Mark C. Toner
Department Press Briefing
March 7, 2017
2:00 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: All right, all right. Well, greetings, everyone. Good afternoon. It feels good to be back up here. Just a few things at the top, and then I’ll move to your questions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Japan, the Republic of Korea, and China March 15 through 19th – his first visit as Secretary of State to the East Asia and Pacific region. In each country, the Secretary will meet with senior officials to discuss bilateral and multilateral issues, including strategic coordination to address the advancing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.
Obviously, given North Korea’s continuing provocative behavior and actions, the U.S. is actively engaged with its partners and allies in the region to address the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons programs.
Secretary Tillerson will also seek to reaffirm the administration’s commitment to further broaden and enhance U.S. economic and security interests in the Asia Pacific region. Asia is, of course, a key engine of economic growth and dynamism that the U.S. believes is crucial to the growth of its own economy.
This administration is also intent on pursuing a constructive relationship with China – Secretary Tillerson has already met with China’s state councilor as well as its foreign minister – while remaining determined to ensuring that China abides by its – by international rules and plays fair with respect to trade, regional issues, and of course, human rights.
Also wanted to add that the State Department welcomed the visit to Washington yesterday by UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide to Washington. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon met with Special Advisor Eide yesterday and reaffirmed strong U.S. support for the special advisor and Cypriot-led, UN-facilitated process to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Based on the considerable progress made by the Cypriot leaders, we believe this is the best chance in decades to achieve a lasting and comprehensive solution, and hope the leaders will return as soon as possible to the negotiating table. The United States remains prepared to offer any assistance that the leaders would consider useful.
With that, over to you, Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mark, and welcome —
MR TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: Welcome back. This, as you know, well know, is a very important venue for not only foreign governments but foreign publics, the American people, and the men and women who work here and in embassies abroad. They all look to this briefing; they take their cues from it and try to figure out what’s going on with – or hopefully, that you explain what’s going on with foreign policy. So going forward, I hope that you will expect the same kind of questions that you were getting in previous administrations, and we will expect the same kind of fulsome answers.
MR TONER: I appreciate that.
QUESTION: Even I’m using the word “fulsome” wrong. (Laughter.) I want to go – I know that there’s a lot of new administration reviews, a lot of policies, a lot of things are works in progress.
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: And so I would just want to start with, very briefly, with a couple of things that have already happened.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: One is in the last day of the Obama administration, Secretary Kerry notified Congress that you were going to ignore some holds on aid to the Palestinians, $221 million. That was on January 20th. On Monday – that was the Friday, so on Monday, the first full day of the new administration, this building said that that money was now being reviewed. I’m wondering, one, what the status of that review is; but also, two, why it is that his building, in saying it was going to review it, said the money was, in fact, $220 million for Gaza recovery programs, when that differs with what the Congress was notified.
MR TONER: Well, Matt, as always, you’ve stumped me right out of the box, because I don’t have a status update on that assistance. With respect to the discrepancy in numbers, I’ll also have to take that and get back to you.
QUESTION: Okay. Second thing.
MR TONER: Yeah.
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: — for family planning programs. The White House, in explaining this, said that this would prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from funding abortion or promotion of abortion overseas. I’m curious how much money over the previous administration, the eight years of the Obama administration when the Mexico City language wasn’t in place – how much money was spent on abortion or promoting abortion?
MR TONER: How much money, specifically broken out? I don’t have that figure. But —
QUESTION: Because it is, in fact, against the law, is it not – existing law – for U.S. taxpayer dollars to be spent —
MR TONER: To be spent for abortion. Well, that’s —
QUESTION: So —
MR TONER: Again, we’re implementing the EO that was passed.
QUESTION: Yeah, but wasn’t it already being – I mean, I’m asking if it was necessary to do this since it was already illegal for taxpayer money to be spent —
MR TONER: Taxpayer – again, though —
QUESTION: It’s been illegal for decades.
MR TONER: It’s been illegal for decades.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: Well, it’s illegal to use the money for abortion —
MR TONER: To use the money —
QUESTION: — but not for organizations that also provide abortions —
MR TONER: Correct. Which is what the Mexico City —
QUESTION: Right. Well, the argument that previous administrations have made in support of this is the question of fungibility, where money can be used for different purposes frees up other money.
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: So I’m wondering, considering that this is an important issue for the administration, what your studies have shown the amount of money – the fungible money – is that will be stopped from – by this order.
MR TONER: Again, I’ll have to get back to you. I don’t have a specific breakdown on that.
QUESTION: All right, last thing. On the executive order that was signed yesterday but which we all had a preview of, the immigration and refugee executive order.
QUESTION: Since you knew that this was coming, and everyone basically knew it was coming since the first one came out, it calls for a review of the vetting procedures for not just refugees, but also on the terms of visa issuance. I’m wondering, since that review must be well along now, what deficiencies the reviewers have uncovered in the previous, or prior, or even current vetting processes.
MR TONER: Sure. Well, I mean, look – and this is elaborated in section five of the executive order – but it does call for the development of a uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures. And it also, as you noted, calls for progress reporting to the President beginning 60 days after the implementation date, which is March 16th. That said, some of this work was already underway from the previous EO.
I can’t get into too many specific details about what this report has uncovered thus far. We spoke with – and frankly, Secretary Tillerson spoke in respect to some of the progress that Iraq has made with regard to meeting some of the questions or some of the disconnects, if you will, in terms of information sharing and other procedures, that they’ve met those requirements – one of the reasons why Iraq was removed from the list of seven countries.
But this is all part of the executive order’s purpose, which is to review and improve our national security-focused visitor screening and vetting procedures. And the process, as I said, is ongoing.
QUESTION: So there hasn’t been any specific improvement so far —
MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re always seeking to improve what we’re doing. And this is an iterative process. I mean, even before the executive order, we can say that it’s not like we just began this January 27th. But I think it was a renewed commitment to look at the procedures with how we vet both refugees incoming as well as immigrants – or rather, traveling public – into this country to ensure that we’re doing the necessary to provide for the security of Americans.
QUESTION: That suggests that the necessary wasn’t being done prior. Is that correct?
