Department Press Briefing - March 20, 2017
Index for Today's Briefing:
Department Press Briefing
2:07 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Hey, everybody.
MR TONER: I’m going to wait patiently while Nicolas – you don’t have to run. No, no. Just – I’m not joking or not – I’m happy to wait. (Laughter.)
Welcome, everybody. Happy Monday. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything at the top, so I’m going to catch Matt off guard.
MR TONER: He was --
QUESTION: I can’t believe you have nothing, absolutely nothing to say. Really?
MR TONER: I’m an open book.
QUESTION: Are you? In that case --
MR TONER: (Laughter.) So to speak.
QUESTION: -- I just want to begin with --
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Of course.
QUESTION: -- kind of a logistical, technical question --
MR TONER: Okay.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- given some recent comments from the White House. How much exactly is Germany in arrears?
MR TONER: So first of all, with respect to Germany’s funding level, I’d refer you to NATO and/or Germany to speak to how much it spends on its defense and how much of that goes to NATO. Really, it’s not for us necessarily to speak to that.
QUESTION: Well --
MR TONER: You’re looking at me like --
QUESTION: I’m sorry, there seems to be another – at least one other building in town that does think that it’s appropriate to --
MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, everybody said – and we’ve said this many, many times before – that NATO allies need to step up their burden-sharing commitments that – and frankly, to the 2 percent level that they all committed to at Wales in 2014. So all NATO members committed to that 2 percent pledge.
MR TONER: Now, where they’re at in meeting that pledge is up to them or to NATO to speak to. That’s all I’m saying.
QUESTION: But two things about that.
MR TONER: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: One, that money – the 2 percent – how much of that is each country – what percentage of that, of each country, goes directly to fund NATO operations?
MR TONER: I think it varies from country to country, is my understanding.
QUESTION: Does any of it? Aside from the contribution that each country provides for the maintenance, the upkeep of the organization in Brussels itself, how much --
MR TONER: Right. Right, right, right, right, right. No, but for NATO operations, we’re looking at --
QUESTION: How much of those – how much of that 2 percent commitment to the defense budget is supposed to go to NATO operations?
MR TONER: Well, again, it’s every allied – ally, rather, is committed to spending 2 percent more for their respective defense budgets.
QUESTION: Yeah, but not – how much of that goes directly to NATO?
MR TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have a breakdown. That’s a NATO question.
QUESTION: Mark, you --
MR TONER: I just don’t have that breakdown.
QUESTION: You used to work at NATO.
MR TONER: I understand that, but I don’t have current breakdowns for what percent of every ally’s defense budget --
QUESTION: Two percent.
MR TONER: No, I know the 2 percent commitment, Matt. I don’t know what we’re arguing here.
QUESTION: I’m not arguing.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to ask you how much money Germany is in arrears.
MR TONER: And again, that’s a question for Germany.
QUESTION: Okay. The 2 percent figure --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- they didn’t --
MR TONER: That’s a target --
MR TONER: -- for many countries.
QUESTION: Right, right. But did they agree to 2 percent funding of their defense budgets in – by 2015, 2016, 2017?
MR TONER: I think they committed themselves to 2 percent of GDP target by 2024. So --
QUESTION: Oh, that’s seven years from now. Right?
MR TONER: That’s correct. Wait – yes.
QUESTION: So even if countries are --
MR TONER: Don’t ask me to do math.
QUESTION: Even if – 2014 minus 17 is 7, I believe. Am I wrong?
MR TONER: No, you’re right.
MR TONER: I said don’t ask me. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So even if countries are not yet spending the 2 percent GDP on their defense – it is this year, in 2017 – is it correct to say that they’ve fallen behind on meeting that commitment?
MR TONER: I think what it’s correct to say is that – and this is, as you know, who’ve followed NATO for years – it’s not news that NATO and that the United States is looking for a commitment by all NATO allies to reach that 2 percent target as soon as they can. It’s essential to keeping NATO the capable, ready force that it should be. And I think there are countries who meet that; there are countries who fall short. But there are – but coming out of Wales, there was this pledge to reach that goal. And again, I’m not going to necessarily speak on behalf of Germany’s defense spending schedule except to say that that’s a goal we want to see all NATO members eventually reach.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you --
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: -- to speak on behalf of Germany. I’m asking you, though, is it correct that Germany is behind in paying dues, quote/unquote, or that Germany owes vast sums of money to the United States for NATO and NATO operations?
MR TONER: I’m going to say that NATO, I think, currently – or NATO – Germany currently spends about 1.2 percent of GDP on defense.
