Daily Press Briefing - July 13, 2016

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 13, 2016


2:15 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, Matt.


MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. As you already heard, no doubt last night, Secretary Kerry announced that the United States will provide an additional $439 million of life-saving humanitarian assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. This new funding brings U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to this conflict to nearly $5.6 billion since the start of the crisis. This announcement of an additional $439 million also reflects the great generosity of the American people and demonstrates U.S. commitment – ongoing commitment to helping address the unprecedented magnitude of the suffering and urgent needs of those affected by the conflict in Syria.

The Syrian conflict – it’s worth noting – remains the largest and most complex humanitarian emergency of our time with more than two-thirds of Syria – of Syria’s pre-war population, which is roughly over 18 million people, in need of humanitarian assistance both inside Syria as well as in the region.

I don’t have anything else at the top. So, Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Just one thing on that.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said that he was very pleased to announce that the Administration would definitely meet its goal of bringing in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year. That’s correct, right? Just before he made that announcement he said that they would reach that goal, right – that you would reach that goal? I’m just wondering how he can possibly know that --

MR TONER: I would say that --

QUESTION: -- with 100 percent certainty.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’re – we believe we will meet that goal.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he said it was definite.

MR TONER: We’re working diligently. I can’t – I don’t know – I’m looking to see if I have in front of me where we’re actually at on the current total.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I just wanted – I mean --

MR TONER: I think we’re about half way or more than half way there as of July 8th.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you only --

MR TONER: You got to – you also have to convey and project confidence, Matt. That’s what a leader does. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. So, but – but you acknowledge that --

MR TONER: No, seriously, we’re working --

QUESTION: -- there isn’t any way you can say with 100 percent certainty that that goal is going to be met when it’s still two-and-a-half months to go and you’re already – out of 8, 9, 12 months you had --

MR TONER: I think we’re – he was expressing the degree of confidence that we have that we have all the measures in place. We’re working diligently to reach that goal. It’s a priority.

QUESTION: Different issue.


QUESTION: And this is Russia.


QUESTION: And what is your understanding of what happened to the head – the Broadcasting Board of Governors chairman? Have you made representations to the Russians? Will this come up when the Secretary is there – is it tomorrow or Friday?

MR TONER: So a couple of things on that, Matt. First of all, we’re still, frankly, in the process of sorting through all the details of what happened yesterday, or last night, and the timing of what occurred. But obviously, everybody’s seen the reports. You know also that the Broadcasting Board of Governors did issue a statement on the matter. I’d refer you to that and to them for additional details. I’m limited here. And I’m limited because we’ve not yet received a Privacy Act waiver. Once I do, I’ll be able to say a bit more but not a whole lot more about the incident and about the case.

QUESTION: Well, I --

MR TONER: I said a little bit. And I did --

QUESTION: So the Privacy Act now applies to officials – government – all right, it’s an independent government agency and I realize it is kind of a part – it is a part-time job.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: But he still was traveling in his official capacity. The BBG, as you noted, put out a statement. It said that the other people who were with him on this delegation went to the embassy, spoke to Ambassador Tefft, and then they thanked Ambassador Tefft and the Department back here for their urgent --

MR TONER: So I was going to finish that.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, I thought you were done.

MR TONER: I was – allow me to go on a little bit further and say --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I thought you were done.

MR TONER: That’s okay. No worries. We were, when alerted – our embassy in Moscow – to what was happening and to the incident, we did obviously go and assist Chairman Shell. But your question highlights some of the ongoing questions and details that we’re trying to sort through, which is in exactly what capacity he was travelling. And I have to stop there because you said he is – it is a role that he plays. He is also a private citizen.

QUESTION: Well, it’s my understanding that he was supposed to go to a reception or to ceremony today marking the – an anniversary for Radio Liberty in Moscow. That would seem to me that he was doing this not in his private capacity at NBCUniversal but rather in his capacity as chairman of the BBG.

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to read too much into this and I don’t want to – I just – all I’m trying to say, Matt, is I don’t have full Privacy Act clearance to go any further. And frankly, we’re still trying to sort through the details of what actually happened. As to why he was denied, that’s really something for the Russians to speak to. Whether we raised our concerns with the Russians – we did.

QUESTION: You did?

MR TONER: And whether it will come up with Secretary Kerry, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. The Russians have said that the reason that he was denied entry was because he was put on an expanded stop list that was expanded because you guys expanded sanctions against individual Russians. Did they – have they not given you that explanation? They made it publicly.

MR TONER: Have they made that publicly?

QUESTION: The foreign ministry.

MR TONER: Well, look, Matt, I’m not going to – again, if they’ve said publicly, they’ve offered their explanation. I said it’s not for us to explain what happened to him. It’s for them to speak to why they refused his entry.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not really asking you to explain what happened to him.


QUESTION: I would like to know whether or not you disagree with what happened to him. When you say you express your concerns, did you --

MR TONER: Well, look, we’re concerned.

QUESTION: -- did you protest it?

MR TONER: We expressed our concerns about what happened. We’re still trying to see – sort through the precise details of what happened, and why he was refused. I’m aware of some of the public comments that they’ve made, certainly. And with regard to that public reason that they gave, all I’ll say to that is, look, the appropriate response for Russia to any of our sanctions would be to address the concerns on which our sanctions are based and not to do a tit-for-tat.


MR TONER: You’re saying that – you’re saying that public – that the public response that he gave, that he was put on a no-fly list or a no-entry list --

QUESTION: Yes, both – both countries do this tit-for-tat all the time. You guys never seem to – when they – why are you asking them to do what you guys won’t do?

