Daily Press Briefing - December 9, 2016

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 9, 2016



TRANSCRIPT:

2:08 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hey, Matt. Dave, nice beard. Wow. In my neck of the woods, they call that a deer-hunting beard. Anyway. Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Happy Friday. Just a couple of unfortunate events to note at the top of the briefing, and then I’ll take your questions.

First of all, we condemn the attack today in Madagali, Nigeria that has reportedly killed at least 30 individuals and wounded many more. After a period of relative calm for the people of northeastern Nigeria, this tragic attack is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency in the fight against Boko Haram. The United States supports Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin neighbors in their effort to defeat the group and ensure the safety and security of all its citizens. And we send our condolences, obviously, to the victims and the families of the – and the people of Nigeria.

Also, we condemn the attack earlier today in Cairo, Egypt that killed several police officers. And we express our condolences to their families and their friends and loved ones and certainly extend our sympathies to the injured and hope for a speedy recovery. The United States also stands with the people of Egypt as they confront violent extremism and work to defeat this threat. The United States strongly supports a stable, secure, and prosperous future for all Egyptians.

That’s it. Matt.

QUESTION: Could you run us through what’s been agreed for the meeting in Geneva on the situation in Aleppo, and perhaps also talk a bit about your assessment of the situation on the ground in the city?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, the Secretary actually himself spoke to this a short time ago in Paris. I think it was at a meet and greet with some of the embassy families and personnel there. And I thought that he put it actually in a very succinct way, which is what we’re trying to do here is how do we, in essence, save the city of Aleppo from being completely leveled, destroyed. How do we end the current round of fighting, which as I said has completely devastated much of the city, in order to get medical assistance, in order to get humanitarian assistance, in order to get other assistance in to the civilian population that’s trapped there? But also, how do we get access to these people so hopefully we can find a way out?

So, as I think you know, he spoke with Lavrov I think yesterday. I don’t think – I don’t believe they’ve spoken today. And the next step is technical talks to begin in Geneva tomorrow. And again, these are going to be primarily focused on, one, a pause in the fighting; and two, how do we get – deliver, rather – into Aleppo to these entrapped civilians humanitarian aid; and then thirdly, how do we get a safe departure for those who wish to leave the city. And of course, more broadly speaking, we want to see, obviously, political track – process back up and running in Geneva. But obviously, there’s also more urgent concerns at this point in time.

QUESTION: Could I follow up?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Now, the technical talks tomorrow – the buzz around these meetings is that the expectation is that there is an imminent agreement for the departure of all militants from whatever remains of eastern Aleppo. Do you have any comment on that? Is that – can you --

MR TONER: I don’t, and I’m deliberately not going to – and that’s not to speculate in any way or lend credence to what you’re saying. I’m simply not going to get in front of what those discussions are. All I will say, and I’ve said – we’ve said this throughout the week, is that there are issues that still need to be resolved, questions that still need to be answered, and that’s the intent of the meetings tomorrow. I won’t even say we’re closer. We continue to work hard at this. And obviously, we do so with the understanding that Aleppo is under – and this – I’m sorry, I didn’t get to this, Matt, your question – but is still under intense fighting. We saw, I think, a brief pause yesterday, but all too brief. There’s been no consistent pause in the fighting that we’ve seen.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But – I mean, I’ll take you to what – sorry, Dave – what the foreign minister of Russia said. He said that we have something – some surprise, I mean – casting like a positive or encapsulating the word “surprise” in a positive context, that we might have a surprise tomorrow. So are you disputing that, that something positive may come out of these meetings tomorrow?

MR TONER: Far from disputing it, we’d obviously welcome something positive coming out of these meetings. I mean – and I’m not trying to be glib or funny – I just don’t want to get in front – I mean, we’ve – everybody in this room knows what a difficult process this has been, and so I don’t want to lean forward – Foreign Minister Lavrov comments notwithstanding, I don’t want to lean forward in any way, shape, or form and try to convey that we think there’s going to be some kind of breakthrough.

As I said, our immediate goal is to stop the violence, get a sustainable pause in the fighting. That’s obviously the most urgent need here. If we can get beyond that where we can look at other aspects of putting in place a more credible ceasefire, of allowing safe passage for some of the moderate opposition, those are all things we can discuss. But the immediate, urgent need is an end to the fighting.