QUESTION: That’s fine. That’s not my question.
MR TONER: We want it to reach 2 percent. I’m not going to speak – I just don’t know whether they’re behind – whether they owe any arrears. I think any NATO ally spends what it can afford to spend, with a goal towards reaching that 2 percent.
QUESTION: All right. I’ll drop it there.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that one then? You say you don’t know, but – and refer us to NATO, but I’ve already spoken to NATO. They’re not in arrears on the maintenance of NATO. That's a $2 billion budget and that is – all member states are fully paid up to that. As you’ve just noted in your answer to Matt, there’s a 10-year plan in Wales to go up to 2 percent. So given that that’s a 10-year plan, they haven’t fallen behind on that. The President's tweet was very clear: He thinks they owe some money to somebody – the United States apparently.
MR TONER: Well, again --
QUESTION: To whom does Germany owe money?
MR TONER: Again, I would refer you to the White House to answer the question about the President's tweets.
MR TONER: Nick, and then I’ll get to you, I promise, Said.
QUESTION: In Beijing, Secretary Tillerson twice used language that was identical to Chinese leaders on the U.S.-China relationship. He said it was guided by an understanding of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. That’s language that the Chinese have used for a long time and past U.S. administrations have declined to use. So what signal is he sending by using that word-for-word identical language to the Chinese?
MR TONER: I think the message he is sending or he tried to send in his visit to Beijing writ large was that we want a cooperative, productive, forward-looking relationship with China. I’m not going to parse out the language that he used or whether that mirrored similar language from the Chinese except to say that we’ve also been very clear, and he’s been clear on the record, to say that there are areas of cooperation; there are areas we agree on that we can really make, we believe, progress on; there are areas we need to make progress on and deal with and address such as North Korea; and then there are areas where we disagree and that includes trade and that also includes, frankly, human rights. And with respect to trade, we want just a level playing field for U.S. companies, but we believe that can also be turned, obviously, to both our advantage.
QUESTION: But was there – was he sending a signal? I mean, this isn’t just generalized agreement. This is word-for-word using language. The Chinese place a high degree of importance in the specifics of how their language is used in these speeches. He’s using identical words, phrasing that is very important to them. So was he sending a signal by using the exact same words or was this not intentional?
MR TONER: I think he was trying to convey that in his dialogue and our dialogue with China we also want a quote/unquote “win-win relationship.” But we’re going to make sure that we press our priorities in that respect. So --
QUESTION: Just the last thing of --
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is he aware of the significance or is his staff aware of the significance that this exact phrasing has to the Chinese?
MR TONER: He was aware of his word choice, yes.
QUESTION: Mark, can I follow-up?
MR TONER: I want to stay on China. Let’s stay on China. Yeah, Michelle.
QUESTION: So the Chinese media is portraying this visit as a big win and they’re citing the use of those specific words as a part of that. So on the U.S. side, what kind of win is this? Did he get some assurances from China, especially on the North Korea issue and also on the islands?
MR TONER: Sure. With respect to the overall visit, I think it was a positive visit. I don’t think we were looking for any major outcomes. Obviously, we were talking – he was there to talk about the challenge of North Korea first and foremost. That was, frankly, a theme throughout his trip and how do we address it going forward; how do we address this threat going forward. I can’t say that we found any solutions, but we’re continuing those conversations. And I think he was very clear in how we perceived the threat, and you all saw that through his remarks about it.
With respect to – your other questions were – your follow-ups were on the islands as well as --
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, would you say that this moved the needle at all in cooperation on pressuring North Korea and also the island activity?
MR TONER: I would say it’s part of an ongoing conversation. Certainly, we’re going to see that when President Xi comes to the United States for his visit. So part of this is laying the groundwork for that, so that’s a productive, forward-looking, results-oriented visit.
QUESTION: Does Tillerson – in his confirmation hearing when he – he had a fairly forceful bit where he said the island-building stops and some other statements on that. Does he still feel the same way about that?
MR TONER: Look, we’re very clear on our position with respect to the South China Sea, which is we believe that with respect to any kind of construction or attempt to create or enhance construction on that – on those islands, that that’s counterproductive, that it only increases tensions in the region, and that we need a format for dialogue so that all the claimants with respect to the South China Sea can resolve their concerns through a diplomatic process. With respect to the United States, we don’t have a dog in that fight. All we ask for is the freedom to sail or fly our boats – or our ships and planes through that area. It’s freedom of navigation.
QUESTION: To what extent was that discussed on this trip?