MR TONER: Not at all. And I think the Secretary spoke to this yesterday, when he said that this is – it’s almost impossible – and I’m paraphrasing him – for this to be infallible, this process. But we always have to strive to do so. And I think past administrations have done so as well. But I think the President clearly identified this as a security issue when he came into office, and now we’ve reissued the executive order yesterday – or issued a new executive order yesterday. But I can assure you that this is an ongoing process.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR TONER: Yeah. Andrea.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: China has today warned that there will be consequences both for the United States and for South Korea from the initial stages of deployment of missile defense in South Korea. Can you respond to that? And then I want to ask you about the North Korean test and what the vulnerabilities are.
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, in terms of – you want me to respond directly to some of China’s —
QUESTION: To the Chinese foreign ministry, if you will.
MR TONER: Yeah, of course. Look, I think we’ve been very clear that THAAD, which is what they’re referring to, is clearly a defensive system. And the reason we’re pursuing this implementation or deployment of THAAD with South Korea is because of North Korea’s continued, for lack of a better term, bad behavior, that they continue to carry out exercises – or rather, tests that frankly not only threaten the stability of the Korean Peninsula but the region and even the national security of the United States of America.
So this is not something that is obviously, we’ve made the decision in the past week or so; this has been months in the works. And the next stage is moving forward. And for the specifics on that deployment of the THAAD system, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense. But we’ve been very clear in our conversations with China that this is not meant to be a threat and is not a threat to them or any other power in the region. It is a defensive system and it is in place – or it will be in place – because of North Korea’s provocative behavior.
QUESTION: Now David Sanger and his colleagues at The New York Times have reported over the weekend that among the options being considered are helping South Korea get a nuclear defensive weapon or a nuclear weapon. Is that one of the options being considered? And how would that make the peninsula safer?
MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to – I certainly don’t want to get into those kinds of conversations that we might be having, in terms of some of the things that are out laid in that – or laid out in that article. I wouldn’t say that’s something that we’re actively pursuing. What we’re focused on right now is strengthening our defensive exercises, our defensive cooperation, with South Korea so that they can defend themselves against continued North Korean aggression.
QUESTION: And finally, there has been criticism today on the Hill, as there has been in past weeks from other venues, that this department has been silent in the face of a number of threats – in Ukraine, in North Korea, and elsewhere from other adversaries – that the State Department has not had a voice, both from the podium and hearing from the Secretary. Is diplomacy taking a second seat or backseat in the National Security Council? And what is the department’s response to the outlined budget cuts, which would be as deep as 37 percent in terms of diplomacy and USAID development overseas?
MR TONER: Sure. It’s a big question, but I’ll try to answer it. First of all, I think that, with respect to the State Department’s voice – first of all, I’m glad that we’re back up at the podium. Many of you know that I’ve been in this job for a number of years, so obviously, I respect what this briefing is about and what it accomplishes. And of course, I appreciate the patience of all of you over the past month or so as this new administration got its sea legs underneath it and were able to come back out here and brief to the public, because we do take this very seriously, I can assure you.
With respect to the State Department’s voice in this new administration, I can also assure you that Secretary Tillerson is very engaged with the White House, very engaged with the President, speaks to him frequently, was over there I believe just yesterday for a meeting. And I can assure everyone that the Secretary’s voice – or the State Department’s voice is heard loud and clear in policy discussions at the National Security Council level.
The Secretary himself has been hard at work and focused on, I think, in his early days in establishing the relationships that he feels are absolutely vital with his key counterparts. He was at the G20. He held, I think, some 14 bilateral meetings and, I think, three multilateral meetings, including one with the Republic of Korea and Japan to talk about North Korea’s continued threat to the region’s stability. He also met with Foreign Minister Lavrov there; he met with Foreign Minister Yan – Wang, rather from – or Yang from China, and at the same time held meetings on Yemen and Syria. Again, I think he’s working hard at establishing the connections that he needs to have in order to be an effective secretary of state with key counterparts, with key partners, and with key allies.
He also went to Mexico. He had a very successful visit there, along with the Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Again, it was productive, laid out a very forward-looking agenda for U.S.-Mexico relations, and it was, I think, a recognition of how vital that particular relationship is, that bilateral relationship is, to the United States and to the prosperity and security of both our countries.
And now, next week, he’ll be going to Asia, again, visiting with China – visiting in China, rather – then going to South Korea, as well as Japan. These are important visits. They’re important trips. They’re important meetings that he’s having, I think, again, to just establish the relationships that he needs to have to be an effective secretary of state.
I think going forward, he’ll be clarifying his priorities as the Secretary, and your last question – sorry – to address it – I was going through in my head, but —
MR TONER: — you talked about the budget. That’s okay.
QUESTION: But the budget – will he be fighting for the State Department, for diplomacy, for this workforce —
MR TONER: So the short answer —
QUESTION: — and its mission?
MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, of course. The short answer to that is he – the budget process is still, as you well know, is in early days. This is going to be a process that’s going to play out in the weeks and even months ahead. But I – what I can say is that he has been working with senior staff here at the State Department, listening to what their priorities are, what they’re working on, what they believe is going well, where they believe they have needs that need to be addressed. And he is working to ensure that this department, and most importantly our missions abroad, have the resources and personnel they need to fully carry out their missions. And I think that’s where his focus on.
QUESTION: Mark, can I have a follow-up to that?
QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up on that?
MR TONER: Yeah, Elise. Then I’ll get to you too.
QUESTION: Mark, I just want to echo what Matt and Andrea said, and I’m glad that you said in your opening remarks that you respect the briefing process, and hope that you will continue it regularly, not just as a tool of American leadership but also in transparency to the American people that the Secretary promised on his first day to employees.
If you could – I just want to follow up on the budget issue.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that the Secretary is working with senior staff to determine what their needs are and then make sure that the building and the missions overseas have the resources that they need. With the reported budget cuts of up to 37 percent of this State Department, which is more than a third of the budget, what would be the practical effect of the State Department operations, including the dramatic cuts of foreign aid? And what do you think would be the effect of U.S. leadership overseas?
MR TONER: Sure. Look – and I’m aware of all the various numbers that are circulating out there with respect to proposed budget cuts not only to State, but to other —
QUESTION: Well, they’re circulating those documents that have been released.
