The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department on a Friday afternoon. The Secretary is en route back from her trip to Europe. She left Belfast a couple hours ago, I believe.
Just before we get started, I just wanted to say this is going to be my last briefing before the new year. I’ve got to take some time off. I just wanted to say best wishes and – for the holiday season – and I’ll see you all in the new year.
On that cheery note, I’ll --
QUESTION: Well – do this at the end, but since you’ve decided to --
MR. TONER: No, that’s okay.
QUESTION: -- pre-empt it --
MR. TONER: You can – (laughter).
QUESTION: I was going to say we’re going to miss you and your – welcome you back next year.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: And don’t worry. While you’re gone, we’ll be preparing to fully antagonize you when you’re back.
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) Terrific. Yeah, get all your questions ready.
QUESTION: Happy New Year’s promise to you.
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) I would expect nothing less, guys. Thanks so much.
QUESTION: So anyway --
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Very good luck --
MR. TONER: Thanks. Thank you.
QUESTION: -- over the next couple months.
MR. TONER: Thanks.
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I presume that you guys are watching warily what’s going on there, and I’m just wondering if you – if there’s been any contact and – with the Egyptians since the President’s phone call and with – President Obama’s phone call to President Morsi --
MR. TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: -- and what you think of the situation.
MR. TONER: I mean, I don’t have, obviously, much to add in terms of context. Of course, our Embassy is in regular contact with Egyptian leaders at all levels from across the political spectrum. Obviously, you cited the President’s call to President Morsi yesterday, December 6th, and his emphasis that all political leaders in Egypt need to make clear to their supporters that the ongoing violence is unacceptable. That remains our message. We also look to the Government of Egypt to respect the freedoms of peaceful expression and assembly and to exercise restraint, of course.
MR. TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: If I may follow up --
MR. TONER: Sure, Said, and then Andy.
QUESTION: There are some visitors in town; el-Erian is coming to town. Can you share with us, why is he coming and who is he meeting with? He’s the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood.
MR. TONER: Right. I don’t have any details of his visit. I’ll have to take the question. But I don’t have any details of whether he’s meeting here or elsewhere.
QUESTION: Is he in D.C. already?
MR. TONER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Some of President Morsi’s opponents have reacted to his proposal of dialogue tomorrow with a flat rejection, saying they’re not – they don’t intend to enter into a dialogue with him. What’s your assessment of this response on their part? And are you in direct contact with them, and at what level, to urge them to take up his offer? Or do you think that they’re right to say that his offer isn’t good enough?
MR. TONER: Well, obviously, you’re talking about President Morsi’s call for dialogue with the opposition. We welcome that call, but we would urge that meaningful dialogue has to take place without preconditions. And we’re obviously communicating and sharing the same message with opposition leaders. Secretary Clinton stressed the other day that this has to be a two-way dialogue that includes a respectful exchange of views and concerns among Egyptians themselves. And we’ve been communicating this both – as I said, to the Egyptian opposition both from Washington as well as our Embassy in Cairo.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, so it has been since the 22nd of November that protests are going on in Cairo and other cities.
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: And as we speak, it looks like the protestors now around the palace, presidential palace. Are you worried, or how much worried about the stability of the government, first of all, in Egypt?
MR. TONER: Right. We’re very, very concerned about the situation in Egypt. As we said yesterday, we deplore the violence against – or between rival groups of demonstrators. We need to see – and the President stressed in his phone call yesterday with President Morsi – we need to see the violence end, and we also need to see the government respect the right of peaceful protest among these protestors. But I think, first and foremost, we want to see the violence come to an end and we want to see a dialogue begin.
QUESTION: So you still advise the Egyptians to go for a referendum and vote, and you see that is a fair process?
MR. TONER: Well, this is an Egyptian process, and we need to keep reminding ourselves of that. But we certainly support the referendum, but it has to be credible, a credible process to the Egyptian people. As we’ve seen over these past days, they’re willing to sacrifice quite a bit to ensure that their voice is heard. And so, as long as they do that peacefully, they have the right to demonstrate. But there also needs to be this process by which they are able to express their views on how Egypt’s constitution should look. If that’s through a referendum, then that’s the way to go.
QUESTION: Do you think it was a fair process to pass the constitution – draft of constitution? Because it is one of the biggest complaints of the opposition, that it was not a fair process to pass the constitution that way.
