Daily Press Briefing - October 13, 2016

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



TRANSCRIPT:

2:11 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Greetings, everyone. Happy Thursday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Just a couple things at the top. One is an update on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. So the U.S. Agency for International Development today announced more than $12 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help communities that have been affected by Hurricane Matthew. This additional funding brings total U.S. Government support to nearly $14 million for immediate Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Now, this funding is going to provide critical food assistance and relief supplies to hard-hit areas and includes nearly $7 million in UN World Food – for the UN World Food Program, and we continue to increase delivery of urgently needed supplies to Haiti’s southwestern peninsula.

And the top priority always is to provide food and safe drinking water to the communities that have been cut off by Hurricane Matthew. And on Wednesday, USAID and the Department of Defense flew 13 missions into the Grand’Anse – or Grand’Anse and the Sud regions of Haiti. To date, USAID has delivered 159 metric tons of emergency relief supplies to these regions with additional deliveries planned for today. We obviously remain very committed to helping the people of Haiti, the Bahamas and Jamaica as they recover and deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and we’re conducting an ongoing needs assessment and going to continue to increase our support as needed.

Just also wanted to talk about an event that’s being held here today, the Mega-Sporting Events forum. Today and tomorrow, the U.S. Department of State’s convening the, quote, “Sporting Chance Forum on Mega-Sporting Events and Human Rights,” end quote. It’s a big title, but this is an important event. This brings together international partners from government, civil society, private sector, international organizations, and global sports communities to address human rights challenges and the opportunities associated with hosting major global sporting events. And we’re pleased to be working with the Swiss federal department of foreign affairs as well as the Institute for Human Rights and Business in co-hosting this conference.

Then lastly, a bit of a personnel announcement here that I wanted to note: President Obama has designated Assistant Secretary Tom, or Thomas, Countryman as acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security effective October 9th. As acting under secretary, Mr. Countryman advises the Secretary on arms control, nonproliferation, disarmament, and political-military affairs. And previously, Mr. Countryman served as the assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation, I think, since 2011.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Today is the 13th.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I’m sorry, we’re a little bit behind the times. Is that what you’re saying, he’s already – yeah, he’s already in the role.

QUESTION: So he’s been in there since Monday?

MR TONER: Yeah, so – did I say --

QUESTION: You said the 9th.

MR TONER: -- “he will advise the Secretary?” Yes, I said --

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not – I’m just --

MR TONER: It’s been effective on October 9th --

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR TONER: -- as I said.

QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Yemen.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: How – what’s the status of the review that you guys are doing into the – your support for the Saudi coalition?

MR TONER: Well, you’re talking about the – as a result or in the aftermath of the --

QUESTION: Of the funeral, yeah.

MR TONER: -- right, of the airstrike that occurred over the weekend. And obviously, in the aftermath of that event, we expressed our deep concern over this attack – or this airstrike, rather, that killed 140 people, injured over 600 this past weekend. Look, we’re still looking to the Saudis to conduct or finish conducting an investigation of the strike. They’ve pledged to do so and they’ve pledged to do it in a transparent manner, and as quickly as possible. I think broadly – and we stated this over the weekend – that even as we assist Saudi Arabia with regard to its territorial integrity, we’re going to continue to express and convey our serious concern about the conflict in Yemen and about these attacks on – or these strikes when they involve civilian casualties. And that’s not just involving Saudi Arabia; there have been, obviously, allegations, credible allegations on the other side of this as well, among the Houthis.

I don’t have much of an update to give you on that investigation. We are still conducting our own internal review into whether – internal review of our position. We continue to have policy discussions, so I can’t really get ahead of those discussions at this time, except to say that we’re always reviewing and monitoring how any arms that we sell to the Saudis or provide to the Saudis are used.

QUESTION: But, well – so I want to be as specific as possible. It’s – yours is an internal review of your position – in other words, whether to support or whether to – whether to support in any way the Saudi – or are you reviewing whether or not you’re – even if you take action in terms of what you’re supplying them in terms of assistance, that you’re going to change and somehow drop any kind of even encouragement or moral support from the Saudis?

MR TONER: So a couple of things. One is --

QUESTION: That’s not the issue, is it?

MR TONER: So to --

QUESTION: When you say your position, it means the support, your support?

MR TONER: Right, right. So just two kind of concurrent – obviously, we called immediately in the aftermath of Saturday’s – I think it was Saturday’s or this weekend’s attack, or airstrike, rather, that resulted in the deaths of these civilians, we called for an immediate investigation.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: We’re still awaiting the results of that investigation. I don’t know if that was what you were asking about or not. But internally, as we called – and I think the NSC and also our own statement spoke to this – is that in light of this most recent as well as other incidents, we’re also conducting a review of our support --

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR TONER: -- for the Saudi-led coalition.

QUESTION: Not your position --

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: -- but your support for the coalition?

MR TONER: No, exactly, thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s what I wanted to know.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But – so does that internal review – is that contingent on the Saudi investigation and what it finds?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t say completely so, but it matters to what comes out of that investigation.

QUESTION: In other words, we should not expect a conclusion to your internal review until after you see the results of the Saudi investigation into what happened, is that right?

MR TONER: I would say that we would certainly want to evaluate ongoing support in the context of whatever that investigation results in, so yes, in short answer.

QUESTION: All right. I mean, how much of a – how much weight is going to be given to the Saudis on – if they come back and say, well, it was just an accident and we didn’t mean to and we’re sorry, does that mean that you guys will take – in your internal review, you’ll say, oh, okay, well, then, we’re not going to --

MR TONER: No, I think it’s one --

QUESTION: Or you’ll make your own judgment?

MR TONER: It’s one piece of the evaluation. We’ll obviously make our own judgment.

QUESTION: So you’re doing – so does that mean that you’re – you are also doing an investigation into what happened at – with the funeral strike?

MR TONER: I think, again, what – no, I think what was – what we said publicly this weekend was we’re conducting our own review.

QUESTION: No, no. Well, yeah --

MR TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- but you just went to great pains to explain that your review is into your support, it’s not into --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- the actual incident.