MR TONER: I understand. I understand. Again, I would just stress that this is still very early on in the process, and I think what’s important – well, that’s important, first of all, to stress that. I would also stress that Secretary Tillerson understands the vital work that this department does. He understands the hard work of our embassies and our embassy personnel, our diplomats, our Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel here in Washington, but also, as I said, overseas, and wants to make sure as their leader, as a former CEO but now directing the foreign policy of the United States, that his team, his staff are properly resourced. And I think that’s his mindset going into the budget process, is how do I make sure that they have what they need to get the job done.
Now, that being said, I think there’s also a period, as with any transition, of reassessment. It’s one of the reasons why he’s meeting and talking to senior staff, talking to various leadership at different levels to try to get their feedback on what they believe are their priorities and how we can reconfigure and look at resources. That’s part of what he’s been doing the past several weeks. I don’t have many specifics to add, but of course, as we go forward, that’s something that he’s going to be looking at.
QUESTION: But given the fact that several of his predecessors across party lines – secretaries of defense, members of Congress – up until this point with the existing budget that you’ve been working on, this continuing resolution, have said that the State Department is under-resourced, how does the Secretary fathom that the State Department could be properly resourced with up to more than a third of cuts if it wasn’t properly resourced? I understand that there’s a reassessment that he’ll want to make and —
MR TONER: Right, and again, I would —
QUESTION: — make reforms and changes.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: But those numbers seem wildly disparate.
MR TONER: Right. And again, I – sorry, I didn’t mean to talk over you. And again, I would be cautious to say that that preliminary number that’s floating out there is where we’re going to end up. I think what his goal, what senior staff’s goal here at the State Department is is to say, okay, where can we possibly move resources to, re-evaluate resources, reassess, perhaps make cuts if that’s – we feel that’s necessary, but in no way trying to limit the function or the efficacy, efficiency of this State Department. And I think that’s always foremost in – certainly in his mind in these early days.
I think in terms of – we’ve seen the letters, we’ve seen the public statements by many former leaders, military, and obviously former secretaries of state with regard to the value of foreign assistance, and I think we recognize the value of foreign assistance. Again, though, I think at the beginning of a new administration, it’s a chance and it’s an opportunity to look at who receives foreign assistance, how much they receive, whether that much is still needed, and again, just reassess how we’re spending American taxpayer dollars.
QUESTION: Just one last one —
MR TONER: Of course, and then I’ll get you, yeah.
QUESTION: — as a follow-up to Matt’s question. On the EO, yesterday, Secretary Kelly said that there were 14 – or maybe it was this morning —
MR TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: — time is a continuum right now – that about 14 other countries don’t – or have questionable or insufficient vetting processes. Is the Secretary in touch with the leaders or his counterparts in these 14 other countries about strengthening those type of vetting? And is another executive order or amendment adding some of those countries in consideration?
MR TONER: Right. So my understanding on this is that that’s part of this vetting review that we’re looking at is how to identify and get a clear understanding of where there are gaps, where there are deficiencies in the vetting process, and between, as I said, which countries that involves. So that’s going to be part of the process going forward in this coming period, which is to re-evaluate where we can do better and where we need additional information. And then, of course, we will address those shortcomings with the governments of concern.
QUESTION: Mark, can I – Mark – Mark —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you clarify —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — what the policy on settlements is? Has it changed? Are settlements still an obstacle to peace or is there some nuance there now? And secondly, the President has named Jared Kushner as his envoy to make Middle East peace. What sort of connection does his role have with the State Department, aside from Secretary Tillerson calling him and chatting? Is there any sort of channel with the experts here at the State Department who have been very much involved in previous efforts to have some sort of Israel-Palestinian negotiations?
MR TONER: Sure. First of all, on the settlements, I think the President spoke about this, I guess a couple weeks ago, where he said he would like to see Israel hold back on settlement activity. And I think that we’re in discussions with Israel about what exactly that would look like. But I think with respect to how any settlement activity might affect the overall climate for an eventual solution between the two parties, I think that’s under consideration, and it’s in that regard that he made those comments.
With respect to the connection or how the State Department may be playing a role in the pursuit of Middle East peace, I know that we are working closely with the White House on evaluating where we stand. I think at this point, we’re still kind of at a stage where we’re looking at the situation and trying to formulate next steps. But I can assure you that the State Department’s playing a role in that process.
QUESTION: Staying on the same subject, Mark —
QUESTION: Mark —
MR TONER: Yes, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, it’s good to see you back there.
MR TONER: Good to see you too.
QUESTION: We missed you.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Anyway, a couple of things on this issue. First of all, could you clarify the United States position on being a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council? Because there was a bit of confusion; apparently, Secretary Tillerson said that he’s looking into – according to Politico, he’s looking into the value of U.S. membership on this council. Could you clarify that?
MR TONER: On – sorry, you’re talking about on – with respect to the Human Rights Council?
QUESTION: Right, right.
MR TONER: Well, I – what I can say is that the – I think the Human Rights Council is meeting, I think it’s – it continues its work until late March. We’re there, we’re a part of that process, we’re bringing an agenda and we’re hard at work on the ground. So as to any rumors that may have been circulating out there, I think they’re just that.
QUESTION: Right. And just a couple more —
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: And now the Secretary —
MR TONER: Sorry, March 24th I think is – sorry, I apologize, I just found the date here. I think the Human Rights Council is supposed to go until March 24th. And as I said, we’re there, we’re at the table, we’re working on an agenda, we’ve been elected to a three-year term I think back in 2016, and we’re committed to human rights and fundamental freedoms and working to pursue those. Please, go ahead, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Now, Secretary Tillerson also hosted the Israeli prime minister for dinner here on the 14th of February, last month. Has he been in touch with any Palestinian leaders? Are there any plans to meet with any Palestinian leaders? I know he’s planning to meet with the Israeli Defense Minister Lieberman in the near future —
MR TONER: I apologize, you’re referring to Secretary Tillerson not to the —
QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, yes, of course.
MR TONER: Yeah. I am not aware of any meetings in the immediate future, but —
QUESTION: Has he been in conversation with any of the Palestinian leadership?
MR TONER: I’m not aware that he has been. I’ll check on that, Said. Yep, please.
QUESTION: So Mark —
MR TONER: But I can assure you that obviously, Michael Ratney, who I believe is taking over that portfolio in this administration is within the Bureau of Middle Eastern Affairs – or Near Eastern Affairs, rather – is in touch with Palestinian leaders.