MR TONER: I know it was raised. I don’t know the exact extent it was discussed.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MR TONER: But that’s something we always raise with them.
QUESTION: But --
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Follow-up. Secretary Tillerson’s --
MR TONER: Of course.
QUESTION: -- language again. When Secretary Tillerson visited Japan last week, Secretary Tillerson said that Japan is an important alliance to United States, and South Korea is an important partners. What does he mean about two different expressions, his expression about these --
MR TONER: Look, again, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on a choice of – a word choice there. Obviously, both are strong allies and partners in the region. And that’s, frankly, evidenced by the fact that with respect to Republic of Korea, he has spoken with Foreign Minister Yun several times and met with him several times already. And the same goes for Japan. So there’s – I don’t want to get into any argument over who’s more important in this relationship. We consider both vitally important to the United States.
QUESTION: President Trump --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: -- called acting president of South Korea, Mr. Hwang – he said that 100 percent alliance to United States. He mentioned that both country, U.S. – I mean, Japan and South Korea.
MR TONER: Well, there you go.
QUESTION: But why is Secretary Tillerson --
MR TONER: I wouldn’t – again, I wouldn’t – again, I wouldn’t read anything into that.
QUESTION: One – another one. Was there --
MR TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Was there any reason why Secretary Tillerson did not have dinner with South Korean foreign minister?
MR TONER: Wasn’t on the schedule. There was never any dinner scheduled. The Secretary had very productive, long meetings with Korea – his Korean counterparts. And then I think he ended up having a private dinner with his staff. So there wasn’t a question – and that was something we saw in some of the media accounts – there was never any question of him being fatigued or having fatigue and waving off dinner. That was never the case. He simply – it wasn’t on his schedule.
QUESTION: That’s a diplomatic gesture, or --
MR TONER: Not at all.
QUESTION: Not at all?
MR TONER: No, it just wasn’t – I’m sorry, it just wasn’t – it wasn’t on his schedule, it was never scheduled. As I said, he had a private dinner with his staff. But that’s not to say that his meetings with his Korean counterparts weren’t productive.
QUESTION: He had a dinner with the foreign minister in Japan, but why he skip in Korea?
MR TONER: I’m aware there was no – I’m simply stating that there was never any dinner scheduled.
QUESTION: Even if he tires, he have to do with the diplomatically --
MR TONER: He wasn’t tired. There was never any dinner scheduled.
QUESTION: Well, he have to – he had a job to do.
MR TONER: I don’t know how plain I can be.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ever after a trans-Pacific flight?
QUESTION: “Tired” doesn’t mean anything.
MR TONER: Beyond jetlagged. I mean, we’re all jetlagged. No, I’m just – seriously, though, it was – there just wasn’t a dinner planned. It wasn’t scheduled. So I’m not sure why that’s become such a sticking point, but it shouldn’t be.
QUESTION: Can I go back to --
MR TONER: Have we --
QUESTION: Can – are we done?
MR TONER: Yeah, let’s – I’ll come back to you, David.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to --
QUESTION: Can we --
MR TONER: Go ahead, Nicole. We’re going to – let’s stay on Korea, Said. I’ll get to you, I promise.
QUESTION: I just want to come back to Nick’s question about --
MR TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: -- the language. You said that Secretary Tillerson was aware of the language he was using and he chose it deliberately. And in the Chinese context, the phrase “mutual respect” means something with regard to Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan. It indicates their belief that the U.S. should stay out of issues and areas that China, that Beijing believes are its own purview. So I’m wondering, in using that language, in choosing those words deliberately, is he signaling some sort of shift on Taiwan, on Tibet --
MR TONER: Not at all.
QUESTION: -- on --
MR TONER: Not at all.
MR TONER: However, our stance on Taiwan is, apart from encouraging good, strong – increasingly strong cross-strait relations, that we stand by our “one China” policy. With respect to other aspects of the relationship, we’re not walking away from our concerns about human rights, personal freedoms within China. I think he also said at one of his press avails during the trip was that human rights is part and parcel – is embedded, I think he said, in all of our conversations and in all of our discussions of the issues with respect to China, but with respect to other countries as well. So there’s no backing away from that; I want to be clear about that.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I follow up with a Korea-related questions?
MR TONER: On a what? Korea-related?
QUESTION: A Korea-related question?
MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: The representative of the Six-Party Talks, Mr. Yun, was – met in China with officials about the issue. And the Chinese readout said that their talks were extremely frank. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about those extremely frank talks.