MR. TONER: Again, I would just say that we’ve been very clear – or it’s very clear, rather, that Egyptians have strong opinions regarding the substance of the draft constitution as well as the process by which its – the constituent assembly approved it. We’re concerned by this lack of consensus. So there needs to be a process, led by the Egyptian people – credible to the Egyptian people, rather – going forward to approve a constitution.
Go ahead, and then over to Andy. Go ahead, Said, and then Andy.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you: One of the leading opposition figures, Mohamed ElBaradei, said that Morsi’s speech closes the door on dialogue and there should be no referendum. My question to you: I know you are monitoring and talking to everybody and definitely in direct contact with the Egyptian government. Are you in direct contact with the opposition?
MR. TONER: We are in direct contact and regular dialogue with the opposition. I think I said as much.
QUESTION: Okay. Who is --
MR. TONER: And we are, I think, if I wasn’t direct enough, encouraging that that door remain open, that there be – that a serious exchange of views, a dialogue, begin, and as I said before, without preconditions.
Yeah, go ahead, Andy.
MR. TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on that. I mean, you’re – without preconditions. So you are saying that the opposition’s contention that Morsi should rescind the decree before any dialogue can start is wrong?
MR. TONER: Again, without preconditions means without preconditions. So what we’re focused on is a dialogue.
QUESTION: So you are supporting Morsi’s position?
MR. TONER: We’re simply saying that, first of all, as I said before, this is an Egyptian process. Our concerns is that there be a credible process in place through which the Egyptian people can make their aspirations, their feelings, their desires, clear about this draft constitution. How that takes place, what it looks like, is up to them.
QUESTION: Do you support the referendum in this atmosphere?
MR. TONER: I think, again, this is really something that needs to be discussed among all sides in Egypt right now as we move forward.
QUESTION: But do you think –
MR. TONER: We’re clearly supporting a dialogue between all sides and all parties, and an end to the violence.
QUESTION: Why can’t it be argued that President Morsi, by issuing this decree, essentially inflamed a situation that was already tense because the Coptic Christian minority, for one, didn’t feel that its interests were being respected, that there were some legitimate objections being raised by those in the secular opposition that they were hoping that they could work out? Why can’t the U.S. blame President Morsi for the situation now taking place outside the palace?
MR. TONER: Well, Rosalind, I don’t think it makes any sense right now to blame any one side, but to – rather to urge all sides to come together to talk about the issues at stake here, to talk about this constitutional draft, and to adhere to a process, as I said, that allows all Egyptians’ voices to be heard.
QUESTION: But the opposition, whether it’s religious minorities or secular groups, were trying to obey the process of dialogue and then essentially had the process upended a week ago Wednesday. Why should they be expected to do anything except go out in the streets and demonstrate –
MR. TONER: Well, and they have every right to do so, as long as they do so peacefully. But moving forward, there needs to be a process in place, as we’ve made very clear, towards this referendum that allows them to exercise their rights both to criticize or to suggest alternatives to some of the parts of the constitution that they object to. I mean, this is all about process. Process is important here. And so it’s up to the Egyptian people to decide how that process looks like.
QUESTION: Couldn’t it be argued, though, that President Morsi has essentially undercut the legitimacy of this draft constitution and of the referendum to initiate it by taking on these powers?
MR. TONER: Look, I think it can be argued that this is a very tense time for Egypt. We want to see the Egyptian people emerge from this time with a greater democratic infrastructure, and we want to see this political transition succeed. It’s really up to the Egyptian people to decide what that process looks like. But what’s important now is that this dialogue begin, as I said, without preconditions.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. counseled President Morsi to roll back the decree?
MR. TONER: I’m not going to go beyond what the President told him yesterday.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the military might feel obliged to intervene in a way or another in the situation?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re watching the situation very closely. We’re concerned by the level of violence. We don’t want to see it escalate. We want to see the violence end. We want to see peaceful demonstrators allowed to demonstrate. We want to see the security forces show restraint.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with the military to urge them to remain to stay neutral?
MR. TONER: Again, I think we’re in touch with all parties involved, yeah.
QUESTION: Even the military?
MR. TONER: And our message is the same as privately as it is publicly.
Go ahead, Goyal. Are we done with – yeah, sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. Egyptians are calling President Morsi to leave or to quit. Do you support their call?
