? I mean, not just on this issue --
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: -- but on any other issue?
MR TONER: Well, again, Matt, I don’t think any of us have ever made any attempt to defend Iran’s behavior writ large in the region and domestically. That’s one of the reasons --
QUESTION: Well, I understand --
MR TONER: No, no, no. Just let me finish. So, I mean, that’s one of the reasons why, for example, we worked so hard to get the JCPOA so that we can have the access available in order to ensure that they don’t – or are not able to acquire a nuclear weapon. Similarly, we never made any promises and, in fact, have been very clear-eyed about our assessment that the JCPOA doesn’t necessarily or isn’t going to end Iran’s bad behavior elsewhere in the region.
And I think that’s one of the reasons, as I’ve said, we’ve always tried to separate these issues, work on them independently. I know the Secretary personally raises the cases of these Americans, detained Americans, at every occasion when he meets with his Iranian counterparts. We’re going to continue to do that and we’re going to continue to make the case that they should be released. But I don’t think anybody is claiming that – at least here from this department or from the U.S. Government – that Iran is trustworthy.
QUESTION: That Iran is --
MR TONER: Is – should be considered trustworthy. I think we have to put in, as I said with --
QUESTION: Right. On any issue, correct?
MR TONER: But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to push the right path for them to take, which is to release these prisoners.
QUESTION: Okay. And since you raised it – I didn’t link this with the nuclear deal at all. But since you brought it up twice --
MR TONER: Well, I was talking – again, but I’m trying to – the point is is that we don’t – sorry, just let me finish, and then I know you’re going to have a follow-up. But the point I’m trying to make here is that Iran’s trustworthiness has never been a part of the equation. And it’s in fact because of that – and I use the nuclear deal as an example of that – we had to put in place an agreement that would allow us the access to ensure that they don’t obtain a nuclear weapon. But similarly, people say, “Well, are you going to – is this now going to open up new cooperation in the region?” That would be wonderful were it to be so, but we don’t have any false hopes that that’s going to be the case.
QUESTION: Okay. But again, since you raised the nuclear deal --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- in connection with this, which I did not in my question – I’ll just point that out. But since you did, yesterday’s IAEA report says that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, or at least a program that was designed to explore research and development on nuclear weapons, until 2003, a coordinated one; after 2003, perhaps less coordinated; and then nothing after 2009. To your knowledge, has Iran ever admitted to having had that kind of a program?
MR TONER: To having admitted to having this program?
QUESTION: Admitting to what the IAEA says they had previously.
MR TONER: I don’t know. I’m not aware of that.
QUESTION: They’ve denied it over and over again.
MR TONER: They’ve --
QUESTION: So not only --
MR TONER: They have – but, okay. But that was the reason why the IAEA wanted to conduct this – and --
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you’re making the argument that because they’re untrustworthy, that’s why the JCPOA is important. The – and I think there’s another side of the coin, right, that because they’re untrustworthy it’s a mistake to get into a deal with them. Why do you --
MR TONER: But I mean, this is the old --
QUESTION: Why do you reject that argument?
MR TONER: I mean, I hate to bring up the old Cold War idiom, but it’s trust but verify. But in this case, it’s verify and verify again, is having the structure in place that we believe the JCPOA provides that will permit IAEA experts and all of our experts the access to the data that they need to monitor --
QUESTION: Okay, but I thought – you just said trust but verify. I thought that the whole mantra has been --
MR TONER: I said --
QUESTION: -- distrust but verify.
MR TONER: I said – yes, exactly.
QUESTION: All right.
MR TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: A follow-up. So when was the last time that the Secretary raised this case with the Iranians?
MR TONER: I would presume that was whenever he met with the Iranian foreign minister last.
QUESTION: Was that --
MR TONER: He raised – I mean, I – and I’m not saying that glibly. I’m just saying he raises it at every opportunity.
QUESTION: And has the U.S. at all found out what the last decision was of Iran to do with – after The Washington Post?
