Press Releases: Daily Press Briefing – September 3, 2015

2:12 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Thursday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: You’re welcome. Just one thing briefly at the top and then I’ll go to your questions. As many of you saw – I think we already issued the Travel Warning as well as a brief comment by me – but the Department of Department of Defense have authorized the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. personnel stationed at Incirlik Air Base as well as our consulate in Adana, Turkey. This decision was made out of an abundance of caution following the commencement of military operations out of Incirlik Air Base. Certainly, the safety and security of U.S. citizens living abroad are top priorities and we take very seriously the responsibility for ensuring the security of members of the entire official American community, and we’ll continue to evaluate our security posture in Turkey as well as worldwide.

That’s it. Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Very briefly on that.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I want to know if you can be a little bit more specific about what it means, “out of an abundance of caution.” What are you worried about? Are you worried about attacks that the consulate in Adana or Incirlik might – or institutions or people affiliated with them might be attacked because of the Turkish involvement in the airstrikes or because they have – the Turks have allowed Incirlik to be used? What exactly is the concern?

MR TONER: So first of all, as you, I think, noted, it’s – this is precautionary and it’s in line with how we’ve generally postured ourselves in other locations, frankly, that are in the vicinity of active military operations, which is what’s going on at Incirlik now. But bear in mind, this is – and important to note that this is (a) voluntary and (b) it’s – which – as opposed to ordered, as you know, but also (b) it’s also for dependents of official families. So —

QUESTION: Why the delay?

MR TONER: Why the delay?

QUESTION: Well, wait a second.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: That’s a fine answer, but it wasn’t an answer to my question. What is it that you’re concerned about?

MR TONER: Oh.

QUESTION: What is the abundance precaution for? I mean, presumably, you don’t think a Turkish jet is going to accidentally drop bombs on the American – the consulate.

MR TONER: Of course not. But —

QUESTION: So what is it your concern? Is it the PKK? Is it ISIS? Is it some other kind of – is it —

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not going to get into specific threats. Certainly, our Travel Warning speaks for itself. But it’s just – it’s an acknowledgement that the threat level has increased due to military activities now going out of that base.

QUESTION: Well, I guess the other way —

MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: I guess the other way to put my question is: If there were to be this agreement between the U.S. and the Turkish Government and now there is this agreement, why wasn’t a voluntary departure authorized at the time of the agreement? What’s – why has this taken several weeks for this to happen?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re constantly evaluating the security situation, and we take decisions or make decisions about both voluntary and authorized departure based on our assessment. It’s not on any given timeline, but we operate out of an abundance of caution in making these kinds of decisions.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t it have been reasonable to assume that there might have been the potential for any sort of retaliatory attack in light of the U.S. being allowed to fly out of Incirlik?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Wouldn’t it be safe to assume —

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it have been reasonable to assume that there might be some sort of retaliatory attack once the U.S. began to —

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of how we evaluate the security and the dangers that are out there. We don’t often do that for obvious reasons. It’s a decision we made. We’re – we put out a Travel Warning; it’s specific to these two locations, not throughout Turkey. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: How many families does that involve?

MR TONER: We don’t give out precise numbers.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: That’s okay. Ballpark – yeah, no. Ballpark, this is – there’s – we’re talking – it’s not a large number of people. Probably under a hundred or so.

Indira and then —

QUESTION: Hold on a second. It’s not a hundred families. It’s far more than a hundred families. You’re talking about a hundred people that might be – the Pentagon – your colleague at the Pentagon said it was about 900 – the universe.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I’m talking about —

QUESTION: You’re talking about the State Department.

MR TONER: Yes, I apologize.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

QUESTION: So a hundred State Department —

MR TONER: Ish. No, I can’t. Really, I’m sorry, I’ve already —

QUESTION: In the same —

MR TONER: — overstepped. We don’t give out precise numbers for security reasons.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: In the same Travel Warning, you also talk about U.S. citizens should be alert to the potential for violence in Turkey and also U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and even large gathering – other large gatherings, even if they are peaceful. So it is not only Adana, but also it seems like you have some broader concern over Turkey.

MR TONER: I mean, look – I mean, that’s somewhat standard language that we give to travelers and somewhat – part of that is just good common sense; you shouldn’t go to a large gathering or a protest or whatever, a demonstration in a country; it’s prudent not to engage in those kinds of things. But certainly, this is advice we give to travelers, to Americans traveling abroad in many different places.

Specifically, I’d have to see the exact language that – whether it refers to all of Turkey. Again, this Travel Warning and this authorized – sorry, this voluntary departure is specific to Adana and Incirlik.

Please.

QUESTION: You also – in the Travel Warning you mentioned the region, the southeast of Turkey, which is that Kurdish-populated area where the fighting between PKK and Turkish Government, Turkish army is happening. So is – there is already critics of this that you are trying to justify the Turkish act – Turkish Government’s action of arresting Americans and Western journalists, that – to cover the conflict in that area. What’s your response to that?

MR TONER: I apologize, just —

QUESTION: Yeah, you want to justify that? You will warn your citizens and the people that these areas are not safe so if the journalists go in there, so the Turkish Government will arrest them, not for this reason that they don’t want to – they don’t want them to cover the events but also —

MR TONER: Well, it – if you’re specifically talking about the Vice journalists who were arrested the other day —

QUESTION: Not just Vice. Other journalists also.

MR TONER: — we were very clear in saying that we’d expect any investigation and charges against journalists and any arrests of journalists obviously to follow – and certainly in a democracy like Turkey, to follow due process and be backed up by good evidence.

QUESTION: I think his question was kind of: Did the U.S. Government do this as to give the Turkish Government a pretext to go after journalists in these areas? Presume that the answer is no.

MR TONER: No. (Laughter.) Yes, thanks. Thank you, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can I switch to Iran?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: So the Iranian supreme leader made some comments this morning that appeared to suggest that he favored the Iranian Majilis parliament taking – voting on the nuclear deal. Although I realize there’s some potential ambiguity in what he said, we quote him as saying, “Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue … I am not saying lawmakers should approve the deal or reject it. It is up to them to decide.” And, “I’ve told the President that it is not in our interest to not let our lawmakers review the deal,” referring to President Rouhani.

Do you have any comment on the utility of an Iranian parliamentary vote on this? Do you think that that would be a good thing, so that Iran could see whether there’s wider support in the country for it?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I don’t have a comment one way or the other. I mean, we don’t generally respond to public comments by Iran’s supreme leader. I’ve seen those remarks. I would just say the JCPOA, its text, its annexes are clear in spelling out what needs to be done for all parties to start to benefit from its successful implementation. But as to internal Iranian debate over the passage of it, that’s up to them.

QUESTION: And then second thing, just related.

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the Department have any reason to believe that Secretary Kerry’s speech yesterday has changed any minds in either the Senate or the House? Have you gotten any indications from anyone that they’re now favoring the deal, when they weren’t previously?

MR TONER: Good question. I’m not sure that we – we’ve haven’t seen any immediate reactions. Certainly, it was, as we talked about yesterday —

QUESTION: Well, you’ve got another senator today.