MR. TONER: Again, you’re asking me to put myself in the middle of this political process that’s underway. I’m not going to do that beyond, as we’ve said, that in any democratic process, what’s important here is the process and that there be a credible one going forward and that dialogue take place between all parties that’s peaceful and that allows all parties to express their views.
QUESTION: But it’s not a matter of referendum anymore. They are calling President Morsi to leave.
MR. TONER: Again, there’s a – what we want to see is an end to violence and a political process moving forward that looks at this constitutional draft and allows all Egyptians to play a role in its finalization.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. trust President Morsi to do the right thing?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re trying to convey our concern about the situation. The President reached out to President Morsi last night, or yesterday afternoon. We’ve been talking, as I said, across the political spectrum. Our message has been consistent. This is an Egyptian political process. We need to let it play out, but we need to be consistent in calling for a meaningful dialogue without preconditions and an end to the violence.
QUESTION: One more. Do you consider what’s going on in Egypt a new revolution?
MR. TONER: No, I wouldn’t characterize it as that.
Yeah, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Do you know if Deputy Secretary Burns, who is now in North Africa, has any plans to add Cairo to his –
MR. TONER: Not to my knowledge, no.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: A couple of questions on South Asia. One, any new information you have as far as Chief Minister Modi’s visa or letter against him from the coalition of – from the Capitol Hill? And also one – and it was UK the first who banned Chief Minister Modi not to enter the United Kingdom, and then now just recently, they – the Prime Minister sent a letter to Chief Minister Modi that they want to talk to him and he’s welcome to UK. And the Prime Minister sent the delegation even for doing business with the Gujarat government. And how you think it will affect her, because of the big opposition in India now in the BJP Party as far as these lawmakers on Capitol Hill writing letter to Secretary Clinton, if she has answered this letter?
MR. TONER: To my knowledge, we have received the letter. We have not answered it yet, but there’s been no change in U.S. policy.
QUESTION: And second, if I may have one?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: UN Security Council –
MR. TONER: You don’t want to mention that the Indian parliament passed the foreign direct investment bill?
QUESTION: Yeah, I was going to after this.
MR. TONER: Well, we welcome it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That should do it for that. Let’s move along, no? (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Sure. Said.
QUESTION: Way to sum up, Mark. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I have one on UN Security Council, please?
MR. TONER: Sorry. What’s that? Go ahead, Goyal. Finish your question.
QUESTION: Recently, Pakistan was elected to the UN Security Council member on – as far as a member of the Human Rights Council --
MR. TONER: Okay. Right.
QUESTION: -- United Nations. Now, my question is that the same day in Karachi they demolished a 100 year-old-plus Hindu temple. And what they’re asking is that if Pakistan is really for the minorities or deserve to be on the United Nations Human Rights Council, and what your message on these crimes against minorities in Pakistan?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of this specific incident. I’d have to look into it. But our standard position on religious freedom is well known, and respect for minorities.
QUESTION: No, hold on. Do you have a fuller answer on the direct investment thing?
MR. TONER: Oh, sure. We welcome, obviously, the Indian parliament’s decision to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. As Indian officials have pointed out, foreign direct investment can create – excuse me – opportunities for small businesses, for farmers, spur investment in infrastructure, and bring benefits to consumers as well as lower – such as lower food prices. We believe direct foreign investment will – in retail – will grow markets in India as it has in China, Brazil, and many other developing economies.
QUESTION: How is it going to help increase U.S.-India trade? Do you have anything on that?
MR. TONER: I mean, I don’t have any – obviously I don’t have any numbers or statistics in front of me.
QUESTION: But do you think it is --
MR. TONER: I know that a number of U.S. firms are obviously keen to invest in the retail sector of India, and obviously I think will only deepen our economic cooperation.
QUESTION: What --
MR. TONER: It’s already pretty profound.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, what message do you have for those opposing this retail FDI into India? Because they are not still satisfied. What do you think you have a message from the United States because that is what they are seeking, how it will help them?
MR. TONER: Well, Goyal, I’ll just say what I said yesterday, was that there was a political process that played itself out. All sides had a chance to express their views, whether for it or against it, and it was approved. So I’ll leave it there.
MR. TONER: Syria.
QUESTION: Do you have any other update regarding these chemical weapons in Syria?
MR. TONER: I do not.
