2:03 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Got a few things at the top and then I’ll take your questions.
I just wanted to start off with Egypt. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack which killed the Egyptian public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. We extend our deepest condolences to the Egyptian Government and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We also wish, obviously, a speedy recovery to those who were injured. And the United States stands firmly with the Egyptian Government in its efforts to confront terrorism.
Also just a quick update on the Secretary’s day – or days in Vienna now. He’s – obviously remains in Vienna with his top negotiating team for the ongoing P5+1 nuclear negotiations. He had several meetings over the past several days with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, who, as you know, returned to Tehran today. Be back, I think, in Vienna tomorrow. Also EU High Representative Mogherini, French Foreign Minister Fabius, UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, and also today he met with the AI – IAEA – forgive me – Director General Amano.
I think that’s all I have. Oh, I just actually wanted to – sorry, we’ve been doing, I think, a pretty good job at updating you all on this ongoing consular visa problems, and I wanted to deliver some more good news today on that front. All visa-issuing embassies – excuse me – and consulates are now back online. Let me repeat that. All visa-issuing embassies and consulates are now back online, and we’re scheduling visa interviews and issuing non-immigrant and immigrant visas.
So we issued more than 410,000 non-immigrant visas from June 21st through June 29th. And consular staff around the world worked throughout the weekend to diminish our backlog, the bulk of which has now been cleared. Also, which has been an issue pertaining to H2 visas, we’ve now issued all remaining H2 visas for temporary workers that were pending during the June 9th and June 19th timeframe. Mexico posts are now processing all the H2 visas as normal.
Clearly, we – and we’ve said this many times – we regret the inconvenience to travelers who are waiting for visas, as well as their families and U.S. businesses that have been affected by this problem, but I do have to give kudos to my colleagues in the Consular Affairs Bureau who’ve really done exemplary work at trying to, as I said, address the computer problems but also meet the backlog of visa requests.
I’ll stop there and take your questions.
QUESTION: Mark, can I have a follow-up on that – on the visa thing?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: I assume that you guys are trying to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?
MR TONER: We are certainly --
QUESTION: As far as --
MR TONER: No, of course, of course. I think we talked about – it was a hardware issue and we had to bring the two systems up and obviously we had to bring a backup system, make sure that that was working and functioning properly. That’s all been done now. And again, now it’s just a matter keeping up – or catching up with the backlog which we’ve all but done.
QUESTION: What I meant was --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- these are kind of the backup systems, so I mean, this is quite a major issue and one doesn’t expect that to happen. So that’s what I meant by a backup.
MR TONER: You’re saying – you’re asking me if we do have a backup of the backup?
QUESTION: Backup of the backup.
MR TONER: I think – look, I mean, I think obviously whenever these kinds of problems arise or challenges, then we learn from them. Like I said, I think that the Consular Affairs Bureau has done an exemplary job both at tackling the technological issues but also at addressing the backlog in visas.
QUESTION: And --
MR TONER: Oh, go ahead. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Can I have another follow-up?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure thing.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s a report out that Jordan’s preparing to set up a security zone in northern Syria to – and they’re calling it – carving out what they call a humanitarian buffer zone for rebels. Do you know anything about this? Can you say if the U.S. has been involved in trying to help with this, and what is the meaning of it?
MR TONER: Well, frankly, we’ve seen – we have seen those reports and we’ve actually seen reports out of Turkey as well about these so-called no-fly or military-enforced zones. For our part, our position hasn’t changed. And we know – you know – I know you’ve – know we’ve discussed this many times and addressed it from this podium. The creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone or any other military enforced zone presents significant challenges. We’ve been very upfront about that. They include military, financial, but also humanitarian challenges that we need to obviously consider in the broader context.
That said, again, we’ve just seen reports on all of these, both in Jordan and in Turkey. So we don’t have any more concrete facts to go on than that.
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Good to see you behind the podium, Mark.
MR TONER: Thanks. Good to be back.
QUESTION: Again. Anyway, I wanted to follow up on Turkey --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- because apparently it’s just not a safe haven or a no-fly zone. I mean, they’re talking about sending a force of about 15- to 18,000 soldiers to occupy an area that is hundreds and ten kilometers long, 23 kilometers deep and so on. That’s a very extensive plan. Now, being the second-largest force in NATO, would that be something that the United States would support?