MR TONER: I can’t. I don’t have a readout. But I know Joe Yun is in the region. I think we put out a media note the other day. These are useful follow-ups. It’s also preplanned. I mean, this was long time in the planning stages, but the timing helps because now he can follow up on some of the conversations that Secretary Tillerson had.
QUESTION: Iraq. Iraq.
QUESTION: Still on Korea and China.
MR TONER: If we’re – okay, one more on Korea. We’re going to finish up. You’re next in line, Said.
QUESTION: In addition --
MR TONER: I just can’t cut off – we finish the issue.
QUESTION: Yeah. In addition to not scheduling the dinner in Korea, there was no – there was nothing on the schedule about visiting the embassies in the three cities concerned. He didn’t – wasn’t able to find any time on this trip, and I don’t think he’s ever found any time on a trip, to meet with U.S. diplomatic staff in their missions abroad. Is this something he hopes to do? Does he accept that some diplomats might be disappointed after preparing the trips that he hasn’t had time to meet with them and their families?
MR TONER: Well, I know he obviously – there’s a lot of embassy staff and personnel who are seconded to the trip, and in fact, even more so in Secretary Tillerson’s case given the small footprint that he travels with, and I know he expresses appreciation for their work during his visit. With respect to visiting the embassies, I think that’s something he would obviously consider going forward – just hasn’t had the time yet.
QUESTION: Can we go to the --
MR TONER: We can go.
QUESTION: Okay, great.
QUESTION: Sorry, when you said there’s a lot of people seconded to the visit – so you’re saying – and he’s expressed his appreciation to them – you mean he met with them personally and said thank you?
MR TONER: I think he did. I think he met – yeah.
MR TONER: Yeah, go – go ahead. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. On the U.S. boycotting UN discussion on Israeli human rights abuses, you issued a statement saying the United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the existence of the UN Human Rights Council’s Agenda Item Seven: Human rights situation in Palestine and the occupied Arab territories. Are you saying that there are no human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories? Why do you --
MR TONER: No, look --
QUESTION: Why do you so unequivocally oppose that?
MR TONER: Because it’s – it specifically targets Israel.
QUESTION: I mean, isn’t there an occupation --
MR TONER: Yeah, but --
QUESTION: -- that is practiced by Israel against the Palestinians?
MR TONER: It’s – it – look – look, again, it’s not – Agenda Item Seven specifically targets Israel for, frankly, repeated and unjustified scrutiny, criticism, and abuse, and we, the United States, oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel. And it’s not just within the HRC; it’s wherever it occurs. We’ve been very clear about this. This is not something new, necessarily, but when it happens, we’re going to state our disagreement.
QUESTION: Independent of targeting Israel, I mean, you do know acknowledge there is a military occupation. You do acknowledge there are like 750 checkpoints and so on, there are human rights abuses. It’s been cited in your own Human Rights Report. So why do you unequivocally oppose discussing that item?
MR TONER: Again, because we feel it’s out of context, it’s specifically biased against Israel, and frankly, it’s – it discredits the entire organization because it is so specifically geared and targeting a country we think that is in an unwarranted way. That’s not to say that we can’t have discussions about human rights in Israel, in Saudi Arabia, in wherever – in the United States – as long as we view that it’s done in an open, transparent, and, frankly, productive way. We don’t believe that Agenda Item Seven in any way, shape, or form accomplishes that.
QUESTION: Okay. But independent of the council, you acknowledge that there are Israeli human rights abuse of the Palestinian people under occupation, don’t you?
MR TONER: Well, I’d refer you to our Human Rights Report and what that lays out, which is U.S. – the U.S. perspective on it.
QUESTION: Can I – you said --
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: You said correctly that the successive administrations have said that the council and its predecessor have been unfairly attacking Israel in biased resolutions and such, but have you ever boycotted the entire discussion and announced before the vote on Agenda Item Seven that you would vote against everything in it?
MR TONER: So the first part of your question – I think that is unique to today, that we specifically boycotted. I think so some extent it had to do with the timing with respect to – we normally would sit and listen to the explanation of – I’ll correct this if it’s wrong; I apologize – but because of the timing of it, we wanted to put out a statement prior to it and simply boycott the vote.
QUESTION: No, but haven’t you in the past – no --
MR TONER: Sorry, go ahead. Ask again. Ask again.
QUESTION: Well, maybe you could – can you take the question? (Inaudible.)
MR TONER: I’ll ask the question – I will take the question.
QUESTION: Because I don’t think you’ve boycotted, but you’ve always voted no, I think.