MR TONER: We do, but I can’t positively link the two is what I’m saying. But I like to think that it’s part of our attempt to continue – and the Secretary is certainly at the forefront of this – our attempt to explain what this deal means for the American public as well as for the region and the world, and that’s to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And we’ve said before we’ve seen, obviously, an increase in congressional support. That’s encouraging. But we’re certainly not going to take our foot off the gas pedal.

QUESTION: So, on this —

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: — yes, there has been an – I suppose you could call it an increase in congressional support. But you’re – there’s no way that you’re going to get a majority of senators or even close to anything like a significant minority of the House to vote in favor of it. So while the numbers are increasing, they’re still quite low, no? Is that a disappointment to you?

And secondly, related to that, Senator Booker, when he came out and said he would support it today, echoed the comments of many recent yes-vote announcements by saying this is a deeply flawed agreement, and other comments have been “not the agreement I was hoping for, was looking for, or expected,” “serious reservations about it but will still vote yes.” These are hardly ringing endorsements. Is that of concern?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve been, from the Secretary to the President to Secretary Moniz to others, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, have been engaged – certainly Wendy Sherman as well – with Congress trying to answer every question that they may have on this agreement. We’ve always said every vote matters. We want to see that increase. Our goal fundamentally is we want to see the Administration be able to implement this deal.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: Whatever that takes in Congress. So your first question was: Are we disappointed? I think we’re seeing – or we’re neither disappointed but we’re not satisfied. We think we can get more approval votes or yes votes.

And – sorry, to answer your other question about – your second question about some of the statements about support for the deal, this is for each senator and congressperson to weigh as they make their decision. But we’ve made the case repeatedly that this is the best possible deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But if you look at the recent statements, there are very few lawmakers who have come out in support of this who are as enthusiastic as the members of the Administration are, particularly those in the Administration who actually negotiated the deal. So I’m just – I just wonder – and all of these lawmakers who have come out with their support, ostensible support —

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not ostensible.

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s support.

QUESTION: They say they’ll vote yes.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: It is support. So – but many of them recently have – they’ve listened to all the arguments made. They’ve listened to the case that you’ve presented to them in classified and unclassified form, and they still say this is not what I had hoped for or, as in the case of Senator Booker today, this is deeply flawed. The Administration does not believe that it is deeply flawed, does it?

MR TONER: Of course not.

QUESTION: So the case —

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So are you satisfied that the case has actually been made?

MR TONER: I think to some extent we’re confident that once this agreement is implemented that the proof —

QUESTION: That it won’t be deeply flawed anymore?

MR TONER: That the proof will be in the pudding, that we’ll see an Iran that’s unable to obtain a nuclear weapon, that is still kept in check by continuing sanctions.

QUESTION: I’ll stop after —

MR TONER: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: I’ll stop after this. So is it – it’s fair to say that despite the fact that this – the support that you’ve been getting in some of the recent statements has not been 100 percent rah, rah, go team, it’s been far more reserved, you’re – that’s not a disappointment for you? You’re just happy to get the yes vote?

MR TONER: I mean —

QUESTION: Yes?

MR TONER: Of course, we’re happy to get a yes vote.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Exactly. (Laughter.) And I won’t – I promise I won’t give you the entire – I won’t repeat the Secretary’s speech yesterday —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: — which made very clear why this is a good agreement.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: I asked the other day about refugees from Syria and the resettlements here, and there was – I was a little confused about whether it was 1,500 per fiscal year you’d allowed in or whether that was the total since the start of the war. And I know there’s a reporting moment coming up before the end of this month where the President has to report what the plan is for 2016. I know in the light of the photographs that have shocked the world coming out of Europe that there’s more pressure now for countries to come forward. And Germany’s made a big offer for resettlement. I just wanted to check in with you today before we write about this —

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — what your latest figures are and what your stance is.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Well, as you alluded to in your question, certainly, we were all shocked by some of the very graphic and heartbreaking images that we’ve seen from Europe today. Clearly, this situation is very complex and certainly very urgent as we see individual nations trying to handle the huge influx of migrants. We strongly support in that respect the European Union’s efforts to resolve this issue in a comprehensive manner. We welcome the news that the EU is going to meet on September 14th to discuss the situation in depth and formulate a coordinated response.

We recognize this is an enormous challenge and commend those leaders, some of whom you mentioned, and citizens in Europe who have responded with compassion and generosity to this crisis. And then I’ll get to specifics about our – some of the numbers you asked about, but just would add that any solution to these kinds of migration challenges certainly should focus on saving and protecting lives, ensuring human rights of all migrants are respected, and promoting orderly and humane migration policies.

Now, in response to your question which was about some of the numbers I gave the other day about – so that was correct. I said that the United States is likely to admit roughly 1,800 Syrian refugees total by the end of this fiscal year, which is October. We’ve certainly – in light of the significant number of Syrian refugees displaced, we’ve made substantial efforts this year to facilitate increased refugee admissions in this – from this population.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I think it was – there was —

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on this.

QUESTION: There was an ambiguity about this. Do you mind if I follow up?

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: And then – because I have some more that (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean —

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I don’t think what you said was right in the sense that you were – there was a conflation of since the beginning of the conflict versus since – during the course of this fiscal year. So just so there’s no ambiguity – and I got a response on this, and you may have it —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — but my understanding was that since the beginning of the conflict, you’ve gotten 17,000 Syrian refugee referrals —

MR TONER: Referrals, correct.

QUESTION: — that since the beginning of the conflict, the United States Government has accepted 1,500.

MR TONER: And we expect to reach 1,800 by the end of this fiscal year.

QUESTION: Okay, you —

MR TONER: That’s what I was – if I was —

QUESTION: And then – yes. But in other words, that’s not another 1,800; it’s just another 300 —

MR TONER: Correct. That’s correct.

QUESTION: — by the end of the fiscal year. Okay, got it.

MR TONER: That’s correct. Yeah, no, I’m sorry if I was unclear on that. I meant – you’re absolutely right that it was the beginning of the conflict, and then I meant to say that the ending – well, we hope to reach that 1,800 mark by the end of this fiscal year in just a few weeks, frankly.

QUESTION: So that’s about 450 per year.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, this is – I mean, we’ve put significant resources behind this in the past year to – really to – I mean, this is – it’s an extensive review process, certainly. It’s – folks coming from that part of the world, that region, we need to obviously conduct a thorough review process. I’ve been told it takes anywhere up to 18 to 24 months, so it’s time-consuming.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, Ros.

QUESTION: I went – all right. I went —

QUESTION: Just one other thing?

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, that’s okay.

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s right to say about 450 since the beginning of the – per year because the conflict, of course —

MR TONER: That’s right too because we’ve —

QUESTION: — in fact, the majority is —

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: — this fiscal year, right?

MR TONER: Yes. We’ve put additional resources. I don’t have that clear breakdown. I can try to get it for you. But yeah, we’ve amped up or ramped up our ability to process (inaudible).

QUESTION: I’ll be giving a background briefing on it.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Thanks, Arshad.

QUESTION: Okay. So I’ve – I went back and took a look at the numbers of people who have been admitted under U.S. RAP, the Refugee Admission Program, regarding Syria since 2011 when the civil war started. Eight hundred fifty-two people have actually been resettled in the U.S.: 29 in 2011; 31 in ’12; 36 in ’13; 105 in ’14; so far in Fiscal Year 2015, which started October 1st, 651. Part of the reason I have been told from people at DHS, which oversees the actual screening, is the background check.