MR TONER: We still haven’t – you’re talking about the sentencing of him. We still have not received a firm acknowledgement of what his sentencing is.
QUESTION: Have you asked, I gather?
MR TONER: Oh gosh, yes. Please.
QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait. Can we stay on Iran and Iranian Americans in particular?
MR TONER: Yeah, please. I’m sorry, I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Is there anything new --
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: -- or anything additional --
MR TONER: You’re going to ask me about the Iranian American?
QUESTION: Well, there’s a couple --
MR TONER: Or the dual citizen, rather.
QUESTION: The one who was allegedly executed.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You don’t have anything new on that?
MR TONER: I don’t have anything new.
QUESTION: And then there was a situation involving another Iranian American who was arrested. Well, anyway, you have no updates on any of these cases?
QUESTION: That’s on North Korea and South Korea. Do you have anything on the U.S. special representative for North Korea Sung Kim met with the South Korea and Japanese delegation? State Department said --
MR TONER: Right. You’re talking – sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. You’re talking about the trilateral meeting?
MR TONER: So as we’ve mentioned the other day, that’s part of our regular discussions on North Korea with Republic of Korea as well as Japan. We’ll – we may issue a readout from those meetings later today.
QUESTION: They’re still --
MR TONER: But I have nothing for you. They’re still underway at this point.
QUESTION: -- not finished yet?
MR TONER: No.
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: -- has India accepted or denied, or what is the official reply?
MR TONER: We’ve offered our assistance. Certainly, India – it’s a very developed government with its own domestic services or capabilities to provide emergency assistance. That said, it’s something we normally do especially in the cases of –
(Cell phone rings.)
MR TONER: That’s okay. And especially in the cases of strong partners like India, where we offer whatever assistance we can in the aftermath of natural disaster.
QUESTION: And the appointments for visa and other services were postponed, canceled. So any updates on that?
MR TONER: Yeah. So – right. So on December 3rd, which is today, the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai issued an Emergency Message for U.S. citizens, obviously warning of the severe flooding taking place in the region. It’s closed for all services today and tomorrow, and we advise U.S. citizens to divert all travel to the area. Those in the region are advised to shelter in place, but they also should – both Indians and American citizens should monitor the consulate general’s website for updates on that.
QUESTION: But what – we know that there are quite a few U.S. citizens. Are they all safe, accounted for? In different capacities --
MR TONER: So we’re not aware of any U.S. citizen deaths or injuries as a result of the flooding. We obviously are continuing to monitor the situation and stand by to provide any and all consular assistance that we can.
MR TONER: Michael, and then I’ll get to you, sorry.
MR TONER: Yes sir.
QUESTION: President Putin in a speech today called for a united anti-terror front under UN auspices, especially in light of the fact that only one country cannot defeat terrorism, especially in the light of the problem with open borders and the refugee crisis. Any comments on his proposal?
MR TONER: I just would simply say that we’re part of a 65-member coalition, anti-ISIL coalition, that’s been in place for a year. We’re certainly open to building that. We saw new commitments recently over the past couple of days by the UK as well as by Germany and we certainly welcome those commitments.
QUESTION: Are you open to one under a UN umbrella?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think what I would say is the coalition that we have already we feel is working and working more effectively every day, every week, as we modify it, as we seek to build up what we believe is working in terms of support, airstrikes, et cetera. We’ve said all along we would welcome other – or other nations, other governments to take part in that coalition. We’ve talked about Russia maybe being part of that. If they want to play a constructive role, that would be welcome. I can’t speak to any possible UN entity.
QUESTION: So it – would it be a --
MR TONER: That’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Would it be a bad idea to propose this now, a UN – because you’ve got something going over here, or – I mean, would you support something that was officially proposed, regardless of how great your coalition’s doing?
