August 11, 2015
Index for Today’s Briefing
2:06 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Hey everyone, welcome to the State Department. Happy Tuesday, and I’ll take your questions. I don’t have anything at the top, so please go ahead. I’ll go with you first, sir.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Reuters.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Iraq’s parliament approved Prime Minister Abadi’s wide-ranging reforms. How much did the United States know about these reforms, and are there any sort of redlines, because there seems to be some concern that if the reforms go too far they could alienate the Sunnis and the political process? If you could comment on that.
MR TONER: Well, first in terms of the reforms, we certainly applaud the unity that was shown by Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum in moving forward on Prime Minister’s Abadi’s proposals, which, as you know, were aimed at streamlining the government and addressing corruption. And we’d note that these measures were unanimously approved by the Council of Ministries – Ministers, rather, earlier today.
So we certainly commend Prime Minister Abadi’s initiative to promote improved transparency and government services, and this is certainly something he pledged when he came into power to govern more inclusively. So we certainly believe that he’s doing so through these measures that were adopted, and expect he’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: There were specific people in the list, including former Prime Minister Maliki, who was removed. Do you share Mr. Abadi’s concern or Mr. Abadi’s position that those people are corrupt people that had to be removed?
MR TONER: Well, first of all, I think the efforts were designed, as I said, to streamline the government. Those are obviously – this is an internal issue for the Iraqi Government. What we’re looking at, the bigger picture, is – as I said, is his efforts to govern more inclusively, and we think that these measures, as adopted, will do that. But —
QUESTION: So you don’t have any issue with those specific people who have been fired, basically, or removed from power?
MR TONER: Again, I think I spoke to what we’re looking for here – more inclusive governance, a more streamlined process, better transparency. And certainly, as you mentioned, one of the goals is to fight corruption, but I’m not going to speak to individuals. I’m just going to say that as a matter of a broader concern to us – please, go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: Can I move on to Syria?
MR TONER: Are we done with Iraq? Great.
QUESTION: I mean, there’s been a lot of talk about the rebel forces and them being captured and just not being able to stand up. Could you talk a little bit about what you think needs to be done to get a credible rebel force on the ground in Syria to fight ISIS? I mean, now the U.S. believes five of the six rebels they trained and equipped have been captured, so they’re under constant attack. What needs to be done?
MR TONER: Well, look, and many people from the Department of Defense, from the Pentagon, people more – with more expertise than I have on this matter have spoken to this issue. And I think recognizing that this has been a difficult process to vet these people, to train them, to get them back into what is a very fluid, dynamic situation where, as we all know from last week, they’re under threat from a variety of forces. They’re not just there to – I mean, they’re there to attack and take the fight to ISIL, but they’re under threat from other groups and entities in that region. So it’s a very fluid, very difficult situation. It remains a challenge.
That said, we’re committed to building the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition and we remain dedicated to that. But we need to —
QUESTION: Do you —
MR TONER: And sorry, just to finish. But – and we – obviously, as you noted in your question, we need to grow the capacity. We need more people going through the pipeline and getting out to the field.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate working more with the YPG Kurds since the train and equip rebels that you have have virtually evaporated as a force?
MR TONER: Well, I think – and we’ve talked somewhat about this – part of the reason – and we’ve reached this agreement with Turkey to use Incirlik – is not just the YPG, the Kurds there, but there’s Turkoman, there’s Syrian Arabs as well, and these have been effective fighting forces as well against ISIL. So certainly, we support their efforts to clean that region out and to push ISIL out from northern Syria.
QUESTION: So you do anticipate then more collaboration and cooperation?
MR TONER: I don’t know if I want to say more or just to say we’re going to maintain that. I mean, that’s obviously behind the agreement that we have with Turkey, which is – and again, I’m not – I mean, the YPD have been very efficient, but it’s not just them. It’s the Turkoman, it’s the Arabs as well.
QUESTION: Same topic?
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: The deputy foreign minister of Turkey is saying that the U.S. and Turkey have reached an official agreement on establishing a safe zone, safe area, whatever language you want to call it, in northwestern Syria. Is that true that there is a so-called safe zone or safe area that has been officially designated for fighting ISIL?
MR TONER: Sure. What we – our understanding is, is that Turkey has granted the United States expanded access to Turkish facilities to enhance air operations against ISIL. We’ve been pretty clear from the podium and elsewhere saying there’s no zone, no safe haven. We’re not talking about that here. What we’re talking about is a sustained effort to drive ISIL out of the region.
QUESTION: So you —
MR TONER: So we’ve been very careful about not to put monikers or descriptive adjectives on how – describing what this area’s going to look like, except to say we’re – our effort is focused on driving ISIL out of the region.