MR TONER: Yep.

QUESTION: There’s also the political component on Capitol Hill. There’s a very anti-immigrant sentiment on Capitol Hill right now and in this country, and you have had members of Congress, including Congressman McCaul of Texas, who deals with homeland security issues, saying that they are very concerned about members of ISIL, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups using the Refugee Admission Program as a way of trying to gain access to the United States and they want to see, in essence, a slow roll on the admission of any additional Syrian refugees.

When you’re dealing with the fact that there is an annual worldwide cap for 70,000 refugees to come to the United States – not just from Syria, from all other countries – and then you’re dealing with this political sentiment on Capitol Hill, how is it possible for the U.S. to say that it is doing everything possible to try to help the millions of people who have been displaced, who have had to leave Syria? Not the 9 million inside Syria. How can the U.S. argue that it is doing everything possible to help these people when you’re dealing, one, with such a small number of people who can be admitted and a Congress which has to agree to the number of people admitted as refugees to this country? The President can’t just sign an executive order and let people in.

MR TONER: Okay, big question. Let me start with what you correctly said, which is that these individuals, these refugees, asylum seekers who are being considered by DHS have to pass security background checks precisely because of some of the factors that you raise, which is that – the fear from – there’s a lot of terrorist groups operating in that region, in that part of the world, and we need to make sure that – fundamentally, that we protect the national security of the United States of America. So any asylum seeker has to go through a thorough background check. And I spoke to that a little bit about – when I talked about the 18 to 24-month review process.

You said, “How can you say that the United States is doing enough to respond to that?” I would simply say we’ve provided – and the $4.1 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the crisis, which is more than any other single donor, to help address the humanitarian crisis by the I guess almost 7.5 or even 8 million displaced people both inside Syria, certainly, but also the 4 million Syrian refugees throughout the region, particularly in Turkey, certainly in Jordan, in Iraq as well as in Egypt, and we are committed to maintaining a robust Refugee Admission Program. And we are certainly aware of the needs of the Syrian refugee population, and as you noted, we have raised our numbers in the past year. We’ve put more resources behind some of these background checks. But the fact of the matter is they do need to be thoroughly vetted. So I’ll stop there.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is it reasonable for this Administration to even try to argue to Congress that absent cutting out those people who may be trying to escape political persecution in sub-Saharan Africa or in Southeast Asia or in some parts of Central America – shifting the numbers around and giving those slots to Syrians – is the Administration willing to go to Congress and say we need to raise the overall cap so that we can try to get more people in from Syria just because the pool —

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — that is out there is just overwhelming and we would be remiss as a country if we don’t try to bring in more citizens?

MR TONER: Well, again, a couple of points there. One is, certainly, you raise a valid point, which is as dire as the situation is in Syria and in that region of the world, there are indeed asylum seekers, refugees, migrants coming in from other parts of the world and we need to consider their situation, their plight as well. I would also just say that when we look at this, and I spoke to this the other day, refugee resettlement and responding to a crisis, certainly as we’re seeing in Europe right now, is important. There’s an urgency there. But the longer-term solution remains a political resolution to the conflict in Syria and in other places, but mostly in Syria, and that’s why we need a credible peace process. We need Assad to step aside. We need a peace process that adheres to the Geneva communique, that creates a stable, secure Syria. We need to destroy ISIS. We need to get ISIS out of the picture. We need to create an environment where these refugees can ultimately return home, which is where they want to be.

QUESTION: Could I have a follow-up?

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, Barbara.

QUESTION: Just two questions. One, you’ve made the case for the stringent background checks because of security issues. Is there any discussion or pressure for fast-tracking at least some of the most vulnerable refugees coming from Syria? This is one.

And the second is: In the statements made on this topic – the senators’ letter in May and then Nicholas Burns and David Miliband writing their op-ed and the International Rescue Committee statement – they’ve all been saying that traditionally the United States accepts half the refugees that the UNHCR approves for foreign resettlement, that that’s the tradition. What’s the reason it’s not happening now? Is it mainly the security issue or is there something else? Because that number would be 65,000 – the UNHCR has asked for 130,000 resettled.

MR TONER: I can’t, frankly, give you like a response to the question of why the slowdown other than that it does speak to the length of the process to review these individuals. As I said, the – as compelling as these – as it is, the situation of these refugees, our first priority is to maintain the national security of the United States, protect American citizens. So that’s certainly a consideration.

But – what was your second question? I forgot now, Barbara.

QUESTION: I asked if there was any move to fast-track some of the most vulnerable refugees.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I think we’re looking at a variety of options. I mean, certainly we recognize there’s an urgency. I spoke to that. I can’t – I don’t have anything to announce necessarily in that regard, except for the fact that we have improved our numbers and admitted more Syrian refugees. I realize that in relation to the number of requests referred to us or referrals by the UNHCR, it still seems small, but we have significantly raised those numbers.

QUESTION: Anne Richard was saying that next year she was expecting the U.S. would be accepting thousands. Do – is that like a – is there a figure that you’re aiming towards?

MR TONER: I don’t – I mean, and we don’t – it’s important to note we don’t have certain quotas or numerical targets for any refugee group, including Syrians.

QUESTION: Well, you do by region. You have targets.

MR TONER: We do by – we have – well, we do – we have – based on the number of – what are you talking about? In terms of regions?

QUESTION: In terms of – yeah. The 70,000 is divided into various regions of the world, meaning targets.

MR TONER: Right, exactly, but we don’t have – but I’m talking about – specifically about countries.

QUESTION: Not by – not country-specific, but —

MR TONER: Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: — I mean, they fit into the – where do they fit in? Do they fit into the Middle East – the Near East region? They do, yeah?

MR TONER: The Syrians? Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: How many by the end of the year – sorry, Barbara.

QUESTION: It’s okay.

QUESTION: No, no, I mean – I think you —

QUESTION: No, I – that was – I just want to – I just think that if the one question that I asked first about the tradition or role of accepting half the refugees approved for foreign resettlement – it’s quite a big difference from that to 1,500 on a massive emergency refugee scale. So it just seems – that’s why I asked what the – what was behind that.

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I think – and I said this before – we are the largest humanitarian donor to the Syrian conflict. We’re helping refugees within Syria and outside of Syria. We recognize that other countries – and I’ve noted before Turkey’s played a prominent role in accepting I think over 2 million Syrian refugees. And —

QUESTION: But not for resettlement.

MR TONER: Not for resettlement, I agree. But this is an urgent situation and we’re looking at ways we can improve our response, but I think we’re doing a lot.

Please.

QUESTION: So, one, can you tell us where you expect to be at the end of the month, the end of the fiscal year, on the 70 overall and then on whatever the – the breakdown number for Near – for refugees from the Near East is?

MR TONER: I’d have to get that for you, yeah. Yeah, take that question.

QUESTION: Can you check on that? And secondly, you’ve spoken several times now —

MR TONER: You said by the end of this fiscal year?

QUESTION: Yeah, I want to know how many – you have an allotment – you’ve set aside 70,000 spots, right?

MR TONER: I’ll check, yeah.