QUESTION: You do not? About Patriots that are going to Turkey, and Germans just passed (inaudible.) There’s the expectation that this – some come from U.S. as well. Are you prepared to make any --
MR. TONER: Not at this time. But we’ve obviously – the Secretary did the other day, as we have from the podium, expressed our satisfaction that this – NATO took this decision. We stand with our ally Turkey, but I don’t have anything to announce yet.
QUESTION: You’re asking about (inaudible) the --
MR. TONER: I did, I spoke to it yesterday.
QUESTION: -- yesterday. Is there a decision that we can --
MR. TONER: Nothing to announce.
QUESTION: There was a sense on Thursday that perhaps Russia was changing its position on whether Assad could be part of any solution to a new Syria. And in her comments today in Belfast, the Secretary seemed to suggest that perhaps we are all over-reading what happened or what came out of the meeting that she had with Sergey Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi. Can you clarify what Russia’s stand is in trying to resolve the Syrian crisis?
MR. TONER: Rosiland, that’s – that’s a question, really, you’re going to have to direct to the Russians. The Secretary spoke at length on Syria and on yesterday’s session this morning in Belfast. She said it was a constructive session. She said that the United States and Russia have committed to support a renewed push by Special Envoy Brahimi and his team to work with all the stakeholders in Syria to advance a political solution to the crisis in Syria based on the outline that the Security Council members and Syria’s neighbors agreed to last June in Geneva. And our next step is going to be a meeting in the next few days that Special Envoy Brahimi will host. And that will obviously include senior officials from both the U.S. and Russia.
QUESTION: But isn’t that significant, though, that you finally start to see some sort of movement from Moscow to try to actually help bring this crisis to some sort of resolution, given the repeated obstacles it’s presented in the Security Council?
MR. TONER: Again, I think – what it was characterized yesterday as an initial step. Let’s let this – give it some time to develop. But obviously, we’re looking to this next meeting in the coming days, and obviously, we’re very concerned about ending the violence in Syria and moving towards a political transition, and we’re going to support efforts to do so.
QUESTION: Where will they be held, and when?
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to announce.
QUESTION: If you were to quantify Assad’s grip on power in Syria – I mean, this could be like a bargaining chip for him. And obviously you guys think that he cannot be part of any process. But if he does control a major part of Syria still, I think that does give him a bargaining position, doesn’t it?
MR. TONER: Said, it’s very clear, as we’ve seen from really the bloody battles that have been taking place within Damascus, within the suburbs in Damascus – I think yesterday more than 100 people were killed in and around Damascus, so the fighting continues – it’s obviously getting closer to the seat of Assad’s power. He clearly has to be feeling the pressure not only of the conflict that’s growing closer to him and his cronies, but also the weight of countless economic sanctions that have been levied against him by the international community. He has – he is the leader of a pariah government and the clock is ticking. We don’t know when, though.
QUESTION: So he has no other option besides stepping down?
MR. TONER: Yes. And the Secretary is very clear about saying that the United States wants to see the Syrian people – or wants to see a transition process, rather, that results in a unified, democratic Syria, and that Assad clearly has demonstrated that he can’t be part of that future.
QUESTION: In a related, sort of, development there, apparently a bunch of Syrian rebel groups are holding yet another meeting in Turkey specifically to discuss their military coordination, that they’ve elected a kind of unified command, which apparently includes a lot of folks with ties to the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Number one: Are you – is there any U.S. observer or is the U.S. sort of monitoring this in real time? And secondly, do you have any read or reaction to the formation and the sort of makeup of the central command?
MR. TONER: Andy, I can’t confirm any U.S. role. I don’t – I’ve seen reports – news reports about this meeting. As to the makeup of its military command, as you just mentioned, the Syrian opposition put forward in Cairo last July a vision for a democratic Syria that respects the freedoms of all Syrians. And we, the United States, as well as the other Friends of the Syrian people, obviously support that vision.
And just speaking more broadly about the makeup of this military command, as I saw in the news reports, the Secretary has been clear, others have been clear all along in speaking about other transitions that it doesn’t matter what you call yourself; it matters, ultimately, about how you govern.
QUESTION: The initiative that you talked about is the Geneva points, correct?
MR. TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you certain that all the opposition groups agree to that?
MR. TONER: Again, that’s the vision that we’re committed to and we believe the Syrian opposition is as well.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mark, change of subject?
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MR. TONER: Keep it up.
QUESTION: Yeah, just – I wanted to know if you were able to get a – extract an answer from the big thinkers, the ethicists and moralists in the building, about why the use of chemical weapons would be this redline.