QUESTION: But are you confirming or denying that there is an official agreement on a certain amount of territory inside Syria where the coalition, with Turkey’s help, is going to be going after ISIL?
MR TONER: I think I would just say, again, we’ve agreed on using Turkish facilities to enhance our air operations against ISIL, and those efforts will continue. And then beyond that, we remain in discussion with Turkey about – and that includes evaluating options on how to – on more effective means to counter ISIL in the region.
QUESTION: The deputy —
QUESTION: It sounds like you’re trying to – it sounds like you’re denying it.
QUESTION: Right, I mean – sorry, Elise —
MR TONER: I’m not. I’m just – I’m not going to characterize it as a safe haven or an anti-ISIL zone.
QUESTION: Well, the Iraqi – well, the deputy foreign minister is also claiming that as part of this agreement – which it sounds as if the U.S. has not officially reached – that the U.S. has agreed to attack not just ISIL fighters within this area, but also attack any Kurdish fighters who are in that area, ostensibly because the Turks consider the Kurds as some kind of threat.
MR TONER: Again, I haven’t seen those remarks. We’ve been clear when talking about the PKK that they are an FTO – a foreign terrorist organization – and we support Turkey’s right to self-defense against them. That’s separate and apart from our anti-ISIL efforts in the region.
QUESTION: Is it helpful to have —
MR TONER: Just one more. That’s a —
QUESTION: Is it helpful to have officials in the Turkish Government making these kinds of claims and saying that Washington has signed off on actions that clearly are what the Turkish Government would want to achieve?
MR TONER: Well, look, I haven’t actually – I haven’t seen the actual remarks. I’m just telling you what our understanding is here, which is that we have an agreement to use Turkish facilities to enhance our air operations against ISIL on the ground. We are in ongoing discussions about other measures or efforts that we can take to help take the fight to ISIL and clear that zone.
Go ahead, Brad. Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Just on the Turkish claim that the U.S. would engage in any activity against PKK, you would not —
MR TONER: Sorry, one more time. The —
QUESTION: The Turkish claim —
MR TONER: Yeah, on the claim there —
QUESTION: — about U.S. military – potential U.S. military activity against PKK. The U.S. would not be engaged in any —
MR TONER: Our focus is on ISIL.
QUESTION: And you do not have any congressional authorization, there is no authorization for the use of military force against the PKK, is there?
MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.
QUESTION: And I just wanted to follow up on yesterday.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: We asked a couple times about Mazen Darwish. Since the U.S. put a lot of great calls into his release and now he has some level of a release, do you have a response to this action by the Syrian Government?
MR TONER: About his release?
MR TONER: Good question. Let me – I think we do have some kind of comment. I’ll get back to you on that.
MR TONER: Sorry, Brad.
QUESTION: A quick one on Iran deal?
MR TONER: Please, yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more question on this, please? Sorry.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Let’s finish up and then we’ll go to you, Elise.
QUESTION: So are you saying that there is – because according to the deputy Turkish foreign minister, there is actually going to be a zone where the PYD is not allowed to be in. So are you saying there is no zone that is banned for the PYD in northern Syria? Everywhere they can go and they can go after ISIS everywhere they want?
MR TONER: So what we —
QUESTION: The PYD.
MR TONER: Again, what we’re —
QUESTION: The YPG.
MR TONER: No, there’s no agreement on some kind of zone. What we have talked about and what we have agreed on is, as I said, using Turkish facilities, take the fight against ISIL in northern Syria, clear that area with – and we talked a lot about this – with bringing in – bringing back, rather – with the goal of bringing back, rather, local government, local autonomous governments, and those refugees who want to return can return. So we’re trying to get ISIL out of the picture and then re-establish – for those refugees who want to return, re-establish a secure environment for them to do so.
QUESTION: On the Iran deal, Secretary Kerry just said something like warning that if the Congress rejects the deal, that there’s a danger that the U.S. could lose its – the dollar as the reserve currency around the world, and I’m just wondering where that charge would come into play. Are you hearing that from Treasury analysts, or like, where does that – where was that coming from?
MR TONER: Yeah, that’s – you know what, I’m sorry. You’re talking about from his talk he just gave at the Iran – from the Thomson Reuters —
QUESTION: I think it’s an argument that I’ve heard the President and the Secretary and Secretary Lew make —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — but I just don’t know where that’s —
MR TONER: Yeah, I would have to check on that.
MR TONER: I apologize; I don’t have that in front of me.