MR TONER: Sure. Again, I mean, we’d certainly look at it, but I haven’t seen the full – what he proposes or what the Russian Government proposes. We’ve clearly laid out with other members of the Vienna process what we believe is a pathway towards resolution in Syria – a peaceful resolution in Syria. One is that political process that we’re working hard at moving forward, and then the other is once we have that political process take hold and we have a transition government in place, we can all focus on defeating ISIL.
QUESTION: I think he may be talking about even broader antiterrorism, especially --
MR TONER: I see. Okay. I apologize, then, Michael. I just don’t – I haven’t seen the remarks, so anyway --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- we’re asking some questions about this today at the Pentagon as well because it obviously gets into targeting. But just to clarify what you were saying yesterday, do you – does the United-States-led coalition see the oil facilities, the wellheads in particular, as a target? Because you were saying that the – that civilian smugglers buy the oil at the target. Are U.S. jets attacking the wellheads?
MR TONER: Yeah. So we absolutely target oil fields, and on my own I was also looking into this, and I would refer you to a briefing that Colonel Steve Warren did. As you know, he’s based in Baghdad and does I think weekly or biweekly briefings. He did one on November 13th that spoke a lot about – in greater detail than I can about these airstrikes against oil fields. He spoke specifically about Operation Tidal Wave II that focused on a massive oil – a massive strike, rather, on the Omar oil fields. That’s always been a part of our calculus, but he kind of traces the development of how we’ve been trying to bring more airstrikes to bear on those production facilities.
QUESTION: But I’ve seen other comments by U.S. officials suggesting that the oil wells themselves need to be preserved to form the basis of the economy once ISIS is defeated.
MR TONER: Well, again – and that’s – again, he gets into specific detail in this and – is that one of the – as this has developed – and I’m wading into operational, so I’m aware of that – but we’ve hit these oil fields without necessarily the purpose of destroying them altogether but to knock them out of commission. What we’ve seen is that ISIL is able to get them back up and running within a couple of days, so we hit them again. What we – what our aim here is, though, in the long run is we feel like we’re hitting them with a consistency and with a precision now that ISIL doesn’t have, for example, the spare parts – the kind of access to mechanical spare parts, other necessities to get these facilities back up and running.
QUESTION: Yes. Which was the crux of my question --
MR TONER: Exactly, yep.
QUESTION: -- is that the first British strikes in Syria took place overnight. They targeted oil facilities. The first French strikes when they got a chance, they hit oil facilities as well. There’s --
MR TONER: And again, I would refer you to --
QUESTION: There’s a perception of it elsewhere that America’s gone a bit soft on the oil facilities and that the other allies are hitting them harder. Is that fair?
MR TONER: I think that’s a misperception. As I said, we’ve been focused from day one on ISIL’s access to oil and its use of oil illegally traded as a source of revenue. We’ve been targeting oil facilities since day one. We’ve been perfecting how we go after them. We’ve been upping our game, if you will, on striking these in the last months alone. But it remains a target.
QUESTION: But you drop leaflets when you’re going to attack tanker convoys. So the drivers are considered civilians?
MR TONER: That’s correct.
MR TONER: Sorry.
MR TONER: Oh, yes, sir. I’m sorry. Yeah, sorry, sorry.
MR TONER: Yeah, no worries. (Laughter.) Sorry, I promised you. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh. Well, I want to switch topics after this. But following up on Syria, have you commented here at all and will you today on these reports that have swirled around that are just unconfirmed that the Turkish president’s son is somehow involved in --
MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, I talked --
QUESTION: -- shipping and selling black market oil from these ISIS-controlled wells to --
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- buyers in Europe and elsewhere?
MR TONER: Yeah. Look, I talked to – I talked at length about this yesterday, as did others. But I certainly – we reject any allegations that the president or his family is complicit in illegal oil trading with ISIL.
QUESTION: I don’t want to make you go there again.