MR TONER: Yes, that’s true. We’ve always voted no.
QUESTION: But I know that you’ve ever – that you’ve ever boycotted the actual debate about the item before. Are you saying that if you haven’t before, it’s because the vote and the debate have been on the same day, and so you’ve just gone for the debate, said that you’re opposed, and then voted against, and not --
MR TONER: That’s correct. I think that’s right, but I’ll check on that. I’ll take the question.
QUESTION: Okay, but in the past, you have – the U.S. actually has registered its objections --
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- within the meeting itself, and not in a statement?
MR TONER: Yes.
MR TONER: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: There – the Israelis are prosecuting two – one Palestinian poet and one Palestinian journalist for posting things that are related to the right to resist occupation, and is calling that incitement here. Have you seen that report?
MR TONER: Are you talking about the Facebook incitement?
QUESTION: Right, yeah.
MR TONER: Yeah. Look, we’re always concerned about reports of incitement, of violence. I’m not going to weigh in on every incident. In principle, we do, of course, support the right to free speech. I just – I don’t have any more details with respect to this case.
QUESTION: Just a --
QUESTION: In light --
QUESTION: Going back to that --
MR TONER: Sorry.
QUESTION: Go ahead. Finish, Said. I’ll just --
MR TONER: No, no, that’s okay.
QUESTION: Mine is extremely brief.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Very briefly, though, I wondered if you could comment --
MR TONER: Sure.
MR TONER: Oh, the --
QUESTION: Over – on Friday, the Israelis raided a position and I guess in Syria near Damascus, and the Syrians --
MR TONER: I mean, obviously, I’d refer you to Israeli Security Forces and the Israeli Government to speak to that, but there’s – this is not the first time that Israel has been threatened by Syria’s forces along the border, and --
QUESTION: I think it was the Israelis that attacked Syria.
MR TONER: I understand, but they were acting out of, I think, concern. But I’d refer you to the Israeli Government to speak to it.
QUESTION: Just on – I’m just curious as to – if the previous administrations have actually sat in on the debate and participated in the debate in the council on this, why did – why did this administration make a decision not even to take part? Is it because that your – that previous administrations’ objections were never heard or accepted by other members of the council, or is there some other reason?
MR TONER: Let me take the question in terms of the protocol.
MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll do Iraq. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Iraqi prime minister is here with a delegation that includes the chief of staff to KRG President Barzani, and their meetings include with Secretary Tillerson. What are the main issues on the agenda of these talks, and what are your goals in these discussions?
MR TONER: Sure. As you noted, the prime minister is in town with a delegation, and I think Secretary Tillerson is meeting at the White House with – along with the President, obviously, taking part in that meeting later today.
Our goals are pretty straightforward. It’s to reiterate our support for the Iraqis in their long struggle to defeat and destroy ISIS. We also want to encourage them to take the necessary steps to prevent the re-emergence of ISIS, and to – we also want to communicate our support for a prosperous, unified, and democratic Iraq going forward.
Under Prime Minister Abadi, Iraq has made real progress with respect to defeating and destroying ISIS. What comes next is another aspect of ensuring that ISIS doesn’t come back, and that’s dealing with economic, political reforms, but also ensuring that we deal with some of the tensions in Iraqi society, and also reestablish – and I’m talking about stabilization efforts here – reestablish order, infrastructure, so that places like Mosul can welcome back those who have fled or those who have stayed, frankly.
QUESTION: On the political reforms, I assume you have – the building has some ideas on that. Would they include, sort of, decentralization of authority and power within Iraq or what --
MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, some of these things are well known with respect to our concerns, but again, we feel that Prime Minister Abadi has been, so far, shown himself to be a willing partner. He’s tackled some of these reforms himself already, so we’re positive going forward that he’s going to take additional steps.
QUESTION: Can I stay on Iraq?
MR TONER: Yes, let’s stay here.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Laurie’s question. You usually repeat this unified Iraq. Is it the message to the Kurds that sometimes they are – especially during the spring – that they are claiming to have an independence or separation from the – from Iraq. And that’s just a follow-up.
And the second question is going to be the – Iraq’s demand several times – the Iraqi officials, including the Prime Minister Abadi, asking for activating the strategic agreement with the United States. Do you have this --
MR TONER: The last part again, I’m sorry. The – I apologize.
QUESTION: The Iraqi prime minister, several times, ask for reactivating the strategic agreement with the United States. Is there any, like, willing from your side to activate this strategic agreement beyond ISIS, beyond military cooperation?