MR TONER: Well, I think there’s – great to see you again, Said. But I think there’s a lot of hypotheticals in what you just said. And frankly, we don’t have any ground truth on any of these plans so far. All we’ve seen, frankly, are press reports. So there’s really no solid evidence of what – which way either Turkey or Jordan is leaning at this point. Certainly these are remarkable challenges, security challenges that everyone in the region is facing, and looking at how to address them the best way possible is something that these governments are considering. But we don’t have any concrete – anything more concrete to address.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.
MR TONER: Yeah, please. Finish. Yeah.
QUESTION: If I may. Both Davutoglu and Erdogan basically gave a statement to that effect, saying that we will not allow a Kurdish state to emerge in Syria. They’re meeting, I think, tomorrow – a national security meeting and so on --
MR TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: -- in which you know a statement will come out and so on. Will you support, if Turkey takes a – will you support that kind of decision?
MR TONER: Again, let’s see what those discussions yield. Let’s see what the Turkish Government says. Certainly, as I said, Turkey is facing security challenges on its border and looking at how to address those challenges. But I don’t want to get out in front of any decisions that they haven’t made yet.
QUESTION: Also – yeah, also on Turkey and Syria.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about reports that the Turks may have allowed ISIL fighters to cross into Kobani and kill upwards of 200 people this past weekend? And there are some accusations of – from the YPG that the Turks may in fact be enabling members of ISIL to continue their attacks inside Syria.
MR TONER: Yeah, Roz. I haven’t seen any of the additional reports. I know that there were some of those reports last week, and frankly they were unverifiable and the Turkish Government, I think you’ll recall, came out and said that they were not true. And so I don’t really have anything to add. And I frankly haven’t seen those new reports.
QUESTION: But just the reports that there seem to be a growing number of renewed attacks inside Kobani – is that causing any alarm here inside the U.S. Government, that a town that was considered retaken may be vulnerable once again?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, of course. We’re always going to be concerned when we get battlefield assessments. But again, those are battlefield assessments. We don’t have eyes on the ground. But certainly the security situation remains fluid there. And of course we take those – any kind of reports like that seriously.
QUESTION: You just mentioned that according to press reports – and you said that they are only press reports. But the source in Turkey said that they have been – Ankara communicated with you regarding their plan in – as a buffer zone in Syria. So you are saying that you never been officially communicated, informed on these plans?
MR TONER: Look, what I’ve seen are reports. I’m not aware that our embassy has been informed of any plans. And again, they’re meeting tomorrow, so let’s let that meeting take place and see what comes out of it.
Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about these reports?
MR TONER: Are we concerned about reports of the buffer zone?
QUESTION: About the Turkish Government is mulling this intervention in Syria. Are you concerned about this --
MR TONER: Look, I just said – I just voiced our concerns about the logistics of the challenges inherent in any – creating any kind of buffer zone. Our position remains that it’s a complex issue and something that we would have concerns about undertaking ourselves. But let’s let the Turkish Government make a decision.
QUESTION: Yeah. Did you raise these concerns with the Turkish officials then?
MR TONER: We talk, obviously, about a range of security issues with the Turkish Government all the time.
QUESTION: No, recently, after these reports.
MR TONER: I’m not aware.
QUESTION: On Tal Abyad, it has been few weeks that Tal Abyad been taken by the YPG and PYD forces. According to best of your knowledge – there are some concerns being vocalized by Ankara that there is some kind of democratic changes, and your Administration stated that you urge PYD to fulfill their promises regarding the administrating that town by the local commissions. How much your expectations have been met so far when it comes to Tal Abyad and administrating it?
MR TONER: Sorry, you’re speaking about in terms of how the – you said the YPG is handling the administration of Tal Abyad?
QUESTION: In – yes, Tal Abyad. Turkey has been voicing concerns that there is some ethnic --
MR TONER: Sure. I just – again, and I spoke to this a little bit in my response to Roz, but we don’t have a lot of credible information coming in. We’re reading, obviously, press reports, but always it’s challenging to get a sense of what’s going on on the ground. But certainly we would like to see any occupying force in that town adhere to democratic norms and try to re-establish stability. But I don’t have any specific --
MR TONER: Yes, and I – you’re talking about on – you’re talking about Syria, right, in Moscow?