MR TONER: Our sanctions are --

QUESTION: I mean, there were just two – four diplomats, two from each side, expelled from each of the countries last week. This happens on and – happens over and over again. It doesn’t seem like any – is that really a reasonable or a logical expectation?

MR TONER: Well, it is in the sense of if Russia wants the sanctions lifted – all the sanctions – we’ve spelled out a clear way by which those sanctions can be lifted. So if they meet those commitments and they meet those expectations, then they can be lifted.

QUESTION: Well, is it fair to say that you have a problem with this guy not being able to get in to the country?

MR TONER: It’s fair to say we have concerns about what happened, yes.

QUESTION: All right.


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

MR TONER: Do you think – I mean, given the increasing diplomatic tensions going on, not only the fact that you expelled some of theirs, but this is now the latest in a long list that’s been going on now for several weeks, do you really think this is business as usual between the countries? I mean, there’s a lot festering --

MR TONER: I wouldn’t use that term.

QUESTION: There’s a lot festering underneath here, and --

MR TONER: But I wouldn’t use that term. I mean, look, we’re – the Secretary is traveling to Moscow and he’s been very clear what the goal is, and that is to try to resuscitate the cessation of hostilities and the fact that we are yet again going to Russia to try to get its buy-in on a process that can lead to a nationwide ceasefire, or a cessation of hostilities. We haven’t seen that thus far, but we’re having another go at this. The Secretary has been very clear about the fact that they’ve not lived up to their commitments so far in terms of exerting influence on the regime to stop these ongoing attacks on opposition forces who are adhering to the cessation of hostilities. And the overall effect of that is you’ve got ongoing violence, you don’t have a nationwide cessation of hostilities that all these parties have allegedly committed to and the regime has committed to, and that just stymies the political process, and you’ve just got – you – so you can’t go forward on this, and we need to go forward.

QUESTION: But, Mark --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- can you separate what’s going on in these other tensions – the NBC guy, the diplomats --


QUESTION: -- and then what’s going on in Syria? Are they connected in any way?

MR TONER: To that I’ll say that – and we’ve made this point before – is our relationship with Russia is very complex. We disagree where we disagree – and there are areas, in fact, as you know, where we disagree quite strongly. But there are areas where we can cooperate. Iran – the Iran nuclear deal was a great example of that. Thus far, we have made some progress in our approach to Syria. There are areas with regard to Syria and how to resolve the conflict there on which we agree as part of the ISSG how to get there – a political process, an end to the conflict, that there is no military solution to the conflict. But while we have reached those kinds of overarching agreements, we haven’t seen the practical reality on the ground yet and we need to have that.

And that’s what – so Secretary Kerry’s going to Moscow, he’s going to meet with Putin, he’s going to meet with Lavrov, and we’re going to again have these discussions about how we can get this cessation of hostilities back into a reality or a state of feasibility.

QUESTION: But Mark, since the Iran deal, where is it that you find – the Secretary comes out of meetings with President Putin and Lavrov with these promises that things are going to happen, but where actually have they happened on the ground?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean – and I don’t mean to go big and I don’t mean to walk back. I mean, there have been some undeniable progress. We did get a cessation of hostilities. Has it been perfect? No, by no means, but it has saved lives, such as it is. It’s deteriorated over time, so we need to resuscitate it, we need to reinforce it, but it was in place. It was a success, such as it was. It wasn’t a complete success. It has not been, but --

QUESTION: Only for a few days, so --

MR TONER: That’s not true. For a few months, I would say, and that it’s been weakened and fragile, and I agree with that around – in certain areas, Aleppo being one of them, but – and that’s one of the goals here. We need to get a nationwide cessation of hostilities. We need to move beyond these periods of calm or whatever we’re calling them and get into a credible, nationwide cessation of hostilities. That’s the goal here. If we get that, then we can get a political process hopefully back up and running again. And that’s the goal, again, that everyone allegedly who is part of the ISSG adheres to and believes in, or has at least professed that they believe in. We’ve got to test this. That’s – this is what we’ve got. This is the model. I don’t think Secretary Kerry or anyone has said this is going to work 100 percent, but we have to test it. That’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Would you say that this --

MR TONER: Please --

QUESTION: -- that this trip of the Secretary of State to Moscow is like a last-ditch effort? Because the Secretary said yesterday or last night we’re going to try this one more time or what – or something like that. So does that mean this is really like the last time that you will be pushing --

MR TONER: It’s – that’s a very fair question, Said, and I can’t answer that definitively. I think we’re – I would – my answer to that would be we don’t have – our patience is not unlimited. We don’t – and ultimately, as I said, if this thing collapses, we’re left with what comes next, and that’s going to be a return to conflict and a return to a situation that we felt like we were making progress moving away from. Again, we’ve seen limited progress here. I don’t want to simply say that this has been a failure in any way, shape, or form – not at all. We have seen a significant decrease in fighting. That has saved lives. We have seen some or many areas get access to humanitarian assistance, but it hasn’t been sustained and it hasn’t been complete.

QUESTION: So that brings into issue --


QUESTION: -- the proverbial pPlan B, right? I mean, so what is pPlan B?

MR TONER: So we’re not to pPlan B yet.

QUESTION: I mean, listening to, let’s say, what Lavrov said yesterday about de Mistura and so on --

MR TONER: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: -- I mean, you see that the gulf is really widening. It’s not – you’re not coming closer together. So the Saudi foreign minister was here last week talking about sending ground troops to Syria and so on. So the situation is not really – does not bode well for a process.