MR TONER: You’re asking if we’re conducting --

QUESTION: So you’re --

MR TONER: -- a separate investigation into the incident, is what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Well, you’re saying that you’re not going to take the results of the Saudi investigation into the incident at face value and you’re not going to – that won’t be the only criteria by which you judge – you make judgments in your internal review. So I don’t know, it would seem to me, then, that you would have some kind of independent way of checking out whether the Saudi investigation is complete or is accurate. Is that correct?

MR TONER: I mean, we always have, without speaking to intelligence assets and other ways that we are able to assess these kinds of events, of course, we’re always going to assess.

QUESTION: All right, okay. So as you – as we – as you noted, the attack happened – this airstrike happened over the weekend, so you should already presumably have a very good idea of actually what --

MR TONER: And I just don’t have any more information about where we stand on that.

QUESTION: All right. The last little bit on Yemen --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- is that you know that the Pentagon – or that the U.S. military launched some cruise missile --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- strikes against radar sites in – along the coast, the territory that’s held by the Houthi. The Pentagon has been going to great lengths – your colleague over there – to say that they don’t know who actually fired these missiles that landed in the water near the two U.S. ships. But – and – but they’re also at the same time saying that if there are further such launches from Yemen that they will respond as well. And my question to you is whether or not you are concerned that more provocation from them and more response or retaliation from you will open the door to further – further U.S. military involvement.

MR TONER: I don’t think so. I think we’ve – I think the Pentagon spoke to this last night in a statement, was very clear in stating that we responded in self-defense in accordance with international law, and last night’s strikes don’t represent in any way the opening of any kind of new front or new effort in Yemen’s civil war. I mean, it’s – this is simply our ships came under attack.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: We responded.

QUESTION: I --

MR TONER: So what’s your – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I understand that this response does not open a new front necessarily.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But if this kind of thing keeps happening – in other words, your ships get fired upon and you respond – is that not a concern that it would lead to an escalation?

MR TONER: Again, I think – first of all, that’s a hypothetical. But in response, I would just say that we’re always going to take action when we feel that our service men or women or our assets are under threat. And that’s always going to be an option that we’re going to have to take into consideration, which is limited strikes to take out that threat.

QUESTION: Right. But until now, you had not – you had avoided direct military action in Yemen as it related to the war between the Houthis and the government.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: You had only been doing strikes against AQAP. So the seal has been broken on that now.

MR TONER: Again, very limited, in self-defense, to protect our ships who are in that area and are going to continue to operate in that area. I think what I would say is that our emphasis going forward, and indeed over the past days since the incident last weekend on the funeral party, has been on how we get back to a cessation of hostilities and then get political negotiations back on track. And the Secretary has been engaged with many of our partners in the region to try to instill new vigor to that process.

QUESTION: That seems – he seems to be spending a lot of time on trying to instill new vigor into failed cessation of hostilities all over the place.

MR TONER: Well, that’s his job and he’s going to keep at it.

QUESTION: Can you be more – can you be more specific about who he has spoken to? And has there been any contact with – either directly or through a third party with the Houthis themselves?

MR TONER: Yeah. So I know he’s spoken to a number of governments and counterparts in the region – including, obviously, the Saudis. He’s spoken to obviously the UN special envoy. He’s spoken to the Omanis. He – he has spoken to – I’m trying to think of who else he’s spoken to in – since – what’s that?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Let me go to my call list.

QUESTION: And then I’ll just give you the last one while you’re looking at the call list.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s going to be in Lausanne this weekend. There’s going to be people from the region there, senior officials, we think. I mean, do you expect Yemen will come up at a meeting that’s mainly being called to talk about Syria since so many of the players are --

MR TONER: Sure. Without ever being able to accurately 100 percent predict what the agenda would be for his meetings, I would say it’s somewhat safe to assume that in a pull-aside or in a bilat with the appropriate people he’s going to raise the situation in Yemen because we’re very concerned about what’s happening there as well as what’s happening in Syria.

He spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir several times. He’s spoken with Crown Prince bin Salman. He has spoken with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about this. He’s spoken with the Omani Foreign Minister bin Alawi. He has spoken, as I just said, with the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. I think that is – I think he also spoke last week with the Emirati FM – foreign minister, rather.

QUESTION: And the time frame for these calls, as well?

MR TONER: Since really last Saturday.

QUESTION: Since the funeral strike. Is that correct? Or are you talking about the Saturday before?

MR TONER: No, no, no, Saturday, October 8th. So this past Saturday.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Mark, can I just follow up on --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- there’s – the cruise missile strike of the radar sites. Who was manning those sites, to the best of your knowledge?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the --

QUESTION: Yeah, in Yemen.

MR TONER: In Yemen. No, you’re talking about the actual – the radar sites that were --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR TONER: -- struck by – well, I’d refer you to the Pentagon to speak about the specifics of the airstrike. My understanding is that they were directed against radar sites run by the Houthis.

QUESTION: So – okay. And are you – do you have reports that they have been destroyed or rendered completely effective? And what was their role in this fight that’s going on?

MR TONER: Well, again, I – as we assessed in the aftermath of these attacks on our two warships, we came to the conclusion that these radar sites had played a role in targeting. So that’s why they were specifically targeted, in order to take out or in some way limit the ability for the Houthis to carry out these strikes.

QUESTION: And on the review itself, I mean, are you confident in the veracity of this investigation? Because I remember a few months back, I think last June, when the UN attempted to blacklist Saudi Arabia for similar incidents, the Saudis were – managed to undo that with – I think with your support probably at the time. So are you certain that this review is done in a fashion that can be effective and steps can be taken forward?

MR TONER: I mean, I think we’re – we’re obviously very seized with the need for a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident that is conducted by the Saudi Government. And indeed, Secretary – we’re talking about calls – and I think we did a readout of this, but he did speak – he being Secretary Kerry spoke with Deputy Crown Prince bin Salman and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir specifically this weekend – or this weekend specifically, to express our concern about the incident and to urge an investigation into it.