MR TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: To switch topics, can I ask you about the travel history and visa status --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- of the suspects in the San Bernardino mass shooting that happened yesterday? There are various statements and reports out there about Tashfeen Malik, the alleged female shooter suspect who was killed yesterday. Some are saying that she lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to the U.S. And what I wonder is the extent to which the State Department has been pulled into this investigation. Can you give us some kind of guidance on whether those reports are accurate? And if so, what type of visa was she in the United States on? Is there anything about the citizenship status of her that you can share with us?
MR TONER: Sure. Well, since it’s already been reported out in the press, I can confirm that she did receive or was issued a K-1 so-called fiancee visa, I believe in 2012. Is that correct? 2015 – 2000 – help me here. Okay, we’ll get that number for you. Unfortunately, it’s not in front of me here. But she did receive that from Pakistan. That allowed her to travel here to the United States.
QUESTION: From Pakistan?
MR TONER: That’s correct. That’s my understanding, yeah.
QUESTION: Was she living in Pakistan at the time, or was she living in Saudi Arabia and she was granted the visa as a Pakistani citizen?
MR TONER: I can’t speak to her travel to Saudi Arabia. That’s not something we would necessarily have tracked.
QUESTION: Is she a Saudi citizen or a Pakistani?
MR TONER: I believe she’s a Pakistani citizen.
QUESTION: So can you look up --
QUESTION: Is that --
QUESTION: -- what’s the year? Because that’s kind of important here.
MR TONER: I agree and I apologize that I don’t have this in front of me.
QUESTION: But didn’t they travel together to Saudi Arabia? Is that --
MR TONER: Again – so let’s be very clear. We do not track --
MR TONER: -- the travel and whereabouts of American citizens overseas. So I’ve got this question a couple times already today and had to clarify that, whether the alleged shooter, the male – the husband traveled to Saudi Arabia. That’s not something we would confirm. We don’t track the travel of our citizens overseas.
As to his fiancee or his wife, she did receive a K-1 visa to travel as his fiancee. I’ll get the year for you; I apologize for that. But that – so I can confirm that she did receive that visa.
QUESTION: And she got that where? She got that in Islamabad?
MR TONER: Again, I believe it was Islamabad. I’ll double-check on that.
QUESTION: But in the light of the seriousness of this case, and Saudis are our good friends, haven’t we confirmed with them if he had traveled --
MR TONER: Well, look – I mean, Tejinder, of course there’s an investigation underway. And let me just reiterate that there is an investigation underway. As the President said a couple hours ago, we can’t at this point preclude that this is an act of terrorism. But let’s let that investigation run its course. In the process of that investigation, or the course of that investigation, certainly now we’ll look very closely at where these two individuals may or may not have traveled to and we’ll engage with those governments of those countries to where they traveled.
QUESTION: When someone applies for a K-1 visa, does the intended spouse have to be there too for the interview?
MR TONER: So not – no, I don’t believe so. So the U.S. citizen – the U.S. citizen – in this case it would’ve been him – must file a petition for his or her fiancee, which is then evaluated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizen and Immigration Service. And if that --
QUESTION: Does that require an interview?
MR TONER: If that petition is approved, the case is forwarded to the U.S. consulate abroad in order to verify the qualifying relationship and vet the applicant for any derogatory information. I’m virtually sure that, as in any visa – as in any visa processing, that that involves an interview. I don’t know if --
QUESTION: But not a joint interview, right? They don’t have to appear together at the consular office, wherever that is?
MR TONER: Not – that I’ll have to – I’ll have to take that question. I’m not sure. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: And presumably, because she got the visa, nothing – no – there were no red flags, yeah?
MR TONER: Right, so any --
QUESTION: Well, that’s good.
MR TONER: So any prospective traveler – look, I mean, Matt, I can assure you that any prospective traveler to the United States undergoes --
QUESTION: No, I mean, I think it’s good that you --
MR TONER: Oh, okay, thank you. (Laughter.) Sorry, I thought you were being --
QUESTION: I’m not being sarcastic.
