Mark C. Toner
Daily Press Briefing
July 10, 2015
Index for Today's BriefingSECRETARY TRAVEL/IRAN/REGION INDIA/PAKISTAN IRAN/REGION INDIA/PAKISTAN/REGION RUSSIA/REGION/DEPARTMENT IRAN/REGION SYRIA/IRAQ/REGION GREECE CHINA TUNISIA/REGION CHINA NORTH KOREA
2:01 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Hey, everyone. Happy Friday. I’m willing to make this a brief briefing if you’re all in accord with me. Or obviously, take all your questions. Welcome to the State Department. Just a very couple of brief things at the top. Quickly, just an update on what’s happening in Vienna. As you saw this morning no doubt, we’re going to continue negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program through Monday. All of the terms of the JPOA will continue while we work with our P5+1 partners and the EU to see if we can reach a final deal with Iran. The Secretary obviously will remain in Vienna through the weekend with his team and continues to meet with other P5+1 members as well as the EU in Iran.
And as the Secretary said yesterday, we believe we’re making real progress toward a comprehensive and – or a comprehensive deal, and we’re not going to let ourselves be rushed through any aspect of this. So some tough issues remain, obviously, unresolved, which is why we’re continuing to work on this through the weekend.
Just also wanted to note, I spoke a little bit – or no, apologies. I wanted to welcome the meeting that took place earlier today between Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif and their announcement of future engagement between India and Pakistan. We also welcome the announcement that India and Pakistan will discuss a range of bilateral issues, including security, people-to-people ties and expediting the Mumbai trial. And we support all steps between the Governments of India and Pakistan to strengthen their dialogue and cooperation.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, just on Iran, you mentioned that the talks are extended through Monday. What happens if there isn’t an agreement on Monday?
MR TONER: Well, okay. (Laughter.) I mean obviously, look, if there’s an agreement, that’s what we’re striving for – a good deal. We’ve said this numerous times. We’re not going to be driven by deadlines. We’re rather going to be driven by getting the best possible deal we can.
QUESTION: So what I mean is Monday is not a deadline. It could go into Tuesday or Wednesday, Thursday?
MR TONER: Well, look, again, I just – right, in the sense that we’re going to continue talking. I mean it’s – look, the parties are all there, they’re engaged, they’re working through some tough issues, there’s still work that needs to be done, but they’re going to continue working through the weekend. They’re going to be working at this every day. They’re working on it right now as we speak, or as I speak. But the emphasis here is on getting the best possible deal we can, and the Secretary said this as much yesterday when he said, “I’m willing to stay here and negotiate, but also willing to walk away.”
QUESTION: At what point does the U.S. walk away from the talks, and does that mean that the other members of the P5+1 would also walk away and allow Iran to basically walk away from the terms of the JPOA?
MR TONER: Well, again, we’re not there yet, so I’m not going to speculate on what might happen next. All the parties there in Vienna are working on getting a good deal.
QUESTION: But why even say we’re not going to negotiate forever, we’re prepared to walk away unless the U.S. truly believes that the Iranians are not negotiating in good faith? Why even put that threat out there?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’re – look, the emphasis here is on working through these tough issues that remain, and we’ve been very upfront about saying that there are issues that remain unresolved, and we have to work through them. So we’re going to continue to do that. But, as we’ve continually said throughout this process, we’ve got to get the best possible deal, one that passes scrutiny, one that prevents Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon or acquiring a nuclear weapon, and we’re going to keep at that.
QUESTION: How much of this extension of the deadlines – and we’re now in the second round of deadline extensions – how important is it to prevent Iran from doing whatever it had been doing before the JPOA took effect in order to head off some sort of broader arms race across the Middle East?
MR TONER: I’m not quite sure I understand the question, how important --
QUESTION: Well, because Iran, according to the U.S. and others in the P5+1, hasn’t done anything more with its nuclear program because of these talks --
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- and because some analysts have suggested that if these talks fell apart and Iran were then free to do whatever it wanted to do, that it might inspire other countries in the region to try to have similar – to have parity, to try to develop their own nuclear weapons, how much is that scenario playing into the U.S.’s commitment to keep talking regardless of what deadlines are on the table?
