Daily Press Briefing - November 7, 2016
Index for Today's Briefing:
2:11 p.m. EST
MR TONER: I just have one thing at the top, then I’ll move to your questions.
We are disappointed by recent developments related to the Hong Kong legislative council. The United States strongly supports and values Hong Kong’s legislative council and independent judiciary, two institutions that play a critically important role in promoting and protecting the special administrative region’s high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” framework that have been in place since 1997.
We urge the Chinese and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region governments and all elected politicians in Hong Kong to refrain from any actions that fuel concerns or undermine confidence in the “one country, two systems” principle. Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability depends on its successful implementation, as provided for by the Joint Declaration and Basic Law. We believe in an open – that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.
QUESTION: Have you made those concerns clear to the Chinese directly?
MR TONER: I’ll have to check on whether we’ve directly conveyed those concerns to them. I’ll take that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. I don’t have anything really that can – that rises to the level of opening the briefing --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- so I’ll defer.
MR TONER: Okay, great.
QUESTION: I do have a couple of small things.
MR TONER: Okay, great.
QUESTION: I have a few.
MR TONER: Fantastic. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Raqqa, so Brett McGurk said that the initial phase of the Raqqa campaign began. While the goal there is the same as in Mosul – as it is in Mosul, and that is to kick out ISIL, how different do you expect it to be from Mosul, the fight for Raqqa?
MR TONER: Well, so we did – there was the announcement I think you’re referring to. I know Brett also amplified it or spoke about it yesterday in a press avail he did in Jordan, but there was the announcement yesterday by the Syrian Democratic Forces that they’ve begun operations towards the liberation – eventual liberation of Raqqa. For our part, we’re going to carry out – continue to carry out precision strikes to increase pressure on ISIL, restrict their freedom of movement, attack their command and control, as well as their ability to operate at all as the SDF forces advance on Raqqa.
I think, just to answer your question – your specific question about the differences between Mosul and Raqqa, I mean, look, they’re both phased operations. Both require a great deal of coordination. I think yesterday’s announcement was sort of the first phase, which is to isolate Raqqa, and that’s what the SDF – the Syrian Democratic Forces – are set out to do. But again, as we’ve talked about with Mosul, it’s going to take a while. Nobody’s expecting an immediate liberation or victory here.
QUESTION: Well, in Mosul the U.S. supports Iraqi Government forces. The situation in Syria is very different. How does that make the fight for Raqqa different from Mosul?
MR TONER: Well, again, as we’ve done in the past in parts of northern Syria where these Syrian Democratic Forces have taken on and liberated territory from Daesh, we have carried out supporting airstrikes, and we’re going to continue to do that with regard to Raqqa. And this is something we’ve done in close coordination, obviously, with our other partners as well as – or specifically with respect to Turkey.
QUESTION: How do you envision Raqqa the day after it is liberated from ISIL? Under whose control do you envision it to be? Are there any arrangements in place?
MR TONER: Well, sure. I think that – a couple of points to make on that. I mean, obviously we’re working with the SDF as the partner force on the ground. They’ve been highly effective in taking on Daesh in other parts of Syria and liberating area from Daesh. We’ve also – we also believe that some of these local forces – or the inclusion of fighters from local population, rather – is, frankly, a pretty important advantage. But as we liberate or as they liberate territory, one of the things we’ve talked about is the need for local governance to resume as quickly as possible and to re-establish local governance. That’s been something we’ve done elsewhere in Syria and northern Syria, specifically with Manbij and other areas liberated. But getting local governance, local population back to restore basic necessities.
QUESTION: Yeah. SDF is a predominantly Kurdish force. Do you expect them to leave after they liberate Raqqa?