MR TONER: -- sarcastic, I apologize. But any prospective undergoes extensive vetting, as you know, including counterterrorism screening. And in this case, that was certainly the – that was certainly true.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) got the visa in Pakistan?
MR TONER: I am waiting for confirmation of that and looking and seeing nodding over there.
QUESTION: And do you have a confirmation on the year? No? Okay.
QUESTION: Do you know how long ago, how many years was she granted under this K-1 visa to stay in the United States?
MR TONER: How many years? So what that is is a fiance visa, so it’s within 90 days of arrival, they would marry their fiance and then presumably live in the United States or wherever they choose to move to in the world.
QUESTION: And can you also check on the – that before getting that given visa, where did they meet? Because I’m not sure, but if I’m remembering correctly, there is a clause that they should have met or like – it’s not just on the --
MR TONER: Again, no, that wouldn’t – so that wouldn’t – again, I would refer those kinds of questions to the FBI who’s conducting the investigation into this.
QUESTION: Well, what happens if they don’t get married within 90 days?
MR TONER: I would presume that the – that would invalidate the visa.
QUESTION: And if – okay. And then if they do, does that mean that the visa is extended or they have to apply for something else?
MR TONER: Unclear to me whether that would be – that would be automatically extended. I would somewhat doubt that. There may be – again, I’m – I’d have to get you the full facts on it. I mean, if there’s extenuating circumstances, perhaps. I don’t know in this particular case and can’t really speak to it, but there’s a 90-day window because there’s a 90-day window. So, I mean --
QUESTION: Right. But one doesn’t automatically become a U.S. citizen --
MR TONER: No, not at all.
QUESTION: -- simply because one married one. So clearly --
MR TONER: Not at all. So any individual would have to provide for legal residency or a green card after living here, I guess, in – it’s one year, I think.
QUESTION: Sir, on (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Can we just --
MR TONER: Yeah, Guy. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- can you take this as a question? Because at this point, we’re --
MR TONER: What’s the question? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: So we’re going to walk away from this briefing, and it appears as if you’re not sure where she got the visa. It might have been Islamabad --
MR TONER: I’m sure that she got the visa in Pakistan. I’m sure she got the visa in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Okay. And probably in Islamabad, but we’re not sure. Can we follow back on that later on?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. I could follow back on that.
QUESTION: And then the second thing is we’re not – did she – she was given a counterterrorism screening? It sounded – you were talking about --
MR TONER: No, no, no. So I’m just talking broadly about our screening process for any visa recipient, and that includes a counterterrorism screening. And certainly with – in the case of a K-1 visa, that includes that part of it. And just to my – the point I’m making is that whether it’s a K-1 visa, whether it’s a B1-B2 visa, whatever the visa is, that these – all of these individuals undergo a thorough vetting --
QUESTION: So that would presumably include --
MR TONER: -- including a counterterrorism screening.
QUESTION: And that would presumably have included her in Islamabad?
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: Sir --
MR TONER: Yes, correct. That’s correct, Guy.
QUESTION: Can I clarify one thing?
MR TONER: Sure thing.
QUESTION: If this person was issued a visa in Pakistan, a K-1 visa, does that automatically mean that this person is a citizen of Pakistan? Or is there a other way? I mean --
MR TONER: Yes. Normally, if you’re applying for a visa, you have to apply from the country from which you come, of which you’re a resident or a citizen of.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: And she was a Pakistani citizen?
MR TONER: Again, if she applied for the fiance visa in Pakistan, yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I got my U.S. visa in Paris and I’m British. I’m just saying.
QUESTION: Did you marry an American?
QUESTION: No, I married --
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: I’d be able to marry her, though.
QUESTION: Well, that --
QUESTION: I was going to bring her as a girlfriend, but I have to get married.
QUESTION: Well, that would – (laughter) – that would explain something.
MR TONER: I’m not sure what extenuating circumstances are there, David. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR TONER: Sure, please.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Abby. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. Can you say whether or not the U.S. authorities have been in touch with Saudi authorities or with Pakistani authorities regarding this?