QUESTION: Correct, yeah.
MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, our views haven’t changed. We think the support that the Assad regime gains or receives from Russia and its other backers has enabled it to avoid seeking a constructive, negotiated end to the conflict that’s happening in Syria. We don’t want to see the Assad regime continue to be propped up in any way. What we want to see is, as we’ve said many, many times, a negotiated settlement – one that doesn’t, certainly, include Assad.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe – does the U.S. Government believe that it’s been – that Russia has been using enough of its influence to try to persuade Assad to end this civil war? And if so, how?
MR TONER: This is something, obviously, the Secretary has spoken to in his discussions – in reading out some of his discussions with Lavrov – Sergei Lavrov. The fact that we still have an ongoing conflict there and no political resolution speaks to the fact that, certainly, everyone can do more.
MR TONER: You’re talking about – sorry, apologize --
QUESTION: A buffer zone.
MR TONER: A buffer zone?
QUESTION: Yeah, the buffer zone and this no-fly zone area. What are the challenges for such a thing?
MR TONER: Well, again – I mean, there’s serious logistical challenges creating that kind of buffer zone, including whether you have boots on the ground. I don’t want to get into an assessment that, frankly, somebody from the Pentagon or from DOD is better equipped to do. I’m just saying that there are significant challenges, and they speak to financial costs and – as well as logistics.
QUESTION: Yes, but I know that U.S. is – I mean, Administration is reluctant to impose such a buffer zone or no-fly zone in the area, but the press reports are indicating that this time the Turkish officials are considering to create this buffer zone unilaterally.
MR TONER: But you’re trying to get me to speak to something – a decision that hasn’t been made yet --
MR TONER: -- and I’m not going to do it from this podium.
QUESTION: No, I’m not asking your position. As Said said, I’m trying to get your --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- I mean, assessment for such a plan, which will be imposed by Turkey unilaterally. So the challenges that you mentioned is – are regarding the challenges for U.S., but this time Turkey is considering to impose this buffer zone by himself. So what will be the challenges for such a plan?
MR TONER: And again, I’m going to say let them meet, let them discuss this, let them reach a decision, and we’ll give you our reaction.
Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: I was wondering, would the Jordanian circle – reports of the Jordanians setting up this buffer zone, and maybe even the Turkish one – would that require any kind of UN resolutions?
MR TONER: Any kind of UN resolution?
QUESTION: UN resolutions.
MR TONER: In order to set up a buffer zone like that? Fair question. I’m not sure. I’ll – I can look into it, but again, that’s something for the Jordanians to answer.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Roz’s question --
MR TONER: Sure, Said.
QUESTION: -- on Muallem’s visit to Moscow?
MR TONER: Yeah, of course.
QUESTION: Because apparently, President Putin gave him a sort of commitment to protect and aid and supply and arm and all these things, but also they discussed some sort of an anti-terror coalition that would include conceivably Saudi Arabia. Would you support such an idea where Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and everybody is actually in a coalition fighting ISIS?
MR TONER: Said, I think you’ve been to enough of these briefings and been to enough of these things that you know we wouldn’t support anything that involved Assad’s government. That’s – they have lost all legitimacy. Their actions against the Syrian people really exclude them from any kind of meaningful discussion about bringing peace to the – and stability to that part of the world.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: Can I do one more on Turkey?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday there was a pride march in Istanbul by LGBT communities. These marches have been done for a number of years without any kind of incident. Yesterday there were intervention by the police forces. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: Right. Well, first of all, we’re obviously concerned by the instances of police use of excessive force that apparently took place against some of the participants in yesterday’s peaceful pride parade in Istanbul. Not clear to us why the police acted in this manner. And as you noted in your question, Istanbul has hosted these annual LGBT pride parades since 2003, and they’ve been largely, frankly, unmarked by any violence or police action. So obviously, yesterday’s incidents were of concern to us, as they all are, and I’ll go back to what the Secretary himself said last week on the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: We remain committed to advocating on behalf of civil society and speaking out for the protection of human rights for all individuals, and that includes LGBT individuals.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- there was an activist – and this relates to pride – there was an independent gay rights activist in Cuba who said yesterday that he was unable to attend a pride march in Havana that he organized himself. The authorities, he said, refused to let him leave the immediate vicinity of the house – of his neighborhood where he lives. Are you aware of that report, and if so, any thoughts on that?