QUESTION: Could we go back to THAAD?
QUESTION: Wait, wait – wait, wait, he’s being – so he’s —
QUESTION: He’s not doing Syria anymore?
MR TONER: He’s doing both.
QUESTION: He’s doing both?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: Oh, good. Because that’s not too much of – for one person, is it? (Laughter.)
MR TONER: He’s a dynamo.
QUESTION: He isn’t —
QUESTION: Are you concerned —
QUESTION: Mark, Mark —
QUESTION: On Syria, Mark.
QUESTION: On Syria.
QUESTION: Could we go back to THAAD just for a minute?
MR TONER: Let’s go here and we’ll work back, thanks. Hey, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, so – I mean I know that the U.S. —
MR TONER: I’m sorry, where are we?
MR TONER: Oh, THAAD, thank you.
MR TONER: That’s right.
QUESTION: Yeah. So since the Secretary is about to walk in to the teeth of this in Asia next week, like, what more can you do, can the United States do to make that position more saleable to the Chinese?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, they’re looking at the radar and the radar looks into their country. Why wouldn’t they be concerned?
MR TONER: Well, again, just to unpack this, China is well aware of not just our concerns; China, in fact, shares our concerns about North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and the fact that they, as I said, represent a clear and very grave threat to the peninsula, to the region, and as well as to the United States.
I mean, North Korea openly states that its ballistic missiles are intended to deliver nuclear weapons to strike cities in the United States, and the Republic of Korea, and Japan. So it’s in that context that we are in conversations and discussions with China, we’ve been very clear that the decision to deploy THAAD is as a defense measure in order to protect not only South Korean, but also our military who are stationed in South Korea.
I think where we all have to focus on going forward and I think a central focus of Secretary Tillerson’s trip to the region should not be on the deployment of THAAD, which is frankly a response to the threat, it’s the threat itself; the threat that North Korea continues to pose and that frankly only augmented in the past year to six months. And how do we address that threat? And I think we’re looking at new initiatives, new ways to address it. I also think that – I know that we’re pressing for increased implementation of an already very stringent sanctions regime. But as we all know and have said many times, sanctions are only as good as how well they’re implemented. And so until we have full implementation of the sanctions, we’re not going to have – be able to apply the pressure that we feel needs to be brought to bear on North Korea. And you’ve seen China in recent days take some steps with respect to coal imports that reinforce or enforce those sanctions in greater – in greater detail.
QUESTION: Does that include new sanctions?
QUESTION: Mark, on Asia. One more Asia question.
MR TONER: Let’s go to – yeah, Michel, go ahead. I’ll get to you all.
QUESTION: Mark, what’s the U.S. position towards the situation in Manbij in Syria? The American flag is flying there, there are more American troops in the area, and Turkey is threatening to enter the city, and the regime is preparing to enter – to go through the city too.
MR TONER: Sure. Well, I believe the Pentagon has already spoken to this in some tactical detail, and I would also – I would encourage you to speak to them directly about these kinds of movements on the ground. I think, broadly speaking, of course it’s a very complex environment around the area east of al-Bab. It’s a place where multiple forces, frankly, have converged – all with the intent to drive out ISIS. But I think when you’ve got multiple forces in such a small, confined space, we want to avoid any unnecessary or unintended escalation in what is already a very tense and dynamic situation.
So we are sending a message to all forces that are there on the ground to remain focused on the counter-ISIS fight and concentrate their efforts on defeating ISIS and not towards other objectives that may detract from the coalition’s ongoing campaign. So we want to keep the focus on the stated intent to destroy ISIS. The coalition is going to continue work in close coordination with allies and partner forces, again, with the focus on defeating what is a common enemy, which is ISIS.
QUESTION: A follow-up on —
QUESTION: One more on this, Mark.
MR TONER: One more, okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: U.S., Russia, and Turkish chief of staffs have met in Antalya today, and they will continue meeting. Is there a new coordination between the U.S. and Russia on the fight against ISIS and on the situation in Syria?
MR TONER: You’re talking about a meeting today – not sure what the date was – but between Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford, and he met with the chief of Russian general staff – the Russian general staff, as well as chief of the Turkish general staff. The purpose of the meeting, as I understand it, is to enhance senior-level military communications and improve operational de-confliction of our respective military operations in Syria. I’d refer you to DOD for any details, but my understanding of this is that it’s – it remains focused on de-conflicting.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Mark —
MR TONER: Nick.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia, Mark?
MR TONER: Nick.
QUESTION: Two – just two quickly, one on the Iraq EO. Yesterday, when Secretary Tillerson spoke, he said – suggested that Iraq came off the list because it was partnering with the U.S., and you’ve mentioned this, in the vetting process. Prior to that, Iraq was extremely angry about being on this list, and there was some concern that its partnership with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS might be jeopardized by its appearance on the list. So is – are you saying that Iraq is taken off this list only because of the vetting process, or because there were concerns that its partnership with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS would be jeopardized?
MR TONER: Well, I think both, but I think you can’t have – obviously, we would not have just lifted them out of this group if we were not convinced and satisfied that they were taking steps to address our concerns with regard to the vetting of individuals and willing to take measures to achieve, frankly, our shared objective, which is to prevent anyone with criminal or terrorist intent to reach the United States.
But this was, frankly, a bold and step – a bold and important step by the prime minister of Iraq. We appreciate his positive engagement on this issue, and obviously, it reinforces the strong collaboration we already have with Iraq with respect to the effort to destroy ISIS on the ground in Iraq. So I think it speaks to the growing ties between our two countries, the growing ability to work together on these kinds of issues, that they were able to, in fairly quick fashion, address some of the concerns we had with regard to vetting.
QUESTION: On the refugees, can I ask —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: In his Senate testimony, Secretary Tillerson said that he had looked at the org charts and seen a few more dotted lines, a few boxes that —
MR TONER: I’m sorry, what are we talking about? I missed the first part.
QUESTION: We’re on budget.
MR TONER: Oh, got it. Okay.
QUESTION: So he had said that he’d seen a few more dotted lines and a few more boxes that had not been there previously, and suggested those should be eliminated. So regardless of what the top-line budget figure would be – 37 percent or not – does he support some form of budget cuts to this building, and does he feel that the State Department needs to be slimmed down?