QUESTION: Why would you or why wouldn’t you go out and encourage such an outcome when most of the fighters have really left and a lot of them even went to western Aleppo and so on? You have the extremists from Zenki and other – Nusrah and others. They – of course, they’re die-hards; they will continue to fight. But why wouldn’t that be like something that you would announce to the world and say we want the fighters to leave so – in order to spare whatever violence that is taking place?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re not speaking on behalf of the opposition. We’re obviously in close contact with them. We’ve been so throughout. We’re not going to speak on their behalf. I think, as I said, I’m not trying to discourage any kind of longer-term resolution to the fighting in and around Aleppo and how that might be formalized, whether it means safe passage for the rebels – or the opposition, rather – or whatever. All I’m saying is the immediate goal is a cessation so we can get humanitarian assistance in and we can get safe passage for civilians out.

Yeah, go ahead, David. I’m sorry. I apologize.

QUESTION: My question was similar to that one, but I was going to phrase it slightly differently. Obviously, there are different ways to bring an end to the fighting, which is your primary goal. One of them would be for one side to win. Is it a U.S. policy or a U.S. objective going into these talks that part of eastern Aleppo remain in moderate rebel hands, or are you neutral on who controls the ground at the end so long as you get humanitarian access?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to get into the substance or the preconditions of what maybe – we – what we may have going into the talks tomorrow in Geneva. I think I’ll just stay where I was, which is our focus is on an end to the violence. We’re still looking at ways that we can get that in place. Obviously, as I said, there’s concern about the imminent fall of the Aleppo. We don’t know, frankly, when or even if that will take place. Certainly you’ve seen the regime make gains over the past week or so, but it’s been at a tremendous cost to the civilian population. So again, our focus is on a pause in the fighting. I don’t want to talk or get ahead of what we may also discuss in terms of longer-term goals.

QUESTION: Are you mitigating a regime victory, its effect on civilians, or are you trying, avert a regime victory?

MR TONER: Sure. Again, I think we’re just – we’ve been very clear that even if the regime does retake Aleppo completely, we don’t believe that ultimately it’s going to secure a total victory in this conflict. So I’m not trying to say Aleppo doesn’t strategically matter by any means, but what I’m trying to say is it’s been long our contention that even if Aleppo does fall, it’s not going to end the conflict. And so what we need is, whether it was yesterday, whether it’s today, whether it’s tomorrow, whether it’s a week from now – we’d like it sooner, obviously – is an end to the fighting where it is taking place right now in Aleppo, where we can get access to these civilian populations.

Please. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: A question on Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Could I --

QUESTION: Syria.

QUESTION: -- stay on Syria?

MR TONER: Stay on Syria. We’ll finish up --

QUESTION: A couple more. I’m sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Said. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Syria. Do you have any comment on the waiver that was issued by the White House on sending arms to Syrian rebels? Yesterday, the President issued, gave a waiver to send arms to Syrian rebels. Is that connected to Raqqa battle, possibly, or is it being sent to any particular group like the Kurdish units in the north and so on? Because apparently the U.S. is trying to work out all these groups together and mobilizing them for the liberation of Raqqa.

MR TONER: Yeah. So I probably – I refer you to DOD about this waiver. You’re talking about the waiver that was issued yesterday.

QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt, but it was sent to the State Department and DOD because you guys have to approve it.

MR TONER: Again, DOD has spoken, I think frequently, about their activities to build up local forces that can defeat ISIL. And since Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism, from time to time the President has to enact – or waive, I guess – restrictions that would otherwise prohibit the U.S. military from providing assistance, lethal assistance to our partners who are carrying out these activities against, as I said, Daesh or ISIL. So I’d refer you to the Department of Defense to speak more specifically.

QUESTION: But we’re not likely to see an influx of lethal weapons, let’s say, to the rebels in Aleppo, are we?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Actually, I just want to --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On that, on that subject.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: So a few days ago, you were asked about MANPADS and the authority that the latest defense authorization act gives to the President to send those MANPADS to the rebels.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: And you said, and I quote, “I mean, we’ve been very clear that we’re not going to provide lethal assistance to the opposition in Syria,” end quote. How does this waiver the President just ordered square with what you said a few days ago? Are you surprised?

MR TONER: So – no. So first of all, our position regarding MANPADS hasn’t changed. What I said the other day still holds. But we don’t want to see that kind of weaponry --

QUESTION: But it’s providing lethal assistance.