QUESTION: How many will be filled by the end of the year worldwide, and then also for the Near East region.

MR TONER: I can check. I also would – frankly —

QUESTION: How many of —

MR TONER: Yeah. I would also encourage you – there is a website that has some of these statistics. It’s called wrapsnet.org, and it does have many of the statistics on refugee admissions, so I would encourage everyone to – it’s wraps, w-r-a-p-s, net.org.

QUESTION: And then you’ve spoken several times to the urgency of this matter, and you also welcomed the EU holding a meeting about this. But the EU meeting is on September 14th. Unless I’m wrong, if today is September 3rd, how urgent do you think the EU is actually taking – thinks this problem is? Is this okay with the U.S.? I mean, if something is urgent, you generally schedule a meeting about it not 11 days away.

MR TONER: Well, I think it speaks to – and frankly, many EU leaders have spoken to this as well – to the fact that there needs to be a comprehensive approach. You’ve seen refugees arriving from the East to some of the countries – Hungary, for example – and frankly, those are kind of front-line states dealing with this influx. But there needs to be a more comprehensive – so we view this meeting as an opportunity to really forge ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but shouldn’t this be – if it’s that urgent, shouldn’t this meeting be held yesterday?

MR TONER: Well, I’ll let the EU speak – I’ll let the EU speak to that.

QUESTION: Well, you – but you welcomed it, so I want to —

MR TONER: I do welcome it, because —

QUESTION: Is this the kind of speed that you think is acceptable?

MR TONER: Well, we would welcome it in the sense that it would certainly speak to the kind of comprehensive approach that we feel needs to be applied here.

QUESTION: Is the Hungarian Government handling the influx of refugees properly in the U.S. view?

MR TONER: Properly or proper way? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.

QUESTION: Properly.

MR TONER: Well, again, I think I spoke to this a little bit when I – when I – before, prior. All countries have the right – sovereign right to manage their borders, but we would emphasize the need to ensure that human rights are respected, that proper screening and registration procedures are in place to allow these most vulnerable people to receive appropriate assistance and protection.

QUESTION: The government has been accused of changing the rules on how people can come into the country. First, it said, well, you just need to have your passport, and now they’re saying you need to have a certain kind of visa and it needs to have been processed in a certain way. And when we’re talking about people who have basically been on the run, it seems as if the rules have been changing before they could actually get to a place where they could try to figure out, okay, what’s my next step, whether it’s trying to ask for asylum here or trying to get to families somewhere else.

MR TONER: Well, I think there’s no question, as I said before, but there’s a very large number of extremely vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers trying to get into Europe. And it does pose a serious, and frankly, a difficult challenge to EU nations and other nations in the region. And it’s clear that these groups continue to arrive – large numbers in Greece and Italy, elsewhere – and that these people need appropriate assistance. So we applaud steps, and we’ve seen this of individual countries, some have taken to humanely accommodate these refugees, these arrivals, these migrants. We certainly support the provision of humanitarian aid and proper screening and registration procedures. And I think, speaking more broadly to what I was saying about a comprehensive approach, there is this agenda on migration that the EU is working to complete that’s – that does try to create this more comprehensive response to the situation.

Please.

QUESTION: On a different topic, The Washington Post

MR TONER: Are we done with – yeah, please. Oh, let’s finish on the topic and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because of the severity of the crisis affecting Europe, has there been any talk of looking at raising the level of U.S. funding to support the UN refugee effort?

MR TONER: You mean UNHCR?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, again, that’s primarily, is my understanding, where our humanitarian assistance, the 4.5 billion that I mentioned – it’s primarily funneled through the UNHCR. We’re constantly reassessing what we can give to support its ongoing operations. It certainly does good work, and as I said, it’s the primary vehicle through which we distribute our aid. Sorry.

Please. Are we still on —

QUESTION: Syria.

MR TONER: Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, refugees.

MR TONER: Let’s finish with Syria. I promise I’ll get to you. Are you on Syria or are you —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: Okay, great.

QUESTION: So I think you have seen the pictures of the three-year-old kid, Aylan Kurdi, circulate on the social media. Actually, her – his family is from the city of Kobani. And I remember several times I asked you and also John from this podium, is there any way that you can help the people, the areas that have been liberated, including Kobani, Tal Abyad, and Jazira and Afrin that most of the areas that controlled by YPG. And the answer was no. And I know you helped the Syrian refugees in Iraq, especially in the city of Duhok, and you helped the Syrian refugees in Turkey and in Jordan, other areas. But what prevents you to help the Syrians? They live in their areas but there’s no resources that they can stay there. The city is destroyed. Is there any way you can help them inside, especially Kobani and Tal Abyad, other areas?

MR TONER: I mean, a couple of thoughts. And I hope we – our answer wasn’t simply no. What we’ve talked to —

QUESTION: Kind of.

MR TONER: Kind of?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: What we’ve spoken to before is once these areas are liberated by, as you mentioned, YPG, there’s other forces who are effective in going after ISIL, what we want to see is a return to normalcy, to an open, inclusive government. We need to – and frankly, it’s one of the lines of effort that we talk about all the time in our coalition against ISIL is to re-establish governance, good governance, civil society. That’s support that needs to come in, as you correctly say, on the heels of liberation – that allows, creates the condition that allows those refugees who want to return to return.

So it’s certainly something – now, that said, in norther Syria it’s an extremely challenging environment, even more so than Iraq in some ways in terms of that – providing that kind of direct assistance, but certainly, it’s something we’re encouraging those forces on the ground to move towards.

QUESTION: But also the civilians, they need support because if you just continue to —

MR TONER: I agree, yeah. And again, this is a part of our overall efforts.

QUESTION: So but if you continue just to support the refugees in Iraq and Syria – so you will just basically indirectly encouraging people to leave that area to go there and to get assistance.

MR TONER: So I —

QUESTION: But several times, the civil – this Administration in those areas, if you recognize them or not, the cantons, they are the people that they are – running people’s daily affairs. They asked for the support and that’s the reason. It’s not ISIS, it’s the severe economic situation that the people, the families —

MR TONER: Well, in some cases it certainly is ISIS, and it’s certainly Assad’s unrelenting attacks on his own people that creates an untenable environment. I can give you the latest statistics, but the amount of Syrian citizens that Assad kills in any given week is appalling. But you’re absolutely right in the sense that the ultimate objective here is to create the conditions on the ground that allows these refugees to return.

QUESTION: But what prevents you to create that condition in, like, for example, Kobani? It’s really right across the border with Turkey that you can just help the people that they need the basic services.

MR TONER: I mean, I think that’s one – as I said, that’s one of our lines of effort. We’re trying to work in that regard. I’m not – I don’t have specifics on Kobani. I can try to get them for you, but no, we’ve said that many times. That’s part of the five lines of effort against ISIL, and one of them is clearly that kind of providing that support. And you’re right to mention we’ve done that and spoken about it and what we’ve done to newly liberated areas in Iraq because you want to see these populations to be able to return.

Are we done with Syria?

QUESTION: Syria.

MR TONER: Okay, sorry.

QUESTION: So —

MR TONER: I haven’t forgotten.