MR TONER: I think I would answer that, Nick, is that he’s looking, like any new leader of an organization as big as the State Department – although we’re not that big in the world of federal agencies, but it’s a sizable organization – is where efficiencies can be found, where there might be duplications of efforts. I mean, let’s face it, the State Department operates on a fairly modest budget in the grand scheme of things. So I think as an effective leader and manager of the State Department, of U.S. foreign policy, he’s looking for where efficiencies can be found and where we can, if needed, change or eliminate positions, but also focus on other priorities, or focus efforts on other goals and actions that we can take, and policies.
QUESTION: What are those priorities?
QUESTION: Mark, this theme of State Department —
MR TONER: John. John.
QUESTION: This theme of State Department drift, it also derives from a lack of —
MR TONER: State Department?
QUESTION: A drift, a lack —
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. I got it. Sorry.
QUESTION: — of vigor – it’s also for lack of appointments. There’s no deputy secretary appointment, undersecretary, assistant secretaries, huge number of ambassadorial vacancies. It’s led some people to believe that Tillerson doesn’t have the clout to appoint his own people. Is that true?
MR TONER: Look, John, this is – again, I think this is where – and many of you in this room have been around. This is not your first transition, as we say. And it’s not mine either.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
MR TONER: So I would caution everybody. I would say take a deep breath, because this is always an ongoing process. And we’re working at identifying candidates. I can assure you all, I can assure the American public that we’re working on identifying qualified candidates for senior department positions and trying to fill them as quickly as possible. We’re also vetting them, and that’s part of this process that we do internally. And then once we have these individuals ready, vetted, then we can go take them to the Senate for their advice and consent.
So this process is ongoing. We’re identifying people for senior management jobs and senior leadership positions. But I think it’s also important to stress that there’s a very capable diplomatic corps and Civil Service corps within the State Department. And many of these individuals have stepped into acting roles or remained in acting roles in order to provide consistency through the transition.
QUESTION: Mark, in —
MR TONER: Yeah.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: — you – I thought I heard you say that Iraq was removed for both reasons, but because they were also taking steps to address our concerns. Are you saying that they have not yet addressed the concerns?
MR TONER: No, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give some kind of time —
MR TONER: Some kind of —
QUESTION: Because if they hadn’t addressed them, I might have asked why they were taken off in that —
MR TONER: No, no, no, no, I apologize. Thank you for clarifying. No, they have taken steps.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: Mark, back to the travel ban. On —
MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get to you.
QUESTION: Sorry, is it okay? I don’t know how this works.
MR TONER: No, of course. Of course. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: This is very weird. But anyway —
MR TONER: This is a very crowded briefing, so I’m doing my best to manage.
QUESTION: Now that I have the floor – (laughter) —
QUESTION: The floor is yours.
QUESTION: So yesterday the administration, in this version of the executive order, to back it up mentioned these 300 refugees who are under investigation. So can you confirm whether even one of those 300 is from any of the countries that are named in the ban? And if not, why not even mention that yes, some of them are from the countries? I don’t understand why that would be such – even though these are under investigation —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — why would naming the country or countries be so sensitive?
MR TONER: It’s a valid question. A couple points to make. One is – excuse me – these are individuals under active investigation by the FBI. So these are people who already have – theoretically, have already immigrated to the United States. So they’re not on our radar, so to speak, anymore. So I can’t really speak to what the FBI may be investigating, who they may be investigating, or really provide any details as to where these individuals come from.
My understanding – but again, I would refer you to the FBI or to DHS for clarity – is that these were 300 individuals, globally speaking, i.e., not from the six countries that were targeted in this particular EO – they were speaking to 300 active investigations of people who’ve come over as refugees.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Mark, on China?
MR TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple questions on the EO. So in order to be taken off this list of six countries whose citizens aren’t really allowed to come here, they would have to provide the U.S. with greater cooperation, greater data sharing. I’m wondering how you expect countries like Syria and Libya, that are in the throes of violent conflict and many of their government functions really aren’t functioning – how do you expect those countries to actually comply with that request? And therefore, does it amount to basically a de facto eternal ban? I have a follow-up after that.
MR TONER: Sure. So, recognizing that this is a challenge, certainly with respect to Syria, since we don’t exactly have bilateral relationship – relations with the Syrian Government, but with respect to Libya, there is a nascent government in Libya. We recognize, though, that the situation in both Libya and Syria is, to put it mildly, in perpetual crisis. The security situation in both those countries is dire. That’s part of the reason, frankly, why – given the fact that within these areas, within these countries, rather, in their borders, we have ISIS, and ISIS affiliates, and al-Qaida affiliates operating – that we need to be especially vigilant about the individuals that we’re admitting from those countries.
I don’t want, though, to in any way, as you say, condemn any country to a perpetual travel ban. That’s not what this is about. I think with respect to where we can work with the government, however early days it is with respect to Libya especially, we are going to do so, with the eventual goal of trying to get the information that we feel we need in order to fully vet these individuals coming to the United States.
QUESTION: And then I have a question specifically to Iran. So the number of people that are affected by this ban – Iranians are overly represented, you might say. Like I think it’s something like over half of the people who would be coming from these six countries are actually coming from Iran, or maybe perhaps even more.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: This government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has sought to engage directly with the Iranian people, kind of going around the Iranian Government, which of course has a lot of enmity and animosity towards the United States or between those two countries. I’m wondering what you would say the message of this ban sends to the Iranian people, especially given that there isn’t that kind of violent conflict that you just referred to or the groups like ISIS or these sorts of like terrorist groups active inside Iran.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: As you might know yourself from the 2009 protest, it was evident that many of the Iranian people disagree with the actions of their government. And so what exactly does this sort of ban achieve when it seems to be preventing Iranians who are well disposed towards the United States from coming into the United States?
MR TONER: That’s a very good question, and a couple points to make on it. First of all is that we always need to be driven by the safety and security of the American people. That’s not to say that we don’t eventually want to see Iran emerge as a constructive global player, regional player. That’s up to the Iranian Government, the Iranian leadership to make those kinds of decisions. Frankly, what we’ve seen in the past months and year – year, rather, or so since they signed the nuclear agreement is, by and – is continued bad behavior in the region.