MR TONER: With respect to the strategic agreement, I don’t have an update on that. I think, like I said, our focus – immediate focus – and that’s going to be obviously true with respect to the ministerial on Wednesday and Thursday this week – is how do we ensure a quick – how do we accelerate our efforts to destroy and defeat ISIS, but then how do we, again, redouble our efforts to stabilize those areas that have been liberated from ISIS.
With respect to the unity of Raqqa, you’re right, that is something we make a point of saying. But ultimately, these are all internal political discussions that Iraq needs to have with all ethnic groups resident in the country.
QUESTION: Iraq – still Iraq?
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: Thanks much.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: As Iraqi forces have increasingly relied on, turned to airstrikes and artillery in their operations in western Mosul, we’ve seen more and more reports, accounts from locals describing situations where airstrikes hit not only houses – not only houses where ISIL is located, but also nearby buildings, killing many civilians. Does the United States do anything to change the manner in which these bombings are carried out?
MR TONER: Well --
QUESTION: Or have they?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean – again, I’d preface my response by saying that’s something that DOD can speak with – speak to in greater detail, but of course, whenever there are legitimate allegations of civilian casualties, we investigate them. And I don’t have the website in front of me, the URL address for it, but there is a website that DOD, the Department of Defense, maintains that actually aggregates any of these claims and follows through on them, which means it puts out a report about the incident – whether it’s credible, whether it’s not, what happened, what steps are taking – going to be taken to address any civilian casualties and also amend it going forward.
QUESTION: But I understand. Can I please --
MR TONER: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: On their website, there haven’t been updates in the past month, if I understand it correctly.
MR TONER: I think it’s – I was about to say I think it’s a monthly basis, so I don’t know. But these things also take --
QUESTION: Since the beginning (inaudible) --
MR TONER: Sorry, but these things also take time, obviously, because it’s a battlefield. But in direct response to your question, yes, when there are credible claims of civilian casualties, they’re investigated by the U.S. military or by the Iraqi Security Forces. Reports are made, assessments are made, and any corrective measures are taken to avoid any regrettable incidents in the future.
QUESTION: So yes to the question – the question was “Does the United States do anything to change the manner in which the bombings are right now carried out in” --
MR TONER: I think we always – we always – so based on reports, assessments, we would always take steps, obviously, to avoid civilian casualties going forward.
QUESTION: I just have one more follow-up.
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: So in one instance, an airstrike hit a house, killed, according to a witness, three people, severely injured a five-year-old girl, and --
MR TONER: This is in Mosul?
QUESTION: -- the father said it took – yes, a neighborhood in Mosul – and her father said it took them three days to get her to the hospital. With that, I want to ask, what does the U.S. do to help people exit the fighting and get help?
MR TONER: I do – and I can get you more details, but obviously, we’ve been working in conjunction with the UN, but – Iraqi Security Forces in creating corridors to get civilians out safely. We had set up with the UN basically refugee facilities and camps so that those displaced by the fighting in Mosul could find temporary shelter in the aftermath or during the fighting. That said, it’s an active battlefield, and so obviously, it’s very difficult in some circumstances. I don’t know the incident you’re speaking about specifically, but that it might take some delay. I just – I don’t know specifically the incident you’re referring to, but in general, we have taken steps to – and frankly, the Iraqi Government has taken steps.
A couple more questions, guys.
MR TONER: How about yourself? Hi. Oh --
QUESTION: Global minsters conference – could you talk about why this is happening now? And do you expect a shift from the Obama administration coalition strategy or more of a broad continuation strategy?
MR TONER: You’re talking about the – so the global coalition, yeah. So it’s happening – this is the first full coalition meeting or ministerial since, I think, 2014 December. So this is a full 68-member ministerial meeting. I think it’s – first of all, it’s an opportunity in the new administration to assess where we’re at and what we want to do going forward. I don’t want to steal any thunder from the Secretary, but I think we will – he will come with new ideas and new approaches and a new way of looking at the counter – or rather, the – how to defeat ISIS. And the – it’s going to focus on how we accentuate – accelerate the efforts across the multiple lines of effort, and again, this is an opportunity because it’s the big meeting for us really to have specific conversations with the countries who are doing work in these various areas and leading efforts in these various areas. I mean, there are some who have taken a more kinetic role, and then there are others who are working, as I said, in the information sphere, on the internet, and trying to confront and address ISIS’s efforts to recruit using the internet.
So this is a multiple-line effort. I think it’s an assessment period, but I also think there’s going to be some new ideas put on the table.