I mean, the other piece of this, and what the Secretary’s been pushing hard for, is to get back, as I said, a cessation of hostilities – a 72-hour cessation of hostilities that can at least, again, create some kind of climate where political dialogue or a dialogue can begin again among the various parties under the auspices of the UN special envoy. We know we need to de-escalate, obviously, given the events of the past week. And that’s where the priority is right now.

So he’s working with – he being Secretary Kerry – is working with a number of counterparts in the region, talking to them about how we can all collectively de-escalate tensions in Yemen and get back to a point where we can begin negotiations.

QUESTION: So your – that whole spiel was all about Yemen? Because it’s sounding incredibly similar to – it could have been said about Syria, as well, no?

MR TONER: It could – I mean, look. I mean, I’m not going to – they’re obviously apples and oranges. But in essence you’re talking about a similar situation where --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: -- you’ve got a conflict --

QUESTION: I know, but you could --

MR TONER: -- you’re trying to end the violence in that conflict, so you can --

QUESTION: -- have replaced “Yemen” with “Syria” and it would’ve been the same --

MR TONER: -- I understand that. I’m fully – you don’t think I’m aware that the ingredients to a political resolution are similar to what we’re pursuing in Syria? I mean, it’s hard. And I agree that it does sound similar, but the formula is, what we believe, the right one.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Since you mentioned Syria, can we have the list of the attendees of the international partners who will be in London on Sunday?

MR TONER: I don’t have a list for you of the attendees. I think John spoke to this at length yesterday, about the fact that we’re going to leave it to the attendees themselves to speak to their involvement or their participation, rather, in the meeting. We’ve invited a number of, as we call it, regional powers, not --

QUESTION: He’s talking about London.

QUESTION: London, not --

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- not Lausanne.

MR TONER: Nicolas, I’m sorry. I didn’t even hear – I apologize. I assumed you were talking about – London I believe is – well, so obviously, the UK. I’m not sure whether France will be there or not and at what level they’ll be there.

QUESTION: So, yeah, following on that, there is no official complaint? There is no press report of – about that, but it’s pretty obvious that your European friends and partners feel a bit frustrated by – because they are not invited in Lausanne. Can you explain exactly why there are two separate meetings and why the Europeans are not part of the Lausanne talks?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I hope that’s not the case where they feel excluded. In fact, the Secretary obviously, met with Foreign Minister Ayrault last week on Friday where they talked extensively about Syria. I know he was in touch with Foreign Minister Steinmeier over the past several days, and indeed there was the meeting in Berlin last week where Tom Shannon attended. Obviously we consider both sets of meetings to be important, and they’re important in their own right. I wouldn’t say one’s more important than the other, but we’re just trying to garner the best grouping, if you will, of nations and governments in the most efficient way, and these are smaller group settings, in part to allow for, I think, a better exchange of views.

This breakdown made the most sense, in part – the Secretary will be able to talk to his European counterparts about what was accomplished or what needs – or what was – what came out of Lausanne and again to talk about next steps. We’ve been in very close touch all along with our European counterparts, and Secretary Kerry will obviously continue that, because we value both their leadership and their opinion on this issue.

QUESTION: Does it mean that the ISSG format is not relevant or efficient anymore?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t say that. The ISSG is a large group of – obviously of all the stakeholders, and as such, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate setting, can collectively play an important role. For example, although it was during a very difficult time at the UN General Assembly, there were two ISSG meetings and although the --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: God bless you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR TONER: And although the --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: Bless you. Although the content or the discussions in those meetings were at times heated, and we talked about that, but what came out, again, was a commitment and a consensus that this is an important format and we should continue and a political process is the only way to resolve the fighting in Syria. So I don’t want to say that we’re moving beyond ISSG – not at all, but I think what we’re looking at now is just some small group meetings in order to get going or get started on a multilateral approach.

QUESTION: So the meeting in Lausanne is in – I mean the meeting in London is separate and independent of the meeting in Lausanne. It is not contingent upon what happened the day before?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: In any way?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Okay, so it will have – it has its own agenda --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and it will come up with its own result. So what if you agree, let’s say, the day before in Lausanne – what if there is an agreement to reinstate the ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities, and everybody agrees to it and they are friends again and so on, and it can be implemented?

MR TONER: That’s a huge hypothetical. We’d love to see it happen --

QUESTION: Well, it – but it – well, it happened before, I mean --

MR TONER: No, I mean, we – look, we’d love to see it happen. I mean, obviously --

QUESTION: -- on the 9th of September, it happened in February, so --

MR TONER: No, I think your point is --

QUESTION: My point --

MR TONER: -- is would we take that without or in the absence of --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: -- our other ISSG members?

QUESTION: Exactly, right.

QUESTION: Thank you. That’s exactly --

MR TONER: Yeah. Finishing your questions now.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: No, but I think – look, I mean, whatever happens in Lausanne, whatever comes out of Lausanne will obviously be in close coordination and contact with other members of the ISSG as we move forward, if indeed there is some significant sea change or progress made. We have the ways and means to be in contact quickly with our allies and partners and other members of the ISSG to get their buy-in and support. It’s a modern world we live in. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So I may have missed this. Why do you --

MR TONER: But I --

QUESTION: Why do you remain reluctant on saying who’s going to participate in this meeting?

MR TONER: Oh, I just think, for one thing, we’re still finalizing the list of attendees and we don’t want to speak to who is coming or who – and then who might not be coming. It’s just a – it’s up to them to say – I mean, the – obviously, Lavrov – Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia will be there. I think other governments have spoken to their participation, but --

QUESTION: Right. Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they have been – they’re saying that they are participating, and even some in Iran saying that they are participating.

MR TONER: Correct. So we’ll see.

QUESTION: So you do expect Iran --

MR TONER: I mean, we just don’t want to speak on behalf of another --

QUESTION: You do expect Iran to be part of it?

MR TONER: We just don’t want to speak on behalf of another government.