MR TONER: Well, again, I just would say that the focus on our part and obviously our P5+1 partners remains on getting a good deal, and that’s where the emphasis is, and those talks continue in Vienna.
As to what the broader implications of Iran’s nuclear ambitions might be, we’ve spoken to that many, many times, and the implications that that might have on the region. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to prevent that from happening through a good deal.
QUESTION: And my final one on this: Are you getting any sense from the delegation that they’re very close to working out these issues? Or are they just saying, “Let’s just try to get through the weekend and then Sunday night, Monday, we’re going to review with the President and figure out what our next step will be.”
MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speculate other than to say they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t still working – hard at work and with an expectation that they can work through these issues.
Next issue? Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned India and Pakistan.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I understand that India and Pakistan began a session process for – to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. I wonder how the United States views that, especially – but also, I mean, to combine that question and to follow up on the questions on Russia yesterday, where General Dunford referred to Russia as the biggest national security threat. Does the United States State Department share that assessment with him?
MR TONER: Well, first on the Shanghai cooperation agreement or group, I’d refer you to India and Pakistan for a reaction to that or for the reasons why they’ve chosen to join that group.
With respect to your question about General Dunford’s remarks yesterday, I think John, when he was here yesterday, was very clear on this issue that General Dunford is expected to provide his views, his assessment on which nations or entities pose a threat to the United States, and that’s his job. We certainly, as John spelled out yesterday, recognize the challenges that Russia, primarily through its actions in Ukraine, poses to the region. And as John spelled out, we’ve taken many steps, from reassurance with our NATO allies – reassurance measures, rather – to pursuing a peaceful diplomatic solution in Ukraine via the Minsk commitments and implementation of them to address those challenges.
But I would add that the Secretary doesn’t agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: I mean, they basically went in and took Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since 1954, just took it back, even though the U.S. doesn’t recognize it --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and it is continually stirring up trouble in the eastern part of Ukraine, so much so that the Baltic states have appealed to the U.S. and the U.S. has responded by shoring up its commitment under Article 5 of NATO. So why shouldn’t the U.S. regard Russia as an existential threat?
MR TONER: Existential threat – well, let me finish, first of all. And I included China as well. These are major powers with whom we engage and cooperate on a number of issues despite any disagreements we may have with them. And those issues include, frankly, Iran and others – Syria, other issues around the world.
I would just say what the Secretary does consider an existential threat is the rapid growth of extremist groups like ISIL, particularly in ungoverned spaces. But to return to your specific question, we’ve been very frank about our assessment of what Russia is doing in eastern Ukraine and the need to address the threat that it poses there. And that includes other borderline states, including the Baltics. And as I said, we’ve addressed that through our reassurance efforts with our fellow NATO allies, and we’ll continue to do that. And we’re also helping, obviously, Ukraine through a variety of assistance as well as working, as I said, to help it and as well as Russia and the separatists implement the Minsk agreements. We need to find a peaceful diplomatic solution to Ukraine, and that’s where our focus has been.
MR TONER: But we’ve been – but again, just to finish, we’ve been completely frank, I think, in calling out Russia for its involvement in eastern Ukraine in terms of troops, in terms of command and control, in terms of heavy equipment.
Where I think I tried to specify the difference is the word “existential.” Certainly, we have disagreements with Russia and its activities along or within the region, but we don’t view it as an existential threat.
QUESTION: And this may be --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- an academic question, but I’m a little confused here.
MR TONER: Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: Is Russia not an existential threat because there are these international mechanisms through which the U.S. and other countries can show their displeasure through the UN Security Council, through NATO, through fill-in-the-blank, whereas with ISIL being at most a proto-state, as General Allen has suggested to us, there is no regular way of engaging and trying to compel ISIL and similar groups from doing the damage that they’ve been doing? Is that the difference?
MR TONER: Well, we do talk to Russia as well as China. We do talk about the range of issues that we have with them and the areas of disagreement that we have with them. And so in that sense, yes, I mean, we do have dialogue with them. We raise issues. And again, we’re very frank with Russia on where we disagree, including its actions in Ukraine. And yet we also – there are areas where we cooperate, such as preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So in that sense, yes, we do have dialogue with them.