MR TONER: Not aware of the report, and so I’m wary of commenting to it or speaking directly to it. But obviously, the same concerns would apply: that we believe LGBT persons should be allowed to march in peace and not be harassed.
QUESTION: Mark, on these human rights violations in Turkey, some Congress members sent a letter to Secretary Kerry in March regarding these human rights issues and press freedom problems in Turkey. And recently, Assistant Secretary Julia Frifield answered this letter on behalf of Secretary Kerry. And she said in her letter that, “We are considering the implementation of a periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey in which we expect the discussion of human rights and media freedom would figure prominently.” Have you contacted with Turkey to submit this letter – I mean, to convene such a meeting with strategic dialogue on these issues?
MR TONER: I mean, we obviously discuss a broad range of issues. Turkey is a strategic ally and NATO ally and a strong partner in the region. We talk about a range of issues, including human rights. But I don’t know specifically, to address the – what did you call it, a --
QUESTION: Periodic strategic dialogue meetings --
MR TONER: No, I don’t know of any – I don’t have any information.
QUESTION: -- on especially human rights.
MR TONER: I can check. If I have something, I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Can you please – yeah, can you please take this question?
MR TONER: Sure thing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: You, and then in the back. Please.
On Brazil, the visit of the President today has been described quite a lot in recent days in Washington as a chance to turn the page after the NSA disclosures, but the White House is being very insistent that it won’t be apologizing for any interception of her communications, simply describing how things have moved on. Is the lack of an apology an impediment to that turning of the page in the bilateral relationship? Is this an issue that the State Department feels is relevant to helping move on? And why is – as with the French president last week, why is the lack of an apology such a big part of this? Why not just say sorry?
MR TONER: Well, look, first of all, you’re speaking about White House comments and a White House visit, a presidential visit, so I would refer you to the White House for comments on the visit. But broadly speaking, we – Brazil is a major regional partner. We want to nurture that relationship and certainly this visit is an opportunity to do that. But speaking to the broader issue of an apology or not an apology, I think we’ve been very forthcoming in our reckoning about some of the reports or – but I’m not going to get into what is, frankly, leaked intelligence or allegedly leaked intelligence. I’m just not going to comment from the podium.
QUESTION: Okay. And separate, on --
QUESTION: Sorry. On Secretary Clinton’s emails --
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I believe the first tranche of the ones from her private server are due to be released by the State Department. Is it tomorrow? Could you confirm any details of when, how many, what format? Can you tell us a bit about that?
MR TONER: Well, thanks for raising the question. I was able to confirm, we do expect to release the next tranche tomorrow sometime. I’m not sure, frankly, when in the day that will happen. In terms of the number – this is an ongoing – as you mentioned, it’s a huge tranche of emails. I think some 55,000 pages of emails that we’ve been steadily going through and examining, obviously according to FOIA standards, but also within the interagency, making sure that we can release this stuff publicly. And we’re working through that.
As far as the content or the amount of emails that will be released in this next tranche, I’m not sure. We’ll have more details I think tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just one practical --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) for us, will they be in a searchable format? Because there were some suggestions they’d been printed out and probably they won’t necessarily be searchable. Do you know whether that’s been addressed?
MR TONER: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how they’ll be presented. I think that’s still somewhat being worked out but I don’t have any firm answer for you. Sorry.