QUESTION: Because the way it was expressed in the invitation – the way it was expressed is that those regional countries that have interests in the Syria conflict are invited to talk about this, which really includes all the regional countries – I mean the Iranians, the – definitely the others.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: The – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and so on --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and all these things. So one would expect that Iran would attend, right?

MR TONER: Again, I just – I’m going to hold a hard line here and I’m not going to speak in any way, shape, or form to what another country who may be invited to this event is going to do. It’s really for them to say what their decision is.

QUESTION: One last question.

MR TONER: I mean, obviously, Iran is a member of the ISSG, and as such has an opinion about and is a stakeholder in what happens in Syria, but I can’t speak to their attendance at Lausanne.

QUESTION: One last question. There are claims – claims were made yesterday that – led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, there was a letter signed on to by 62 countries submitted to the UN and so on calling for such a meeting. Were you influenced by that or could you confirm that that actually happened?

MR TONER: I’m unclear about what you’re referring to exactly.

QUESTION: I’m referring to a claim made in the Gulf press that there was a letter that was taken or written at the initiative of Saudi Arabia and collected like 60 different countries --

MR TONER: This was in the context of the UN or – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, it was submitted to the UN, but – and you have become sort of a – you have taken interest in that and that’s what led to the invitation. Is that true? To the meeting.

MR TONER: The Lausanne meeting you’re talking about.

QUESTION: Right, yes. Absolutely.

MR TONER: Look, my understanding is – and we’ve been, I think, pretty forward – pretty forthcoming, rather, about the fact that once the decision was made to suspend the bilateral track with Russia on Syria, we were going to pursue a multilateral effort. And almost immediately, the Secretary began working with and convening this next meeting to talk about a multilateral approach to resolving Syria. I, frankly, am not aware of the letter. I apologize.

Please. Are we done with Syria? Let’s just --

QUESTION: Syria.

MR TONER: Syria, and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Five children were killed in government-controlled western Aleppo this Thursday as mortars – mortar shells hit a school bus stop. Our correspondent reported from the hospital where they were taken. Do you condemn this shelling?

MR TONER: We condemn any attack – certainly any attack specifically targeting civilians. We want to discourage any attack that may cause civilian casualties. I mean, there’s a difference between the two. You understand what the point I’m trying to make here is – is if you believe you’re targeting Nusrah, for example, and you – but you know there’s a school nearby, then you make decisions to – based on that knowledge to avoid civilian casualties as a result of any strike you carry out. I don’t know the specifics of this incident, but certainly any loss of life, any loss of civilian life and certainly the loss of life among children – but indeed any human life – is one too many.

QUESTION: Just some specifics on that particular incident which my colleague reported. So this is a screenshot from my colleague’s report. These are two girls, Maria and Lama, who were killed in that – in the shelling of that bus stop. And I want to ask: Civilian suffering in eastern Aleppo has been the focus of everybody’s attention, rightly so. Does the U.S. Government pay attention to civilian – to what’s happening to civilians in western Aleppo? Anything you can say specifically in that regard?

MR TONER: I think I just answered that, but if I haven’t, I’ll be clear that we consider any civilian loss of life as a result of the conflict in Syria to be one too many. And it’s the reason why we were trying so hard to get a cessation of hostilities in place so that we could get back to a political negotiation. What you have now in Aleppo is full-on conflict, and in that kind of climate and environment you’re going to have civilians pay the price. And so obviously we’re concerned about the loss of life of civilians on either side of this. It’s not a one or the other. And again, I don’t know the details or who is responsible for this attack, but obviously it’s of concern.

QUESTION: Just one more?

MR TONER: Yeah, one more. Sure, and then that’s it. Everyone can --

QUESTION: Do you think that the shelling of this school bus, the killing of these kids, was something that was to be expected in light of what’s going on?

MR TONER: Again, I think I – as I said before, any intentional targeting of civilians we would strongly condemn. I just don’t have the details in this particular case. So two points here to make. Intentional targeting of civilians is against international law, against humanitarian standards and law, and we would condemn it. But any time you even have any kind of airstrikes or assault that results in civilian casualties, they need to be avoided.

QUESTION: I’m just curious: How do you monitor what’s going on in western Aleppo? Because I know in eastern Aleppo you have the white helmets, you have all kinds of groups and so on that right there they can do this work immediately. But who – how do you gather what’s going on --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard and --

QUESTION: -- in government-controlled areas?

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have a ready answer for you. I mean, it’s difficult. We rely on – partly on reports from those on the ground. We have other ways and means that I’m not going to get into, but certainly we try as best we can to monitor the situation in all of Aleppo.

QUESTION: And Jabhat al-Nusrah, in its new incarnation, they vowed they will not abide by any cessation of hostilities if there is an agreement in Lausanne. And if that happens and they refuse to cease or to withdraw, will you target them? Will there be targeting of Nusrah concentrations even in (inaudible)?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s a hypothetical. What I just would say is that the one area of common ground that we have with all the members of the ISSG, including Russia, including Iran, is that al-Nusrah is a foreign terrorist or a terrorist organization and would never be a part of any cessation of hostilities. I would expect that would remain the policy certainly of the United States but of all the members of the ISSG.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go to one last Syrian --

MR TONER: One more Syria, and I promise, I haven’t forgotten.

QUESTION: Just to get back to what Nicolas was saying, Lavrov yesterday made some comments where he said the Lausanne meeting is going to be a businesslike discussion and not another General Assembly debate. And recognizing the, you guys were behind the invitation list, is this sort of an acknowledgment that when it comes down to brass tacks, this mechanism that’s already in place that exists to resolve the conflict – the ISSG – is not the most efficient way to get that done?

MR TONER: Again, I think it just – it’s how you apply it, when you use it. I was in the listening room and I would not say it was – it was in – I’m talking about in New York when the ISSG met. And every country in the room had a chance to express their views and offer their opinions, but it was in no way – how did he put it?

QUESTION: Not another General Assembly-style debate. I mean, that’s what it sounds like --

MR TONER: Was it – right. I mean --

QUESTION: -- when you’re describing it.