QUESTION: Would you say that’s being conducted by Iranian citizens or the —
MR TONER: Well – well, again, I mean, this is – again, this is a country that is a state sponsor of terror and plays a destabilizing role in the region. And so again, when you’re looking at a country like that, it’s not – this is not about the Iranian people, it’s not directed to them, but when you’re considering the safety and security of the American people here in the United States, you have to hold them in a different class.
QUESTION: With all due respect, I mean, the ban doesn’t bar IRGC or Qods Force members from coming to the United States. Obviously, they’re not barred, but it —
QUESTION: Well, they’re under sanctions too.
QUESTION: It’s – they’re under —
QUESTION: I mean, it’s a totally separate category.
QUESTION: Your answer doesn’t really address the heart of my question, which is banning the – an entire country and all of its citizens, when there is a lot of evidence that (a) engaging with the Iranian people has been the policy of this country going back into the Bush administration —
MR TONER: Yeah, but I mean, my answer to your question is that this is a country that has shown itself —
QUESTION: The government has, you would say.
MR TONER: It doesn’t – but I’m not – but it has shown itself capable of exporting terrorists and terrorism abroad. As I said, they’re a state sponsor of terror. What they’ve done in Syria, what they’ve done elsewhere in the region, frankly, puts them in a class by themselves with respect to what they’re capable of. This has nothing to do with those Iranians who may want to come and visit the United States to develop a better understanding of the United States or to visit relatives here, but —
QUESTION: And who are now unable to —
MR TONER: I – but —
QUESTION: They can’t come.
MR TONER: Let me be very clear about this one more time.
QUESTION: So are you saying till Iran’s not —
MR TONER: No —
QUESTION: — a state sponsor of terrorism anymore —
MR TONER: What I’m saying is —
QUESTION: — that the Iranian people won’t be able to come to this country?
MR TONER: No. What I’m saying is that we have legitimate concerns about Iran’s actions. I understand there’s a difference between what’s happening in Libya, what’s happening in Syria, and what’s happening in Iran. But Iran has —
QUESTION: Mark, when Iran sponsors foreign terrorism, they use Lebanese foot soldiers. Lebanon is not on this list. They send Hizballah to conduct these things. Why isn’t Lebanon on the list?
MR TONER: But they’ve shown – look —
QUESTION: But they send Afghan – Afghans to Syria.
MR TONER: Again, again, what they have shown through their behavior is a consistent ability to create chaos, to sow chaos in the region, to create or to fund terrorists – terrorist activities in the region. And it’s because of that that they’re under – that they’re in this category.
QUESTION: Well, but you’re saying —
QUESTION: Do you think the Iranian Government regrets that the United States is now banning its citizens from coming to study in America and meet Americans? Do you think that —
MR TONER: I missed the – I missed the first part —
QUESTION: Do you think you’ve struck a blow against the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime by imposing this ban?
MR TONER: No, David. I’m – let me just revisit this. My point about all of this is I understand the power of people-to-people exchanges and having Iranians come to this country and experience this country and the cultural exchange that that entails and the broader goodwill that that can build. But I think before all of that, we have to put the safety and security of the American people, and it’s because of that that they have been put – they’ve been added to this list.
QUESTION: So to summarize your answer to this —
MR TONER: One – yeah, one last question because we got a lot of questions in the room.
QUESTION: I mean, I still don’t feel like you’ve addressed the heart of my question. I was at Dulles when a lot of these people were barred from coming in and then they were eventually let out. The vast majority of them were Iranian and they were not people who expressed a great affinity with the Iranian Government. What I’m saying is that your answer to the question is, I think, presuming that the people who are coming here who are Iranians are somehow affiliated with the Iranian Government or are carrying out their policy. I’m wondering if there have been any instances —
MR TONER: Not at all, no, and I’m sorry if I’m not explaining that clearly. What I’m trying to say is that the government, their government, unfortunately is a bad actor in the region.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. now equate all the citizens of a country with a bad-acting government?
MR TONER: No, but what we do take under consideration through this executive order is the fact that we don’t believe that we can ensure the safety of the American people and security of the American people absolutely given the current procedures and vetting procedures that we have with people coming from Iran.
QUESTION: So are you saying that until Iran is not a bad actor, in your words, any —
MR TONER: No, I think that —
QUESTION: Well, can I finish my question?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you saying that until Iran is not a state sponsor of terrorism or cleans up its act in the region or you have less fears about the actions of the Iranian Government, that all of the citizens of Iran will not be able to come here, or ae you saying that they need better vetting procedures? Because they’re two different things: one is vetting procedures; and one is saying it’s a bad government, therefore we’re not letting their citizens in.
MR TONER: So my answer to that is part of this review period is looking at where we don’t have sufficient vetting procedures in place. What are those countries? And then following up on that, we’ll then, where we can or able to, talk to those governments and express where there are these disconnects and these failings.
QUESTION: Are you willing to talk to the Government of Iran to help strengthen those vetting procedures?
MR TONER: I can’t speak to that at this time.
QUESTION: May I follow? There was a Homeland Security report published last week that says that extreme vetting procedures are not helpful because people do not become radicalized when they arrive here; they are radicalized years, if not decades later; which undercuts the whole premise of keeping out people from many of these countries.
MR TONER: Well again, I would – I would refer you to the DHS to speak to the contents of their report and the substance of their report. I think what this EO is focused on and where the State Department is focused on in implementing this executive order is on looking at how people are vetted from given countries and whether those procedures can guarantee to the degree – recognizing that we can never have 100 percent guarantee – to the degree possible that these people coming in are coming here without the intention to harm – do harm to the American people.
QUESTION: Do you have reports from your embassies —
MR TONER: And – sorry.
QUESTION: — as to how these executive orders, the first one and even the second one, are hurting the United State abroad with allies as well as in —
MR TONER: Andrea, I would say that we’ve heard in – we’ve gotten a variety of opinions from a variety of governments, from a variety of countries, about these executive orders, and not all of them negative.
But I think, again, we need to start from – and Secretary Tillerson spoke to this in his remarks yesterday – we need to start from the premise here, which is we’re doing this, we’re undertaking this effort, in order to guarantee as much as possible of the safety and security of the American people. And we hope that other governments, foreign governments, can appreciate that premise and take it under consideration. But —
QUESTION: But there is no underlying threat that’s ever been established by any – any agency of this government involving these countries in particular or recent —
QUESTION: Their citizens.