QUESTION: What about the fact that, as General Dunford specified during his confirmation hearing, that Russia is a fundamental existential threat because it has a nuclear arsenal? By the same argument, why isn’t India an existential threat? Why isn’t Pakistan an existential threat? Why isn’t France an existential threat? All three of these countries are nuclear powers.
MR TONER: Again, that was General Dunford’s assessment. And we said we don’t – that’s his job: to give that assessment, a frank analysis, a candid analysis of how he views the world and the security situation and the security threats. And he did that. I’m just pointing out that we don’t necessarily disagree – or we don’t necessarily agree with his assessment of Russia as an existential threat.
QUESTION: Have you heard from the Russians about General Dunford’s characterization? What was your response, the U.S. response, to any concerns the Russians may have raised about this description?
MR TONER: That’s a fair question. I’m not aware that we’ve had any – that they’ve raised those remarks with us in particular. I can check, but I don’t have any – yeah.
QUESTION: If you could take the question, that would be helpful.
MR TONER: Sure. Sure. I’ll see what I can find out.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: So you’re saying now that ISIL is an existential threat? Is that correct?
MR TONER: Well, I used them as an example, but one of the points – or one of the challenges that we view as truly existential is the threat of these groups like ISIL and their existence, their growth in these kind of ungoverned spaces where they can thrive.
QUESTION: Is that a difference in --
MR TONER: And we’ve been very clear about that as well. I mean, look, ISIL in particular but also al-Qaida pose real and tangible threats to the United States.
QUESTION: I think – I mean, previously the position seemed to be sort of downplaying the ability of ISIL to present a threat to the U.S. – I mean, saying that I think in Admiral Kirby’s words that they’re not, like, 10 feet tall, right? And so is that a new assessment --
MR TONER: They’re not. I would agree with Admiral Kirby or John Kirby, they’re not 10 feet tall. But they are – their – as I said, their ability to attract foreign fighters – this is all things we’ve talked about and are trying and taking specific steps to address. But they are a threat, absolutely, a security threat.
MR TONER: Yeah. I’m sorry --
QUESTION: On Iran?
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Yes. We’ve heard several times from this podium, you and John and others also, have said that the nuclear – this is a nuclear deal, and we are focusing now with Iran --
MR TONER: Right. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- on a nuclear deal and we are not talking about other issues with Iran. Does that mean if you have a nuclear deal, Iran will still be able to do their job in destabilization the regions and also sponsoring terrorism? Or is there anything else that – if they are doing that, so what is the benefit of a nuclear deal?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, as we – as I just said to Rosiland – to Roz, rather – that if you view a good deal on – that prohibits Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon is – if you think Iran – are of the mindset that Iran is open to change, it’s a good deal because it would, obviously, encourage that kind of exchange and engagement. But it’s also a good deal if you think Iran poses a regional threat and you want to prevent it, obviously, from acquiring a nuclear weapon that would only increase the threat that it poses to the region. So I think on both aspects you could say certainly achieving a good deal that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a huge priority.
That said, and specifically to answer – or to respond to your other question, we’ve been very clear that these talks that we’re engaged in now in Vienna are about that task of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and – achieving a nuclear weapon, rather. And that’s the focus, but we’ve been – also been very clear that there, as you noted, Iran is still a state sponsor of terror, there are very real concerns about their involvement and their actions in the region to destabilize the region, and we’re going to continue through sanctions and through other means to try to work to prevent that with our friends and allies.
QUESTION: So that means the deal will not lift the sanctions – any of the sanctions related to the – their destabilization efforts and their sponsoring terrorism, that is --
MR TONER: I’d just – I would leave it at that and say that certain restrictions sanctions will remain in place that don’t have to deal with the nuclear program. But again, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s let the agreement happen – or if it does happen, if we get there, all that will be – sorry – all that will be made clear.
QUESTION: Any reaction to demonstrations in Iran today?