MR. TONER: Matt, these are weapons of mass destruction that we’re talking about and the international community, including the United States, has been clear that the use of these kinds of weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable. And we have seen Assad, as I just mentioned, as the leader of a pariah government – a pariah state – show unimaginable cruelty against his own people. And we have been very clear that, again, given the horrific nature of these kinds of weapons that his – or any movement towards their use would be unacceptable.
QUESTION: Okay, well –
MR. TONER: And I don’t think it takes a real big thinker to understand that. I think it’s --
QUESTION: No, but I --
MR. TONER: -- very clear that these would cross a redline.
QUESTION: Well, no, I mean, you say that it’s very clear that they would cross a redline, but frankly, I think there are a lot of people out there who might think that it doesn’t matter how people are killed. It’s bad anyway.
MR. TONER: And I agree that --
QUESTION: And I’m not going to take issue with your answer. I’m glad that you have one, and I won’t argue with it, but aren’t you at all concerned that this sends a message that you can go out and slaughter as many people as you want with conventional weapons and we won’t intervene? But the second that you do something with WMD --
MR. TONER: Matt, that’s – that is absolutely --
QUESTION: You’re not concerned that that’s the message that’s going to be --
MR. TONER: That’s not a message that we’re sending in any way, shape, or form.
QUESTION: And you’re not – well, I know it’s not the message that you want to send --
MR. TONER: We are --
QUESTION: -- but is there any concern that that is the message that is being sent: that unless you do something that uses WMD, we don’t care what you do. You can kill as many of your own people as you want to.
MR. TONER: But I think we’ve shown by our actions to date that as we, the United States, and other Friends of Syrian People, as well as a broader coalition of countries and organizations that are, frankly, outraged and disgusted by what’s going on in Syria, there’s unprecedented political and economic pressure arrayed against Assad. And that doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s a long process to build, but as a result, he is under pressure
QUESTION: All right.
MR. TONER: -- both internationally as well as domestically. And you’re absolutely right: 40,000 deaths is unacceptable, and he and his cronies will be held accountable for that – for those deaths.
QUESTION: I guess I just don’t understand. If you’re already outraged and disgusted by what he’s doing, why hasn’t that been a trigger for any kind of an intervention? And then – so that’s one.
And then two, if in fact there is going to be some kind of intervention if, in fact, chemical weapons are used – well, I lost my train of thought now, but I guess – so I guess if you’re already – let’s just stick with if you’re already outraged and disgusted, why hasn’t that been a better redline?
MR. TONER: First of all, you’re – I think you’re presuming specific action. We’re not going to get into what specific action we may or may not take, only that it would be a redline, and we’re very stern in our warning to the Syrian Government that it would be a redline. So I don’t want to prejudge what actions we may or may not take in that context.
QUESTION: Okay. And that --
MR. TONER: But in answer to your question, again, I’d just go back to my previous point which is that we are working very hard to see Assad leave power, to get him out of the way so that a political transition can take place and the violence can end. And that’s been our goal for these many months, and it continues to be our goal.
QUESTION: Okay. And then slightly related to that --
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- is this idea – there was a story, a report about this this morning, I think – about the redline shifting or evolving from what the President originally said it was and what I think I asked you about earlier this week or last week, which was his first comment about movement or use of, and I believe you got back to me with a quote that said proliferation. But I don’t think that quote was correct.
MR. TONER: It is correct. We’re talking about – we have not changed.
QUESTION: Well, then they’re talking about two separate sentences then.
MR. TONER: We’ve not changed. The President was very clear: Any use or proliferation of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cross a redline. We haven’t changed that. There’s been no evolution of that statement.
QUESTION: On the point of weapons of mass destruction – chemical weapons included – if they were so horrible – and they are – why did you opt out of the conference to make the Middle East a weapons of mass destruction-free zone?
MR. TONER: Well, I don’t think we opted out. I think we said at this time that the conditions aren’t right for that conference to take place, but I would refer you back to the statement that we put out. It’s still our goal.
QUESTION: Do we know where Jihad Makdissi is?
MR. TONER: -- to hold that conference. Go ahead, Rosalind.
QUESTION: Do we know where Jihad Madkissi is, and perhaps more important, why does it matter if we know where he is? I mean, if the --
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) That’s a very good question. It’s you guys basically asking us. I mean, we’ve seen a steady erosion of those around Assad, these defections. I jokingly said that of course a spokesperson is an important part of any government, but seriously, we have no idea where he is, and it just, I think, is a further indication, however, that those around Assad are looking for the exits.