QUESTION: — terror activities from their citizens.
MR TONER: Again, we can go into the criteria, but it’s all laid out in the EO of why these six specific countries were chosen to be a part of this executive order. Please.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Mark, you said in your last —
QUESTION: Mark, can you speak briefly about —
MR TONER: Nike.
QUESTION: Their refugees.
QUESTION: Refugees, sorry.
MR TONER: I’m sorry, I apologize, it was like – so the —
QUESTION: Syrian refugees.
QUESTION: The first (inaudible) had banned Syrian refugees indefinitely. The second version just includes them in the general refugee ban.
MR TONER: Right, I’m frankly not – not certain why the rationale to put – to shift them other than that, I mean, obviously, they’re a segment of the refugee population that’s in dire need of support. But I don’t have any specifics as to why they were taken – moved from one list to the other. I’ll try to get back to you on that.
QUESTION: May I ask you —
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Can we do China?
QUESTION: Mark, you said the United States —
MR TONER: Are we done with – are we done with the EO? Can we move on to a different subject? And then I only have about five more minutes, so.
QUESTION: I have one.
QUESTION: Mark, on China very —
QUESTION: Mark, you said that the United States —
MR TONER: Let’s – are we ready to switch to China? Are we done with the —
QUESTION: Yes, on China.
MR TONER: Okay, I’ll go to you and then you, Nike.
QUESTION: Okay, Mark, on China real quickly. You mentioned that the – that Secretary Tillerson would bring with him a message of stronger implementation of current sanctions. Is the United States willing to go beyond asking China to confront North Korea, beyond implementation or beyond sanctions? And in particular, there was a Wall Street Journal report out last week saying that the United States was putting greater weight on a military or regime change option. Is that something that the Secretary is aware of or will be discussing in China?
MR TONER: Well look, I don’t want to get into specifics of all the options that we’re looking at with respect to North Korea. How I would answer your question is that we are very concerned with the escalation of North Korea’s actions. The continuing testing and augmenting of its weapons program is of great concern, and it’s getting to the point where we need to do – we do need to look at other alternatives. And that’s part of what this trip is about, that we’re going to talk to our allies and partners in the region to try to generate a new approach to North Korea.
QUESTION: Beyond sanctions?
MR TONER: I think right now we’re focused on sanctions and implementing those sanctions to the fullest extent possible, but we’re looking at other possibilities as well. We always are.
QUESTION: Mark, you said that part of —
QUESTION: Mark —
MR TONER: Please, in the back. Nike. Nike, and then two more questions after that. Please, Nike.
QUESTION: Mark, thank you very much. You said that part of the goal of this travel is to generate new approach in dealing with the DPRK. Does that include direct or indirect diplomatic engagement with DPRK? And then could you please update the status of the policy review regarding North Korea? Thank you.
MR TONER: Well, again, Nike, I would say that given North Korea’s recent behavior, we’re not at the point where we’re looking at direct engagement with them. We’re not rewarding that behavior in any way, shape, or form. I think what North Korea’s – and this is something we need to —
MR TONER: God bless you. We need to convey to them in very clear terms is that this kind of behavior is only further alienating them from the international community and from the global community. They’re increasingly becoming a pariah through this kind of behavior that violates the international norms and international law. And how we convey that to them, how we get that message across to them, remains to be seen. We’re pursuing tougher and tougher sanctions, but we’re also looking at other means to make that message clear to them.
QUESTION: Mark —
MR TONER: Dmitry, please.
QUESTION: What is the future —
QUESTION: Mark —
MR TONER: Dmitry.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: As we know, the two sessions are being held in China, and recently China National People’s Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying said the mainstream of China-U.S. relationship is cooperation and China, a top legislature, will continue exchanges with U.S. Congress this year to boost understanding and communication. So what is your comments on her, I mean, remarks, and how do you see U.S.-China relations, especially during Trump administration? Thank you.
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I think China is an absolutely vital relationship for the United States. We want to build a more constructive relationship with China. As I said, the Secretary’s – two of Secretary Tillerson’s earliest meetings were with your foreign minister, or China’s foreign minister, and state councilor. And indeed, one of his very first trips is to Beijing. I think that speaks to the importance that the United States places on its relationship with China. And we’re going to look for areas that we can expand our cooperation, whether it’s economic, whether it’s with respect to North Korea or other multilateral issues; I think we want to build on our relationship with China.
QUESTION: As for the “one China” policy —
QUESTION: A very quick question back here.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: As for the “one China” policy, President Trump opposed “one China” policy. So how do you think how important is —
MR TONER: There is no change to our longstanding policy on cross-strait issues. Secretary Tillerson spoke to that in his hearing in the Senate, and President Trump agreed to in his phone call in February – I think February 9th with President Xi – that he agreed to honor our “one China” policy.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Mark —
MR TONER: Last question. Really, guys. It’s been an hour already.
QUESTION: On Turkey?
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MR TONER: One on Turkey, and that’s it.
QUESTION: On Turkey, I want to ask you —
MR TONER: Turkey and Dmitry, and then I’m finished.
QUESTION: Okay. And Michele Kelemen maybe?
QUESTION: I’ve been back here (inaudible).
MR TONER: Oh, sorry. Okay.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up.
MR TONER: Okay —
QUESTION: I want to ask you about American —
MR TONER: Elise, Dmitry, Michele.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about an American citizen. His name is – a pastor. His name is Andrew Brunson. He was detained in Turkey on October 7th as a threat to national security. He was held and detained for 64 days without explanation or charge, and officially charged with membership in an armed terrorist organization on December 9th. I’d like to know what the State Department is doing about his release. Is there any concern about the case? It seems that this is a Christian pastor who has been living in Turkey for 23 years. I’m not sure really what the terrorist charge is.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And before you say anything about privacy concerns, I have the Privacy Act waiver right here – (laughter) – and it’s signed by Mr. Brunson.
MR TONER: Does he check the media box?
QUESTION: The media box is checked, yes. (Laughter.) As well as the general public, employer, individual members of Congress, friends, and family.