MR TONER: Well, just that we’ve seen this before. It’s not uncommon for these kinds of public demonstrations to take place, the “Death to America” chants, the Quds Day marches. We’ve seen the same rhetoric, frankly, coming from Iran for many, many years. Obviously, we condemn it – especially the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments that we hear. But we’re also not going to be deterred or swayed by these comments. And we’re going to – as again, we’ve got a diplomatic process in place happening right now in Vienna, and that’s where the focus is, not on what’s being shouted on the streets in Tehran.
QUESTION: Is the assessment that the Quds Day demonstration and other recent comments is the regime allowing the more conservative elements to have their say, that this is about domestic politics and not so much about how Iran is trying to engage with the West?
MR TONER: Look, it’s hard to say and hard for me to say from here. I would encourage you to ask others who are probably more appropriately positioned to comment on what public sentiment is in Tehran and how that plays into Tehran’s over – or Iran’s overall strategy. As I said, our focus is on diplomatic process.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: So the U.S. is pushing a – this draft UN resolution to investigate chemical weapons usage. In the past, the U.S., when these incidents have happened, they’ve seemed to point repeatedly the finger at Assad. Now, is this – is it the objective of this to test that hypothesis and kind of use the UN to bring charges against Assad? Or does the U.S. legitimately think there are other – other people might be --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- other perpetrators?
MR TONER: A couple of comments to make on this. First of all, we’re still really at the outset of any kind of resolution process, so I can’t really speak to it in much detail. It’s still in draft form. But Ambassador Power spoke to this, I believe, not too long ago, put out a statement that given the – I think she actually spoke yesterday, I apologize – given the frequent allegations of chlorine attacks in Syria, the absence – and this is key – of any international body to identify the perpetrators of these chemical weapons attacks, we feel it’s critical for the UN Security Council to find consensus and set up an independent, investigative mechanism. And so that’s the goal of this draft resolution that we’ve circulated.
So what we wanted to try to here is, again, is just to create a – or establish a joint, investigative mechanism that would allow the UN to build on the technical expertise of the OPCW. And then the goal of being able to carry out an independent, credible investigation to identify those involved in chemical attacks – or use of chemical weapons in Syria.
QUESTION: Do you have suspicions of who’s responsible --
MR TONER: Well, we’ve said and the Secretary’s also spoken to this that the vast preponderance or the majority of – is the Assad regime. But again, we’re trying to put in place a mechanism that can independently look at these – look at the – and assign, frankly, assign blame.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you update us on General Allen’s meeting in Turkey with the Turkish officials? Is there any developments?
MR TONER: Right. You’re talking about the – sorry, the meetings held over the last couple of days. So that was with, obviously, as you said, with Special Presidential Envoy General John Allen, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth, and an interagency delegation. They have departed – today is the 9th, isn’t it, or is it – 10th. So they had departed on the 9th, I apologize. They had constructive meetings. I don’t really have anything to add to whatever readout John gave yesterday, but discussed our mutual efforts as part of a broad coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL, but I don’t have any specifics, really, to get to.
QUESTION: There are reports that are talking about that he again urged the Turkish officials to help the coalition to use the Incirlik base. Is there any response from that, or has he ever discussed this with them?
MR TONER: No, I don’t have anything to announce or anything to add to that.
QUESTION: One more on – there is a Stabilization Working Group – I believe Brett McGurk is part of that – to return the stability of the regions being liberated from ISIS in Iraq like Tikrit and Diyala. There are report talking about that only 20 percent of those people could – able to return to the area. Some of the problem is security issues; the others is because of the international coalition and the working – the Stabilization Working Group has not been able to provide the assistance they promised to do. Is there any update on that, on Tikrit --
MR TONER: Specifically what you’re – yeah, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. Especially on Tikrit and Diyala, that there is still problem that the people fled from Tikrit and from Diyala, they have not been able to go back to their cities. Some of them is because of the militias threatening them and the others is because of lack of service that this Stabilization Working Group, which Brett McGurk is part of that --
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- was meant to solve this problem.
MR TONER: I don’t have any updates on people returning to those cities today. I mean, I know that – I can just speak broadly about the efforts of the group and within – working in Iraq and Syria, but I don’t have any specifically thing to add to it.