QUESTION: The State Department made a comment on ISIL’s potential – or reported use of chemical weapons, that it was a reminder for the need of a diplomatic solution. And you often use the word “political transition.” There’s been a lot of activity around political transition. What is this political transition looking like? I know you mentioned the peace process, but do you think this is culminating – do you envision this culminating in like a referendum or democratic elections?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: Like, I know what you don’t want. (Laughter.) We know what you don’t want, but what do you envision?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. So I would just – I would, frankly, refer you to the special representative for the UN, de Mistura, and also the Geneva communique, which does lay out kind of the process and how it would look. What we want to see is a moderate opposition coalesce. We want to see a political process take place that leads to a transition away from Assad. And we’ve been very clear that we don’t see the result of any kind of political resolution can include Assad. We view his as, frankly, the person who has helped create the kind of climate that exists, not only against – talking about the Assad regime’s abuses of his citizenry, but also creating the kind of environment that we see where groups like ISIL can thrive.

So what we want to see – I mean, I’m dumbing this down to some extent because as I said there’s many more people who are expert in this than I am, certainly, is this UN process take place; again, a moderate Syrian opposition arise; and for the aspirations and, frankly, hopes of the Syrian people be realized in a transitional government that doesn’t include Assad.

QUESTION: The – back to the attack real quick.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, I apologize.

QUESTION: So the report of ISIL’s use of chemical weapons. State Department, they came out pretty strongly yesterday, but in general these reports – why is your response mild when you compare it to Assad’s use of chemical weapons? When those reports came forward President Obama was making speeches every day, so was Kerry, to make the case against Assad. But we don’t see the same urgency here it seems.

MR TONER: Well, I certainly don’t want to give away – or give the sense that we’re not concerned by these reports. We’re looking into them. We’re investigating them very seriously. I can’t speak to – well, I can speak to the fact that any use by any party, be it state or non-state actor, of a chemical as a weapon of any kind is an abhorrent act, period. And frankly, that kind of behavior would be consistent with ISIL’s record of complete disregard for human rights; we’re seen that countless times, as well as international norms and values. So we take these reports seriously and we’ll continue to do our utmost to address our concerns and these concerns, the concerns of the international community. But I don’t have much to add beyond that. We’re —

QUESTION: And theories on where these chemicals came from?

MR TONER: No. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about the declared weapons by the Assad regime and what was undeclared. We’ve always been concerned about ISIL’s interest and intent to acquire a chemical weapon. But I don’t have any more details on where these might be coming from.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR TONER: Oh, Syria. Syria. And then we’ll finish – I think we’re kind of in Syria. We’re in that grey zone between Syria and Iraq.

QUESTION: Yeah. I apologize if you’ve already addressed this, because I haven’t been here all week, but the reports that the Russians are ramping up their military presence in Syria with military equipment or military personnel or military aircraft, depending on which report you read – does the Administration see any evidence of that?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve seen various press reports, as you said, that Russia may be deploying military personnel or aircraft to Syria. I can say we’re monitoring that very closely; we’re looking into it. We’re in touch with our partners in the region to try to get more information.

We’re unclear what these might be intended for or whether this is actually happening, but certainly, we would be concerned by any attempt to support the Assad regime with military personnel, with aircraft, with supplies of any kind, or funding, because we view it as destabilizing and counterproductive.

QUESTION: So that would be contradictory to Russia’s moves to find some sort of political solution, which the State Department has been working with —

MR TONER: Again, and I would repeat, what we’ve seen so far we’re looking into. We’ve seen these press reports and are looking into them. But we would view that type of activity as, as I said, destabilizing and counterproductive.

QUESTION: Just so we’re clear —

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: — in the middle of that answer you said you were unclear what these might be intended for or even whether – or whether they are even happening.

MR TONER: Yeah. Absolutely.

QUESTION: You’re not even certain that this is happening? Okay.

MR TONER: We don’t have – no, we’re looking into these and we’re talking – as I said, we’re talking to our partners in the region, we’re trying to get a clear understanding of what may be behind these reports.

QUESTION: Well, are you talking to the Russians?

MR TONER: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, when you say your partners in the region, I mean, it’s great to talk to the Jordanians about what Russia might or might not be doing next door, or the Israelis, or whoever, but have you asked the Russians what they’re – exactly what they’re doing?

MR TONER: We have conveyed our concerns.

QUESTION: All right. And then just to make —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And then just to make sure that —

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on this —

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: — that you don’t know if the Russians are supplying the Assad regime with troops or weapons or anything like that, but you do know that Iran is, right?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: So —

MR TONER: I mean, we’ve spoken about Iran’s support for —

QUESTION: So what happens if you prove – what happens if you come out and confirm that the Russians are supplying the – supplying Syria with – the Assad regime with —

MR TONER: Again, what we’ve said is —

QUESTION: Do they get a nuclear deal too? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: We’ve said that sanctions relief is only related to – and it’s not immediate.

QUESTION: So what happens?

MR TONER: It’s only if they comply with the —

QUESTION: I obviously – obviously, I was being sarcastic.

MR TONER: Yes. Oh, really?

QUESTION: But what happened – yeah. But if you can confirm —

MR TONER: No, I just think, again —

QUESTION: What – is there a consequence for Russia if they, in fact, they support —

MR TONER: Again, we don’t know —

QUESTION: I know. But if the report is borne out —

MR TONER: So you’re asking me —

QUESTION: — is there a consequence or not?

MR TONER: You’re asking me to respond to a hypothetical, which we’re loath to do from the podium.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: What I have said is, is that we – we have said this in the past, frankly – we see any support of military personnel, of equipment, of funding for Assad’s regime, that supports Assad’s regime, as counterproductive.

QUESTION: Right, right. I know, but does it draw any consequence?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it – what we want to see here is a political process, a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria, and we’d view that as counterproductive to that.

QUESTION: And so just to clarify.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Did you say you had conveyed your concerns about these reports to the Russians?

MR TONER: I believe so. I’ll have to check on that. But again, we’re still looking at these reports —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: — so I’m not sure that we’ve actually contacted them about them yet.

QUESTION: China?

MR TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned previously that you had hoped that the Chinese military parade would be future-looking. Now that China has concluded its VOJ commemoration ceremonies, did it live up to your expectations?

MR TONER: Did it live up to our expectations?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: Well, again, I think many of you or hopefully all of you saw the Secretary’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the formal end of World War II in the Pacific. We honor and respect the sacrifices made by many nations, including China, 70 years ago and we believe that all parties should take a reconciliatory approach to the end of World War II. Certainly, as the President noted in his statement, the United States relationship with Japan over the last 70 years has been a model of the power of reconciliation.

So I guess, as I said or reiterated before, we certainly don’t question or challenge Beijing’s right or authority to host these kind of commemorative events, and we’ve consistently shared with our Chinese counterparts our desire to see these types of events highlight the themes of reconciliation and healing.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MR TONER: Are we on this topic? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just follow up?

MR TONER: Are you on this topic?

QUESTION: No, but if I could just – The Washington Post

MR TONER: You’ve been waiting so long, and then I promise —

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: I want to follow up.

QUESTION: Yeah, I also want to —

MR TONER: I’ll get back to your guys.