QUESTION: Can I ask you as well —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The Secretary makes the argument that if Congress votes down the deal there would be no inspections. I thought that inspections long predated the Iran deal – maybe not at the level you hoped to have them at, but they are an NPT member and an IAEA member and they’ve had inspections in Iran forever, I think. Is that not right?
MR TONER: Well, again, you’re right to note that the level of inspections would be a lot less. My understanding, though, is that there would be, just as the Secretary said, that if we didn’t enact this deal that we won’t have, again, the unprecedented level of inspections on Iran.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s the – and then the other thing that I was a little confused by was this notion that’s – not just he but others have made that if Congress votes down the deal, Iran wouldn’t be subject to restrictions on its nuclear program. So are they no longer subject to any restrictions from the United Nations? Have those all vanished now that this deal takes its place?
MR TONER: Well, again – and we’ve – he’s talked a lot about this as have others. The sanctions regime would potentially unravel and collapse, and so then Iran could pursue its nuclear program unconstrained. And it’s already, as we talked about, a threshold state in terms of nuclear capabilities or obtaining a nuclear weapon. So again, the deal would keep that – those sanctions in place, and then until – or as Iran complies with the deal, then those sanctions – some sanctions relief would come into effect.
QUESTION: So when he’s talking about unconstrained, he’s talking about it in the sense of pressure, not in a legal sense? Because they would still be legally prevented from getting a nuclear weapon as a member of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as member of various —
MR TONER: I’d have to check on that, but I think – I know that they – that the sanctions regime would be considerably weakened.
MR TONER: Yeah. Because there would be no – I mean, we’d be left with unilateral sanctions against them. And frankly, the rest of the world, as we’ve talked about many times, would – in the absence of a deal —
MR TONER: — the very strong multilateral or UN sanctions be put in place.
QUESTION: But you could also snap those sanctions back at the UN?
MR TONER: The snapback does remain. Yes, that’s right.
QUESTION: So in theory, punishments are – you have the ability to put constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and on Iran’s economy if you so choose, deal or no deal.
MR TONER: Well, again, with the deal – with no deal, again, we would lose the credibility that we have built up, we would lose our P5+1 partners and their willingness to enact a deal and to keep the pressure on Iran until it complies, obviously, with the IAEA and grants the access we need. So I mean, I think the concern here is that without a deal all of that falls to the wayside.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR TONER: Please. Yeah, please.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, following up your remarks from this podium yesterday, has anyone from the State Department reached out to Pakistan also for reducing tensions between the two countries?
MR TONER: You’re talking about between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Afghanistan and Pakistan, yes.
MR TONER: We’re in constant contact. I don’t have anything new to report or to say.
QUESTION: Do you agree with Afghanistan’s statements that the terrorist attacks were from across the border, from safe havens across the border?
MR TONER: You’re talking about the terrorist attacks over the weekend?
QUESTION: Yeah, in Kabul.
MR TONER: I don’t have any other information to share about that, but obviously, we condemn those attacks.
Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Yesterday we were told that there was a phone call with the Afghan president, but Pakistan was mentioned in the statement. So was anybody from this building or from the U.S. Administration did speak to anybody in Pakistan counterparts, or the podium was used to tell them that get your act together?
MR TONER: I’m not aware of any – certainly, any calls at the Secretary’s level. As you noted, he did talk to the Afghan president, again, to express our deep condolences at the tragedies over the weekend. But we are in constant contact with the Pakistani Government and express our concerns on a variety of things, including counterterrorism.
QUESTION: But I had also asked yesterday about that such statements from this podium have been released. And it’s been seven years since the Mumbai attacks, and six Americans died. What Pakistan has done? And we – are we just going to just – is there something that we don’t know that’s going on, what is —
MR TONER: Well, I mean, you’re talking about Mumbai specifically.
MR TONER: I mean, we’ve been very clear – President Obama’s spoken to this – that we want to see the Mumbai perpetrators, the financiers, the sponsors held accountable for their crimes. We continue to follow the criminal proceedings closely and we urge additional actions to prevent such an attack from ever happening again.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. assisting Afghanistan in tracing out who were behind these attacks?
MR TONER: I’m not aware that we’re assisting them in the investigations, but certainly we’re providing security assistance to them. And – but I’m not aware of anything specific in terms of these investigations.
QUESTION: In view of these series of attacks in Kabul over the last one week, what’s the level of security of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul?
MR TONER: Well, we don’t speak to our security posture.
QUESTION: Has it increased?
MR TONER: But I mean, look, it’s – these have been attacks in and around Kabul. It’s – there’s been, as I think we noted yesterday, a rise in civilian casualties. So certainly it’s a very – a very sensitive security environment. So we take precautions as needed.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Guantanamo?