MR TONER: Look, we’ve had these meetings in the past. The Russians tell us they share our intentions to bring an end to the conflict. We all profess to saying that this war must end and it must end through a political solution, not a military solution. We’ve got to continually test that proposition. The ISSG is only effective insofar that it can exert influence on the parties. We believe Russia can exert the necessary influence on Assad to get it to change its ways and to adhere, and that’s all – we’re continuing to push that.

QUESTION: My last point on this --

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: -- is that the Russians insist on designating Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist organizations. And in fact, all indications show that these groups keep spawning other groups that are very, very similar, and in fact, in many ways, whether in dogma or practice, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam really look very much like al-Nusrah in many ways. So why is it so difficult to say that these guys that commit these acts in this fashion are actually terrorist groups and fair game?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Your question is why would it be so difficult for us to make that leap?

QUESTION: The question is – yeah, why – yeah. Are you, let’s say – is this like a red line for you that you will not designate Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam as terrorist organizations?

MR TONER: Well, our response to that is that these are – Nusrah, Daesh are groups that have been designated by the UN through an agreed-upon process. The – all other groups – and we have recognized and we’ve said this before – Kirby’s spoken to it, I’ve spoken to it – there is – the Secretary’s spoken to it – there is – on the battlefield there are groups that mesh together or individual fighters or groups of fighters. It’s not a clean situation all the time, which is why we need to work harder to coordinate our efforts to delineate between those groups.

QUESTION: But the reason that --


QUESTION: The reason that they haven’t been designated by the UN is because you won’t let the UN do it. It’s a bit disingenuous to get up here and say, “Well, it’s not up to us. It’s up to them UN” --

MR TONER: No, but --

QUESTION: -- when you’re preventing the UN from doing it, is it not?

MR TONER: But that’s not entirely true. And the fact that – I mean, it’s – look, I mean, we – there is an agreed-upon process by which these groups have been --

QUESTION: Yes. And you – when it is raised, when people want to put them on, you and others – your allies, the Saudis in particular – say no. But then you say – you stand up and say, “Well, the reason they’re not on the list is because it hasn’t gone through that process.” And I’m just saying, don’t you think it’s a bit disingenuous to say they’re not on the list because it hasn’t gone through this process --

MR TONER: No, because --

QUESTION: -- when you are one of the prime reasons that they haven’t been gone through – it hasn’t gone through this process, no?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to that. All I’m going to say this is a – it’s a consensus-based decision-making process.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Last thing – can you just take this?

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yeah.

QUESTION: I just want to know what the – the Privacy Act, how it applies to – in this case.

MR TONER: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: I mean, if he was – does it apply to American diplomats?

MR TONER: Again, I’m happy to do that. I’m happy to talk to you about it --

QUESTION: And also the – yeah. And also the difference between someone who has a part-time position and then also someone who might be – have a part-time position but be traveling on their – in their private capacity.

MR TONER: Yep, fair question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s a follow-up to the questions --


QUESTION: -- that Said and Matt raised.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Well, did the U.S. and Russia reach an understanding on what to do with Ahrar al-Sham Jaysh al-Islam whom last month in Aspen Secretary Kerry called subgroups underneath al-Nusrah and Daesh. Do the U.S. and Russia have an agreement on what to do with these groups?

MR TONER: Well, so I’m not going to get ahead of discussions that will be taking place when he’s actually in Moscow, wouldn’t want to do that. But we have long been saying that we would welcome Russian engagement to combat al-Nusrah and Daesh. We’re continuing to discuss with Russia – and I’m not going to get into the details of that discussion at this point – but we continue to discuss with Russia the imperative of focusing the fight on Daesh and al-Qaida in Syria and on ways that we can collectively better enforce the cessation of hostilities. And I was trying to make this point with Lesley, because until we have that credible cessation of hostilities back in place, we can’t get this political process up and running that we all – all members of the ISSG say, “Okay, we recognize this is the way forward.”

So we’re really at a stalemate. We need to get a cessation of hostilities back. We need to focus on how we can enforce that. And then, again, the humanitarian piece is also always foremost.

QUESTION: So do I understand --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- there’s no agreement on these particular groups?

MR TONER: We’re still – again, we’re still talking with Russia about how we can coordinate better our efforts.

QUESTION: The policy has not changed --

MR TONER: I’m not going to get into – yeah.

QUESTION: But doesn’t the Secretary’s assessment that these groups or subgroups of designated terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida in Syria, which is al-Nusrah – doesn’t that warrant some change of policy? Or do you think that as long as these terrorist subgroups call themselves differently, they’re off the hook?

MR TONER: I think – I’ve spoken to this before. I’ll say much the same as I’ve said before, which is that we recognize that in places like Aleppo and elsewhere that there’s a mixing or comingling, whatever you want to call it, and that we need to work more closely together to disentangle where these groups are mixing with known terrorist groups. We’re willing to have that conversation with Russia, and --

QUESTION: But as I understand, you’ve been having that conversation for months now. I ask many times on this --


QUESTION: -- and you answer the same thing.


QUESTION: There has been no progress reported on that.

MR TONER: It continues to be a challenge. I don’t know how to put it any other way. That said, we have seen – and I can – we have reports again today of additional bombings of civilians, whether it’s from Russia or whether it’s from the regime, of areas. There was a strike near Jordan, near the border with Jordan, that we’re looking into now, where refugees may have been hit. So we’ve seen continued examples of innocent civilians also being hit by regime bombs, and that continues. And all that does is create, frankly, a situation where the political process can’t move forward.