QUESTION: The Washington Post reported today that Bryan Pagliano, a former Clinton campaign staffer, became an IT employee at the State Department while she was secretary. Is it unprecedented for a secretary of state’s former campaign staffer to get an IT job at the State Department? And has Secretary Kerry employed any former campaign staffers as IT people at the State Department?

MR TONER: Okay, that was a very quickly-read question —

QUESTION: I’m sorry, do you want —

MR TONER: — with a lot of components to it.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR TONER: So your – drilling down to your essential question, you were asking whether it was okay or proper for —

QUESTION: If it was unprecedented —

MR TONER: If it was unprecedented.

QUESTION: — for a secretary of state’s former campaign staffer to get an IT job at the State Department.

QUESTION: And you can also put in there: How many secretaries of state were former presidential candidates?

MR TONER: Good question. Sorry, to answer your question —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: — I don’t know that it was unprecedented. I think that it depends on his qualifications. I can’t speak to the hiring decisions of former Secretary Clinton or her staff. Certainly, anyone who worked on her campaign, if they had the necessary skills set, would be certainly welcome to apply for an IT job anywhere, including the State Department. But I can’t speak to what decisions were made about that hiring at that time. That’s something for her staff or for her to answer.

QUESTION: I have a couple —

QUESTION: China?

QUESTION: No, hold on a second. If we’re going to – if we’re on Mr. Pagliano I have —

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I realize I opened a —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Please, let’s go ahead, and then I promise I’ll get to China – back to China.

QUESTION: So are – do you have anything more to say about the military parade, one way or another?

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: Okay, I didn’t think so. So Mr. Pagliano: Does the State Department have a problem with him through his lawyer saying he’s going to plead the Fifth, or take the Fifth Amendment, when he’s asked to appear?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, our desire, our commitment throughout this has been to cooperate with the Benghazi Committee and to be responsive to congressional inquiries, which I believe and we believe we have been. But we certainly respect the constitutional rights of individuals, so —

QUESTION: Well, all right, so his status right now is that he is in – a contractor – he’s still working at the State Department but not employed by the State Department. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Yes. So he was – just to share what I have on him, he was employed by the State Department from May 2009 through February 2013 as an IT specialist, and now he currently serves as a contractor working in the Bureau of Information Resource Management.

QUESTION: All right. If, in fact, the Department – and really, this is just – I don’t know. If, in fact, the Department is encouraging employee – he’s being asked to testify or to speak to or to talk to the committee about his time when he was working for the State Department, I don’t think they care what he did necessarily after 2013. Why is it that you would not encourage him to actually answer their questions? Why do you not have an issue with him pleading, taking the Fifth Amendment?

MR TONER: Well, because (a) it’s his constitutional right, and (b) he has his own lawyer and his own counsel, and —

QUESTION: Yeah, but if you want to be truly open – I’m not saying that you could force him to, but why —

MR TONER: Well, that’s why I – I mean, I – sorry. We are – this Department is committed to being responsive —

QUESTION: Well, that – but if you’re not —

MR TONER: — both to the committee as well as congressional inquiries. But it —

QUESTION: So have you said, “Hey, we think it would be a good idea for you to go up there and answer the” – I mean, the campaign says that they have told him that.

MR TONER: I am aware of what the campaign has said. But —

QUESTION: So what about this building? I mean, if the building is seriously honest – is honest about seriously wanting to address all the issues that they’re – that the committee is asking, it would seem to me that you would tell this guy, “Hey, we can’t force you but we think that it would be a good idea for you to get up there and to answer their questions and not plead – take the Fifth Amendment.”

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, first of all we weren’t consulted by – about his decision. And again, he has his own legal counsel.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he works in this building right now. I mean, not for the – or in some annex of the building.

MR TONER: But again, we didn’t – we were not aware or consulted about this decision. We didn’t have any contact with him.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Well, then now —

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But you were.

QUESTION: — at this moment in time, though, would you say that you – would people in this building like him, whether you can force him or not, to answer the committee’s questions?

MR TONER: Again, I’d just stay where I was, which is that we respect the constitutional rights of individuals, and that is – asserting one’s Fifth Amendment is a constitutional right.

QUESTION: So if someone – if a current or former Department employee goes up there and refuses to answer questions, that’s not an issue for you?

MR TONER: It – whether it is or isn’t, it’s their constitutional right to do so.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but wouldn’t – if you have nothing to hide and you want to come clean or – “come clean,” that’s a bad word.

MR TONER: It is.

QUESTION: If you really have nothing to hide, why wouldn’t you encourage this person to answer the questions, as the campaign has said?

QUESTION: Why would you ever encourage somebody to voluntarily give up their constitutional rights?

MR TONER: I’m not encouraging any – wait, or – precisely. I mean, in that sense, you’re right. I’m saying we’re not – we weren’t consulted in his decision. He has pleaded the Fifth, so to speak. It’s certainly not an admission of guilt, as we all know, but it’s his constitutional right, so we respect that.

QUESTION: Can I —

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: I have a – I’d asked you a question the other day and you said you’d get me an answer to it —

MR TONER: Did I? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — and the question was whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to secretaries of state? Does it?

MR TONER: So – (laughter) – yeah. So I did do some research into this, as did others. It is – the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants. So – and what do I mean by that? I mean it’s not – for example, there’s things in there about reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle. Certainly, that doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department.

So it’s – what’s contained in the Foreign Affairs Manual – and this is – I apologize but this is a kind of an in-the-weeds question – all of that is not necessarily relevant to, for example, ambassadors or secretaries of state or senior Department officials. I mean, if I can say what I think the essence of your question was, and I’m sorry if this is presumptive, but was whether they are bound by the responsibility to protect classified information. That certainly is true, that any Secretary of State, any senior State Department official is bound by that. And I spoke to this the other day, is that any individual, whether you’re the Secretary of State on down, takes that responsibility seriously.

QUESTION: But my question —

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, I really – I was not asking whether they were bound by every aspect of it, including those that are not relevant to them. It was whether they’re bound – basically whether they’re bound by the things that are relevant to them.

So to take the one that you raised, which is not whether they’re bound to protect classified information or to take seriously the responsibility to protect classified information, the question would be then, since you raised that as a specific: Are they bound – are secretaries of state bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual with regard to the handling of classified information?

MR TONER: I would say, as they are pertinent to the – and again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me – but as they are pertinent to the responsibility to protect and safeguard classified information, and we’ve talked about this, frankly, ad nauseum about the gradations and how we classify stuff and how we look at it. But as those rules – they apply to everyone in the State Department, including, for example, politically appointed ambassadors, and certainly by a secretary of state who is appointed by the President and, frankly, serves at the pleasure of the President and is not a Foreign Service officer in that regard or a civil servant.

QUESTION: So insofar as the regulations of the Foreign Affairs Manual touch on the protection of classified information, they apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have it in front of me but – and I’m not trying to parse this, but in a sense I am. Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go back —

QUESTION: That didn’t seem like a parse to me.

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: I just want – am going to go back to Pagliano for one second. And that is —

MR TONER: Sorry, I’ll get to you in a moment. I apologize.

QUESTION: So you weren’t consulted. Does the State Department have any equity in what he might have said should he – or might say should he decide to speak? I mean, would you like to have someone present for him? And then non-hypothetically, Cheryl Mills is up before the committee today. Was there anyone from the State Department with her or in attendance? It seems to me that you would have an interest at least in what she said. I don’t know if the committee will allow them in, but did you have anyone or did you try to get anyone in there to hear what she might say?