MR TONER: Sure. But – in the back.
MR TONER: Sorry. Sorry, Ros, I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Mark, what is your reaction to reports that investigators in the MH17 crash may have found what are Russian – fragments from Russian surface-to-air missiles? First of all, what’s your reaction? And secondly, if this is indeed the case, how might the – it affect U.S. reaction? Would the U.S. look at exerting any additional pressure on Russia for its role in Ukraine?
MR TONER: I mean, we’ve been very clear about our assessments since, really, immediately following this terrible tragedy. And that is that the MH17, we believe, was shot down by surface-to-air missiles fired by – or fired from, rather, separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We obviously continue to support efforts to bring those responsible, to hold them accountable for the deaths of 298 passengers and crew. I’m aware of the reports that you mentioned earlier today; we certainly support the Dutch investigation. I know that the National Transportation Safety Board is participating in that investigation, but our assessment hasn’t changed. We still believe this was the work of Russian-backed separatists.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria?
MR TONER: Sure thing.
QUESTION: So earlier today, Foreign Minister Lavrov said he was concerned about this focus on removing Assad. He said removing him militarily would mean a power grab by Islamic State militants. Do you share these concerns? What are your thoughts?
MR TONER: He said – I’m sorry. He said it was —
QUESTION: He said removing Assad militarily would mean a power grab by Islamic State militants.
MR TONER: Well, again, there’s really – it’s a very complex situation, as I’ve said multiple times, security-wise in Syria. But just trying to compartmentalize here, there’s – what Assad’s doing is reprehensible. He’s created the conditions, as we’ve said many times, that have led to this kind of lawlessness and statelessness that has led to the growth of groups like ISIL. We need to see a political resolution to that. But we’ve been – also been very clear that we don’t believe that can involve Assad. But we want to see a moderate Syrian opposition emerge, and we want to see a political process emerge according to the Geneva communique. So that’s one aspect of it.
The other side of this is our anti-ISIL fight. And we’re, as I said, working with Turkey, but obviously with all the other coalition members to – through airstrikes and through support for these groups fighting on the ground to really help dislodge and destroy ISIL.
QUESTION: But you would – if it was possible, you would support the moderate opposition, however indirectly, in overthrowing Assad if need be militarily? I mean, you would —
MR TONER: What we’ve said is we want to see a political solution in – a resolution to the crisis in Syria.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. ruling out —
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MR TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: — any sort of military intervention to have Assad leave power? Is that just off the table?
MR TONER: You mean by us or by whoever?
QUESTION: By whomever.
MR TONER: I mean, look, we’ve been very clear – we’ve been very clear we support the UN process. De Mistura is leading that process. We want to see a political resolution in accordance with Geneva.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Regarding the political solution, I mean —
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: — this term is repeatedly said in – from this podium. What are the components of this political solution from your perspective?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m not listening to other narrative, whether it’s Russian or Syrian or any other country.
MR TONER: Well, I think what we – what we – what I just mentioned was there’s a UN-led effort here. De Mistura just briefed on this I think a couple weeks ago. We certainly support the establishment of working groups to look at all the different elements to a political resolution. We need to – or we don’t, but the Syrian opposition, moderate opposition needs to solidify, coalesce, come together, and become a governing force. And then we can see a political process, as I said, consistent with the Geneva communique that we’re agreed on take place.
But again, we don’t believe that Assad can be a part of that just based on the terrible horror that he’s wrought on his country over the past five years.
QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong —
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: — for a while you looking for a – it was said that U.S. is supporting a kind of transitional period led by Assad or somebody else from this – the system.
MR TONER: Well, I think what we’ve said is we don’t see a political solution that involves Assad. So I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: So and the other question – it seems that yesterday Secretary Kerry talked to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
MR TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: I’m not sure – it was mentioned in Egypt that he talked about Egypt —
MR TONER: That’s right. It was yesterday.
QUESTION: Yeah, about – and then he talk about Syria and political solution. Meanwhile he received another call from Lavrov. So what do you expect? I mean, you had the chance – the Secretary had the chance to meet Lavrov and Jubeir in Doha, and then after that he met Lavrov in Asia.
MR TONER: Well —
QUESTION: What you are trying to do? I mean, yesterday it was kind of – the question was raised but there was – it – the questions were not answered. So you haven’t answered —
MR TONER: That what we’re trying to do – well, again, I’m – I’ve said this many times from – over the last week: We don’t want to get ahead of the process here. You’re right. The Secretary has been in conversations. There was the meeting in Doha with Lavrov and I think the Saudi Foreign Minister Jubeir.