MR TONER: Well, again, I would say that – so the SDF is – there are Kurdish fighters among them. Some of them also are Arab and many are from the area around Raqqa. Again, I think what I’ll say to that is we’re working closely and coordinating closely with members of the SDF and working with our partners, including Turkey, about how that --
QUESTION: But do you (inaudible) control of the city --
MR TONER: Sorry, just – so how the liberation – sorry, just to finish my thought, how the liberation takes place, how we get local governance re-established after the liberation. Our expectation, as has been elsewhere, is that outside forces would then withdraw.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up on --
QUESTION: This is also Raqqa.
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: -- on the local – go ahead.
MR TONER: Go ahead. Up to you. Take your turn.
QUESTION: The SDF has said that their participation in – their leading involvement in the Raqqa offensive is contingent on Turkey not attacking them in Manbij and elsewhere, and they suggest that – they say that they’ve made it clear to the U.S. that that’s the case. And is there any understanding about that, that Turkey will not be attacking the SDF while it’s liberating – while it’s involved in the Raqqa operation?
MR TONER: You’re – I’m sorry, you’re asking me specifically whether --
MR TONER: Go ahead, answer the – ask me the question.
QUESTION: The SDF has said – and I can quote them --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- okay, that they cannot be involved in the liberation of Raqqa or the isolation of Raqqa if Turkey attacks them elsewhere. Quote, “We cannot extinguish the fire in our neighbor’s house if our home is burning. We were very clear with our allies,” to include the U.S., “if there is a plan to attack Daesh, there must be limits for Turkey,” that they will not – they will not continue this offensive on Raqqa if they are attacked by Turkey. Has the United States sort of dealt with that? Is there some understanding that Turkey will not be attacking them during this offensive?
MR TONER: Well, what we have worked with and continue to coordinate with Turkey on is how we continue to keep pressure on what is the common enemy here, which is Daesh. We’ve called on all sides in this conflict to focus on that, whether it’s the YPG, whether it’s other Syrian, Arab, or Kurdish forces, and whether it’s Turkey. The main enemy here is Daesh. What we’re trying to do here is liberate territory that Daesh holds in Syria.
So that coordination continues. What we’ve also talked about with respect to the YPG – where it is located or where it liberated Manbij – is that they have to live up to their commitment to move back east of the Euphrates. And we’ve talked about this before, the Department of Defense has talked about this before – we believe that they have made effort to live up to that commitment. But again, this is about working together in a coordinated fashion – including Turkey, including other partners on the ground in northern Syria – to remain focused on removing, destroying Daesh.
QUESTION: Of course, you know it’s far from clear that Erdogan used Daesh as the biggest enemy and – rather than the Kurds.
MR TONER: Well, again, we’re aware – and I think we’ve talked about it at length from this podium, of course, that we’re aware of Turkey’s concerns regarding YPG. We’ve talked at length about how we believe that while the PKK is a foreign terrorist organization, we don’t necessarily draw that same conclusion about the YPG, that they’re a very effective local fighting force in northern Syria. But as I said, we have asked that they live up to the commitments they’ve made with regard to moving east or remaining east of the Euphrates.
Again, this is a complicated battleground, a complicated climate. We recognize that. That’s why we’re working so closely with Turkey, with other forces on the ground there to try to remain coordinated and to try to remain focused.
QUESTION: What does that mean, you don’t necessarily draw the conclusion about the YPG? You don’t draw the conclusion.
MR TONER: I don’t. Sorry, I didn’t mean to throw in that --
QUESTION: Why would you put the word “necessarily” in there?
MR TONER: I was trying to be – embellish it.
QUESTION: I mean, is it --
MR TONER: We do not associate the YPG. What we have made clear about the YPG is that they are, among others, local forces who are combating very effectively Daesh in northern Syria. PKK is another matter.
QUESTION: So – right. But by saying you don’t necessarily --
MR TONER: I didn’t mean to --
QUESTION: But I mean, that sounds like it could be you’re trying to give the Turks something here.
MR TONER: If I gave that impression, then I – what I will say, and I said such, we’re aware that Turkey has different – a different perception of this.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? You said that as we establish local governance. Are you in effect dividing Syria? Is that taking away from Syrian sovereignty in any way?