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Have you seen Representative Gowdy’s remarks yesterday on these missing emails from Secretary Kerry – sorry, Secretary Clinton? He said that if he doesn’t get any satisfaction from this public interaction – and he said he’s spoken to the chief of staff – I gather that’s Jon Finer – that he would ask Kerry to come and testify himself. Has there been any additional – that you can tell us – any additional discussions on what they – this panel is looking for from the State Department and whether you’re going to hand it over?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about that over the last several days, and I know John spoke to it on Friday. This is – look ,we’ve tried from the beginning of this process to be as accommodating and as transparent as possible, something the Secretary has obviously spoken to and believes in. And we’re working hard to do that considering the increasing requests and increasingly broad requests, frankly, for information coming from the select committee; that does take time. We have, however, produced tens of thousands of pages of emails and documents to satisfy their requirements, and I can give you the stats.
Since August, we’ve given 300 emails from Secretary Clinton’s account; 4,000 pages of internal records from the Accountability Review Board; 40,000 pages of additional documents from the department, 25,000 pages of which were reviewed and produced to Congress in different formats; and then an additional 1,200 pages of emails from Secretary Clinton’s staff. We presented 21 witnesses for interviews since February.
So we’ve been working hard to respond to the select committee’s requests for information, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Would you think the Secretary will be – Secretary Kerry will be willing to testify on this issue?
MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to what he may or may not do. In fact, we’ve gotten no requests for that. So I’m just – want to underscore the fact that we’ve worked extremely hard to be responsive to the select committee’s requests, and we’ll continue to do so.
Yeah, sure, Said.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You know everything is coming out --
MR TONER: I mean, I don’t know what I’m allowed to say – (laughter) --
QUESTION: -- yeah, that’s true. But let me ask you, I mean --
MR TONER: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- it seems for all intents and purposes will probably go beyond tomorrow, the 30th.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And my question to you is, suppose it takes three, four or five – two weeks; will the Secretary stay there on until something happens? Or at one point he’s going to come back?
MR TONER: That’s a hypothetical again.
QUESTION: Hypothetical? (Inaudible) --
MR TONER: No, in all seriousness, look, we’ve said – and we’ve said as much in the past week or so that these talks – and it’s looking more likely now – could go beyond June 30th for a few days if we need additional time to conclude, frankly, a strong comprehensive agreement, and that’s still our attitude. We’re still focused on getting the best agreement possible, the most comprehensive agreement possible, and if we have to work a little bit longer to do that – the team in Vienna – then we’ll – they’ll do so, obviously. But nobody’s talking about a long-term extension, to speak to your question.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you your reaction --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: -- to all these experts and pundits that have been all over the place yesterday and the day before, and so on, basically knocking down any proposed deal and so on. It’s looking at all the negative aspects. Do you have any reaction to that, (inaudible) --
MR TONER: I don’t. I mean, we’ve --
QUESTION: -- anything to say to them?
MR TONER: -- we’ve spoken about this before, Said.
QUESTION: I understand.
MR TONER: Obviously, there’s lots of interest in this, and it’s something that’s being discussed not only in the United States but in all – around the world, in P5+1 countries as well as in Iran. What we’re focused on, frankly, is the negotiating room in Vienna and what’s going on there and those discussions taking place there. And that’s where the Secretary is, that’s where he’s – his focus is, as well as his team’s focus.
We all know broadly – we all understand the parameters that were agreed to in Lausanne, and we’re working hard to reach a broad and comprehensive and thorough agreement that addresses those.
QUESTION: How committed is the Secretary to bringing out a deal, if they can conclude one, that would pass political scrutiny, not just the President’s wish to have a deal that would not permit Iran to start some sort of military nuclear program?
MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get out in front of the negotiations that are taking place in Vienna. Certainly, what we’ve said time and time again is we want the strongest agreement possible. And that is according to the parameters that were laid out clearly in Lausanne, and those are what we’re pursuing.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary prepared to walk away, even if it means returning to the status quo ante, where Iran would no longer be governed by the JPOA? Is this we’re going to get some kind of deal because we don’t want some sort of militarization program to restart?
MR TONER: Again, these are all discussions taking place in Vienna. I’m not going to get out ahead of them. They’ve got hard work to do there, and they don’t need me commenting from here on them.
QUESTION: Sorry, Mark.