MR TONER: But it’s important that you do have the opportunity, as I said, to express your views on what’s happening. And I’m not sure whether he liked what he heard, but it was an opportunity for all the members of the ISSG to comment on what they were seeing right now in Syria. But again, what came out of that, at the end of the day, at the end of that discussion, was a sense that we need to keep this process going because the military one is not an option.

Yes.

QUESTION: My question involves the Iraqi position toward Turkey.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Both that of the government and the biggest Shia militia, and would appreciate your comment on both.

First, the foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to protest the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq and, quote, “recent abusive statements,” unquote. Do you think that this is appropriate now with the offensive on Mosul so imminent? That’s the first part of it.

And the second part: Then the Badr Organization, the biggest militia, issued a statement, quote, “We advise the Turkish president that if he does not withdraw Turkish troops alive, we will send them back dead.” Do you have – what is your comment on that?

MR TONER: So the first part of your question --

QUESTION: Is the foreign minister summoning the Turkish --

MR TONER: No, no, I was just going to say I was --

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR TONER: Sorry, I meant to say I was going to respond to that. (Laughter.) Didn’t mean to repeat it. I apologize.

Our response would be that we call on both governments – Turkish Government as well as the Iraqi Government – to focus on the common enemy here, which is Daesh. And we certainly support common – or rather, continued constructive dialogue between the Turkish Governments and the – the Government of Turkey and the Government of Iraq that will help deescalate any tensions and resolve any disagreements. But again, to be clear, operations to go after, destroy, degrade Daesh in Iraq should be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And we’ve made that clear all along and our position on that has not changed – it’s how we have worked in Iraq. We have worked with a variety of groups, as you know, some of them local groups and who are very effective fighters, but all of that has been coordinated closely with the Government of Iraq. I think this is sovereign Iraq territory, so that is what needs to be done. Sorry, your – the second the part of your question, I forgot now --

QUESTION: Oh, that was a --

MR TONER: -- in my windy answer.

QUESTION: That was the Badr Organization’s statement that if the Turkish President doesn’t withdraw Turkish troops alive, we’ll send them back dead.

MR TONER: Well, look, that’s a – that’s certainly not the kind of comment that leads to a de-escalation in tensions. So we believe that moving forward, Turkey can play a productive role in the anti-Daesh efforts, but it needs to be done in coordination with the Iraqi Government, and as we move forward towards eventually operations on Mosul, there’s – it needs to be a coordinated effort, there needs to be communications among all the different entities working on the ground, under the command and control of the Iraqi leadership to be successful. And the common enemy, once again, is Daesh.

QUESTION: Given that Iran is a major support of the Badr Organization, do you think making some statements to Iran about this? Because there seems to be a competition in Baghdad among these Shia groups to see who can be more anti-Turkish.

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to this group’s or any group’s intentions on the ground or who might be directing them, except to say that as we’ve talked about before, many of these different groups’ fighting forces, local fighting forces have been very effective against Daesh and have been really a pivotal part of the overall effort to drive Daesh out of Iraq. And I think the Iraqi Government appreciates that. We certainly appreciate their efforts. But it speaks to the importance, as I said, of having some kind of chain of command, of having some kind of leadership and that’s why I make the point time and again that the Iraqi Government needs to own and be responsible for security operations within its own country.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR TONER: Please, sir. Yeah.

QUESTION: A member of Iraqi parliament, Awatif Naima, told PKK terrorist organization to open an office in Baghdad. And I was wondering what’s your position on that. PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by U.S. as well.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, what’s the name of the group again? I apologize.

QUESTION: The PKK.

MR TONER: Oh, the PKK.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Well, obviously, we view – sorry, I didn’t understand. The PKK is, as you know, a foreign terrorist organization designated by the U.S. I’m not aware of these reports or this call for them to open an office in Baghdad. Is that what you’re reporting?

QUESTION: Yes, I just referenced a statement.

MR TONER: Obviously, we would not support that.

QUESTION: And Turkey’s concern that the PKK might take a role in the Mosul operation. I was wondering if you are – what’s your position on that? Would you be okay if PKK to take a position on the Mosul operation against Daesh?

MR TONER: No and we’ve clearly drawn a line between – certainly within – in northern Syria between some of the Kurdish groups, such as the YPD, who are fighting Daesh on the ground, but made a clear delineation between them and the PKK. I mean, simply put, we view the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization and we support Turkey’s efforts to protect its citizenry against PKK attacks ongoing. Ultimately, we’d love to see some kind of dialogue and end to the violence, but Turkey has every right to protect its citizens against PKK terrorism.

That said, again, drawing a clear line between the PKK’s operations and activities and the regional Kurdish forces, who, as we’ve all recognized, have been extremely effective in fighting against Daesh, and we want to see those efforts both in Iraq and in Syria continue. With some of the concerns that we’ve expressed before, certainly with regard to the Turkish border and west of the Euphrates versus east of the Euphrates, we want to see those commitments honored.

QUESTION: But would you oppose PKK’s participation in Mosul campaign?

MR TONER: I think I just said we would – we would not --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: We clearly view the PKK as a terrorist organization, so we would not be supportive --

QUESTION: But if the Iraqi Government decides to include PKK in the Mosul campaign, what would be your position?

MR TONER: That’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to answer.

Please.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR TONER: Are we done with – I’m happy to go to North Korea. North Korea, and then we’ll get to --

QUESTION: So it’s been a few weeks since Treasury slapped sanctions on Chinese companies that had been laundering and working with North Korea. Have you seen any change in Chinese sanction enforcement behavior since then?

MR TONER: With regard to Chinese enforcement of the new sanctions, right?

QUESTION: Yeah. Have they been enforcing it better?

MR TONER: I don’t have really an assessment for you at this point in time. We’ll be watching closely. I’ll see if I can get you something.

Please.

QUESTION: South Asia?

MR TONER: South Asia.