QUESTION: Foreign —
MR TONER: They did also meet in Asia. And – we – so we’ve been having these ongoing conversations on basically recognizing the urgency to move forward on a genuine, sustainable, political transition in Syria. But as to the specifics or what might happen next, I’m not going to get ahead of the process. And our – I would add that our special representative or envoy, Michael Ratney, is still traveling around the region as well holding meetings.
QUESTION: So another question —
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: — related to the frequently asked —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — question about the buffer zone/security zone and what was coming out of Ankara —
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: — regarding this proposal or whatever you can call it – plan. You are saying there is nothing like that on the table? I mean —
MR TONER: Again – sorry – just to clarify, what we’re doing in Turkey – or with Turkey rather – this is a 37-odd member coalition against ISIL. Certainly, we’re welcoming greater Turkish participation. Our agreement with them is to use their facilities, namely Incirlik, but to increase our ability to strike ISIL in northern Syria. I just – we’ve been very careful to shy away from saying we’re creating some kind of zone. Our ultimate goal is to degrade, destroy ISIL and drive them out of that region.
QUESTION: But if you – I will try to put in a question form —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — if something – of course, if – I’ll avoid “if” because becoming hypothetical. (Laughter.) It’s – the question is whether or not Turkey created that status quo. Are you going to oppose it or just accept it as a reality?
MR TONER: Again, that’s a question for the Turkish authorities. You’re saying if they create what, some kind of —
QUESTION: Kind of – I mean, like say this is our zone to work in it?
MR TONER: We’re getting ahead of what’s actually happening here with the cooperation – level of cooperation that we have with Turkey is just to do air strikes against ISIL. We’re talking about ways that we can help Turkey better secure its border. I’m not going to get into specifics, and it certainly doesn’t involve creating a safe zone.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?
MR TONER: Yeah, please, in the back. And then just spread it around. I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. I think many people are very much surprised the two allies – with Mr. Sinirlioglu who talks to here, maybe everyday daily basis – and he comes out on the record. He says that U.S. and Turkey agreed on the safe zone. This is on the record, not unnamed officials. And then just a couple hours later, you come out and then you basically deny his claims. So this, I think, this is why people are so —
MR TONER: Sure. I’m not denying his claims. I, frankly, haven’t seen his remarks, so I’m just trying to speak what our policy and what our understanding is of our agreement reached with Turkey.
MR TONER: Yeah, please. Let’s finish with Turkey. Yeah.
QUESTION: Would you allow Turkey to attack the PYD the same way they are attacking PKK, if the PYD —
MR TONER: No, no, our understanding with Turkey is that they will not attack and we would not agree to that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject briefly?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: China moved to sharply devalue its currency. Can you tell me what your stance is on that in the sense of it negatively affecting U.S. commerce? Has it been raised at some level with the Chinese Government?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, I would – first of all, I’m going to say I would refer you to the Department of Treasury, who obviously watches this issue much more closely and with a greater expertise than certainly I do. But so I’m not going to try to speculate on this issue beyond saying that we obviously have a strong economic relationship with China. Most recently we had the Strategic & Economic Dialogue here. And as, frankly, Treasury Secretary Lew has said, we have pressed China to continue financial reforms. And while we want to see additional economic reforms we believe that are needed, but we have seen progress. And that has – include commitments by China that were secured at the most recent Security & Economic Dialogue.
But again, I would refer you to Treasury. They closely monitor the situation and they would be able to speak to this issue much better than I can.
QUESTION: But this one I think was the biggest one since maybe ’94, something like that. And it seems that administration after administration in these talks are had at the highest levels, even the dialogue you’re talking about, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any traction or any results as far as them devaluing their currency whenever they want to and negatively affecting U.S. – possibly U.S. commerce.
MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve seen them take some – what we believe are positive economic reforms. We want to see continued progress. But I’m going to refer to the Treasury. I’m not going to speak to the broader issue.
QUESTION: I have some questions on Korea.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And first, two South Korean soldiers lost their legs when landmines exploded on the border with North Korea, and investigators have determined that North Korea secretly planted these landmines on the south side of the border. What’s your reaction to this provocation?
MR TONER: Forgive me; that’s the first time I’m hearing about that story. Certainly, our condolences and sympathies go to these soldiers who were so grievously injured. I would have to look into it a little bit more to find out if indeed DPRK is responsible for that. We would obviously condemn it.
QUESTION: Okay. My second question is —
MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: There have been some reports that the U.S. has asked the Korean President Park Geun-hye not to attend the Chinese war anniversary event. And the latest report is that the U.S. asked Korea to send its ambassador to Beijing to attend this event on behalf of the President.