QUESTION: Mark, is the use of burns of explosions from the regime acceptable?
MR. TONER: The use of?
QUESTION: Burns, burns of explosions.
MR. TONER: None of this is acceptable. I don’t know – you’re asking me to qualify what’s taken place or to somehow say that we’re not outraged by all the conventional means that Assad’s been using against his own people. And we are. It’s unacceptable.
Yeah, in the back. Are we --
QUESTION: Is there then a number of deaths that there has to be from conventional weapons before there’s a redline?
MR. TONER: Matt --
QUESTION: I don’t – I guess – and if there is, what is that number?
MR. TONER: Matt, there’s no number – 40,000 deaths is far too many. We just don’t want to see that accelerated exponentially --
MR. TONER: -- through the use of weapons of mass destruction, which is a horrific --
QUESTION: All right, but I – no one’s arguing with that. It’s just that it’s --
MR. TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I guess it’s an ethical question. A gas attack, a sarin gas attack, could kill a lot of people or it could kill just dozens. But that is a redline, whereas those dozens of deaths would be a redline if they’re caused by a chemical weapons attack --
MR. TONER: I think we’ve --
QUESTION: -- of 40,000 deaths --
MR. TONER: I think we’ve been around this and around this, Matt.
QUESTION: -- from convention weapons is not enough to bring --
MR. TONER: Matt --
QUESTION: -- international intervention? I just --
MR. TONER: First of all, you’re --
QUESTION: I’d like to know --
MR. TONER: First of all, you’re – again, you’re presuming intervention. We’ve not said what we would do, only that it is a redline. I don’t know.
In the back, Lalit.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Can I do one more on Aleppo? Apparently, there is a lack of electricity, there is a lack of food; it’s getting worse. It’s across Syria, but a couple of American journalists actually in Aleppo and they’ve been reporting some people are hungry. The question is: Why these people cannot get more help or just food from Turkey, for example? There’s a --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: There’s liberated areas north of Aleppo.
MR. TONER: Well, I know. I don’t know specifically what the – I mean, obviously, the challenges are obvious in trying to get assistance to where it’s needed within Syria. Specifically with regard to Aleppo, I know that assistance organizations, NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, are working hard, and we’re obviously contributing to their efforts financially to get food and other much-needed resources to these people. But specifically, I don’t know what the hang-up is for assisting them.
QUESTION: Are you concerned – I mean, are you going to try to get to bottom of this whether – I mean, is there a lack of leadership? Is there – I mean, is it Turkey’s problem?
MR. TONER: Well, we’ve been working on – we’ve been working with the Syrian Opposition Coalition. That’s one of the primary objectives that they’re working on, which is how to organize themselves on the ground to deliver these kinds of assistance to make sure that it gets to the people in need.
MR. TONER: I don’t know anything about it. It’s hard for me to comment on it. I haven’t seen the webpage. I haven’t seen any reports about it --
QUESTION: And also, since Tehrik-e Taliban --
MR. TONER: -- other than to reject, obviously, terrorism and the attempts to proliferate terrorism in any way, shape, or form.
QUESTION: And also, since this is a foreign terrorist organization designated by the Secretary of State, and Facebook is a U.S. company, so how does it work? Are – is Facebook or U.S. companies allowed to have some kind of relationship with terrorist organizations or the leadership like this one?
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I’ll take it. I don’t know what all the legal – I frankly don’t know what control they might have over it and how they might police it. I mean, it’s a question that may be better directed to Facebook. But whether we have eyes on that process at all, I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: But when you declared them as an FTO, you specifically --
MR. TONER: Yeah. No, it’s a fair question. I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: -- mentioned that any U.S. citizens --
MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I will look into it. I just don’t have an answer for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Mark. I’m Paul Courson from CNN filling in over here.
MR. TONER: Hey, Paul.
QUESTION: Thank you. Question: We’re doing a story on these Chinese maternity houses on the West Coast. Dozens of women, pregnant, mostly from China, coming here as almost a revenue-generated industry to have American babies, in effect. It seems to violate the spirit of immigration and citizenship law. Is there anything concerning the State Department of the magnitude of this going on?