MR TONER: Yeah, please go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: There are people that say that the negotiating process has been good for the United States. So why end it? Just keep on negotiating because --
MR TONER: Oh, good for the United States? I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you
QUESTION: Because – yes. That’s exactly what they say, that as long as the negotiations are ongoing, Iran’s program is on hold, it’s not going any further, and so on, and the sanctions are in place. So that’s actually a good outcome. They want you to go on negotiating forever. What is the thinking --
MR TONER: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- in this building?
MR TONER: It sounds like a Kafkaesque process there.
QUESTION: Yeah, right. It is quite Kafkaesque, isn’t it?
MR TONER: No, look. Said, I’m not going to suss out all the possible options, and I really, frankly, don’t want to speak much more to what – to the negotiations that are ongoing in Vienna. I could just say with that, the Secretary, his team, the United States, P5+1 partners are all committed to getting as strong an agreement as possible, and concluding that as quickly as we can.
Please, go ahead, Tejinder.
QUESTION: First, welcome back.
MR TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: Good to see you.
MR TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: So --
MR TONER: Good to see you, too.
QUESTION: Is there any update from Indian Government on action taken against the NGOs in India? Because the last time I’d asked, I was told that the U.S. has asked for some sort of reaction, comments?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we remain concerned about difficulties caused to civil society organizations, NGOs, by the manner in which the – I think you’re – the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act has been applied. Obviously, more broadly, we support civil society throughout the world, and we believe ardently that a vibrant civil society actually strengthens democratic institutions and culture, and it certainly gives voice to all – or for all to express their views. So we support a strong civil society, and certainly non-governmental organizations, NGOs, are part of that process.
Yeah, sorry, a follow-up?
QUESTION: The Indian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, was here in the U.S. for 10 days, I think. And he was – basically he was looking for investments. And talking to some people who were – who attended, they believe that – does the U.S. – can the government say that the U.S. investments will be safe after this such kind of a whimsical crackdown on NGOs? Like, people are afraid – like, we go invest and then the government says --
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- “Okay, these rules apply.” So does – the U.S. is confident?
MR TONER: I would say, speaking generally, we’re supportive. I can say Prime Minister Modi’s pro-business reforms, including his commitment to fighting corruption and – as well as his public remarks, I think, recently and regarding improving India’s position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report – these are initiatives that clearly take time to implement. Again – and I’ve spoken to this before, but certainly private companies, whether they’re U.S. or other nationalities, look at the investment climate when they’re thinking about investing somewhere, and obviously, corruption plays into that evaluation and assessment. So certainly corruption’s never a good thing, and we encourage all governments, including India, to address it.
QUESTION: Now, you just mentioned the word “corruption.” And when Mr. Jaitley was here and hosted a press conference (inaudible), I raised the question about this million dollar corruption that – somehow the same name, Lalit Modi, and the other – and he said it is an old case, it is – and I asked him that the prime minister has said neither will I take money, nor I will let people take, and now he’s silent. So how can you be assured that there is a crackdown on corruption when this is the first high-ranking scandal that has hit, and everybody’s silent?
MR TONER: Well, again, I would just say we’ve been encouraged by some of the reforms that he’s pledged to undertake, Prime Minister Modi. We’ll see how they’re implemented. This obviously is not something that can be done overnight. But more broadly speaking, corruption’s always a concern. So any government should address it.
MR TONER: Right. You’re talking about the Gaza-bound flotilla?
QUESTION: That’s right.
MR TONER: Right, exactly. We understand, first of all, that the situation resolved peacefully and without incident. It was a compliant boarding, as my former rear admiral informed me before coming out here. Which is good news, frankly; no one was hurt. It was without incident and resolved peacefully. I just would add what we’ve already said last week, which is that we – while we recognize and underscore the need for international support for Gaza’s recovery and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we remain of the view that there are established and legitimate crossings and established channels, rather, for that assistance to be transmitted through.
Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the operation was done in the international waters, a hundred miles away from the Gaza shore? It wasn’t even in Israeli or Palestinian territory.
MR TONER: Sure. I actually don’t know where the – geographically the boarding was done. I just know it was a compliant boarding and it was done without incident.
QUESTION: When you say it was resolved peacefully, what do you mean by that? I mean, are the peace activists released? Because the last thing I heard, they were held captive by the Israelis.
MR TONER: I’d refer you to the Israeli Government. I’m not sure if they’re being detained or not.