MR TONER: No, not at all. And we’ve talked about this as well.
QUESTION: What does that mean?
MR TONER: We don’t want to see any kind of ad hoc federalism or federalist system arise. We don’t want to see semi-autonomous zones. The reality is, though, as territory is liberated from Daesh, you got to get some kind of governance back into these areas, but by no means are we condoning or – any kind of, as I said, ad hoc semi-autonomous areas in northern Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. So you --
MR TONER: Ultimately, we want to see a sovereign, intact Syria --
QUESTION: Right. So --
MR TONER: -- but that’s part of a broader effort to get a political process and political negotiations underway.
QUESTION: So just to be clear, you still recognize Syrian sovereignty as you always have?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: The same thing?
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, on Raqqa, would there be – I mean, the Russians and the Syrians and all the statements that are coming out say that at one point you must coordinate with them or you should coordinate with them on the liberation of Raqqa, but you are completely resistant to that, correct?
MR TONER: Coordinating with Turkey?
QUESTION: You coordinate – will you at one point – let me rephrase the question.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Will you at any point coordinate with the Syrian Government or Syrian Government forces or the Russians in the process of liberating Raqqa?
MR TONER: Said, it’s a fair question. As you are painfully aware, as is everyone in this room, we have an agreement in place from September 9th from Geneva where we could have – had it been achieved, had it been successfully implemented – been at a place where we would have coordinated with Russia on going after Nusrah and possibly ISIL in Syria. We didn’t get there. So at this point, no, there’s no coordination. There’s no plan to coordinate with either the regime or Russia in going after Daesh.
Now, going back to your previous question, which is what’s the long-range goal here, of course we’re still working to, in a multilateral setting, trying to work to get to a cessation of hostilities where we can get political negotiations back up and running in Geneva and that we – and hopefully achieve a political transition and then achieve a goal which is a secular, sovereign Syria that’s intact.
QUESTION: I have an Aleppo question.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Okay. On the issue of Aleppo, there was much talk that maybe in the next couple days, maybe soon, the – while the country is busy with the elections and so on, we might see a Russian advance on eastern Aleppo – a Russian-Syrian coordinated advance on eastern Aleppo. Are you aware of anything like this? Or do you have any comment on such a thing if it happens?
MR TONER: No. I mean, what we’ve seen, and you’ve obviously seen the news reports as well, that actually Russia’s extended its self-proclaimed ceasefire in Aleppo. Of course, we welcome any pause in the fighting there and any end to the violence, even temporary. But I’ve seen no indications that there’s any intent to make some kind of drive for Aleppo. Honestly, that’s a question you’ll have to ask the Russians or the regime.
QUESTION: Can we move forward to the Philippines or –
QUESTION: Mosul. Can I ask on Mosul?
MR TONER: Sure. Let’s finish with Syria. I apologize, Arshad.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just one more on Mosul. I know the U.S. does not support Shiite PMF in the battle for Mosul, that these forces are fighting parallel to the forces that the U.S. supports; is that correct? Or are they with the Iraqi Security Forces?
MR TONER: Well, what we’ve said all along is that regardless of these local forces, it’s important that they operate under Iraqi command and control.
QUESTION: But the Shia PMF is not under – do I understand it correctly? I understand that the U.S. does not support Shia militias, right? The Shia PMF. Is that correct?
MR TONER: My understanding, again, is when we’re dealing with these Popular Mobilization Forces on the ground, they have to be under the Iraqi command and control. We’re also aware of possible tensions that some of these forces may bring, and that’s part of the reason why we ask that they be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And this is something that the prime minister’s obviously – of Iraq is very aware of, as well, in dealing with possible tensions or human rights allegations of human rights abuses.