MR TONER: No, I can nip that one in the bud. No, we don’t – we haven’t put any pressure on anyone to, in any way, shape, or form, on who or how they should attend the 70th anniversary. That’s an easy one.
QUESTION: And my last question.
MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, my last question. North Korea created its own time zone called Pyongyang time.
MR TONER: Sorry. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You don’t have any comment on that?
MR TONER: I’m supposed to have more of a poker face. (Laughter.) No, no comment. Please, go ahead.
MR TONER: Let’s stay on North Korea and then we’ll move. Please.
QUESTION: So there have been reports that there is a second hall of centrifuges has been discovered and likely operational in the uranium enrichment workshop in North Korea’s Yongbyon facility. Have you seen these reports? Do you have anything on this?
MR TONER: I’ve not. I’ll look into them, certainly. It’s unfortunately in keeping with North Korea’s continued intransigence on this issue, but I don’t have any other comment.
QUESTION: Are there any steps to —
MR TONER: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, it seems like, obviously, a lot of the focus is on the Iran deal, but have there been more substantial steps to work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula?
MR TONER: Well, obviously, we’ve got a number of folks here at the State Department who are working on Six-Party Talks. We want to get those, obviously, restarted but it’s an issue we take very seriously. But I don’t have anything to announce at this point.
QUESTION: Would you say that, I mean, currently the Iran deal is a much higher priority than working on North Korea?
MR TONER: Look, in the – at the Department of State we need to be able to – what’s the expression – walk and chew gum; no issue takes precedent. Certainly, we’re at an historic moment here with an Iran deal and the potential to really prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, so it’s a big deal and we’re taking it very seriously. As you’ve seen the Secretary, the President’s involvement – everyone – Secretary Moniz, it’s a full-court press to try to convince the American people that this is the best deal, but that certainly doesn’t preclude us taking other issues very seriously, including North Korea’s behavior.
In the way back. In the – yeah, thanks.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about —
MR TONER: Yeah —
QUESTION: — reports that came out yesterday in the U.S. media that were saying that Chinese cyber spies, as they called them, had been accessing email accounts of Administration officials as far as – as far back since 2010. Is this true, and if so, does this stoke any tensions leading into Xi Jinping’s visit in September?
MR TONER: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have anything to – really to comment about them. I’ve seen no verification of them, but we obviously take cyber security very seriously. This was something that came up in the broader context during the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, frankly, because it has such an economic impact. American or Chinese businesses or any international firm needs to be able to operate in a secure cyber environment in order to do business whether it’s in China or the United States or wherever.
In terms of the specific allegations, I’d have to get more information. I don’t know.
Please go ahead, Pam.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: President Maduro says that a special Venezuelan commission will be meeting soon with U.S. Government officials over allegations of what he calls Washington’s “vulture plan” designed to destabilize Venezuela’s economy. First, are you aware of such a meeting? And then secondly, what are your reaction to his allegations?
MR TONER: So first question, we don’t – I don’t have any – we haven’t received an invitation for a meeting with Venezuelan officials to discuss the quote/unquote “vulture plan,” these – but they’re false allegations. Look, I mean, we don’t – we’re not promoting unrest in Venezuela. We’re not attempting to undermine the Venezuelan economy. We share strong ties between our people. We also share one of the longest-standing diplomatic relationships in the hemisphere and we talk to Venezuelan Government officials on a regular basis.
QUESTION: Last week I asked about Prime Minister Abe’s statement on this upcoming Friday.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: There have been reports that Prime Minister Abe will use the words such as “aggression,” “colonial rule,” “deep remorse,” and “apology” on Friday in his statement, which is consistent with previous prime ministers. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: I really don’t. And I’d simply say that, I mean, I don’t want to get out ahead of – before he’s even made the statement by press – responding to press reports about what he may or may not say.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) stay on Japan?
QUESTION: Sorry, a follow-up on that?
MR TONER: Sure, we’ll stay on Japan.
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s about the restarting of a nuclear power plant in southern Japan.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s the first restart since the introduction of new safety regulations after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Do you have any reaction to this?
MR TONER: Just to say we – the restart – you’re talking about the Sendai nuclear power plant? It was a Japanese decision, obviously, as it should be, so I’d refer you to the Japanese Government. I mean, we obviously with Japan maintain a strong dialogue on a range of energy-related issues, and that includes nuclear safety. But the decision, as I said, to restart the nuclear plan was solely the Japanese Government’s.
QUESTION: Are you welcoming or neutral, negative?