QUESTION: I mean, you’re not concerned about their safety? They are just peace activists who tried to break a blockade on Gaza for humanitarian reasons.
MR TONER: Well, again, what we’re happy about or what we’re pleased about is that it was – that the – that it was a compliant boarding that took place, that there were no incidents, there was no violence, and it was resolved peacefully. But as to their status right now I’d refer you to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Is them being held inside, locked down – is it a peaceful solution for you? You consider this peaceful?
MR TONER: Again, I’m not sure what their status is right now or what the – yeah.
QUESTION: And to have to get hurt in order not to be resolved peacefully?
MR TONER: Well, again, this is something – I’d refer you to the Israeli Government for their comment.
MR TONER: Yeah, please, Said. Then over to you. Sorry.
QUESTION: You said that there are means and ways to – or regular crossings and so on. But aid has been stuck now going to Gaza for a very long time. I mean, since October at least. So what other ways and means that you see, that you do, the United States of America is doing, to get that aid through?
MR TONER: Well, we actually have fulfilled 97 percent of our $414 million in assistance that we pledged for Gaza reconstruction efforts last fall. And that’s – frankly, some of those pledges that have been made have not been fulfilled, and we certainly encourage our international partners to take steps to fill the financial gap in Gaza funding.
But to speak to your specific question, we recognize that these are established channels for relief to get through. Certainly, that access can be improved upon. But that’s something that’s incumbent on Hamas and other organizations to ensure that the security exists that this assistance can be delivered.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of whether the transfer of goods into Gaza has been slowed since the new Netanyahu government came to power?
MR TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have that kind of assessment. Sorry, Roz.
Yeah, go ahead, Lesley.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. I think so, yeah.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: The parliamentary elections went ahead today. Do you – and the U.S. yanked some funding on Friday from the electoral commission, I believe. Do you believe these elections are credible and legitimate?
MR TONER: You’re right; we did, as you put it, yank some funding --
MR TONER: -- on Friday. That was – we actually placed on hold its electoral – our electoral assistance to Burundi. No, I mean, frankly, we’re deeply disappointed that despite woefully inadequate conditions for free and fair elections, and frankly, the strong urging of the African Union, the UN, the EU, and many other voices who called for a delay in parliamentary elections that the Government of Burundi moved forward with those elections today.
QUESTION: The European Union has said that they’re considering withdrawing more funding from Burundi. Is that the same case for the United States?
MR TONER: I don’t have any updates on whether we might consider other steps. But frankly, we’ve – as I said, we’ve cut off our electoral assistance, and we believe that these elections – as well as you know our position on the upcoming presidential elections in July – are invalid.
QUESTION: Had you heard anything about reports that Burundian embassy officials in Canada and perhaps in other places may have been denying those eligible to vote from coming in to cast their ballots? And if so --
MR TONER: You’re talking about Burundian expats?
QUESTION: Yes. Right.
MR TONER: I have not. I’ve not seen those reports. I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: Would that be worrisome if people weren’t allowed to cast a ballot?
MR TONER: Well, I mean, certainly, expats – like Americans or anybody living abroad – should be allowed to vote at any given election. So yes, that would be seen as a worrisome sign. But again, even back in Burundi on the ground, the conditions, as we – as I just said, were woefully inadequate for any kind of free and fair election.
QUESTION: Can I ask some questions?
MR TONER: Are we done with --
QUESTION: Yeah, he’s been waiting.
MR TONER: Please. Sure, go ahead.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: First of all, do you have any reaction or comments about it?
MR TONER: I’m sorry, one more time your question?
QUESTION: Just if you have any readouts or comments on the AIIB opening ceremony?
MR TONER: Oh, the opening ceremony, the signing. Nothing more to say than this is – there’s obviously an enormous need for infrastructure funding in Asia – well, frankly, all around the world. And I would say it’s a positive sign for China to look to play an expanded role in providing that kind of infrastructure investment. And then just I would add that we want to see the AIIB be an organization that employs the kind of high standards and governance reflecting the way international financial organizations like the World Bank and the IMF have operated over the past 70 years.