QUESTION: I want to go back to these --

MR TONER: Of course.--

QUESTION: -- particular groups that I asked about.


QUESTION: If you insist that these groups be treated differently, then you also suggest that there is a distinction between them and al-Nusrah. What is that distinction?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – these groups have been designated, as I was trying to make the point to Matt, through a very detailed process – not by me, certainly, and I’m not making this up from the podium. But it was a consensus-driven process. Not everyone is in agreement on this, but that is how these things work. This is how the ISSG functions. Not everyone in that group, whether – it’s not just U.S. and Russia – agrees on who all the bad guys are and who all the good guys are. But what we had said is there needs to be a process. We need to say, okay, these groups, we all agree, are designated terrorist groups – we can agree with that. The other groups, as long as they adhere to the ceasefire – and we’ve talked about this before; that is incumbent on them, it’s their responsibility to adhere to the cessation of hostilities, just as it is for the regime. Otherwise this thing falls apart.

QUESTION: But when they don’t, when they don’t, when they are fighting alongside --

MR TONER: But we do have a process in place. We do have monitors – or not monitors, we do have a process in place – we’ve talked about this – where we – where there are violations of the cessation of hostilities. We look at these, we work with Russia; we’ve still got that structure still in place.

QUESTION: Is it permissible to go after them without a UN Security Council designation?

MR TONER: I’m not sure I understand the question. One more time.

QUESTION: As they are violating the cessation of hostilities thing, I mean, does these two groups – Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam – fighting alongside al-Nusrah and Daesh occasionally – would that be all right to go after them without a UN Security Council designation?

MR TONER: Well, again, it is – we’ve seen violations, frankly, by – credible allegations, let me put it this way, of violations by many different parties to the cessation of hostilities. You are correct in one point: that enforcement of that cessation of hostilities is in some ways voluntary or self-identifying. If I’m a member of a group, a moderate opposition group, and I say I adhere to the ceasefire, then my actions dictate how I’m treated. But that also applies, frankly, to the regime, who consistently also violates the cessation of hostilities.


QUESTION: Yes. Switch the topic to Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

MR TONER: Of course. Let’s do that, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Recognizing that you don’t want to go into details, can I ask you to go into details – (laughter) – trying to confirm the – or comment on the AP report from yesterday about the offer that the Secretary will bring to Russia on the possibility of sharing military information for targeting Daesh and Nusrah in return for assurances that Assad will stop bombing rebels who have signed up for the ceasefire?

MR TONER: No, I’m not going to go beyond what we’ve talked about more broadly. Look, I’m not going to get into the details of any discussions we may be having with Russia before those discussions have taken place, so I’m going to leave it there.


QUESTION: Yeah. I’d like to clarify a point that --


QUESTION: -- seems misreported in some of the Kurdish media.


QUESTION: And probably you would like to have that clarified too, and then I’d like to ask a question.


QUESTION: The point of clarification: The MOU that was signed between the Pentagon and the Kurdistan Regional Government for $415 million in aid for the Peshmerga --


QUESTION: -- that was done with the approval of Baghdad. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Yes, it was.


MR TONER: Yes, it was done with the full consent of the government in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Okay. I just thought everyone would be better off if that were clear.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: So I’ve got a question.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. There seems to be a difference --

MR TONER: Of course. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- in the way that the Defense and State Departments approach this issue of relations with the KRG. And the MOU arose when Secretary Carter was in Baghdad a few months ago and he told the Abadi government that the Defense Department was going to provide these funds to the Peshmerga so they could help fight Daesh and asked if Baghdad – if the government objected and they didn’t. So the onus was on them to object. But when it comes to – and they didn’t object, okay.

So when it comes to something like next week’s pledging conference in support of Iraq, the State Department’s approach is to encourage – it’s kind of nice and soft and whatnot – says to encourage the Iraqi Government to include KRG representatives, and the Iraqi Government doesn’t do that. So my question: Doesn’t it seem that if the State Department were to follow the Pentagon model and say, “This is what we want to do or want you to do, do you have any objection,” it might get better results?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, with respect to the MOU that you cited, look, I’d refer you to my colleagues over at the Department of Defense to speak to the details of that military assistance. But as you mentioned, Acting Assistant Secretary for Defense – or of Defense, rather – Elissa Slotkin did travel to Irbil I think this week to finalize that, as you note, previously announced assistance to the Kurdish Regional Government. And that was, as I said, done with the consent of the government of Baghdad, which has been, frankly, a consistent part of our process of assisting the Iraqi Government all along – either through the Department of State or through the Department of Defense – which is we are working to support those Kurdish forces who have shown tremendous skill, tremendous courage on the battlefield fighting Daesh, driving it out of territories that it’s controlling.

And, as I said, we’re working hard to support those efforts. We do that, though, through the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And we’ve talked about this not just with respect to the Kurds but with other fighting groups in Iraq, because the ultimate goal here – what we want to build here – is the capability of the Iraqi Government to provide its own security for its people. That’s been an overarching goal. We don’t want to necessarily always have to be there to support them; we want to build their capability to provide that kind of security.

Now, you’re talking about the donors’ conference, so let me get there – or the pledging conference. That is, of course, an opportunity for us to enhance our humanitarian assistance and our stabilization assistance to the Government of Iraq, which includes the Kurds. That’s part of it, and I don’t want there to be any kind of confusion there. But that’s going to be through the Iraqi Government – that assistance is going to be, again, through the command and control of the Iraqi Government.