QUESTION: Just in terms of the new ideas approach, et cetera, where does Mr. Tillerson and the administration feel that the current approach isn’t working?
MR TONER: I don’t think – so I think, again, I think everyone recognizes there’s been significant progress in the past year, especially. We’ve seen gains made against ISIS across the board, whether it’s in Syria, but certainly in Iraq, liberations of large areas that they previously held. I think it’s a way to accelerate and focus more on how we can accelerate our efforts.
QUESTION: And where do safe zones fit in this realignment or strategy?
MR TONER: Sure. It’s a good question. I think that it’s something that’s obviously still being thought out. This will be an opportunity, I think, to talk in a little bit more detail. I don’t have anything to preview.
We still on this or do you want to – go ahead.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: An LGBT group has accused the Center for Family and Human Rights of violating federal ethics laws by using their position as part of the UN – U.S. delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women conference to solicit donations. Do you have any comment on that? And then, as a follow-up, who actually made the decision to allow this group, which has been designated as a hate group, to actually have status as part of the U.S. delegation to this conference?
MR TONER: Sure. So we – I spoke a little bit about this last week. The United States does seek to include individuals from civil society organizations with diverse viewpoints and allow them to observe the UN in action during the Commission on the Status of Women as – they’re called public delegates. And then can attend formal meetings of the commission as well as side events. They’re not, however, authorized to negotiate or speak on behalf of the United States.
With respect to your question about who chose these individuals, I think I’d have to refer you to the White House. I think they’re responsible for the selection of these individuals who participate in this commission.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple questions on European relations. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will be in the building on Wednesday for the ISIS conference, but I understand that he’ll also have a bilateral meeting with Secretary Tillerson. Will he be taking this opportunity to bring up concerns that a British intelligence service may have bugged Trump Tower in the run-up to the election?
MR TONER: You’ll have to ask him. I don’t know. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m asking his spokesman.
MR TONER: I’m not Boris Johnson’s – much as I like him.
QUESTION: No, will Secretary Tillerson be taking the opportunity to bring up U.S. concerns?
MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were saying – okay. I’m sorry, I misheard you.
MR TONER: I don’t know what specifically – I think they’ll probably focus on the issues of the day, which is defeating ISIS.
QUESTION: Okay. And over the weekend it was reported that Marine Le Pen’s campaign is saying that they met U.S. officials in recent days. Obviously, you don’t have an ambassador to France, or to anywhere very much, but who met with Marine Le Pen and what level? And I appreciate you might need to take that question because that’s (inaudible).
MR TONER: I will. I will take the question. But I will also push back on your assertion that we don’t have ambassadors. We have chargé’s in many places where there were politically appointed ambassadors who have since left post, but we also have acting ambassadors --
QUESTION: How many ambassadors --
MR TONER: -- or ambassadors – serving ambassadors.
QUESTION: How many ambassadors have you appointed to the 76 open positions?
MR TONER: I’m not sure yet. Those are all being vetted, and as they would normally through the cycle.
QUESTION: But is it more than – more than zero?
MR TONER: You’re saying --
QUESTION: How many ambassadors have you appointed?
MR TONER: So we don’t need to walk through this, but I’m happy to do it for you. So they would go through the chief-of-mission selection process.
QUESTION: How many so far have been appointed?
MR TONER: And then they’re being vetted now by the new administration. So the previous administration has just selected individuals, they’re being vetted, but then ultimately they’ll be sent to the Senate for confirmation.
QUESTION: Mark, isn’t the answer one?
MR TONER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Isn’t the answer --
MR TONER: For what, one ambassador? Yeah, yeah, I mean, yes.
QUESTION: Isn’t the answer to his question one at this point?
MR TONER: I think so but that’s a White House – I’m not going to speak to the White House’s equities.
Is that it, guys?
MR TONER: Yeah. (Laughter.) Last question. Last question. No, seriously.
QUESTION: No, no, go ahead. Michelle.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, thanks. I owe you one.
QUESTION: No problem.
QUESTION: Okay, speaking of White House relations, I’m just wondering about this tweet that the President sent out while Tillerson was traveling, that China hasn’t done much to help on the North Korea situation. It was related to his statement that North Korea has been a bad actor. Did that affect Tillerson’s communications at all while he was there? Did he need to explain that tweet or talk about that tweet? Because we’ve seen things like a single tweet affecting his conversations in other places like Mexico, for example. Was this a similar situation?
MR TONER: Well, I would argue that it didn’t break new ground in the sense that China knows that we believe they can do more with respect to addressing North Korea’s bad behavior. We’ve said that many, many times. The fact that the President chose to say it in a tweet, I think, signifies how concerned and at what level we’re concerned about it.