MR TONER: No, I said just before coming out there – or I answered that to I don’t know who now, I think Tejinder’s – I’m not aware that we’ve had specific discussions about these cases yet. I certainly presume that we will in the coming days. Again, the FBI is leading this investigation. But certainly, as we uncover facts about where they came from, where they met, where they traveled to, we’ll be following all those leads.
QUESTION: And just following up on that --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- previous discussion, so would a person be able to apply as a Pakistani citizen from Saudi Arabia for that visa?
MR TONER: For a – for what, for a K-1 visa?
QUESTION: For a K-1 visa to come to the U.S. as --
MR TONER: I don’t believe so. I know she’s nodding yes, but I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: But there are some countries in the Middle East for which – from where, when you apply for a visa, you have to go to another country. I think Jordan, you have to go to from Qatar.
MR TONER: Again, my understanding – somewhat limited from my days as a consular officer – are that you need to apply for a visa from the country of origin. I think there are sometimes exceptions made, but they’re rarely made.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So I noticed that Said’s not here today, but I wanted to bring up something that he regularly brings up. That is the arrest in Israel of the arson – alleged or suspected arsonist in the – who set fire to the Palestinian home. I’m wondering if you have any reaction.
MR TONER: Sure. Thanks for bringing it up. We’ve obviously seen reports of these arrests. This is an important step. But as we’ve said before, it’s absolutely critical that the perpetrators of this attack against the Dawabsheh family are prosecuted and brought to justice. As you know, we’ve already condemned this vicious terrorist attack in the strongest possible terms, and we again convey our profound condolences to the Dawabsheh family.
MR TONER: Excuse me.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have proof to support that? Because his son is a billionaire and he never worked in his life.
MR TONER: So Michael, my rebuttal to that is: Does anyone have proof that it’s true? There’s a lot of allegations being made, and I got into this yesterday quite a bit, alleging high-level involvement, including in Erdogan – President Erdogan’s family in illicit oil trade with ISIL. We have no evidence of – that that is the case. We reject it outright, and frankly, we question some of these allegations that have been leveled against the family.
QUESTION: Because it seems to us that you try to cover for them because the Russians accuse them. That’s --
MR TONER: Well, Michael, look, I mean, the Russians in the wake of the shootdown of the Russian air jet last week have made some pretty serious allegations about Turkey’s complicity with ISIL in Syria. We have been working constructively and effectively with Turkey. They’ve given us the use of Incirlik Air Base. They’ve been working on us – with us on closing this 98-kilometer stretch of the border that remains open. It’s not to say that there are not still challenges to overcome and that we don’t need – that we all don’t need to do more to counter ISIL and to close that border and to help those forces in northern Syria who are fighting ISIL. But allegations that somehow the Turkish Government is helping or working in cahoots with ISIL is – we believe are just unfounded.
MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have – I mean, obviously, Greece is a strong partner, an ally. We work with Greece on a range of regional and as well as global issues. I can’t speculate what the exact agenda is going to be, but we’ll obviously try to get a readout for you once that meeting takes place.
QUESTION: I have another question. Last week, President Obama express U.S. support to Turkey – to Turkey’s right to defend itself. And as the Secretary’s going to Greece tomorrow, I want to tell you that since 2011 Greece has had to deal with over 7,000 Turkish incursions into Greek airspace, including over 800 armed formations. Will Secretary Kerry be expressing support for Greece’s right to defend itself? And what is going to happen if one of the Greek pilots shot down a Turkish plane engagement?
MR TONER: So on the first part of your question, look, I’m not going to speculate on the meeting before it takes place. As I said, we have a broad agenda with Greece and I’m certain we’ll discuss all aspects of the U.S.-Greek relationship.
To your second point, which was if Greece gets --
QUESTION: If Greece has a right to defend itself.
MR TONER: It’s a hypothetical. I mean, you know where we stand --
QUESTION: It’s not hypothetical.