But to imply that we’re somehow not engaged or not working directly with the Kurds as much as possible, hearing their concerns, discussing with them their concerns – I mean, look, we have – we’ve had senior U.S. officials, including Brett McGurk frequently, who have traveled to Kurdistan Regional Government – Kurdistan, rather – on nearly every trip that they’ve made to the region, and we’re going to continue to do that. You’re talking about different techniques that the Department of Defense is – look, I’m not going to speak to how all that works. All I’m saying is that Department of Defense, Department of State, same team, same government. We’re all working together, connected, to provide the support that we feel is necessary to get the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi people, the security that they need.

QUESTION: Well, I know the British were at one point more insistent when they held a similar conference that the Iraqi Government have KRG representatives included in its delegation. It just seems that if the State Department were to do more than simply encourage but to insist, then the Iraqis might actually do that.

MR TONER: I mean, look, it’s – as to who was invited or the invitation process, that was part of the coalition working group and that was – they were the ones doing the invites, so I’d refer you to them on who precisely and what the rationale was behind that.

Any more? Yeah.


MR TONER: You want to go to --


MR TONER: I assume you want to go to --

QUESTION: China/South China Sea.

MR TONER: China/South China Sea, sure.

I’ll get to you too. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Sorry. Do you have any comment on Taiwan’s decision to send warships into the South China Sea to conduct patrols following the arbitration decision yesterday?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. You’re saying – what was the exact question? I apologize.

QUESTION: Sorry. Taiwan sent a warship into the South China Sea to conduct – control – to patrols to protest the arbitration decision.

MR TONER: Again, I mean, I think what – the only – my only reaction would be what we’ve said repeatedly about China’s and other claimants to the South China Sea yesterday after the ruling was announced – is that this is an opportunity here, an opportunity to – for everyone to take a step back and work together – avoid escalating the situation any further, but work together to resolve their disputes regarding territorial claims; that everyone in this immediate aftermath or period following the ruling should, frankly, exercise restraint and avoid provocative actions. And that applies to all claimants.

QUESTION: Would you consider that a provocative action – sending warships?

MR TONER: I’m not going to – I mean, again, I don’t have the details in front of me. I don’t know if this was a FONOPS, whether it was a freedom of navigation exercise. I just don’t have the details. I’m saying our message writ large is simply that all claimants should refrain from provocative actions.

I’m sorry. Go ahead. Yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: You said that you encourage all parties to work together --


QUESTION: -- to solve the disputes. Does that mean that Taiwan should be brought into a negotiation for multilateral solution, for a peaceful solution?

MR TONER: Look, I don’t want to necessarily, like – everybody’s digesting the ruling from yesterday. It was a massive legal document. But it was also, from what we’re gleaning from it – and people far smarter on this have already spoken to it than I am – have already spoken to it, that it was a very – it is – it presents an opportunity for all claimants to take a step back from some of the actions we’ve seen over the past months and to look at ways that we can find peaceful resolutions to the various claims and disputes. I’m not going to speak to whether they should be a part of this process. I know that they have concerns.

But I think what we’re looking for in the immediate aftermath, like I said, is that we don’t want any – see any provocative actions. We don’t want to see any escalation of tensions. Different nations are digesting the results of the hearing – or the ruling, rather – and let’s let that sink in.

QUESTION: Some of them have already digested it and spit it out. (Laughter.) So do you have anything to add to what the White House said a little bit earlier about China’s threat or China’s warning that it could put – it could slap an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea?

MR TONER: I do not.

QUESTION: And Mark, is it relevant to you that the aircraft that landed today on the Chinese – on the Spratly Islands – that they were civilian and that they were not military? Is that significant?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you’re talking about what exactly? There’s been so many different --

QUESTION: So today, two Chinese aircraft – civilian aircraft landed --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- at these new airports on these – on the Spratly Islands.

MR TONER: Is this the Mischief Reef and the Subi Reef? Is this what you’re talking about?

QUESTION: That’s correct.

MR TONER: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is it significant to you that they were civilian aircraft and not military aircraft?

MR TONER: I mean, look, there is, I guess, some measure of significance, but – to that, but we still see those – these kinds of actions as raising tensions unnecessarily rather than lowering them. And we want to see a lowering of tensions. So this is really for all claimants, as I said, to take advantage of the ruling and show restraint and take advantage of the opportunity presented by the tribunal’s finding or decision to work together to manage these. That’s our only focus here, I guess, is we don’t have a dog in this fight other than our belief that – other than, obviously, our treaty obligations but also our belief in freedom of navigation. But what we want to see in this very tense part of Asia – of the Pacific, rather – we want to see de-escalation of tensions, and we want to see all claimants take a moment to look at how we can find a peaceful way forward.

QUESTION: Do you have any readouts on high-level discussions today with the Chinese or any of the other countries, claimants --

MR TONER: Nothing --

QUESTION: -- on this issue?

MR TONER: Not aware that the Secretary has been engaged on this. I know that Danny Russel’s in Honolulu. I’m not sure of his conversations, but no, nothing in particular.

QUESTION: Do you think those conversations are going to come up in Honolulu?

MR TONER: Doubtful.

QUESTION: What did you say?

MR TONER: I said doubtful.

QUESTION: Oh, doubtful.

QUESTION: Can I just interject?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: This will be really brief because this just happened while you’re here, and I’m hoping that maybe by the end of the briefing or certainly like within the next half hour after you can get an answer --

MR TONER: Okay. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- and that is that the Secretary’s friend, Mr. Hammond, has been appointed to be the chancellor of the exchequer in Britain, and his replacement as foreign secretary has just been announced as Boris Johnson. How do you think this will affect, or if it will affect at all, both the U.S.-British relationship in the diplomatic area, and also is the Secretary – is this someone the Secretary thinks that he’ll be able to work with given his previous positions?