QUESTION: But that’s still going on, these efforts, around the --
MR TONER: These (inaudible) efforts --
MR TONER: But specifically, what are you talking about? In terms of returning --
QUESTION: Returning the residents and also providing the security for them and handing over is what was part of the kind of the bible for the group.
MR TONER: Yeah, right, right.
QUESTION: That – returning that order.
MR TONER: Yeah, no, those efforts continue, absolutely. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Syria --
MR TONER: Please, go – yeah, you want to stay on --
QUESTION: Yeah, staying on this but more focused on the refugees. UNRWA said that they are now officially 4 million refugees who have fled the civil war in Syria. And dovetailing with John’s comments last week about the World Food Program’s need to basically cut in half the value of food vouchers for these refugees, I wanted to find out whether the U.S. Government has decided to make any additional monies available to try to deal with this burgeoning crisis.
MR TONER: Well, it’s an important, obviously – and it is a crisis. We have – we spoke to this, as you said, a little bit the past week. If you’re talking about refugees here in the United States, there’s --
QUESTION: No, I mean in Turkey --
MR TONER: You’re talking about --
QUESTION: In Turkey – in Turkey and Jordan.
MR TONER: Right. We’ve given – I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but we’ve given a tremendous amount of money already – I think more than any other country – to – in terms of humanitarian relief and assistance to these refugees. We also accept more refugees than any other – for resettlement through UNHCR than the rest of the world combined. But obviously, the broader picture here is to work towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria, because ultimately, the best solution to all of these refugee crises within that region is to get them home.
MR TONER: Right, yeah.
QUESTION: But in the immediate term, you now have 4 million people who have had to leave Syria because of the fighting.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: They’re in these camps.
MR TONER: Right. But we’ve --
QUESTION: They don’t – yeah, they don’t have the ability to --
MR TONER: No, no, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, no.
QUESTION: -- but – and so the need to feed their families is happening right now.
MR TONER: So – right.
QUESTION: So what is the U.S. doing --
MR TONER: Well, we’ve – sure.
QUESTION: -- to try to help fill in that funding gap because other countries haven’t been stepping up to the plate?
MR TONER: Sure. Well, important to note that we are the largest humanitarian aid donor. In terms of money given and for humanitarian assistance, I think $4 billion since 2011, which is, as I said, more than any other single donor to help address the dire humanitarian conditions in Syria. And obviously, we’re working, as I said, on – to advance the conditions towards a political settlement. That’s the ultimate endgame here, but completely understand your question and your – and concern, frankly, that we need more humanitarian assistance for the refugees that are now in Turkey and other countries. And obviously Turkey’s stepped up in a big way to welcome these refugees and to deal with them. But we are, as I said, the largest single donor in humanitarian relief to Syria.
QUESTION: Could you take the question of whether the Administration is considering another tranche of money to try to help the World Food Program with its efforts?
MR TONER: Sure, I can look into it. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Yeah, please. You’re next, I saw.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Greece?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. They’re having a meeting among the EU creditors on the 12th, on a Sunday, which seems to be very important meeting to strike a – decide to strike a deal with Greece or not, and the prospect of the Grexit is kind of looming now. So the two – few days ago, Treasury Secretary Lew mentioned that the financial meltdown and Greece financial situation could be a geopolitical mistake where the Greece also have stronger ties with Russia and the kind of power balance in the region could be changed. Does the department share that assessment, and is there any last-minute effort about that possibility from the Department of State?
MR TONER: Sure. Well, as you know and you mentioned, Secretary Lew has been very much involved, speaking to his counterparts in Europe, following the issues closely – as has Secretary Kerry in Vienna. We’re pleased that – to see Greece submitted a reform proposal and now its creditors are considering it. As we’ve consistently said, it’s in everyone’s interest to see Greece pursue a path that allows it to resume reforms, return to growth – all of the things that will put it on a more solid economic footing – but ultimately, it’s up to Europe and Greece to work toward a constructive outcome for these issues. So that’s where we’re at.
You said specific comments about Secretary Lew.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Do you share the assessment of the Secretary Lew that the financial meltdown in Greece will be like a geopolitical mistake?
MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not – I haven’t seen those specific comments, so I’m not going to comment to them, or I’m not going to respond to them directly. What we said is that clearly, Greece is an important regional player and ally, and so it’s in all of our interests to see the current situation resolved in a way that’s positive for Europe and positive for Greece.
I’m sorry, you – I apologize.
QUESTION: That’s okay. On China, yesterday OPM announced that the hack extended to 21 million Americans. I’m wondering if anyone in the department has been in touch with your Chinese counterparts regarding the latest news on the OPM hack.
MR TONER: Not on the latest news, no. As we spoke in the Strategic & Economic Dialogue a couple weeks ago, we did talk about cyber security issues writ large. Just – I have no updates to provide to you on who was behind this breach, this data breach. That investigation’s still ongoing as far as I know.
QUESTION: Just to follow up --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I realize China hasn’t officially been identified. Were it to come to pass that China was officially identified, what would be the process going on from there?
MR TONER: Well, that’s – that’s what they call a hypothetical, so – look, we’re not in a position to assign responsibility for this data breach yet. That’s really the FBI’s purview, and they’re investigating it and I would refer you to them.
QUESTION: Would it be treated differently if – from, say, a business hacking issue? If it’s a state-to-state issue, is that treated differently? It’s an issue of espionage, for example; is that treated differently from a commercial hacking event?
MR TONER: I would just say, more broadly speaking, that obviously, cyber security is a much more urgent issue between countries like the U.S. and China, but frankly, countries around the world, because it affects, obviously, security, but also business-to-business relationships and the investment climate – all that thing is tied into it.
But in terms of – again, I don’t want to get out in front of the investigation into this latest breach and conjecture on what might be done and how that might work. It’s just a – that’s – it’s in the FBI’s hands now. They’re investigating it and – so I’m going to stop there.
QUESTION: Can we talk about Tunisia?
MR TONER: We can talk about Tunisia.
QUESTION: First, the White House has just announced that it’s designating Tunisia as a major non-NATO ally, and I wanted to know if you had a little more insight into why the designation, why now; in practical terms, what does this mean for Tunisia?
MR TONER: Sure. I don’t. I can get you more information about it. We just heard. But this is a fulfillment, obviously – I think the President spoke about this in March or May, I’m not – do you guys have the date or no? That’s okay. We’ll get more information on that, but it just came out.
But obviously, it’s a major step forward in our relationship with Tunisia. We’re moving towards closer bilateral support for the government there and for the political process there, and including their security.
QUESTION: And speaking of security, given that in the past week the government declared a state of emergency and now the British Government has basically told all British nationals, “You need to leave, we will help you leave, get out of Tunisia now,” because of the shooting at Sousse, what assistance, one, is the United States providing to Tunisia as it tries to deal with extremists? And two, does the U.S. have an official position on Tunisia’s decision to try to build a 100-mile-long wall to prevent extremists from coming into the country?
MR TONER: So broadly speaking, first of all, to answer your question about the security issue, we – following the June 26th attacks, as you know, we issued an emergency message to U.S. citizens in Tunisia alerting them, obviously, to the attack and reminding them to exercise caution. And we continually evaluate the security situation there.
We – in terms of the broader issues of what we’re trying to provide to them for security assistance as they tackle the problem of terrorism, I can try to get you more information about what specifically we’re offering them in terms of assistance. But obviously, it’s a regional threat many of these governments are grappling with. I don’t specifically have any information about the proposal to build a wall or a fence. I have to look into that more.
But obviously, as we’ve said many times, especially in light of the spate of attacks a couple weeks ago, that these groups, ISIL affiliates, are posing a real challenge in the region, Libya as well, elsewhere. And it’s something that, as I said, all these governments are attempting to address.
QUESTION: Would you anticipate that the U.S. would tell U.S. persons to either leave Tunisia if they’re already there or to not travel there at all in line with what the British Government is doing?