MR TONER: Neutral. (Laughter.) Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Cuba. Can I move on to Cuba?
MR TONER: Yeah, did you have a – do you have – are you still – you were – did we go on Japan or Guantanamo?
QUESTION: Yeah. On Guantanamo, but I’m not sure that his Cuba question is —
MR TONER: Is it Cuba? Well, let’s say Cuba and then go to Guantanamo.
MR TONER: Sorry. I apologize, Ros. I should have gone to you next.
QUESTION: The first – the best question, the – next coming, and it’s Secretary Kerry’s Cuban trip.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: This is also an historical trip over the last 54 years. But as you know, Cuba asked the United States to lift the U.S. embargo and the return of the Guantanamo naval bases. But as everybody knows, Congress opposed both request.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: And normalization is – I know normalization is a long process.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: But if the United States cannot satisfy their requirement, how can the United States proceed these normalization process? What is your perspective of these talks?
MR TONER: Sure. Jeez, you’re taking away – you’ve answered all your questions with one of my proposed answers. That’s unfair.
No, it’s certainly – you’re absolutely right. Normalization is a process. We’ve been very clear about that. Certainly, we’ll take another step in that process on Friday with the raising of the flag after 54 years of hiatus. We’ve been very clear that this doesn’t alleviate every challenge in the relationship, but it does give us the ability to speak directly with and to the Cuban Government, engage with them more directly.
We want to – and we’ve been very clear about this too – expand ties with the Cuban people, give them greater opportunity, establish greater dialogue with them. Obviously have a very close relationship with Cuba despite this 54 years of – where we didn’t have diplomatic relations. We want to see the embargo lifted. The Secretary said as much. That’s got to be Congress’s decision. But we got to take this step by step, and we’re going to – we believe that the results will bear out that, that we’ll see a stronger relationship while, again, being very clear that we’re not brushing away concerns about civil society or human rights. Those are all going to remain important challenges that we’re going to continue to talk with the Cuban Government about.
QUESTION: Could you clarify —
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: — a little bit more Obama, U.S. Administration, the position on lifting embargo? Do you believe Cuban Government should take some concrete action in order to lift these sanction – I mean the embargo?
MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, it’s – frankly, it’s Congress that needs to be – that needs to take the next steps for – in terms of lifting the embargo. So I mean, apart from lobbying Congress there’s not a whole lot they can do. But again, we’ll continue to make the case. We want to see, as we’ve said many times since making this decision, stronger trade relations. All of this giving more opportunity to the Cuban people, we think, will be in Cuba’s, and frankly, the United States’ long-term interests.
Yeah, please, go ahead – oh, I’m sorry, Ros, you’re right. Thank you for reminding me.
QUESTION: Yeah. In terms of the military prison at Guantanamo, which is separate from the naval station which the Cubans have said they would like returned to their control, what progress is being made within the Administration to try to close the prison? There is The Washington Post report indicating that the Department of Justice is resisting efforts to at least move the detainees who can be moved to a federal facility in Illinois.
MR TONER: Well, we obviously strongly support, the Secretary strongly supports President Obama’s determination made from his – the very first day of his Administration to close Guantanamo. It’s obviously a top priority. It has remained a challenge throughout. We recently named Lee Wolosky, who is the new State Department special envoy for Guantanamo closure, and we’ve, frankly, dedicated substantial resources to do the diplomatic work necessary to negotiate detainee transfers. I’m not going to specifically talk about one of your questions, which is bringing them to the United States. That’s not really in our purview. But the State Department certainly remains dedicated to the ultimate closure of Guantanamo and are taking all possible steps, really, to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo.
QUESTION: Are you able to comment on whether there have been a number of resettlement agreements reached with as many as six other countries in order to relocate those detainees who have been cleared for release? And if they have been – if these agreements have been reached, how quickly do you anticipate that they could be approved?
MR TONER: I don’t have anything for you in terms of any agreements we may have for additional detainee transfers except that we remain hard at work on trying to find those transfers, trying to —
QUESTION: Is there a sense, and this is my final one —
MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there a sense that there’s a renewed push within the Administration to deal with the military prison question because it might then give the U.S. more leverage in long-term negotiations with Cuba over the future of the naval station?
MR TONER: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it that way. I would just say that we simply remain – this president couldn’t have been clearer from day one, as I said, that he wanted to close Guantanamo Bay, believes it’s in our national security interests, and that remains a huge priority for this Administration.
QUESTION: We’ve talked about this once – a couple times before, the —
QUESTION: The same question.
MR TONER: Okay, I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: The Hillary Clinton emails at the lawyer’s office. There’s just one other question I had about this —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — because I get confused, and I apologize.