QUESTION: A couple questions. One, as far as Mr. Cyril Almeida is concerned or his ban to travel or to stay out of the news, Committee to Protect Journalists, what they are calling is immediate freedom for him. What his writings and his crime, what I have been saying for the last 20 years that in Pakistan there are two governments, military government and civilian government. That’s what he wrote, what I have been saying, and also at the same time I had been saying that but Usama bin Ladin is in Pakistan, and they kept denying all this. So my --

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Just to make sure I heard you correctly --

QUESTION: What I’m asking you --

MR TONER: -- you’re talking about Hafiz Saeed?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR TONER: Yeah, okay, sorry. Well, look, I’m not going to respond to comments that may have been attributed to him. He’s listed by the UN Security Council or – yes, the UN Security Council 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee for targeted sanctions due to his affiliation with the terrorist group Lashkar-e Tayyiba. And both the LeT and Saeed are designated by the U.S. Government. The LeT is obviously responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens.

QUESTION: But what I’m asking you is when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is really for peace, he wants peace and stability in the region, and what his meeting was about that he wants – his government wants peace with India or in the region, but the military government doesn’t want the peace with India or they are the obstacle in his government. What is your comment? That’s what Mr. Cyril Almeida, the Dawn reporter, wrote in the column, and that’s why they banned him or military banned him.

MR TONER: Your question is about the two strains within the Pakistani Government?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, look, our general position on this is that we want to see greater cooperation and greater dialogue between Pakistan and India. It’s frankly to the benefit of both countries. That includes, certainly, security issues. We want to see tensions go down, and we want to see, as I said, a greater cooperation between the two countries. Now, we’re not there right now, but that’s certainly our inclination.

I can’t speak – looking at the – or give you an analysis of the Pakistani Government and who supports that line of effort and who doesn’t, except to say that it’s a line of effort we want to see pursued.

QUESTION: And Mark, another question is on the region – that there was a special envoys or special advisers from the Government of Pakistan or the military in Washington for the last one whole week and going through different think tanks and so forth. I don’t know if they met anybody at the State Department or not. What they are saying is or they said right now you must look or should look at China, not at the U.S.; the U.S. is a declining power, China is a rising power; and President Obama is now the guest of the United States of America. Any comments on that?

MR TONER: I’m sorry? That President Obama is now the?

QUESTION: Guest of the United States of America.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: He has no power.

MR TONER: That’s – I don’t know, that’s a ridiculous comment.

QUESTION: And finally, one more, sir. As far as Afghanistan – peace in Afghanistan is concerned, or U.S. and India’s role in Afghanistan is concerned, what this group said, that Pakistan will not let have peace in Afghanistan, unless U.S. solve the Kashmir issue. So what the Kashmir issue has to do with peace in Afghanistan? That’s what the people of Afghanistan are asking for the last 30 years.

MR TONER: Look, you know where we stand on Kashmir. Our position hasn’t changed. With regard to Afghanistan, it’s in the interests of both India and Pakistan to see a stable, secure Afghanistan emerge from the years of fighting. And certainly, in the interest of regional security as well, there’s a lot of contentious issues, as you note, between India and Pakistan, but the two countries we would encourage to take a more conciliatory approach to each other and to work through some of these issues for the greater good of the region.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Sir, the United States and other countries are trying to get Taliban on the table for the talks for – since long. Sir, but the recent situation in Afghanistan is very worse and the Taliban is rising again. So are you still hopeful for the peace process for the talks with the Taliban?

MR TONER: Well, it’s been a difficult fighting season, and certainly, we’ve seen a situation – a security situation in Helmand over the past week or so, which is a particular concern. Look, the Taliban remain a very resilient insurgency and to date, they’ve continued to challenge the Afghan Government forces, and the latest attack in Helmand is just another example and another effort by the Taliban to create and sow instability and to – frankly, to undermine the progress that the country has made over the past 15 years. Thus far, while the Afghan Security Forces have certainly been challenged, they’ve held the line and they’ve performed remarkably well.

But your larger question is: what next or what do we want to see come next? And that is – and we’ve long held this – an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. And that still remains, in our belief, the best way to bring about a stable and prosperous future for Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Sir, as he just – my friend has just said about the Pakistani envoys on Kashmir who were in Washington last week – sir, they told the media here that they handed over evidence or some kind of dossier to the SRAP, Richard Olson, about the human rights violations in Kashmir. And they demanded to the State Department to include these reports in the annual report of human rights which State Department release every year. So will you going to include these reports in the annual one which State Department release every year?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to whether we will or we won’t. Excuse me. We obviously, in compiling our Human Rights Report – our annual Human Rights Report, we get information and seek out information from a variety of sources, and we judge that information, the credibility of those – that information in compiling the report. We certainly will look into any credible allegations of human rights abuses wherever they occur. I can’t speak to whether these particular abuses will find their way into the report or not. That’s part of the process for compiling the report.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Syria, please? Sir, you just spoke much about Syria, but for the last several months, we have – witnessing – we have been witnessing horrific videos about the situation in Syria. Sir, one – another big challenge is the settlement of Syrian refugees. We have seen America, Canada, some countries in Europe and some other countries accepting Syrian refugees. But in the Muslim countries, except Turkey, like other countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates – they are not accepting Syrian refugees. I mean, the – their – their actions for this (inaudible) is pathetic. Sir, will – what are your comments on that?

MR TONER: A couple of thoughts on that. One is I can only speak to the U.S’s efforts, and we have welcomed over 12,000 refugees from Syria in this past fiscal year of 2016, which is how we measure here – not calendar year, but fiscal year. We’re going to continue to work to admit more qualified, screened refugees who are fleeing the violence in Syria. We feel it’s incumbent on us to do so. It speaks to who we are as a nation, to our values, and so we’re going to continue to work hard to help these people find a new life away from the violence that they fled.