MR TONER: No, I wouldn’t say that at all. Again, what – I’ve spelled out what we’ve done, and again, I wouldn’t speak to another country’s criteria or rationale for issuing travel warnings and alerts to the citizens. Certainly, there were many UK victims of the recent terrorist attack, and our condolences go out to them. But we continually assess our security posture and the security situation writ large. As we said many times, no – there’s no higher priority for us than the safety of and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad. We’ll – we did issue an emergency message, which is normally what we would do in the event of an attack or a very real and tangible threat. We have the no-double-standard rule that you’re aware of --
MR TONER: -- under which information on a specific, credible threat is shared with both officials, obviously, but also with the U.S. public in that country.
QUESTION: And then in the larger context --
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: -- even though the U.S.-led coalition is engaged in military operations in only two countries – Syria and Iraq – it now seems as if nearly all of North Africa is having to deal with the threat from ISIL or ISIL sympathizers. Is there any discussion about whether the U.S. should be providing any sort of military assistance in the form of advisors, in the form of airstrikes, what have you, to countries in North Africa? I mean, we’re almost to Morocco at this point.
MR TONER: Well, I just would say no, I have nothing to announce or to – even to lean towards in that area or that specific idea or thought. I would just say that it’s obviously an urgent issue in the region and one that we’re obviously working through and talking to many of these governments about as they seek to address it.
Is that it, guys? One more? Sure. Oh, please go ahead.
QUESTION: One more, yeah.
MR TONER: One more for you and then I’ll get to you, I promise.
QUESTION: Yeah. In China – I know this came up a couple of months ago – there is a U.S. citizen who works for Radio Free Asia. He has family still in the Uighur part of western China. Three of his brothers have now been arrested. One was supposed to go on trial today. It appears that the Chinese Government is trying to make him stop reporting on human rights abuses in western China by harassing his family. What has the U.S. Government said to Beijing about the harassment of the Hoshur family, including the arrests of his three brothers?
MR TONER: So you’re talking about, if I’m correct, Radio Free Asia journalist Shohret Hoshur, and I apologize if I’m mispronouncing his name. But yes, his brothers have been detained and other family members have been harassed in apparent retribution for Mr. Hoshur’s reporting. Yeah, we’ve been following and monitoring those reports, and we’re very, very concerned. We continue to closely monitor the case and we urge Chinese authorities to cease their harassment of Mr. Hoshur and his family and release the family members who have been detained and treat them fairly and with dignity.
QUESTION: Has anyone from the embassy been called into this building to express those sentiments face to face?
MR TONER: I don’t know what, in terms of types of discussions we’ve had face to face with the Chinese, either here or in Beijing on this. I don’t.
QUESTION: What is particularly worrisome is that Mr. Hoshur is a U.S. citizen, and none of his relatives have U.S. citizenship, and it appears that he may have relinquished his Chinese citizenship. It is worrisome, as a journalist now, that if another government doesn’t like what you are doing, that they can come after your family. Has the U.S. expressed concerns to China about that? That people should be free to do whatever job they’re doing, even if it is picking up a pen and saying, “We see these problems”?
MR TONER: No, absolutely. And if I didn’t come across – if that didn’t come across in my response then I apologize. But no, absolutely we’ve said that this is – we recognize this is in apparent retribution for his reporting, and we urge the Chinese authorities to allow him to do his work and to stop the harassment of his family.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Yep. Please.
QUESTION: A different issue, human rights issue, it’s on North Korea?
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: The South Korean foreign minister yesterday mentioned that 17 people already were executed under the Kim Jong-un leadership. And it’s another kind of remark to show how serious the human rights abuse there. So how will the U.S. deal with the human rights abuse in North Korea? Kind of – do you have the option to issue the new sanction against North Korea on the basis of human rights?
MR TONER: Well, absolutely, we agree with the assessment that human rights in North Korea remain dismal. We do have sanctions already in place to address those challenges. I don’t have anything, as I said, new to announce today or even really with regard to what we’re looking at in addition except to say that we continue to try to shine a light on the problem.
QUESTION: So could you give me that kind of prospective announcement of the new sanctions against North Korea?
MR TONER: Could I give you – I’m sorry. (Laughter.) I don’t have anything to announce today other than that. It remains, obviously, a very real and very tangible concern.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Yep. Is that it, guys? Good. Have a good weekend.
QUESTION: You too.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)
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