MR TONER: Let me finish. We don’t want to see that kind of weaponry getting into Syria. In terms of more broadly speaking, I was referring specifically to the moderate opposition. Now, we have worked with – and I’m not going to speak beyond what I just said to Said – but we have provided some level of assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces that are fighting in northern Syria against Daesh. That’s on top of the advice and training that we’ve provided these groups. And the reason we’ve done that is that they’ve been highly effective in going after and destroying Daesh on the battlefield in northern Syria. I’m not going to speak to the level of our assistance beyond that.

What I was referring to the other day, specifically to your question, was about moderate opposition who are fighting the regime in – in Aleppo but elsewhere.

QUESTION: But this – this quote, it’s not quite accurate, right? And then – when you were saying --

MR TONER: I think I just clarified. I think I just clarified.

QUESTION: “We’ve being very clear that we’re not going to provide lethal assistance.”

MR TONER: I said I think I just clarified.

QUESTION: Clarified. Okay, okay. With this waiver, who is going to get those weapons? What groups in what locations?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to that. I said – you can – either of you can go to DOD, ask them for more details. Generally speaking, I can say it’s – we’re talking about partner forces that we’re working with in northern Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah, just a few more.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the President said with this waiver that it is in U.S. national security interest to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, and I assume that it is also in U.S. national security interest to make sure that these weapons don’t end up in the hands of criminals and terrorists. Can the Administration guarantee that?

MR TONER: So of course, it’s in – and again, we’ve talked about this at great length. One of the reasons we are taking these actions against Daesh is because it’s in our national security interest to do so. Look, the threat that Daesh poses for the region is very real and urgent. The coalition that this country led in forming has done more to turn the tide against Daesh than any effort that, by the way, Russia or any other effort by the regime in Syria has attempted or alleged to attempt in and around Aleppo and elsewhere when they said they’ve been going after ISIL. We stand by our record. We have put ISIL, or Daesh, under tremendous pressure wherever it holds territory. It’s lost much of the territory. It hasn’t made any territorial gains in the past year and a half. And that pressure is going to continue.

Now, how we have done this is by working with local groups on the ground, a variety of them in northern Syria. And they’ve been effective, as I said, at dislodging Daesh. Now, with respect to your question, the assistance that we provide to these groups is obviously done under careful monitoring. But of course, I’m never going to be able to say on any given battlefield – and we’ve talked about this before – that equipment assistance can’t change hands, but we haven’t seen it recently. And in fact, to the contrary, as ISIL has lost territory, as it’s been on the run, we’ve not seen any examples of that. But again, this is a – I guess an area or territory where there is a variety of arms from a variety of different sources over many decades. So for anyone to be able to say with complete confidence that any equipment or assistance isn’t changing hands from the battlefield or wherever is difficult to do it at best.

QUESTION: What will happen to these weapons after the rebels fight ISIL? Who will they be turned against?

MR TONER: Again, I mean, – look, this is all – and this is something we’ve been working very hard on, and this is the last question on this – working as we liberate – or these groups, frankly – the Syrian Democratic Forces liberate territory in Syria, we work to bring and provide stability back into these cities, work with local governments, local councils to re-establish stability in these areas. We’re also working with these groups, and we’ve – this is something that our special envoy, Brett McGurk has – is in constant contact with many of these groups, as well as with Turkish authorities and others in the region, on what comes next. And that’s something we’re looking at down the road. But the immediate priority is defeating Daesh. And like I said --

QUESTION: Nusrah? What about --

MR TONER: -- we wish – we wish that other foreign actors in Syria had those same aims.

QUESTION: But what about – is it only against Daesh, or Nusrah as well?

MR TONER: I’ve answered your questions. Please, go ahead. I’ve answered your questions.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia, unless there’s another Syria?

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the State Department told Congress yesterday that it had approved military sales to Saudi Arabia worth $3.5 billion, mostly for Chinook helicopters and other equipment.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: Human rights groups have obviously criticized the Saudi campaign in Yemen because of the number of civilians killed, and specifically Human Rights Watch put out a statement yesterday saying – numbering – describing a number of airstrikes that had killed civilians, and saying that U.S. military equipment had been used in those strikes, putting the U.S. at risk for being complicit in those civilian deaths. What would the State Department say to that?

MR TONER: Sure. It’s a complicated question, so I’ll try to break it down. If I miss anything, please come back and – so as you noted, on December 7th the Administration did formally notify Congress of its intent to offer Saudi Arabia the purchase of up to, I think, 48 Chinook heavy-lift cargo helicopters and associated equipment via our FMF – FMS, which is foreign military sales. I think this proposed sale is valued at $3.5 billion. This obviously followed extensive informal consultations with Congress.