QUESTION: Did it affect conversations there, though? Did he --
MR TONER: I don’t think so. I mean --
QUESTION: -- need to address the tweet at all?
MR TONER: I mean, I wasn’t, obviously, on the trip. My assessment or my understanding is that no.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR TONER: Yeah. Please.
QUESTION: I have – this is a budget question.
MR TONER: Yep.
QUESTION: I realize that we just had the top line, the blueprint, and that a lot of stuff still needs to be gone through in detail and there are not a lot of specifics out there. But one thing that we do know in addition to the Israel carve-out is that the climate change funding has been eliminated. The climate – the whole initiative itself, but including the Green Climate Fund.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: When he was asked about this at a White House briefing last week, the President’s OMB director said simply, “We’re not going to pay for that anymore.” And I’m curious to know, since you speak for a building that for the last eight years, until January at least, had put climate change as a priority, whether or not the administration generally, and the State Department specifically, thinks that climate change remains a threat or is a threat.
MR TONER: I think that this building and this administration recognize that climate change is a threat, but I think they’re still assessing how big a threat and how we approach that threat. I think specifically with respect to your question, I think the concern was that this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re eliminating all climate programs. I think it’s part of, though, a broader assessment of where we can curb or in any way decrease funding in an effort to, as we said, as they were very clear in the budget, try to exert some fiscal responsibility and to try to reduce the overall budget obligations.
QUESTION: So --
MR TONER: But --
QUESTION: -- the administration does believe that climate change – this administration agrees with the previous administration that climate change is a threat but just doesn’t want to pay --
MR TONER: I think Secretary Tillerson – no, but that’s – the Green Climate Fund – and again, these are all – I don’t have much additional details, as you said – prefaced in your question, but these are – Green Climate Fund is one aspect or one funding mechanism for addressing climate change. It’s not the sole way we would address it.
QUESTION: I understand that. But at least the previous administration and in particular this building during the previous administration and the guy who headed this building thought that the Green Climate Fund was of big importance. And I’m just – do you still think that helping developing nations meet their emissions – meet emissions targets as agreed to in Paris is an important goal?
MR TONER: I think --
QUESTION: Or no, they should pay for it themselves? I don’t --
MR TONER: No, no, I think that’s --
QUESTION: Or you don’t think it’s a problem?
MR TONER: No, no, I think we think climate change is a problem. I think we’re looking at – I think I’ll just say we’re looking at the issue broadly speaking and how we address in it in the best possible way. So --
QUESTION: Yeah, but the budget director said flat out, we’re just – we’re not going to pay for that --
MR TONER: With respect to the Green Climate Fund.
QUESTION: I think the question that he was responding to was the climate change initiative more broadly.
MR TONER: Yeah. I’m not aware – again, these are conversations that are ongoing. I just don’t have any more details. Sorry, Matt.
QUESTION: What climate programs are you keeping? You said it wasn’t going to eliminate all climate programs.
MR TONER: Well, again, I think that’s part of something we’re looking at right now. I mean, these are, again, early days. I know that they specifically mentioned about the Green Climate Fund, but we’re assessing – and that’s not just climate issues or climate funding as well. We’re addressing issues across – or funding rather – across the broad.
QUESTION: But climate change issues have been particularly targeted.
MR TONER: I wouldn't say that. I mean --
QUESTION: You wouldn’t say that?
MR TONER: Well, I would say, like, assistance --
QUESTION: It says – the budget outline says that the entire initiative is --
MR TONER: I’ve closed my book. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- going to be removed.
MR TONER: What’s that?
QUESTION: The budget outline says it’s going to be entirely removed, the climate initiative, including --
MR TONER: The climate initiative, including the Green Climate Fund.
QUESTION: -- the Green Climate Fund.
MR TONER: Yeah. Again --
QUESTION: So the question is why – not just that you don’t want to pay for it anymore, because that’s an answer, but why? If it’s still a problem --
MR TONER: Again, I don’t have much more detail to provide you other than that we’re looking at climate, we’re looking at other areas like assistance and how we can rejigger our priorities but also look at how we spend that money. It’s not to say that we’re not going to spend any money on the environment, although – or on climate change, but I think we’re just looking at ways we can --
QUESTION: Are you still going to be up here when a full budget comes out so we can quiz you on that?
MR TONER: (Laughter.) No comment.
QUESTION: All right.
MR TONER: Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Yep.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:51 p.m.)