MR TONER: You understand – or you know our policy on this issue and it hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: So the policy is that Greece can’t defend itself, correct?
MR TONER: That’s not what I said. I said our --
QUESTION: Well, what is your policy?
MR TONER: Our policy is that we’ve long urged Greece and Turkey as NATO allies to work together on regional peace and security.
QUESTION: Yeah, is the State Department considering to scale down the online campaign to counter violent extremism as reported by The Post? And if so, what kind of specific feedback does the State Department receive from the outside review group in terms of there should be a change?
MR TONER: Sure. You’re talking about the – no doubt The Washington Post article about the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications?
MR TONER: Just a couple of things to say about that – is that we’ve said all along that the most effective voices to counter ISIL’s message or narrative comes from our partners in Muslim-majority countries and nothing about that has changed. We’ll obviously continue to build those relationships. We’ve long acknowledged that the U.S. Government is probably not the most effective voice in this sphere. So the CSCC continues to evolve and adapt, and we’re constantly evaluating our messaging, our countermessaging strategy and adjusting our tactics accordingly. One example is we, in July, working with the United Arab Emirates, launched the Sawab Center, which is a joint operations center on online – for online engagement. And this center is working to counter ISIL’s Twitter and social media messages in Arabic. It’s created a cloud-based platform for coalition partners to share Arabic counter-ISIL content and amplify credible Arab and Muslim voices that counter ISIL.
And that’s an important last point is, again, it’s – governments are limited in the reach that they can have and the persuasiveness that they can have or influence that they can have on some of these target audiences. So what’s really important is that nongovernmental organizations and civil society leaders step up and fill that void, religious leaders, et cetera, et cetera. And that’s what we’re trying to promote, obviously. There’s already a lot going on in that sphere, but that’s continuing – that continues to be where we’re working towards.
But there have been – I mean, there have been some successes. The CSCC, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, has had a very effective – and in fact the article praised it – the defectors campaign. So we’re going to continue to – where we feel we can provide value, continue to push a counter-narrative to ISIL’s nihilistic messaging.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the CSCC program will be revised?
MR TONER: Yes. I think – obviously, we’re not going to – we need to keep active in the sphere, but we’re looking at ways to adapt and to, frankly, maximize and – maximize our efforts and do better in that medium.
QUESTION: When was it created, the CSCC?
MR TONER: Good question. It was created a while ago.
QUESTION: Hasn’t it always been revising and changing its strategy?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, it’s – and that’s a recognition that it’s an iterative process, that – I mean, anything on social media is constantly revising itself and changing and adapting.
QUESTION: Specifically about this panel’s report, which – was there anything – does the Department agree with the findings of the report? Is there anything the department --
MR TONER: This is the – this – the “sprint team” report or --
MR TONER: Yeah. I think – sure.
QUESTION: Was there anything that the Department didn’t know already?
MR TONER: Well, I – again, I don’t think the sprint team was designed to answer all counter-ISIL messaging questions. They did provide a specific skillset, based on their backgrounds. And we feel like they gave valuable insights on --
QUESTION: Such as?
MR TONER: Well, these guys are tech insiders, so they helped us hone our messaging, look at the best ways and methods to --
QUESTION: The story says that none of them spoke Arabic. Is that correct? Or read Arabic?
MR TONER: Yeah. I think that’s the case. But I’m not sure. I’d have to look at the story.
QUESTION: So you’ve got a bunch of --
MR TONER: But again, I mean, nobody’s – wait a second – but nobody’s saying --
QUESTION: No, no, no. It’s just – I’m not asking you to criticize --
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- the team or its findings.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: What I want to know is if it produced anything that would – that you find valuable. You said that you did, but – you said that it did. I’m just asking what specific --
MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have a list in front of – yeah.
QUESTION: What specific recommendations did they make that you thought were worth acting on, if any?
MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I don’t have a list in front of me of the recommendations and what we’ve done to incorporate them. I think we did, in general, find their analysis helpful, as we would – as I said, the advice of any tech insider group that can look at --
QUESTION: What about me?
MR TONER: What’s that? What about you? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If I offered you some advice would you find that to be valuable? I mean, I just don’t understand what – who asked for this panel to be --
MR TONER: I don’t know. I think that --
QUESTION: Was it anyone in this building?
MR TONER: I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the evolution of this was. I’m not sure whether this was something we requested to have them look at, which is – which may have been the case, that they were brought in to provide an honest, objective evaluation of whether this team was being effective.
QUESTION: Okay. So – but you said you found some of their stuff – that some of their findings to be valuable and helpful, but you can’t say what they are. And you said you found some of their recommendations to be valuable and helpful, but you can’t say what those are either. Is that correct?
MR TONER: I don’t have a list of their recommendations in front of me.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: You did say “hone messaging.” In what ways did they help hone messaging?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think that these were – again --
QUESTION: Took it from 143 characters back to 140.
QUESTION: There you go. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: They couldn’t figure out why their tweets weren’t going out.
QUESTION: Baby steps, right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can we have a copy of the report?
MR TONER: I’m not sure whether it’s available to the public. No, in answer – in serious answer to your question, Michael, I think social media – with Matt’s expertise notwithstanding – is a continuing – continually evolving field. And frankly, there’s lots of people in the private sector who do this very, very well and very effectively, whether they do it for commercial means or commercial motivations, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But we value the input of these people in looking at what we’re doing ourselves and their suggestions on how we might do it better. This is, in a lot of ways, about reaching target audiences with effective messaging. And so nobody does that better – let’s be clear – than the private sector.
So as much as we can have these insiders, these private sector folks, look at our – what we’re doing, give us an honest evaluation, whether they speak Arabic or not, whether they know the content or the material as well as others might, may know it, they still have valuable insights in just the medium itself.
QUESTION: Will we see any difference from our Twitter feeds? (Inaudible) think again (inaudible) be tweeting (inaudible)?
MR TONER: I hope they’ll dissuade you, David, yes.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I know that the State Department has gone at length to explain sort of the legality of welcoming refugees here. But yesterday, the state of Texas said that they would sue the State Department over them saying we weren’t consulted enough about the whole process. Do you have a response to that?
MR TONER: I don’t. I’m vaguely aware of the case. I mean, look, we’ve been very clear over the past months or so about the fact that there are states and cities that have concerns about this refugee resettlement program. We’re going to address them. We stand by the process. We stand by the program. We believe it been incredibly effective in that all of the Syrian refugees brought in, none of them over the past – I don’t have the number in my head, but none of them have been sent away or sent back to Syria or wherever because of terrorism ties. It’s a very extensive vetting process that lasts 12 to 18 months, involves multiple agencies including DHS, FBI, and others. And it’s an effective program. And let’s not forget that at the heart of this are refugees who are fleeing terrible violence, terrible persecution, in wherever they’re from including Syria. And so it speaks to what – who we are as Americans that we accept these individuals.
QUESTION: One quick one on refugees.
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: So is it – is this --
MR TONER: I thought that was a really nice, eloquent way to finish the briefing, but okay.
QUESTION: Is this – is this – no, this will be better. (Laughter.)
MR TONER: For you, perhaps.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on China?
QUESTION: Is this more stringent than the K-1 visa?
MR TONER: I mean, arguably, it’s longer in duration; it’s a more thorough vetting. But we stand by the K-1 visa and our visa processing as well. All of these things – look, since 9/11, all of these involve multiple layers of vetting with multiple agencies putting folks through various systems, where we watch individuals, what their affiliations are, whether they’re on any kind of watch lists. All of this is done for any visa applicant, but certainly stringent – more stringently so for the refugees, and we’ve said none more stringently than those coming from Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more question?
MR TONER: Matt’s going to get cranky. Yes, go ahead quickly.
MR TONER: I don’t. I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)