So as I said, there’s a – there’s clearly a need for that kind of investment in Asia, and – but we want to see, obviously, the AIIB live up to the standards of, as I said, other financial institutions, lending institutions.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up to that?
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: According to reports, the Government of Philippines declined to sign that document, I guess over disagreements they had with China over land reclamation in the South China Sea. Is that something that you consulted with the Philippines Government over?
MR TONER: I’m not aware that we raised that particular issue with them, no.
Yeah, go ahead, Tejinder.
MR TONER: Sure. Obviously, it’s a very serious situation that’s, as you said, still unfolding. I know that Secretary Lew, senior Treasury officials, and indeed the White House have been in close touch with their counterparts on the situation in Greece. I know the President spoke to Chancellor Merkel yesterday and President Hollande this morning about Greece. I also know that Secretary Kerry raised it in his meeting in Vienna with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier.
I’d just say it’s important that all sides work to get back to a path that will allow Greece to resume reforms and return to growth within the Eurozone, and we believe this is in the best interests of Greece as well as Europe and the global economy.
QUESTION: But as the – you see the developing the – it seems that Greece will go into the Putin fold or the Russian fold if – so how does the U.S. look at that? Will you let it – let Greece go, or will you do everything that’s possible to keep it in the Western democratic way?
MR TONER: Well, again, you’ve heard us speak before about no business as usual with Russia at this time given its actions in eastern Ukraine. But speaking more broadly, we want to see Greece remain in the Eurozone and we want to see it obviously take the necessary steps to remain there.
QUESTION: Do you have any specific reaction to reports that the Greeks will not make their payment to the IMF tomorrow?
MR TONER: I don’t. I’d refer you to Treasury on the specifics.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. actually started thinking about contingency measures? I mean, if Greece – if this is a no vote, it’s basically that they’re leaving the Eurozone. What would be the U.S.’s approach towards Greece if it leaves the Eurozone?
MR TONER: Well, again, we’re focused on, frankly, the opposite, which is finding a path forward that allows Greece to continue to make reforms, return to growth, and remain in the Eurozone. But this is between, obviously, Greece and the EU, and they need to work hard at that. We’re obviously engaged at multiple levels, as I just said. And I’d refer you to any contingency plans to the Department of Treasury.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on --
MR TONER: Yeah. Please go ahead.
MR TONER: Well, I believe the last round of discussions we had were May 21st and 22nd. Every time we meet we get closer to the goal, which is re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening the embassies. When we have a specific date to – for the reopening, we’ll obviously announce it. And just speaking more broadly and just to clarify between reopening the embassy and re-establishing diplomatic relations, those are first steps in a long-term process of normalization, but that normalization process is obviously more complex and will take some time. So as I said, an early step is this goal of re-establishing diplomatic relations, reopening the embassies, and then we’ll obviously continue to have --
QUESTION: So you – and I mean --
MR TONER: -- bilateral discussions. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: So you’ve no idea on when that 15-day notice is going to --
MR TONER: We will let you know.
QUESTION: You will let us know?
MR TONER: I have nothing to announce at this point.
QUESTION: Anything imminent?
MR TONER: I have nothing to announce.
QUESTION: Okay. And then what you’re saying – once the embassy is opened, then you start the process of the normalization, which could take weeks, months, and years.
MR TONER: I don’t want to put a timeframe on it. It’s just – this is a process, so one of the initial steps, as I just said, is the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, the reopening of the embassies, then bilateral discussions, and we’ll work through the remaining issues, which, as you know, are the embargo, property restitution – there’s a number of them.
Please, go ahead. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: As a follow-up to Cuba, I noticed in the Human Rights Report that came out about a week ago that there was a reference to Mariela Castro’s increasingly becoming a prominent supporter of LGBT rights. Is it possible for one to construe that statement as there is some human rights progress in Cuba or are the overlying issues still there in terms of crackdown on civil society and so forth?
MR TONER: Sure. I think there’s – obviously overlying issues remain in terms of human rights. But one of the – one of the goals of this re-engagement obviously is improving the lives of the Cuban people, all the Cuban people, and that includes addressing some of the human rights concerns we have and trying to work with the government to create a more conducive environment.
Is that it?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Thank you, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:47 p.m.)