With regard to what other nations are doing, I would simply state that many of the, indeed, Muslim nations or majority Muslim nations on the periphery or on the borders of Syria have accepted a tremendous number of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria – Turkey, for instance, Lebanon, for instance, Jordan, as well – and have had to cope with, for years now, this influx of refugees. And certainly we’ve seen Europe also, in the past year or longer, have this influx of refugees fleeing the violence. We always want to see every country, every government do what they can, because this is a global crisis and we want to see all of these refugees be treated in a humane and dignified fashion, whether they’re accepted in a country’s borders or not. That’s our primary goal. And then ultimately, the resolution to all of this is to find some kind of peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria so that they can return home.

QUESTION: Mark?

MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: Mark?

QUESTION: A new topic?

MR TONER: Of course. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: The State Department is hosting a delegation of Palestinian educators headed by the minister of education for a two days higher dialogue of education. What do you expect to come out from this dialogue?

MR TONER: I’m not sure I have any information on that. I apologize. I’ll just quickly check here. I’ll have to look into it. I mean, I don’t want to presume, but it sounds like it’s – what is it? An educational exchange or some kind of --

QUESTION: Higher – a U.S.-Palestinian education for two days – today and tomorrow.

MR TONER: Sure. Let me get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, you guys issued a statement. You’re going to be --

MR TONER: Yeah, but I don’t have a --

QUESTION: -- meeting with Anne Patterson and --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- and others and so on. Okay.

MR TONER: Thanks, though.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the Palestinian-Israeli thing?

MR TONER: We’ll finish with – yeah, with that, and then --

QUESTION: Yeah. Very quickly, first of all, are you aware of the UNESCO resolution that just passed within the – a couple hours ago in Paris, stipulating that there is no connection between al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram Sharif and Jewish heritage? You have – are you aware of that? And if you are, do you have any comment?

MR TONER: So we are aware of the UNESCO resolution that was voted on today in Paris. The United States strongly opposed these resolutions. We issued a very strong statement, an explanation of vote, along with our vote, and as we made clear, we are deeply concerned about these kinds of recurring, politicized resolutions that do nothing to advance constructive results on the ground. And we don’t believe they should be adopted.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up with --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- a couple more really quickly. Yesterday, I asked about this Palestinian policeman that was arrested because he posted something on Facebook. Well, apparently today or yesterday, late yesterday, the president of the Palestinian Authority gave him amnesty, but they still fired him. I mean, this is – this group of policemen, they’re trained, financed, led or were led for a while by American or American advisors and so on. Do you have any comment on that? First of all, is that something that --

MR TONER: Can you – sorry, just give me – what was he – he was fired because of his --

QUESTION: He was fired because he posted on Facebook something that was critical of Abbas’s --

MR TONER: Right, I know the case well.

QUESTION: -- participation in the – yeah.

MR TONER: Look, I mean, I don’t have any specific comments on the --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- actual – on the issue itself, except to say that we strongly believe in freedom of expression and protection of that right.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean, you are hosting, let’s say, a Palestinian education delegation, you’re always calling on them to be inclusive and to be tolerant and so on, but --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- then you have acts like this.

MR TONER: Look, I mean, broadly speaking, we need to promote tolerance, certainly, in that part of the world, and where there is escalatory rhetoric, that’s not helpful to that overarching goal. But we also respect the right to freedom of expression.

Now, that said, I have not seen myself the comments that this individual made, so it’s hard for me to speak to it. That’s why I’m not --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) UNESCO?

MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: So other than opposing it and voting against this resolution, does the Administration plan to do anything to stop such resolutions from coming forward in the future?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: Is there anything you can do?

MR TONER: You’re speaking about specifically – I mean, look, certainly we’re going to use our --

QUESTION: The UNESCO resolution.

MR TONER: No, no, I know. But we’re going to use our vote. We’re still a member of the – or on the board, the executive board. We have opposed and will continue to oppose and use our vote as part of that executive board to oppose these resolutions.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious. There was a – you’re lucky that you’re on the executive board. Is that not correct? Because you haven’t paid your dues for many, many years.

MR TONER: That’s why I was – well, that’s why I said – what are you alluding to?

QUESTION: So – but if you’re unable – you made a big case. I mean, I remember Secretary Kerry went to Paris and went to --

MR TONER: Yep, he did.

QUESTION: -- he went to lobby for their --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- for the U.S. to remain on. But if you --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: If your vote and your membership on the executive board can’t stop things that you say you are deeply opposed to and very concerned about that keep coming up, what’s the point of being on the executive board?

MR TONER: Well, on the contrary, we were able to oppose these resolutions, because of our position on the executive board.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they passed, didn’t they? Or am I completely wrong here?

QUESTION: It was 24 votes towards (inaudible).

MR TONER: Yeah, they did pass. But it’s still important to have a U.S. voice in that process. And --

QUESTION: But that U.S. voice managed to do what to this – on these resolutions?

MR TONER: Well, to stand up against these kind of --

QUESTION: No, no, no. Fine, I get that you voted against.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And you’d issued a strong statement saying you were opposed to it and why. But can you point to anything that your intervention, for lack of a better word, or your membership on the board, did to water down or stop --

MR TONER: But look --

QUESTION: -- this resolution that you’re so opposed to from going through?

MR TONER: So a couple of responses. One is you are correct that one side of the anti-Israel resolutions have been a recurring challenge at UNESCO in recent years, and we’ve obviously strongly opposed all of them at the executive board. And as I said, we won’t hesitate in the future to use our veto power – or not our veto power, our vote, rather – at these board meetings to oppose these resolutions; that, in and of itself, it’s important, as I said, to have a voice in that discussion that basically calls these resolutions for what they are. And I think your broader point here is that the recurring --

QUESTION: I’m not trying to make a point. I’m just asking you --

MR TONER: Well, I – yeah.

QUESTION: I’m asking you to make the point --

MR TONER: I’m just saying that it does --

QUESTION: -- to explain to me what the point of being on the board is if --

MR TONER: So my broader point to make here, Matt --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: -- is that this kind of politicized – recurring, politicized use of the UNESCO executive board underscores the need for the U.S. to reassert leadership within UNESCO. And that has, as you note, been undercut since 2011, since we were legislatively mandated not to – yeah, not to pay our dues.