Our overall review of assistance to the Saudi-led coalition is ongoing. We continue to have very serious concerns about some of these coalition strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties, and we’ve addressed these concerns to the Saudi Government. We do assist Saudi Arabia with the defense of its territorial integrity, and – but that said, we’re going to continue to press the coalition to remediate what we believe are flaws in its targeting cycle and to take other immediate steps to mitigate against any other future civilian casualties.

And it goes without saying that it’s also important that we continue to work at the UN-led, mediated peace process. I mean, that ultimately is the best way to end the fighting in Yemen that threatens Saudi Arabia.

With respect to – and forgive me, but I’m trying to answer all the aspects of your question. But with respect to how this particular sale might affect Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities, these helicopters I don’t think are anticipated to be delivered for some two to three years. And certainly, their use or potential use was evaluated as part of our review. It was ultimately decided that their role would be to improve Saudi Arabia’s heavy-lift capability and strengthen its homeland defense. And what do I mean by that? In the event of a natural disaster or a humanitarian emergency in the region, these types of helicopters can provide expedited heavy lift for personnel and supplies in and out of the affected area.

What else did I forget on your – you’re talking about the status of the review. I mean, as I said, I think I answered this. It’s – they’re still ongoing. We’re still looking at this. We do want to make sure that – and this goes with any foreign military sales – that there’s always – they’re always subject to end-use monitoring. And we’ll continue to look at that even with existing sales with regard to Saudi Arabia. All of this stuff is under review including, as I said, the overall review of defense sales to Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up?

QUESTION: Well, Mark, as you said, Chinooks are heavy-lift helicopters, but you’re also simultaneously selling about 30 Apaches to the United Arab Emirates. Those are attack helicopters, and the Emirates are part of the coalition that have no use for humanitarian operations.

MR TONER: Right. Again, I don’t have the details of those helicopter sales. What I’d just say is what I just said, which is that any military sale is going to be subject to end-use monitoring.

QUESTION: Have you basically told – is one of the conditions of the sale that the Chinook helicopters can’t be used in the Yemen campaign?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t know that we’ve – again, I think that Saudis are well aware of our – I mean, because they’ve obviously been a purchaser or a buyer of U.S. military equipment, they’re well aware of some of the restrictions and some of the end-use monitoring that we conduct as a normal part of our sales. I don’t know that there’s been any precondition placed on this sale that they not be used. But again, what these – this particular type of helicopter is not, as Dave just said, not designed for a combat role as an attack helicopter.

QUESTION: It has machine guns on the front.

MR TONER: It does. For self-defense. I mean, obviously, they do have – yes.

QUESTION: That review of – I think the NSC said in a statement --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- back in October after the funeral procession or the gathering was bombed --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- they said, quote , we’re starting in a, quote, “immediate review of the assistance to the Saudi campaign.” I mean, now we’re two months later. How is the review still ongoing? How’s – how have you not come to a conclusion about what kind of assistance you’ll provide?

MR TONER: Sure. I do believe that the Department of Defense is leading that review, but I’d have to check on the status. I just don’t have it – a status update in front of me. But I also want to be very clear in saying that it doesn’t – the fact that we’re conducting this overall review doesn’t prevent us or preclude the fact that we’re assessing our current sales, looking at end-use monitoring, and being very clear in our cooperation with Saudi Arabia that they understand our concerns about some of the flaws in their targeting approach and that led to, as you know, the – you noted the terrible attack on this funeral procession.

QUESTION: And then just --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Sorry, I guess I just – it slipped out of my head.

MR TONER: No worries.

QUESTION: I’ll come back to you.

MR TONER: No worries. I’m here all day.

QUESTION: Okay, on the same topic. Now, we understand it’s some years before this particular deal is delivered, but it is fair to say that Saudi Arabia is using overwhelmingly or overwhelmingly using American weapons in its war in Yemen. Would you agree with that?

MR TONER: I just --

QUESTION: Would you agree that it is using F-16s, Apache helicopters, whatever – I mean, which are American-supplied weapons?

MR TONER: I’m not – I’m not saying you’re wrong. I just don’t have the – to say that they’re “overwhelmingly” using U.S. weaponry, but --

QUESTION: I mean, the United States at least --

MR TONER: We have a strong, robust --

QUESTION: -- is the major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, correct?