QUESTION: Anyway, I just wanted to – there are reports that Shia militias are cracking down on Sunni civilians near Mosul. These are reports in social media; we could not independently verify them. Nevertheless, are you worried that in Mosul we could see a new front in the broader Sunni-Shia conflict? What does the U.S. do to prevent that?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think what we do is what we’ve been doing. Let’s be very clear, again, that this is an Iraqi-led operation under Iraqi Government command and control. They’re very much aware of the need to investigate and monitor any allegations, as I said, of any kind of human rights abuses by some of these local militias. They’re tracking it very closely. The prime minister and the government have taken efforts to investigate some of these allegations. And again, it’s something that I think – that’s important to stress that we take any kind of allegations very seriously, and we’re very much aware of the destabilizing effect that some of these tensions could have.
QUESTION: Same area. Could you give us a readout on Brett McGurk’s meetings with Kurdish and Iraqi leaders, as well as his meetings in Jordan?
MR TONER: I can read out his meetings in Jordan. What was the other --
QUESTION: The Kurdish and Iraqi leaders he met with on the same trip.
MR TONER: I don’t think that’s the same trip. I think you’re confusing --
QUESTION: He went to – he was --
MR TONER: I think he was there a couple weeks ago.
QUESTION: My impression – no, he was just there and met with Kurds – he was in Erbil --
MR TONER: He was in Amman on Saturday and he did actually have a series of meetings with senior Jordanian officials, and that included, obviously, His Majesty King Abdullah, Foreign Minister Judeh, as well as other members of the – Jordan’s national security team. But he was not – I mean, I think it was a couple weeks ago that he was last in --
QUESTION: I thought he was just in Erbil and he met the – President Barzani and Prime Minister Abadi.
MR TONER: I think that was maybe a week or two ago, and I think we read those out. I apologize.
QUESTION: Then I apologize if I am mistaken.
QUESTION: Yes. So President Duterte is quoted today as saying that he’s going to cancel the Philippines planned purchase of 26,000 rifles from the United States and that he is going to tell the police to scrap that order. Any comment on that? And have you received any formal notification that they don’t wish to buy those guns?
MR TONER: Yeah, so you’re not going to like my answer, because we’re restricted under – as you probably know – under federal regulations from commenting on the status of any commercial export, license approvals, proposed commercial defense sales, so all I can really say is that we are committed to working closely with members of Congress to continue to deliver security assistance to our allies and partners worldwide. With regard to President Duterte’s comments, I’d have to refer you to him or his spokesperson to respond, or clarify.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: In a sense I’m not asking specifically about the license.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m just asking if they’ve communicated to you a decision not to buy the guns, the rifles, regardless of where the license is or isn’t.
MR TONER: Sure. My understanding, with regards to them notifying us, we’ve not received any notification. If that’s wrong, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Or they cancel it.
QUESTION: On --
MR TONER: On a cancellation, yeah.
QUESTION: A cancellation, thank you. Yep.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Philippines.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The President Duterte apparently has also said flatly that two bilateral exercises with the United States that have occurred in the South China Sea will be canceled. Has there been any official notification of that or any communication?
MR TONER: No, nothing yet. We’ve not received anything officially. Obviously, we’ll also be seeking clarification directly from the president or the president’s office on what he meant. But of course, we’ll also continue to consult, as we’ve said many times, at every level with our Filipino partners with regards to our ongoing cooperation.
QUESTION: Can I go to the Middle East?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
MR TONER: Lebanon.
QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister arrived today. Do you have any thoughts about that?
MR TONER: No. I mean, we – (laughter). I mean --
MR TONER: I mean, no – I mean, Matt, we talked about this at length on Friday.
QUESTION: Yeah, but then you said it was a hypothetical question, because he hadn’t gotten there yet and maybe he wouldn’t be the --
MR TONER: Did I? Did I say that?
QUESTION: Well, kind of. You suggested that he wasn’t there and you didn’t want to talk about it until he --
MR TONER: I think I said that – no, I mean, look, Matt, I’m not trying to be --
QUESTION: Sure you are.