MR TONER: (Laughter.) Okay.
QUESTION: So the —
MR TONER: It’s easy to be confused.
QUESTION: We’ve talked about the fact that you have all those emails already; those are duplicates. Do you also have emails from her top aides that also had accounts on that server? Do you – her top State Department aides? Do you have those emails as well?
MR TONER: So those have been – it’s a good question, actually. So my understanding is those have also been subpoenaed and —
QUESTION: Right. It’s like a FOIA or something.
MR TONER: Right, exact – well, again – and I’ll clarify this. If I get it wrong, don’t worry. I’ll be told I was wrong – (laughter) – and I will clarify it. But my understanding is that yes, that some of these of her close aides who were also part of these – or were part of the email exchanges have also been asked to comply with the FOIA request.
QUESTION: Right. But if they – what I’m getting at —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — is there is one of their lawyers, there’s this kind of – this fight between them and Judicial Watch. And one of their lawyers was quoted as saying that they had been – one of them had been instructed to delete some of these emails. My question is: Do you already have them? Do you have access to those, or are the only who have those emails those aides themselves?
MR TONER: Okay. My understanding is that some of them have been handed over, but we don’t have access to all of them yet.
QUESTION: Yes —
QUESTION: So just one —
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Again, it’s a clarification. We have so much.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: So do you have – are you looking for everything that was on the server? Or you’re going for the emails, or like —
MR TONER: No, no, and that’s a common misperception. We received the – all of Secretary Clinton’s emails. And according to the FOIA request, our sole duty or function is to go through those and to publicly release them, obviously redacting them where they’re – where we need to redact them for – upgrade their classifications. So that’s been our – that’s remained our goal and our sole pursuit. It’s a considerable one. But Secretary Clinton handed them over. She said to us that this did, in fact, compile the bulk or the entirety of her correspondence.
QUESTION: And as the new regulation is coming in, and as the present Administration is using the state.gov – so now everything – you feel that everything is in place? Like, we will not have missing emails or missing documentation?
MR TONER: Well, this is something, obviously, that we take very seriously – document preservation. And we’re —
QUESTION: No, there’s a – it’s a – not on National Archives as —
MR TONER: Right. No, I understand what you’re – what you’re asking in terms of —
QUESTION: In terms of the —
MR TONER: Right. And the use of —
QUESTION: — 2016, 2019. These are the deadlines.
MR TONER: So this is – right. So this is – wait, I’m sorry. What was —
QUESTION: These are the deadlines for the Administration to put everything in the —
MR TONER: Ah, okay. I understand what you’re asking, then. Yeah, I mean, we spoke about it last month, I guess was the —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MR TONER: — or last week was the release of that month’s tranche. We fell a little short. We’re making every effort to catch up. We expect we’ll do so, and our goal is to meet all of the deadlines, yes, going forward.
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MR TONER: Please, go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: I’m just going back to Ros’s question about Guantanamo Bay —
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: — and the detainees.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Without talking about the policy or the faith of the detainees, what is exactly – can you clarify the role of the State Department in this process?
MR TONER: In Guantanamo? Well —
QUESTION: Yes. I mean, yeah – I mean, without being involved in the Department of Justice or other things.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: What is the role of the State Department?
MR TONER: Well, as I said, we have a special envoy for Guantanamo closure. And part of this is, as I just mentioned, is – and it’s a fairly big part of this – is as these individuals are cleared for release or resettlement, is working out arrangements with partners, allies around the world, to resettle these detainees.
QUESTION: So the State Department played that role?
MR TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: The State Department played that role?
MR TONER: That’s right.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: Sorry. On Japan, the Japanese economy minister, Akira Amari – he posted on his blog that he was surprised that the U.S. lacked its usual stubborn persistence at the latest TPP meetings, and he expressed concern about —
MR TONER: That’s an offhand compliment or something – backhanded.
QUESTION: Well, he expressed the concern that there would be a decrease in motivation and – in completing the TPP negotiations. Do you agree with the —
MR TONER: I mean, without parsing his words, I think everyone wants to see us reach an agreement on TPP. We’ve been hard at work on this for many years now. We didn’t get there, but we did make some progress and we expect to get there. We expect to get this over the finish line.
QUESTION: How much efforts are you taking to ensure that momentum is kept up? Are you talking about possible —
MR TONER: I’d refer you to – sure, I’m sorry to interrupt you.
QUESTION: Well, about the next step in the negotiations.
MR TONER: I’m not sure when the next meetings will take place, but I would refer you to USTR for the next steps.
Is that it, guys? Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)