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, we’re always going to be able to work with the British no matter who is occupying the role of foreign secretary because of our deep, abiding special relationship with the United Kingdom. And we congratulate Foreign Secretary Hammond on his new role and we look forward to engaging with Boris Johnson as the new foreign secretary. This is something, frankly, that goes beyond a relationship, that goes beyond personalities. And it is a absolutely critical moment in certainly England’s history but also in the U.S.-UK relationship. So absolutely, we’re committed to working productively going forward.

QUESTION: But you don’t have any concern? Because this Administration, both the President and the Secretary, took a very different line on – and granted, it’s not their country, but Mr. Johnson led a movement that the – this Administration fundamentally disagreed with and thought was a bad idea.

MR TONER: And all of that has been discussed, obviously, in great detail, but the British people voted, and they voted to leave the European Union, and now our focus is on the future.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Can I go back to the South China Sea?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Just real quickly. National University of Singapore, they released this map on their website, and together with gazetteer. So one map here, it says the source is from United States Government. And it says here on those land features – Taiping Island, controlled by Taiwan – the feature of – this island is island instead of rock as --


QUESTION: -- not – different from what the ruling says. I wonder if this represent the United States Government view.

MR TONER: Can I – what map is it? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: So this map released on the website of National University of Singapore but it says the source is from the United States Government.

MR TONER: Hold it up, please. I’m going to hold you to it.

QUESTION: The source – source is from the United States Government. I assume it’s from the State Department and --

MR TONER: Yeah, you’re – but you’re referring to Taiping? Is that the --


MR TONER: Okay. Look, the decision was quite clear in its description of what is an island and what is a rock, so I would just refer you to its legal definition.

QUESTION: It can’t be both?

MR TONER: I can – (laughter). Arguably – excuse me. But --

QUESTION: Does it really – does it quote the song? I am a rock and I am an island?

MR TONER: Great song, by the way, but unrelated to this discussion. (Laughter.) But – and I can give you that, but I don’t need to read it to you. But look, it – basically there are – there’s a very clear definition within the finding, or the court ruling, that delineates what is an island, legitimate island, and what is a rock.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the question is: Does the U.S. Government – do you have your official definition of the land features in South China Sea? Because what if the ruling, it’s contradict to what you find if it’s island or rock?

MR TONER: We’re not at this point in time going to challenge the definition that they’ve put in there legally at this point.

QUESTION: South China Sea?

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR TONER: Please, let’s finish with South China Sea.

QUESTION: Yeah. My name is Tanaka from NHK.


QUESTION: The Chinese senior official yesterday in the brief press briefing said the ruling is invalid and it is wasted paper. They describe it as wasted paper. Can I have the – can I ask for the reaction?

MR TONER: We disagree. But so does – so do many countries and many claimants. Look, this was a court ruling. This is not the U.S. or any other country arbitrarily saying this or that about – with regard to the actual claim of the case. This is, again, a legal process that resulted in a decision and we believe, as I said, that it offers a very – on a very complex issue, a very clear decision regarding the claimants. And so we would urge all – certainly all of those countries who have signed to – up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to adhere to the findings.

Please, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, today the Pakistan military and the Pentagon confirmed the death of Khalifa Omar, a topmost terrorist, in a drone strike in Afghanistan. Sir, in your opinion, how much these drone strikes are useful in elimination of the terrorist network in the Pak-Afghan border area?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to the method by which he was killed. But as you note, he was – this gentlemen, Omar Khalifa, who was the leader of the Tariq Gidar Group – I’m using that as a term of expression, not as a – any way of a description of him – but he was responsible for some of the most heinous terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the murder of over 130 children at the Peshawar army school. That was in 2015. I would just simply say, without speaking to means or methods, this underscores the U.S. commitment to combat terrorism in the region and the need for all countries in the region to, equally, to combat extremism in all its forms.

QUESTION: Sir, one of the Congress committee yesterday demands to stop all assistance to Pakistan. And they alleged that Pakistan is not doing enough in elimination of the terrorist networks, and Pakistan still have the policy of the good Taliban or good terrorists or bad terrorists. What are your comments on that, sir?

MR TONER: We’ve been through this before. Look, Pakistan suffered greatly, as I just mentioned, with the attack in Peshawar – suffered greatly from terrorism. We believe that Pakistan is taking steps to address terrorist violence, particularly focused on groups that threaten Pakistanis’ – Pakistan’s stability. They have made progress shutting down terrorist safe havens. They’ve restored government control in many parts of Pakistan that have been used as terrorist safe havens for many years. And these are important, and they’re meaningful steps for Pakistan to have made. And they’ve also come at a cost, and that cost is in – certainly in Pakistani lives.

At the same time – and we’ve made this point before – we’ve been very clear that Pakistan must target all militant groups, including those that target Pakistan’s neighbors, and close all safe havens. And so in this regard we certainly welcome comments by General Raheel Sharif’s – Sharif, rather, on July 6, when he directed Pakistani military commanders, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement agencies to take concrete measures to deny any militant groups safe haven or the use of Pakistani soil to launch terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: So Senator McCain, with a few some other senators, was in Pakistan last week. And he proposed the extension of the service of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who is going to retire in November this year. According to Senator McCain, he wanted to see General Raheel Sharif to continue as the chief of the army staff so that the military operations can be continued in the tribal area or other parts of the country. You want to comment on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. Again, we are continuing to address some of our concerns about where Pakistan needs to move next in terms of combating terrorist threats. We welcome, as I said, General Sharif’s comments and we would just – I would simply state that it is in the U.S.’s long-term national interests to support Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism, violent extremism, and build a more stable and democratic society. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: But sir, one last question about --


QUESTION: Sir, one last, please, sir. Thank you. Thank you very much. I know (inaudible).