MR TONER: On – in the case of Cheryl Mills testifying, I’ll have to check on that. I don’t believe we had anybody in the meeting with her.

And your first question? I’m sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, in —

MR TONER: Oh, whether we have —

QUESTION: And in both cases —

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — with both people and in terms of Jake Sullivan tomorrow, are they – they have attorneys, I presume their own ones.

MR TONER: They do.

QUESTION: But is there any State Department legal involvement in this?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. What I would say – sorry, going back to both Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan, as I said before, we’re committed obviously to cooperating with the Benghazi committee, and that certainly includes – that would include facilitating the – their testimony, the testimony of former officials, and that would include access to their State Department records. But this is what we’ve done with, I think, 30-some-odd witnesses who’ve already appeared before the committee. But as to being somebody – having someone in the room, I don’t believe so, but I’ll double-check on that.

QUESTION: Well, okay. If that applies to them and they are former officials, why does it also not apply to Mr. Pagliano?

MR TONER: Again, he – he is —

QUESTION: I mean, are you facilitating his testimony?

MR TONER: We weren’t consulted. He – and he has counsel so – yeah.

QUESTION: So no one from – so the committee never approached you about him?

MR TONER: I believe not, but I’d have to check on that.

Yeah, let’s finish with this.

QUESTION: There’s now a report that Mr. Pagliano has also decided – it’s a Yahoo News report that he has also decided – he’s also declined to speak to the FBI and to the State Department Inspector General, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. I just want to make sure that your answer applies to those two other bodies as well, the IG and the FBI. If he wants to invoke his right to – his Fifth Amendment rights with them, that’s fine with you too?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, “fine” would be —

QUESTION: That’s his choice.

MR TONER: I mean, right. I mean, that’s a little glib. I think what we’re – it’s his choice, exactly, and he has legal counsel. He has sought legal counsel. He has made his decision.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the Bureau of Industry and Security has added 29 Russian persons – that includes companies – to the sanctions list, and it says, “The BIS is taking this action to ensure the efficacy of existing sanctions on the Russian Federation for violating international law and fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” What does Russia do in Ukraine right now that warrants an update of sanctions?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you said – you mentioned – who was behind the upgrade in sanctions? I apologize, I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: The Bureau of Industry and Security.

MR TONER: Bureau of Industry and Security here in the United States?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: It’s not State Department. It’s the Commerce Department.

MR TONER: Right, the Commerce Department. I apologize, I just didn’t – I believe – and I may be wrong, but I believe this is in line with ongoing sanctions strengthening and what we talked about a couple weeks ago here, which is when we’re constantly freshening our sanctions and our sanctions are in place because of Russia’s behavior, support for the separatists, ongoing support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. And we want to keep those sanctions as current as possible. In any kind of sanctions regime there’s obviously workarounds that develop over time, so we constantly look at those and ways to strengthen them and close those kind of workarounds in order to keep them both knitted up with EU sanctions as well as Canadian sanctions, but also to make sure that they’re airtight, for lack of a better term.

QUESTION: As I understand before when you said they’re not indefinite, they’re conditional, right?

MR TONER: They are conditional, yeah.

QUESTION: What violations by Russia at this point right now warrant such tightening, strengthening of the sanctions?

MR TONER: Again, if – again, if we’re talking about Ukraine, specific to eastern Ukraine, I mean, we’ve seen —

QUESTION: Yeah. What is – is Russia doing right now?

MR TONER: What we’ve seen is – sorry, I didn’t mean to – we’ve seen, frankly, writ large, a lack of serious effort to comply with any of the commitments that Russia and the separatists have made regarding Minsk. And we’ve seen ongoing violations of the ceasefire, and I know we’ve been back forth on that or who’s to blame for that. We believe the preponderance of those ceasefire violations are on the part of separatist forces – again, supplied and also helped by Russian military.

QUESTION: Can you give some specifics? Exactly what violations, what ceasefire – how is Russia —

MR TONER: Well, I mean, again – I mean, I can – we’ve got many examples. Obviously, I’d refer you to the OSCE. Their monitors are on the ground and their mandate or their —

QUESTION: But you’re making a judgment that Russia is involved in that, so —

MR TONER: Sorry, their – but their – sorry, let me finish.

QUESTION: — how do you decide?

MR TONER: Their mission is to look at and survey all of the disputed territory, but also to monitor the ceasefire, which is a central part of the Minsk commitments. We’ve seen a new ceasefire come into effect today. We hope that that will bear fruit and solidify. We’ve seen relative calm today, but I think we’ve continued to see violations on the part of Russia and the part of the separatists, and to that regard —

QUESTION: But you can’t name them, right? Can you?

MR TONER: Sure, I can, yes. If you want to wait while I get to it, I’m happy to give you chapter and verse.

I mean, first of all, the larger picture: There would be no conflict in eastern Ukraine if Russia were not providing tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, military personnel to the separatists. I think we all understand that. We’ve made that very clear over many months, including showing satellite imagery that shows Russian troops, command and control on the ground in eastern Ukraine. They’ve seized —

QUESTION: Do you have the recent – very recent images showing —

MR TONER: Sure, we do. I don’t have them in front of me, but we’ve seen continued destabilizing actions on the part of Russia in eastern Ukraine. We’ve – now have this ceasefire in place, but we remain concerned about further ceasefire activities.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: But there are no specifics yet – what exact – what violations. Do you have any in front of you? Because by many accounts, this has been the calmest I can say week for sure in probably the whole year. Do —

MR TONER: That’s not true. I mean, we’ve seen repeatedly within the past months Russian separatist forces have launched dozens of attacks across the line of control, killing more than a dozen Ukrainian soldiers, injuring dozens of others. I was very clear: There is a new ceasefire initiative set in place today, frankly on the part of the Ukrainian Government. We hope that holds. We’re cautiously optimistic, but we haven’t – we’ve seen in the past these ceasefire violations continue, and the vast majority of them are on the part of the separatists.

Go ahead. I’m sorry, did you have a question?

QUESTION: I – well, I have a question on sanctions, but it’s Russia and China.

MR TONER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: The Financial Times has a story out today citing – just out citing three U.S. officials as saying that the United States is – and let me get the exact language – “preparing to sanction Chinese companies connected to the cyber theft of U.S. intellectual property as early as next week.” It cites the officials as saying sanctions would probably be next week before President Xi’s trip, that the United States is also considering sanctions against Russian individuals and companies for cyber attacks. Is that right? Are you actually considering sanctioning the Chinese next week?

MR TONER: So as you know —

QUESTION: Wasn’t this in The Washington Post

QUESTION: Well, the Chinese thing – they said within the next – they said within the next two weeks, and now we’ve got another report suggesting it’s next week, so I guess you’re right.

MR TONER: So as you know, when it comes to economic sanctions, we don’t preview any kind of sanctions beforehand for obvious reasons. We don’t want to give a heads-up to those who may be potential targets of economic sanctions to begin to take steps to evade sanctions activity.

QUESTION: Well, three U.S. officials previewed them to The Financial Times.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Three U.S. officials previewed them to The Financial Times.