MR TONER: We have a strong military sales relationship with Saudi Arabia. I will not dispute that.

QUESTION: Do you feel that makes you – I just remembered. Do you feel that, I mean, specifically going to what the – what Human Rights Watch and what other rights groups have said, like, how do you respond to the criticism that that effectively or at least could risk the U.S. being complicit in these civilian deaths and in sort of the inaccurate targeting – whatever is might be?

MR TONER: Well again, let’s – so a couple of thoughts there. One is that the coalition and in particular Saudi Arabia did not choose this fight. This is a result of spillover from the war in Yemen – the conflict in Yemen – that was, frankly, putting at risk Saudis who are living across the border and about, frankly, defending their sovereign territory. That said, we have seen in their particular targeting – and the most egregious example was this strike on the funeral procession – inaccuracies that put civilians clearly at great risk. We’ve been very clear about our concerns, and in fact, the Saudis immediately after that bombing did conduct an investigation and made public the results of that investigation. Going forward, obviously, we’ve asked them to look at fundamentally how they review and how they determine their targeting.

Our cooperation that we provide to Saudi Arabia does not include – and I think we’ve talked about this before – target selection or review. And as I said, none of it constitutes endorsement of offensive operations in Yemen that have harmed civilians.

QUESTION: But the Saudi war goal is to restore an ousted president.

MR TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The Saudi war goal is to restore the ousted president of Yemen.

MR TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: The breaches of the border happened after the conflict began.

MR TONER: But David – but – and you know the Secretary has worked very hard in this regard. I mean, there is a UN process. We saw a breakdown when --

QUESTION: But you just described the Saudi action as not of their own choice; they were reacting to cross-border attacks.

MR TONER: Well, that is – that is true. I mean, but this is spillover --

QUESTION: They’re not there to fight to put Hadi back in power?

MR TONER: This is a conflict that has spilled over across their border. They have taken steps to defend Saudi territory, defend their citizens. But what’s, again, important here is that there is a UN-led process that, frankly, most recently took a hit earlier this week. We’ve thought we were close a couple of times to getting a cessation of hostilities into place, but there is a process here whereby we can end the fighting and bring about a peaceful transition, but it takes all sides, obviously, to --

QUESTION: It just feels like you’re making excuses for them that they wouldn’t make for themselves.

MR TONER: How so? Oh, that they’re – that I’m --

QUESTION: That their stated war goal is to restore the Yemeni president.

MR TONER: Again, I’m – well, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Saudis, but they have also been helpful in trying to get this peace process up and running.

QUESTION: Mark.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: You said the – you mentioned the hit that the UN effort took earlier this week, but that was landed by – that hit was landed by --

MR TONER: I agree.

QUESTION: -- by the government --

MR TONER: I’m well aware.

QUESTION: -- that Saudi Arabia supports and you guys support and so on. So what measures are you willing to take to give this UN effort some sort of a backbone or ground to stand on?

MR TONER: What – I’m sorry, one more time.

QUESTION: I said what are you doing to sort of give this UN position that was taken --

MR TONER: Well, the Secretary has been --

QUESTION: -- some strength and veracity?

MR TONER: The Secretary has been very engaged in this and I spoke about this the other day. He’s been – I mean, I can look at recent calls. He’s obviously been working also at the same time. But to your question, which is that earlier this week, it was the Republic of Yemen --

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: -- Government that said – rejected, essentially, the UN-drafted roadmap. And I came out and spoke about it at the top of the briefing and said everybody’s got to agree to this. It’s not an endpoint; it’s a starting point. Everybody’s got to make concessions in order for there to be peace. And we’re going to continue those efforts. I mean, the Secretary’s been working the phones, he’s been continuing to discuss it with other regional Gulf partners in trying to get some kind of cessation of hostilities back up and running. We were close a couple weeks ago, but he remains hard at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Earlier today, Japanese parliament ratified the TPP. What is your reaction?

MR TONER: I mean, that’s – obviously, we welcome Japan’s endorsement of the TPP. As we’ve said all along and this Administration has said all along, we believe that the TPP is important for the region in establishing strong rules of the road in terms of our trade relations with our partners in the region, and that it’s in – certainly in everyone’s interest who’s looking at the TPP and has signed on to the TPP to see it come into effect.

QUESTION: This is a great breakthrough for your policy, isn’t it?