MR TONER: (Laughter.) No, but honestly, what I thought I said --
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns --
MR TONER: What I thought I said was that we’re not going to necessarily look at this one visit in isolation as some kind of indication of how the new president and new government and new prime minister are going to conduct their government. Again, we’re looking to them to form a new government. There is a great need, as we’ve all seen. There’s – it’s a challenging political environment in Lebanon. We want to see stability returned there, basic services be guaranteed.
We’ve also been in very close contact with – the Secretary spoke with the president last week and Ambassador Richard, on the ground, attended the – both the vote in parliament, as well as met with the prime minister and the president in the past week as well. So I don’t want to take this one visit in isolation and use it to --
QUESTION: So you’re not --
MR TONER: -- make some sort of decision about where we see this government headed.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – but you’re not concerned by it? Is that – that’s the bottom line?
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: You don’t see the --
MR TONER: I mean, we’re --
QUESTION: -- a Lebanese Government that tilts towards Iran --
MR TONER: No, I mean, we’re --
QUESTION: -- you don’t see as a problem?
MR TONER: No, I mean, we’re aware, obviously – we’ve acknowledged the fact that Hizballah supported this government or Aoun. But we said we’re not going to make any decisions other than what we see him and his new government conducting themselves.
QUESTION: On the same point.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: So broadly speaking, you’re not concerned that Iran might have more influence in Lebanon at the expense of probably your good ally, Saudi Arabia, in Lebanon. Do you?
MR TONER: Again, I think I’d make the distinction between being aware – and that’s what I just was trying to say – of that element, but not overly concerned. And again, I think what we’re potentially pleased to see is some kind of stable governance returned to Lebanon again, a place that has struggled, let’s be honest, in the last year or so with providing basic services, basic security. So as much as they can restore that stability to Lebanon, we’d be happy.
QUESTION: Can I go to the south?
QUESTION: Afghanistan, please.
MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: There’s a law – there’s a bill making its way through the Knesset right now that would bar supporters of BDS from entering Israel. Do you guys have any thoughts about that?
MR TONER: Yes, I think I do. Sorry. We – you’re talking about the – yeah, the bill in the Knesset. Right, exactly. We’ve seen reports that there is a bill that would bar pro-BDS activists from entering Israel. Our strong opposition to boycotts and to sanctions of the state of Israel is unchanged and well known. And as a general principle we believe that freedom of expression – peaceful freedom of expression, even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views espoused – but this is ultimately something for the Israeli political system to deal with. But our own belief is that we don’t believe that individuals or groups that want only to express their political views should be prohibited from doing so.
QUESTION: So can you distill that into one simple sentence?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you opposed to this legislation, and have you told the Israelis --
MR TONER: We strongly oppose boycotts and sanctions of the State of Israel. That said --
QUESTION: That’s not my question.
MR TONER: That said, we value freedom of expression, even in cases where we do not agree with the political views espoused. I’m not going to comment beyond that about the bill.
QUESTION: So you’re not --
QUESTION: So, wait a second. So you don’t have a position on the bill?
MR TONER: I think you can read into my response --
QUESTION: I would really prefer – (laughter) – this is the problem that you guys have not just with Israel, but with anything. You’re trying to be coy about this. Why can’t you just come out and say whether you think this bill is a good idea or a bad idea?
MR TONER: Because – look, because – I think I expressed what our guiding principle is with regard to this bill, but this is ultimately something that the Knesset is going to have to wrestle with and decide on. What I said was with regard to the basic premise of this, which is political activists want to enter a country to express their dissent about – on a given issue or express their opinion on a given issue. What I said was we generally believe that, even if we don’t agree with the opinion being expressed, that that should be allowed to go forward.
QUESTION: So it would be inaccurate, are you saying, to say that you oppose this bill?
MR TONER: I’ll leave that for you to interpret. I’m not going to – no, but I’m not going to --
QUESTION: Well, how are people supposed to figure out what exactly the Administration thinks if you won’t give a straight answer?
MR TONER: No, but I’m not going to – but I’m not going to opine – I mean, not going to give you --
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to opine, I’m just asking you if you have a position on this bill or not. And it sounds like you do, but you won’t say that you do or what it is.