MR TONER: All right, all right. One last question then we got to wrap it up. I’ll get to you, Said. I apologize.

QUESTION: Sir, John Kirby for the last two days --

MR TONER: Who’s that?

QUESTION: -- expressing concerns on the situation of Indian-held Kashmir, whatever is going on there. Thirty civilians have been killed there and, like, 300 were injured by --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- the Indian security forces. So – but he don’t want to condemn the killing of the 30 innocent civilians. I’m asking that question because, like, few decades ago, the United States supports the UN resolution on Kashmir to give the self-determination right to the Kashmiri people. I mean, why are you trying to condemn the killing of the 30 innocent civilians in Kashmir?

MR TONER: Why are we trying to, what, condemn the killing of?

QUESTION: In Kashmir, the Indian-held Kashmir, there are the protests going on there.

MR TONER: Yes – no, I know what you’re talking about, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sir, United States supported the UN resolution about the Kashmir – the self-determination rights to the Kashmiri people. Do you still support that UN resolution?

MR TONER: Look, our policy and position on Kashmir hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: Sir, what is the policy on the Kashmir?

MR TONER: I’ve said it before. We want to see dialogue between India and Pakistan and the Kashmir on the – on how to resolve the conflict in Kashmir and our policy hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: A really quick question on the Israel-Palestine issue.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York against Facebook for $1 billion allegedly for being a Hamas tool? Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment?

MR TONER: So very preliminary reports of it. I just don’t have any information on it – any more information. I’ve seen reports, so I don’t really have any comment at this point.

QUESTION: Can we stay --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- with Israel?


QUESTION: Yesterday, I know that this came up extremely briefly and there wasn’t --


QUESTION: -- much of a response to it, but this – I want to ask about this report from the Hill committee on OneVoice.


QUESTION: A couple things about it. One is less substance and more logistical, I guess --

MR TONER: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: -- at least, I think, and that is: There was reference made in this report to the consulate general in Jerusalem deleting email that related to these grant – or at least one of the grants that’s in question here. And I’m just wondering if you have more to say about that.

MR TONER: No more to say other than that --

QUESTION: Well, it’s --

MR TONER: Sure, no, no, of course, yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: It has been presented in some reports and by some critics of the Administration --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’m --

QUESTION: -- as an attempt to purge this, as an attempt to --

MR TONER: Which is --

QUESTION: -- to cover it up and --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- I’m assuming that you don’t agree with that, but I just want to know what’s your explanation.

MR TONER: Yes, I – we strongly disagree with that. Look, I mean, first of all, the Senate’s investigation found no wrongdoing, and as was made clear in the report, Mr. Ratney – Michael Ratney was working, frankly, under State Department’s IT limitations – let me put it that way – with regard to the size of his in-box. And this is something that many of us have grappled with and continue to grapple with. And his deletion of any emails was simply – how do I put it – content-neutral housekeeping. It wasn’t any attempt to purge his – certain emails on any specific topic. And any allegation that that was the case is, frankly, false.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sure we’ll get back to that at another point, but --


QUESTION: -- I realize this has gone on for a long time, so let’s --


QUESTION: I want to make it quickly.

MR TONER: Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m wondering – I want to get through this quickly.

MR TONER: Happy to.

QUESTION: The – although it is correct that you say that the sub – the committee found no wrongdoing by the State Department, it also – it did determine that the department, quote, “failed to take any steps to guard against the risk that OneVoice could or would – could engage in political activities using State Department-funded grassroots campaign infrastructure after the grant period ended.”

Is that something that you accept as a finding?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: I don’t – I didn’t see any State Department response to --


QUESTION: -- in the actual report. Is that something that you believe that was mishandled by the parties?

MR TONER: Look, this was – I guess my answer or my response to that is just to explain how this particular grant, but how, more broadly, the grant process takes place. But in this particular grant, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv provided a grant to this OneVoice Israel – I think it was – the timeframe was 2013 to 2014 – and that grant ended before the announcement of any elections.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but that’s what we were told at the time --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- when this first came up. But what we weren’t told at the time was that the group was then giving this empty infrastructure – or using the infrastructure that was created during the time of the grant possibly using U.S. grant money to enter into or to take part in an overtly political campaign.

MR TONER: So in any given grant, after the grant period ends there is an assessment done – how the grant was used, how the money was used, et cetera, et cetera. But we can’t and would in no way try to stipulate how an organization, an NGO, conducts itself after the activities that were designated within the timeframe of the grant or – yeah, after those activities are ended. Does that make sense? So I guess, yes --

QUESTION: No, it doesn’t make any sense at all because you guys --

MR TONER: -- so – no, no, no, let me finish. Let me finish.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I’m just going to – okay, look, let me explain it this way. If I’m working with an NGO – as I’ve done personally in places like Poland – we are working on a given issue, whether it’s the environment – we are looking at a group, an NGO that is working on a specific project. They are developing mechanisms, infrastructure, et cetera, using the grant money. We don’t ask them – once that grant has expired or is over, we close out that grant as any embassy or consulate would do, and there are accountability procedures and processes for that. But we don’t say, “Oh, please delete all of the infrastructure or destroy all the infrastructure that you have developed and don’t use any of it going forward.” Does that make – I guess that’s my point I’m trying to make is --

QUESTION: Yeah, but the finding of the committee was that you should have, particularly given this group’s previous political role or role that it played in previous Israeli elections – you should have had some kind of stipulation in there to make sure that – well, at least that’s the suggestion of the report – it’s not my suggestion – that they seem – excuse me – the people who wrote the report seem to find it hard to believe that this kind of firewall wasn’t put in place.