MR TONER: Well, look, it speaks to the fact – and we’ve seen this on climate change as well – it speaks to the fact that, regardless of the transition that is happening here in the United States, and I’m not going to speak to that or what decisions the incoming administration may make with regard to climate or with regard to trade policy, but the rest of the world is moving forward. Rest of the world is, with respect to climate, with respect to trade, and TPP – we’ve seen it today – is saying – embracing this progress. So we can choose to engage or not to engage, but let’s not --

QUESTION: But you didn’t put it at the top as a – as an announcement of another breakthrough for U.S. trade policy. You mention it in passing when we ask. There was a time you’d have celebrated a TPP endorsement. I’m just causing trouble. Go on.

MR TONER: Yeah, you are. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Earlier this week, Pakistan’s counterterrorism department raided the headquarters of the minority Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. And just this morning, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom strongly condemned this act. What is the State Department doing to protect the vulnerable Ahmadis in light of a disturbing development?

MR TONER: Sure. We’re obviously very concerned about these reports that Punjab counterterrorism police have raided the international headquarters of the Ahmadiyya – Ahmadiyya, rather – Muslim community in Rabwah and arrested, as you noted, four individuals for publishing literature.

We have regularly noted our concerns about Pakistani laws that restrict peaceful religious expression, particularly by the Ahmadiyya community, in our international – our religious freedom report. We believe such laws are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations and we would urge the Government of Pakistan to protect religious freedom and basic rights of all members of its population, including religious minorities.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you want to comment on the increased attacks against Muslims in Myanmar? And I mean, since you mentioned the Ahmadiyya and so on, because apparently --

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- tensions are rising, and major Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are beginning to look towards this issue with concern and hostility, even.

MR TONER: Well, I don’t have much of an update. We obviously continue to call for a prompt resolution of full humanitarian and media access to that region – Rakhine State. I will say that earlier today, our ambassador to Burma and 13 of his counterparts in Rangoon issued a joint statement urging all authorities to overcome the obstacles that have prevented a full resumption of humanitarian assistance to this area.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Can I ask one question on --

MR TONER: Of course you can.

QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue? I’m sorry. Yesterday, there --

MR TONER: Elizabeth was jumping up on her seat, but --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible.) I’m not going to let you go without asking one question. (Laughter.) Yesterday, Congress overwhelmingly voted for a $600 million, in addition to the $38 billion into – to Israel, to develop rockets and so on – develop missiles. And at the same time, the Israeli Government is deciding to compensate the Amona settlement people with half a million Israeli shekels, which is like $150,000. So do you think Israel needs the money when you give them $600 million on the one hand, and they turn around and they give the Amona residents half a million shekels in compensations?

MR TONER: Sure. And look, we’ve discussed your views on this before. Our --

QUESTION: These are new.

MR TONER: Our security relationship with Israel is ironclad; our security commitment with Israel is ironclad. That said, when we do have disagreements on other aspects of Israel’s policy, we’re not shy about making those concerns clear. With regard to settlements, that’s one of those areas. But we believe that Israel is a strong partner and friend in the region, and that its security is critically important to the United States’s own national security interests.

That’s it. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

MR TONER: Oh, I’m so sorry. Yeah. I didn’t mean to --

QUESTION: Did you want to comment on the impeachment vote in South Korea?

MR TONER: I do. I mean, very briefly, I just wanted to – I can just say that obviously we have been following it closely. First and foremost, the United States continues to be a steadfast ally, friend, and partner to the Republic of Korea. We certainly look forward to working with Prime Minister Hwang in his new capacity as acting president. We expect and we believe that policy, consistency, and continuity across a range of fronts, including DPRK, is paramount, as well as international economics and trade. I can say that the U.S.-Korea relationship and alliance will continue to be a lynchpin of regional stability and security. We’re going to continue to meet all of our alliance commitments, especially with respect to defending against the threats we’ve seen emanating from North Korea. So I’ll end there.

QUESTION: Can --

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: How important – given that the threat that you say North Korea poses – how important is it that the transition in – the political transition in the ROK is a smooth one?

MR TONER: It’s critically important. And it’s again why my – the initial words out of my mouth were to – certainly to convey that the United States stands by its steadfast ally and is there with Korea as it undergoes this political change and transition.

I would note also that during this time of political change, that South Koreans have acted peacefully, they’ve acted calmly, and they’ve acted responsibly, and that certainly speaks to your question, is that it’s absolutely critical that we remain a steadfast ally and partner and that this transition occurs as peacefully as possible.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)