MR TONER: I’m --
QUESTION: Do you think it is problematic or not for the Knesset to – if the Knesset were to pass this bill?
MR TONER: Again, that’s the Knesset’s decision to make whether it’s a problematic issue or not. All I’m saying is we come down on the side of political dissent peacefully expressed should be allowed.
QUESTION: Okay. So do you also agree, though, that a country has a right --
MR TONER: That’s a pretty concise sentence.
QUESTION: -- to decide who gets to come in and --
MR TONER: Ultimately, yes. But I mean – but our opinion is that generally democracies should allow peaceful political dissent.
QUESTION: Even if that – even if the political dissent is something that --
MR TONER: Is disagreeable. Yes.
QUESTION: -- the country thinks is designed --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- to destroy it?
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, that’s what (inaudible) --
MR TONER: I think that’s what I – again, I think I said --
MR TONER: -- even in cases where we don’t agree with the political views expressed, people should be allowed to peacefully express them.
QUESTION: But then that – then that suggests that this country doesn’t have the right to decide who gets to come into it, no?
MR TONER: Wait, now you’ve got me totally confused now. This country – that our country doesn’t have the right to --
MR TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: The country in question, Israel.
QUESTION: In this particular case --
QUESTION: Do they or do they not have the right to decide who gets to come into their country?
MR TONER: Ultimately, obviously, it is their – that’s why I said I’m not going to weigh in on what the Knesset is deciding.
MR TONER: All I’m saying is that legally --
QUESTION: You’re just confusing the matter.
QUESTION: But – why – I mean, why the extreme anxiety or delicacy here about this? I mean, the prime minister of Israel came to the United States and very forthrightly, in an address before Congress, blow-torched your – this Administration’s plans to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran. I mean, he had – he wasn’t particularly shy about saying what he thought about that --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- the prospect of such a deal being reached. Why is it so hard for the United States to say what it thinks the parliament of Israel, the Knesset, should do in this circumstance?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think that I’m – and I’m – again, I’m not trying to be coy or dance around it, but I think that it’s – all I can do in speaking about another country’s political system as it grapples with whatever issue is give what our policy would be or what our guiding principle would be. We believe in peaceful political dissent. We don’t believe that that should be litigated in any way, even if that involves not allowing people who express certain political viewpoints from not entering your country.
QUESTION: Did you mean litigated or mitigated? Maybe I misheard.
MR TONER: Litigated.
QUESTION: Mark, I just want to follow up on the boycott issue. You may oppose boycott and sanctions and so on of Israel, but you agree that this is actually a nonviolent, peaceful effort on part of those who are opposing --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
MR TONER: That’s what I said, and that’s what – the point I was trying to make was saying that we support --
QUESTION: Right. And in fact, when the Pacific partnership agreement was signed, the President made sure that it was clear that they don’t – you don’t oppose boycotting products that were made in the settlements, correct?
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: Okay. I have one more question on the Palestinian-Israeli --
MR TONER: Wait.
QUESTION: You support --
MR TONER: Wait, wait.
QUESTION: I think you’re getting led down a --
MR TONER: Yeah, it’s a (inaudible) --
QUESTION: -- an odd path – a path here.
MR TONER: I said we do not support – what are you asking me?
QUESTION: I am saying to you --
MR TONER: This is – guys, why are we belaboring this? I think I spoke clearly about --
QUESTION: No, no, we are not belaboring, because we want – no, (inaudible) --
MR TONER: No, no, no, Said, my turn now. I think I spoke clearly about – as much as I’m going to go about a specific bill that’s in the Knesset now without influencing what is their democratic process. I provided our opinion of it. You know where we stand with regard to boycotts. I don’t need to re-litigate that with you, okay?
QUESTION: All right. We are not re-litigating. I am asking you just to clarify what Matt has been asking --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- okay? Do you feel that such a bill introduced in the Knesset would compromise freedom of expression as clearly as possible?