MR TONER: All I can say is that, as with any grant, Embassy Tel Aviv provided oversight in accordance with government policy and all regulations through the grant period.


MR TONER: The Senate report confirms that, confirms OneVoice Israel’s conduct fully complied with the terms of the agreement, that --

QUESTION: I understand that. But it also says that this – the use of U.S.-funded resources for political purposes was not prohibited by the grant agreement because the State Department placed no limitations on the post-grant use of those resources and suggests that that’s an issue, that that’s a problem. And my question is: Do you agree?

MR TONER: I’ll --

QUESTION: And the reason I’m asking --

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: This is not just about Israel, this is a broader – there are governments around the world that take issue with NGOs and other groups that are funded by the United States and by the European Union and by others because they say that they are interfering in the internal political affairs. The Russians are very big on this kind of thing. And this report’s findings seem to make it look like that they have a point, that despite your protestations that no, no, no, we don’t even get involved in the internal politics of other countries – in fact, indirectly you can and do because there aren’t any limitations put on this – what this aid is used for.

MR TONER: But again, my response or rebuttal to that is that this was done specifically for a grant that was, I think, to generate dialogue and discussion promoting a two-state solution. That grant – the money that was – and resources that were allocated were specifically for that purpose. Again, the report found no wrongdoing, but once an NGO develops the capabilities that it develops given through a grant, we can’t simply say that you’ve got to --

QUESTION: Okay, so there aren’t any plans to change this for the future?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: All right, okay. Then last one on Israel, and that is: I’m wondering if these comments by the guy who’s been named to be the chief rabbi of the IDF – he’s made some pretty controversial comments – have these hit your radar at all? Do you have anything to say about it?

MR TONER: No, let me take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No, no, no. Sorry.

MR TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: I – just two.

MR TONER: No worries, no worries, no worries.

QUESTION: There are two brief ones on Iran.

MR TONER: No, that’s okay.

QUESTION: Well, actually one broader email question. You were asked, or John was asked the other day, about the emails that the FBI is going to – this is Secretary Clinton’s emails.

MR TONER: Oh, right, right, right.

QUESTION: And the FBI is going to give them to you, the ones that they found that weren’t turned over, and the question was whether or not you guys are going to release those as you did with the original 55,000.

MR TONER: So the answer – and I’ll try to be brief and quick here. So just as we processed the material turned over to the department by former Secretary Clinton, we will appropriately and with due diligence process any additional material that we do receive from the FBI to identify work-related records and make them available to the public, and that’s consistent with our legal obligations.

QUESTION: And have you gotten those? Do you know how many there are and --


QUESTION: -- do you have any idea how long it will take?

MR TONER: No, no, and no. Sorry.

QUESTION: No, no, and no?


QUESTION: When you do take receipt of these from the FBI, will you be able to tell us how quickly – once you know the universe of the number of documents, will you be able to say how long it will take to review them?

MR TONER: Possibly, and we – I pledge that we’ll be as transparent as we possibly can and try to give a timeframe, but at this point we just don’t know.

QUESTION: Extremely briefly on Iran.

MR TONER: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: There are two moves on the Hill going on – one that would bar the Boeing sale to Iran, and one that would not only stop any heavy water – or bar any heavy – purchases of heavy water from Iran in the future, but one that would also try to – and I don’t know if it’s possible now – stop the completion of this first sale for $8.6 million. Do you have anything to say about either of those?

MR TONER: I mean, look, we don’t usually comment on legislation that’s not yet passed. But you know where we stand on both issues, so --

QUESTION: And then this – President Rouhani said today, or warned, that they could pull out or they could just restart their nuclear program whenever they wanted to if the – if they felt that the agreement wasn’t being complied with. It’s the year – tomorrow is the year anniversary of the deal, and I am just wondering if that’s what you guys had in mind. If Congress is going to stop these things from happening if their legislation succeeds, wouldn’t that give the Iranians a reason to restart their – the stuff that they stopped?

MR TONER: Look, all I can say, Matt, broadly speaking, is we’re going to continue to uphold the agreement. And as to Rouhani’s comments, look, we believe that we have all the – the agreement provides us with all the necessary tools and access that we need to – frankly, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that remains the case.

QUESTION: You say – when you say, “We’re going to uphold the agreement,” does that mean you’re going to uphold your end of the agreement even if the Iranians do not?

MR TONER: Well, again, yeah – no. I mean, look, we’re going to uphold – I was – that was a confusing argument. Wait, what was it?

QUESTION: Well, are you --

MR TONER: If they don’t --

QUESTION: You said, “We’re going to uphold” --

MR TONER: If they don’t uphold their end of the agreement, no, the agreement is nullified. I mean, then both --


MR TONER: In any agreement it’s incumbent on both sides to uphold the agreement.

QUESTION: Okay. So as long as they uphold their end --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- you will continue to uphold --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: But if they violate it, then --

MR TONER: We believe we have all the necessary maneuverings and powers to enable us to --


QUESTION: Are you upholding your end?

MR TONER: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you think that – they (inaudible) – okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)