MR TONER: That’s impressive, Elise. That’s impressive. That’s a first. You’ve got to be feeling pretty good about that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I didn’t know if I’d get a follow up, so – I do actually, yes. (Laughter.)
MR TONER: We are, of course, aware of U.S. citizens that have been detained in Turkey, indeed this case in particular. I’ll try to see what additional information I can get. But of course, we take very seriously this case and all cases of detained Americans overseas. We’re – obviously, we would offer all consular assistance to any individual who’s being detained.
I think I can speak more broadly whether you think that he as a Christian or that Christians are being persecuted, the U.S. Christian community is persecuting – or rather the Turkish Government is persecuting the U.S. Christian community in Turkey. I would not agree with – we would not agree with that assessment. We’ve seen no clear evidence that Christians are being specifically targeted for their religious beliefs. But of course, the United States obviously strongly supports the right of all people in Turkey to exercise their freedom of religion and belief. And in Washington and Ankara we regularly engage the Turkish Government at all levels on the need to respect religious freedom.
But with respect to this particular case, given that he has signed a Privacy Act waiver, I’ll try to get you —
QUESTION: No, he has signed a Privacy Act waiver, which —
MR TONER: I said given that he has signed a Privacy Act waiver, which apparently is news to our consular affairs folks – so I’ll get you some more information about that.
QUESTION: He seems to be wrapped up in this – like, they seem to be targeting him as part of this Gulenist movement.
MR TONER: Yeah. I’m aware of that.
QUESTION: He maintains that he is not part of this movement. So given the fact that the government – this government in the past anyway, has voiced concern —
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: — about the kind of wide swath which the Turkish Government has rounded up people that they believe to be part of this movement —
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: — the fact that an American citizen is being charged —
MR TONER: Absolutely. And let me just be very clear, that in the case of any American citizen charged overseas, that we offer assistance. We offer protections. We follow the case. We offer legal assistance where we can, or offer them access to legal counsel or access to legal assistance. We visit them in the detention facilities that they’re being held with – held in to assess their health and to assess their well-being. All of this, I can assure you, is being done in this particular case. But what I don’t have is a specific answer to the charges against him, and I’ll try to get that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Dmitry.
QUESTION: Great to see you, sir.
MR TONER: Good to see you too, man.
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MR TONER: Thanks.
QUESTION: Listen, I believe I have very simple question.
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: At least I believe so. Has there been a discussion between the State Department and the Russian foreign ministry on the possibility of Secretary Tillerson trip to Moscow, or extending an invitation to Foreign Minister Lavrov to travel here? In the near future, I mean.
MR TONER: Yeah. No. I don’t have anything to announce in that regard and I’m not aware of any travel plans at this time. And I don’t mean to give you a kind of smushy answer like that, but that’s just where we stand.
QUESTION: Instead of that —
MR TONER: Smushy.
QUESTION: Is that —
MR TONER: It’s a very technical term. Yes.
MR TONER: Sure. It was, of course, focused on, obviously, domestic issues within Ukraine but also our continued concern about compliance with Minsk. But it was a good meeting. They talked about reform efforts underway by the Ukrainian Government. And they talked about – and certainly Secretary Tillerson reiterated – the U.S. strong commitment to Ukraine and our commitment to ensuring that all sides fulfill their Minsk commitments, and that includes Russia.
QUESTION: So the Ukrainian readout of this meeting says that Secretary Tillerson emphasized that the U.S. would further support Ukraine and the U.S. sanctions against the Russian Federation will stay in force until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, the aggression is ceased, the Donbass and the Crimea are de-occupied. Would you say that that’s also accurate?
MR TONER: I can say that – indeed, that with respect to the sanctions remaining in place until Russia complies, both with respect to eastern Ukraine but also with respect to —
MR TONER: — Crimea, that that holds true, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: Just one thing – one (inaudible) —
MR TONER: Michele.
QUESTION: Yeah. The – yesterday the White House put out a statement about ExxonMobil just an hour or so after Tillerson met with President Trump, and I’m wondering if that was part of his discussions or reason for being over there.
MR TONER: Not to my understanding at all. I believe it was to talk about foreign policy issues and not ExxonMobil.
QUESTION: Was the Secretary —
QUESTION: Can you check (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Can I have one quick follow-up on (inaudible)?
MR TONER: I can check, but I assume —
QUESTION: Was the Secretary surprised at that? Was that coordinated?
MR TONER: Again, I’m just not aware that he was consulted on that at all.
QUESTION: Mark, can I have a follow-up —
QUESTION: Can you answer if he has —
MR TONER: I mean —
QUESTION: — if he has fully divested all his stock?
MR TONER: Yeah, I was actually going to speak to that. I mean, he is – as he made clear in his testimony to Congress, he’s committed to federal ethics rules and he’s continuing to carry out and meet the terms of this agreement.
QUESTION: So he hasn’t yet?
MR TONER: I think he has until May 2nd, I believe, to fully divest. And that’s the same.
QUESTION: Mark, a follow-up on the “one China” policy, may I?
MR TONER: Guys, last question.
QUESTION: Real quick, yeah.
MR TONER: This is truly the last question. I’ve been up here for over an hour.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. What are U.S. “one China” policy included now?
MR TONER: I’m sorry, what’s that again?
QUESTION: What are U.S. “one China” policy including now? Because one – why I’m asking is because during Secretary Tillerson’s nomination hearing, he say, I quote, “I think it’s important that Taiwan knows we are going to live up to the commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act and the six issues accord.” Six issue accord normally we acknowledge is like the six assurance. I’m just wondering the – is six assurance play any role in U.S. “one China” policy under Trump administration now?
MR TONER: Well, again, I think it is the same “one China” policy that we had in the past, and there’s no change to our policy with respect to cross-strait issues. We do encourage the authorities both in Beijing and Taipei to engage in constructive dialogue, to seek a peaceful resolution of differences that are acceptable to the people of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
So I’ll leave it there. Thanks, everyone.
MR TONER: Sure. I think we’re going to do – tomorrow, it’s going to be a telephonic briefing, and then —
MS TRUDEAU: (Off-mike.)
MR TONER: Tomorrow’s on-camera, and then Thursday will be by telephone.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.
MR TONER: So you’ll see me tomorrow. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)
DPB # 10