MR TONER: I’ll say what I just said, which is that we don’t believe that freedom of expression should be disallowed even if you don’t – or just because you don’t agree with the views expressed. And I’m going to leave it there, guys.
QUESTION: All right. Let me – I have one more question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The Israeli – an Israeli court sentenced a 14-year-old boy to 12 years in prison. He was arrested – when he was arrested, he was like 13 years old and so on. Do you feel that this is a severe sentence? They accuse him of attacking or trying to attack with knives a settler – a settlement back in 2015, on October 2015.
MR TONER: Well, I mean --
QUESTION: I wonder if you saw these reports.
MR TONER: -- we condemn acts of terrorism and violence, but we also believe that minors especially should be treated humanely and have their basic human rights respected and upheld. These are issues that we mention all the time in our annual Human Rights Report. We have raised this with the Government of Israel as well.
QUESTION: In this particular case, the minor’s rights were not respected, were they?
MR TONER: I’m not going to get into the specific case. I’m just stating what – again, what our guiding principles are.
QUESTION: Did you raise this specific sentence with the Government of Israel or just the general issue of minors?
MR TONER: No, we’ve raised – no, just the idea that especially minors but all individuals should – when in the justice system should have their basic – should be treated humanely and have their basic human rights upheld.
MR TONER: Please.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: As you know, a journalist who work with our company, Ariana Television Network, in Helmand province – he has been killed last week. Any comment about it?
MR TONER: Well, we’ve obviously heard those reports, seen those reports. This is an Ariana News journalist, Naimatullah Zaheer, who was killed in a roadside bomb, I believe, on Friday, last Friday. Obviously, we strongly condemn the targeting of media professionals and journalists in Afghanistan. We offer our condolences to his family, his friends, and certainly his colleagues at Ariana News.
Obviously, freedom of the press is something we hold dear. It’s a cornerstone to any democracy and we’re confident that the vibrant media environment and landscape that has developed in Afghanistan over the past 14 years will only endure and grow stronger.
MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have much more detail.
QUESTION: Do you have any more – do you have any more information on the circumstances under which they were killed?
MR TONER: I don’t. I believe DOD spoke to that last week when it happened. I think they talked about – I would just refer you to their statement. And I know the investigation is still underway, so I don’t have any conclusions.
QUESTION: I have one more.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
MR TONER: Oh, yes.
QUESTION: I’m presuming that you have some kind of view on the president saying that he’s going to run for another term despite the fact that it’s specifically banned by the constitution.
MR TONER: Matt, I do. It’s up to the Honduran people to determine their political future through their democratic institutions and processes. I think that in general, rules of the democratic process such as term limits should not be modified for the immediate benefit of the incumbent.
QUESTION: Have you --
MR TONER: Is that direct enough for you?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, if I’m in Honduras I actually know where you stand. If I’m in Israel I’m not sure I do at all. (Laughter.) So does that mean --
MR TONER: I’m selectively direct.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you have told the Hondurans that the government – that you think that either changing the constitution or just ignoring it --
MR TONER: That’s a fair question. If you’re asking if we conveyed our concerns to them --
MR TONER: -- I – well, I just did.
QUESTION: No, I know. But I mean --
MR TONER: But no, I’ll check and see if we’ve conveyed that.
QUESTION: Telling me --
MR TONER: Yeah, I know.
QUESTION: -- and telling everyone here is slightly different than --
MR TONER: It’s the AP, man. Come on.
QUESTION: I don’t have a direct line to Tegucigalpa.
MR TONER: I’ll check and see if we --
QUESTION: You may, or you do.
MR TONER: -- if we directly conveyed that.
QUESTION: So – and then Nicaragua.
MR TONER: Nicaragua. Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about President Ortega’s re-election? Was there a statement on it?
MR TONER: I put out a statement, yeah. That’s okay.
QUESTION: Never mind.
MR TONER: Everybody have a happy Election Day. Get out and vote.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)