MR. TONER: Well, the Department of State as an entity is obviously committed to facilitating legitimate travel in accordance with U.S. immigration law. I am aware of the story. I just became aware of it today. I can say that the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is what governs our visa issuance overseas, does not contain any ineligibilities with regard to pregnancies or the intention to give birth in the United States. Anyone may apply for a U.S. visa, and each applicant’s individual situation is considered during the application process.
Now as is the case with all visa applications, these applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they don’t intend to use their visitor visa to remain indefinitely in the United States, what we call overstays, or that they have – they also need to show that they have the means, financial means, and the intention to pay all the costs of their medical care in the United States.
QUESTION: But where does it reach a point where, if it’s not a matter of overstaying a visa, it’s a matter of buying American citizenship through this industry that seems to exist?
MR. TONER: Well, again, I can’t comment on the intention of these individuals, only in that – just to repeat what I just said, which is that the intention to give birth in the United States is not an ineligibility for a U.S. visa.
QUESTION: Are you legally barred from using it as a – in other words, if there is a problem and it needs to be fixed, it’s not you who can fix it, right? It’s Congress.
MR. TONER: That’s correct. This is a – so that would then --
QUESTION: So you’re barred legally from saying no.
MR. TONER: That would then become a – right. That would become a congressional issue or a congressional --
QUESTION: But you’re legally barred by the law from denying a visa on the basis of someone being pregnant or intending to have a --
MR. TONER: On the basis – that is correct. That is correct. We are legally barred from denying a visa on the basis of someone being pregnant.
QUESTION: China. Human rights question.
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Tibet. The Tibetans are still asking the United States that how – what is their future under the new leadership for the next ten years, now China has a new Communist Party leaders, which you will be dealing for the next at least ten years. And more and more Tibetans are now killing themselves or self-immolation. So what – how can you stop these things going on a daily basis, two, three, four, five?
MR. TONER: Sure. Goyal, rather than simply repeat what’s already been issued by the State Department just two days ago, there was a statement by Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero. It was released on December 5th. And it really – it lays down exactly a very articulate response to exactly the questions you raise.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the Palestinians. Palestinian officials are claiming that you have assured them that you will disallow the Israelis from building in the E1 area in exchange for the Palestinians making the commitment that they will not seek membership in United Nation different agencies, such as the ICC. Could you comment on that?
MR. TONER: I’m not. I mean, I’m not going to talk about our private exchanges between the Palestinians or the Israelis, only to say that we want to see, as I’ve said very clearly the other day, or I hope very clearly, that we want to see both sides step back from unilateral action so that we can pause, look at the road ahead, where we need to be, and move towards peace and away from unconstructive actions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Related question?
MR. TONER: Sorry. Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, Israel.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The other day I asked about this counterterrorism meeting that the Secretary’s going to in the UAE, and the question was about Israel’s involvement in it. And you said – you gave the answer that has been given previously, that you’re working to try and include Israel in as many activities of this as possible. I’m wondering if you can outline for us, or if it’s possible to take the question to get someone to outline for us, what exactly the Administration has done over the course – or since the last meeting, when you all said that you were going to try to get them included in this group, or at least some of this group’s work, what all has been done to that end.
MR. TONER: Sure. Let me try to answer your question. If I fall short, certainly then --
QUESTION: Should we bet on whether you do or not?
MR. TONER: (Laughter.) If I fall short, oh well. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s not going to be you who has to deal with it. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: I did – jokingly before I came down here, I said I’ll just take 40 questions or so. But no, anyway, to get back to your question, as you raised, this is something – or as you put in your question, this is a question about which we have regular discussions with our partners in the Global Counterterrorism Forum. It’s – and in fact, we’ve succeeded and agreed with our partners in the GCTF to have this issue as a formal agenda item on the – at the December 13 meeting, which is going to take place, as you noted, in Abu Dhabi.
As we’ve said and made clear in the past in our conversations with the members of the GCTF, this is an informal platform dedicated to supporting the implementation of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy and mobilizing expertise from around the world. So we think that the forum should focus on bringing those countries, which definitely includes Israel, with the relevant experience and the best and the brightest experts to the table for each activity. And that’s what we continue to work towards in our conversations. So it is on the agenda as a formal agenda item.
QUESTION: Okay. What exactly is it that’s on the agenda? I mean, what is – can you say what --
MR. TONER: To have this issue discussed about --
QUESTION: Israel’s participation as a full – in the --
MR. TONER: That --
QUESTION: -- in subsequent --
MR. TONER: That the GCTF needs to develop more concrete policies on the involvement of non-members.