QUESTION: Right. But – I mean, the --

MR TONER: So we’re going to work – continue to work with Congress --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- in order to amend that and to look at options on ways we can resume payment of those dues so that we can, once again, become a fully functioning member of UNESCO. Because it’s important – I guess my over – my bottom-line answer to you, Matt, is it’s important that the U.S. be a fully paying or full – fully paying, full member of UNESCO so that we can work to put forward a positive agenda.

QUESTION: Right. I understand your point, but don’t you find it a bit unusual that the reason that you’re not allowed to pay dues is because UNESCO recognized Palestine? You want to change that so that you can – so that you get your full vote, or your full – so your membership on the board is cemented, solidified. And it’s a board which continually votes in favor of Palestinian and Arab motions that you say are completely biased against Israel. The entire point of the legislation from Congress was to stop that.

MR TONER: Was to stop what? Our ability to --

QUESTION: Was – no, was to – was in support of Israel.

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry – was to stop – yeah, that was to stop these kinds of --

QUESTION: And you’re unable to – but yes. But so – but you, as a member of the board by virtue of essentially begging to stay on, were not able to do what – your no vote didn’t have any effect and your opposition to it didn’t have any effect, because the language in it was not changed.

MR TONER: Well, look --

QUESTION: Right?

MR TONER: So I mean, recognizing the limitations under which we are currently active or acting within UNESCO, it does have an effect on our overall influence within that organization. So I guess that was my point, which is we need to – if we can find --

QUESTION: Do you think that – sorry. So then – sorry to interrupt you. But you --

MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: So you think that if you were fully paying your dues to UNESCO, your opposition to these resolutions that passed today would have been more effective and you could have prevented them from happening?

MR TONER: I’m just saying our influence has been damaged by the fact that we are not able to be a fully functioning member of UNESCO. I can’t speak to whether we could have stopped this or these kinds of resolutions every time. As I said, as I acknowledged, there have been a recurrence of them in the past several years. We find them, obviously, to be not constructive.

QUESTION: Right. But at the same time, you also oppose Palestinian membership in UNESCO --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- until there is --

QUESTION: Mark, can I just really quickly follow up on – on this? You say you want to call it what they are. I mean, this resolution was voted on by major countries – Russia, Brazil, China, Malaysia, I mean, South Africa – representing a large population – portion of the world’s population. And it was apparently based on all the excavatory or – if there is such a word – all the excavations and the evidence presented by that that’s gone on for a long, long time without producing any evidence. I mean, they did not just take the resolution because they stand against Israel. I mean, they are – they claim, they allege, that there is some evidence. So were you – you’re not satisfied with – by whatever evidence that was presented to sort of justify this resolution?

MR TONER: No, simply put.

QUESTION: Mark, can I have a couple of different questions?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: First, on the Thai – on the passing of the --

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: -- king of Thai, I understand Secretary Kerry has a statement earlier. My question for you is: Looking ahead, could you give us a assessment on the next step? Are you worried about the potential instability especially caused by, from the military after this? And --

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: Go ahead. I’m sorry, do you want to – well, why don’t we start with that and then I’ll get to your next question.

As you mentioned, Secretary Kerry as well as President Obama did issue statements. I just want to reiterate our heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the entire royal family, and to the people of Thailand on the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. His majesty the king led his people with compassion, integrity, and grace for over 70 years. He worked tirelessly to care for and improve the lives of the Thai people, and he was a champion of his country’s development. He was, in fact, the only monarch ever born in the United States, and he will long be remembered as a valued and trusted friend to the United States.

Your question specifically was with regard to what next or what’s the impact of this. Well, all I can say is the people of the United States and Thailand have been close friends for more than two century – ten centuries. We’re going to continue to work together with them to advance our prosperity and security. Our friendship and our partnership has weathered many challenges, and we expect it to continue to grow stronger, and we’re going to continue to support Thailand in every way possible during this period of mourning.

QUESTION: How many centuries did you say?

MR TONER: Two centuries.

QUESTION: Would you be prepared – are you ready to provide support for the would-be successor?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think, so just to finish, I know the prime minister has announced that the Thai Government and its personnel will observe a mourning period of one year. But just in answer to your question, I would say that we continue to support or will continue to support the Government of Thailand during this period of national mourning and beyond, and that speaks to our continued commitment to Thailand as it, as I said, goes through this period of change.

QUESTION: And do you continue to support also the return of the democracy? You have been calling for – for the resumption of the democratic process for two years. Is it a new opportunity to renew your calls?

MR TONER: Well, obviously we always support democratic – or rather, a return to democracy. I think it’s probably premature for us to – as the nation enters this period of mourning – to lay out our expectations for the near term, but – and we stand ready to support the people and the Government of Thailand as they make this transition.

QUESTION: Did you support his son to be the successor, the next king?

MR TONER: Well, honestly that’s a decision for the people of Thailand or for the Thai monarchy to decide.

QUESTION: And if I may, I would like to ask a different question on Iran. Media report is saying that Iran is sending two warships to the Gulf of Aden in response to the strikes against the radar facilities in Yemen. I wonder if you have anything on that. Thank you.

MR TONER: No, I’d defer you – I think the Iranians announced this – I’d defer to the Iranians to speak to how they’re deploying their ships in the area. I’d just say that we operate in those waters all the time with ships from many different countries.

QUESTION: This will be really quick. It also has to do with Iran. But yesterday the Protocol Office published the annual list of --

MR TONER: Gifts.

QUESTION: -- gifts that were given to U.S. officials by foreign leaders. And there were three – I think there may have been more, but there were – I guess there were at least three: one to Secretary Kerry, a book from Foreign Minister Zarif; and then two rugs that were given to Wendy Sherman, which she then purchased, as she is allowed to do. And I am just wondering if the department is aware of any previous gifts given by Iranians to U.S. officials post-19 – post shah.

MR TONER: Post-shah. I’d have to --

QUESTION: Or if this is a --

MR TONER: I’ll have to --

QUESTION: -- if this is a --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll have to look into that. I think we can get you an answer for that. Yeah.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)