MR TONER: I can’t speak to people speaking on background or leaking information.

QUESTION: And by saying that, you’re not —

MR TONER: That’s, frankly, an unfortunate reality of the world we live in.

QUESTION: By saying that, you’re not suggesting that there will be any action taken next week.

MR TONER: Exactly. I certainly have nothing to announce. I think we’ve spoken very clearly about the executive order the President signed that gives authority to the Secretary of the Treasury so he can impose sanctions on – against those who carry out cyber attacks, and we’ve obviously raised our concerns about China’s activity in this sphere.

QUESTION: That executive order gives the authority to the Secretary of Treasury, correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Not to the Secretary of State.

MR TONER: So I would – yes, I would —

QUESTION: So are questions about this best directed to you at this podium or to the Treasury Department?

MR TONER: I would encourage you to reach out to the Department of Treasury.

QUESTION: All right. Can I ask – I’ve got three very brief ones on the Mideast, and I know you’re going to doubt that they’re brief, but they are. One is – I just want to know, I asked you the other day about a report, NGO report, about UNRWA. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, and I’m – I apologize; I have not. I apologize. That’s on me.

QUESTION: All right, okay. Can —

MR TONER: I will get you answer before the end of day today.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, apparently there was an incident —

MR TONER: Mark that. I will – that’s my bad, I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Seriously.

QUESTION: There was an incident today in Hebron where five American students were attacked – firebomb. They’re apparently okay, but I’m just wondering if you can —

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, obviously – so you’re right. We’re just getting the details just before walking out here – condemn any acts of violence and continue to urge all parties to take steps to decrease tensions and refrain from provocative acts and rhetoric.

QUESTION: Okay. But you – you don’t have any more details about —

MR TONER: I don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: And then lastly, there are some calls in the Israeli Government to – for their – I guess I don’t know what you’d call them. Rules of engagement? I don’t know. How to deal with – how police deal with stone-throwers, with some calls for the police to be able to use live fire. One, are you aware of this? And two, if you are, have you said anything to the Israelis about it? Do you have any opinion one way or the other or is this a strictly internal matter for them to deal with?

MR TONER: I mean, obviously, it’s up to the Israeli Government to make decisions about its security and its – but as we often say in these cases, we would ask all parties or all sides to show restraint. That said, I don’t know that we’ve conveyed that directly to the Israeli Government. I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Okay, can you find out?

MR TONER: Sure.

QUESTION: And also if the specific – if your call for all sides to be showing restraint, would that include you calling for the Israelis not to use live fire against people, some of them – who often are teenagers throwing stones?

MR TONER: Okay.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Can we go back to China?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish with China. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Okay. South Korean President Park was one of the guests of honor at the military parade, and this – her attendance is seen as a sign that the relations between the two countries are growing stronger. And do you have any concern at all that South Korea, which is one of the key U.S. ally, is getting too close to China?

MR TONER: No. I mean, it’s – that’s a sovereign decision for the Republic of South Korea to make. Obviously, we would encourage strong relations in the region and we consider South Korea to be a strong partner and ally.

QUESTION: Do you support good relations between Korea and China?

MR TONER: Do I – I think I answered that. I mean, that’s a decision for the Government of South Korea to make how it relates to other countries in the region. Certainly, as much dialogue, as much cooperative – or cooperation there can be between South Korea and China on a range of issues affecting the region I think is for the betterment of the region.

QUESTION: One more on China.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you saw the reports of I think it was five Chinese ships in the Bering Strait international waters. What are your thoughts on that?

MR TONER: What are my thoughts? That’s well put. No, we’re aware, obviously, of the ships – the five, as you said, People’s Liberation Army, navy ships – in the Bering Sea. This is certainly the first time we’ve observed Chinese navy ships in the Bering Sea. But that said, we certainly respect the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: Why the “that said”?

MR TONER: Not “that said.” I’m just saying that we would – sorry, I didn’t mean to add – added emphasis to that. I’m just saying that we believe that they have the right to be there as long as they’re operating in accordance with international law.

Please.

QUESTION: When President Park Geun-hye met with President Xi Jinping, they agreed to hold a trilateral summit with Japan later this year. What – how does the U.S. view this and what role do you anticipate the U.S. will —

MR TONER: You’re talking a trilateral summit between China, Japan —

QUESTION: China, Japan, and South Korea.

MR TONER: And South Korea.

QUESTION: Later this year.

MR TONER: I would transfer all my remarks that I just said about the – to the gentleman about South Korea and closer relations to the same thing. Look, we consider ourselves – as you all well know, the United States considers itself to be an Asian power. We’re deeply rooted in Asia. We’ve spoken to that many times. But as much as we’d – as much as there can be increased cooperation between the other countries in Asia, that’s, we believe, to the betterment of the region.

QUESTION: An Asian power or a Pacific power?

MR TONER: Pacific power, thank you.

QUESTION: And what about the role that —

QUESTION: Because when you say you’re —

MR TONER: Pacific power, sorry.

QUESTION: But when you’re deep – you say you’re deeply rooted in Asia, what – is Hawaii part of Asia now? Guam?

MR TONER: We’re a Pacific, sorry.

QUESTION: And what about the role that you anticipate the U.S. to have?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of a role.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Yesterday when President Xi Jinping gave the remarks and he mentioned no matter how much stronger China may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. And at the same time, he also announced the military reduction by 300,000. What is your reaction to that? And is that some gesture the United States would welcome China to take?

MR TONER: You said he announced a reduction —

QUESTION: A military reduction by 300,000 personnel.

MR TONER: Thousand personnel.

QUESTION: In PLA.

MR TONER: In PLA. Yeah, I mean, that’s ultimately a decision for the Chinese Government to make with regards to its own national security, its own military planning. We don’t have any particular comment to that. In the way back.

QUESTION: And I just have a question on religious persecution in the Middle East if we can go back to that. The archbishop of Iraq says that’s what’s happening to Christians at the hands of ISIS and in other areas of the Middle East is nothing short of genocide. Can you just go over the U.S. policy regarding persecuted Christians who are looking to enter the United States?

MR TONER: Persecuted Christians from Iraq who are looking to enter into the United States?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: You mean seek asylum here?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm, yes.

MR TONER: I don’t have an update, frankly. I mean, certainly, speaking broadly, we take religious freedom very seriously. We – I mean, it’s no surprise ISIL would – is just carrying out brutal attacks and treating these individuals with its trademark brutality. But I don’t have specific figures, if that’s what you’re looking for, in terms of policy. I mean, asylum seekers come in all religions, all races, all political leanings. What matters is that we look at their cases individually and whether they have compelling reasons to seek asylum. But I don’t have specific details on that. I can try to get more.

QUESTION: And then real —

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up to that? The organization Minority Humanity Foundation says that 27 Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution by ISIS are detained in San – in a San Diego jail for illegally entering the U.S. Why are they deemed political refugees instead of illegal immigrants? Have you heard about that?

MR TONER: Why aren’t they deemed, or why are they deemed political – I just don’t have the specifics of the case. I’ll have to – and frankly, it may be a DHS case. I’m not trying to —

QUESTION: That’s all right.

MR TONER: — push you away here, but I’ll have to look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)

Human Rights