QUESTION: Well, it’s not --
MR. TONER: So that would speak to this issue, to get them involved in some of the activities.
QUESTION: But the agenda item isn’t specifically about Israel?
MR. TONER: No. But certainly, Israel would be included in this.
QUESTION: It’s about all non-members?
MR. TONER: But Israel would be included in that.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But it’s not an agenda item to have Israel included as a member, is it?
MR. TONER: My understanding is it’s an agenda item on developing policies about the involvement of non-members. That’s --
QUESTION: With an eye towards them becoming members or just --
MR. TONER: No. On how to get them involved. As I talked about, this is about mobilizing the best and the brightest strategists from around the world.
QUESTION: Okay. Maybe you – maybe I need to talk to someone who’s got a little bit more expertise in this, on this. But I mean, is membership --
MR. TONER: Yesterday, I’m not a big thinker; today, I lack expertise.
QUESTION: I was trying to get you off the hook – (laughter) – with the big thinker question.
MR. TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: Is membership closed? Is it full? Can no one else get in?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware that membership is closed in this organization. What we’ve been working towards – and if I’m unclear on this, I can try to get you a clearer answer. But what we’ve been working towards is getting Israel, with its expertise, with its experience, involved in some of the activities that this group’s involved with.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you want them to join or you’re pushing for them for full membership?
MR. TONER: It does not necessarily assume membership, but we want to see their expertise reflected.
QUESTION: So I guess then my quick question is just is the agenda item that you’re talking about being – it does not anticipate or does not get into whether non-members can actually become members?
MR. TONER: No. What we’re talking about here is the issue of participation of non-members, including Israel, in these kinds of events.
QUESTION: But that wouldn’t preclude someone from bringing up the question of membership during that discussion, right?
MR. TONER: I’m not sure what the legal parameters are, but I would assume not.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: North Korea said that the mainland of the United State is within the range of their missile. From that point of view, how serious does United State take the launch of ballistic missile?
MR. TONER: Well, we obviously take these kinds of threats, provocative rhetoric, very seriously. We condemn North Korea’s decision to move forward with a launch, we urge North Korea to reconsider, and we’re working with our partners and allies in the region to address our concerns. And in the event of a launch, we’ll take appropriate action.
QUESTION: Do you think --
QUESTION: Well, U.S. Navy vessels apparently are being mobilized as part of the overall government reaction to this planned launch. What’s being done on the diplomatic side, in terms of ratcheting up contacts with South Korea, with Japan, with Beijing?
MR. TONER: Well, as you know, representatives from the Korean Government as well as Japanese Government were here over the last couple days consulting with Glyn Davies on – our Special Representative on North Korea, to talk about next steps once or if they do move towards a launch.
QUESTION: And you have a meeting with the Chinese – with the high-ranking officials here today?
MR. TONER: Yeah. I’m not sure if we – if there’s – who are you referring to?
QUESTION: You released the press release yesterday.
MR. TONER: I don’t have anything to announce or any details.
QUESTION: And one more question? The time window that the North Korea announced for the launch missile this time begin 5 p.m. Sunday Eastern time. So will somebody – anybody be here for watching that launching missile?
QUESTION: Not you. This is an experts problem. (Laughter.)
MR. TONER: Look, rest assured we’re monitoring the situation closely.
QUESTION: Just one quick. Do you deny that the former spokesman of Syria Foreign Ministry Makdissi in U.S.? Do you deny that or you --
MR. TONER: Matt called me out on this, on our – on my denial yesterday, saying he might have snuck in. I can’t speak to that. All I can say is we’ve looked through all our channels and reached out to all agencies that are concerned with border and immigration and customs and immigration. He’s not here.
QUESTION: To go back to his question, Wang Jiarui is the Minister of the CCP, Central Committee’s International Department, and according to a statement released by this building last night, he was supposed to meet with senior State officials.
MR. TONER: Oh, right, right, right. That’s exactly right. Yeah, I’m sorry. This is – now I know what you’re talking about, the Taken Question we released last night.
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
MR. TONER: Thank you, Rosalind.
QUESTION: You’re welcome.
MR. TONER: That it, guys? All right, thanks so much.
QUESTION: Be safe, be well, and we’ll see you next year.
MR. TONER: Thanks, Matt. I appreciate it. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)