1:31 p.m. EDT
MR TONER: Well, you guys get the award for showing up. Welcome to the State Department. I can see I’m like the third or fourth act in town today. That’s okay. Anyway, just very quickly at the top – lots of other stuff going on around town.
Today, as you saw, Secretary Kerry was in Berlin, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As you may have seen earlier, the two had a constructive, lengthy meeting. They discussed the security situation in Israel and the West Bank and the region as well as the situation at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. A number of constructive proposals were suggested, including steps Israel could take to reaffirm yet again the continued commitment to maintaining the status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Both Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed on the need to stop incitement, reduce tensions, and restore calm. And the Secretary will be meeting on Saturday with Jordanian King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and will convey and further explore some of these ideas.
Also earlier today in Berlin, the Secretary met separately with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier as well as EU High Representative Mogherini, where they discussed regional and global issues including the Middle East as well as Europe’s refugee and migration crisis and, of course, Syria and Iran. The Secretary just arrived in Vienna, where he’ll hold meetings tomorrow with Turkish, Russian, and Saudi counterparts to discuss a range of global issues, again, including the ongoing crisis in Syria.
There will also be a meeting with representatives of the Quartet tomorrow, including, obviously, the Secretary but also Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, EU High Representative Mogherini, and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov. And that’s all I have for you, so I will take your questions if you have any. It can be done quickly.
QUESTION: Yes, one thing on the – there’s a crisis in the – between Israel and the Palestinians – the Quartet?
MR TONER: The Quartet is going to focus on – it’s a good question. I think it’s going to focus largely on the crisis in Israel and Jerusalem and in Gaza, but also I can’t imagine that they won’t also discuss possibly Syria.
MR TONER: Sure, Georgia.
QUESTION: Right. I wonder if you have anything on the media environment and expression of freedom – freedom of expression in Georgia. Specifically, the TV station Rustavi 2 has been under a lot of pressure from the government. A recent statement from prime minister is saying that that TV station was used by the opposition national movement to radicalize the situation. Any comment on that?
MR TONER: Sure, and we’ve talked about this a little bit before. Of course, we wouldn’t comment on the legal merits of the case against Rustavi 2. We’ll let the legal process play itself out. However, I would just say that the closure or potential closure of a major TV station would shrink the media space in Georgia significantly, and that’s a cause for concern. We take seriously any actions that would give the appearance of compromising media pluralism.
QUESTION: Generally speaking, given the pressure faced by Rustavi 2, how – what – how do you view the – Georgia’s prospects for stability, reconciliation, and rule of law, including the freedom of expression?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, look, our ambassador to Georgia – many of you probably remember him from his days at the podium, Ian Kelly – he’s discussed this case with the president and prime minister. And we actually commend Prime Minister Garibashvili’s call for a calm debate regarding this issue. And we, the U.S. Government, have frequently praised Georgia’s open media environment. It’s been recognized internationally as a model for the region, and we believe that one of a democratic government’s priorities should be the protection of citizens’ liberty, which depends on access to free and unfettered media.
So in general, I mean, we’re encouraged by Georgia’s open environment for media and civil society. The government has also enacted many reforms, particularly those that increase checks and balances. And we’re also encouraged by recent legislation regarding the independence and accountability for the prosecutor’s office as well. But as I said, we’re concerned about any steps that might lead to the closure of one of the primary media outlets in – broadcast media outlets in Georgia.
QUESTION: You say you are concerned. Have there been any communication from this building with Georgia’s prime minister or the government?
MR TONER: Sure. I’m not aware of whether we’ve had from Washington direct conversations, but I can imagine we have. But certainly through our ambassador in Tbilisi.
QUESTION: Please, sir.
MR TONER: I just wondered if you have anything on the operation – rescue operation happened in Hawija by – in cooperation with the Kurdish special forces. Were there any American hostages rescued there?
MR TONER: Well, you’re talking about, of course, the rescue mission that took place – right, exactly – on the ISIL prison in Hawija, Iraq. My counterpart, Peter Cook, I think is briefing on this shortly or if not concurrently. But in answer to – specific answer to your question, no, I’m not aware that there were any U.S. citizens, which I think you were asking about. Now, understanding was that it was about 70 hostages, 20 of them were members of, we believe, Iraqi Security Forces, and that’s as much information as I have.
QUESTION: Right. If you have any information on that, was that the first rescue mission operations being conducted by United States forces in cooperation with Iraq? Is that the one – first one in Iraq, I believe?
MR TONER: I believe it is the first – you’re saying hostage rescue?
MR TONER: I believe it is, but defer to others who know more about that. But I think that’s correct.
QUESTION: Right, okay. I just wondering if you have – you expressed really concern about the media closure in Georgia, I think. I just wondering if you have the same thing in – on Kurdish region, which is the same problem happening there. And I hear there were some communications with the Kurdish officials, including the Kurdish representative office here in Washington with the Iraq desk people, and also in Erbil. So have you got any conclusion why the media offices were closed or shut down by security forces in Erbil?
MR TONER: Well, I don’t have any updates on the situation or – and I wouldn’t really attempt to speak on behalf of the authorities in Iraqis Kurdistan region. I would say the same general principles apply is that we certainly want to see a full, open, unfettered media exist in any country or any region, including Kurdistan. And we would be concerned, I think, about any restriction in a given region’s or country’s media environment. So we’re always big believers, if you will, in the importance of media access and, as I said, a variety of media outlets. And that’s not just specific to Kurdistan but certainly all over the world. And I’ve said this before and that continues to be our message and is clearly – is our message to – when we speak to authorities about the situation.
QUESTION: But specifically on this one, you had communication with the Kurdish officials. What did you get from them? Why it happened? I mean, is there anything that you can tell us publicly?
MR TONER: I don’t, and I don’t want to – as I said, I am very hesitant always to speak on behalf of another government or another – of our interlocutors. I would just allow them to characterize.
QUESTION: I’m talking about that – your position, because you’ve talked to them, to the Kurdish officials on – specifically on this issue.
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: And I just wondering what was their response and also what was – do you believe is there any excuse or any way of justification closing – shutting down a media – independent media channel in Erbil?
MR TONER: Again, without specifically talking about this case, there’s very few occasions or instances that justify shutting down any media outlet, and we can talk about those – I mean, incitement, that kind of thing certainly. But any professional media outlet that’s simply carrying out its mission or its mandate, we would be concerned about shutting that outlet down. But I don’t have anything specifically to say about this case. I just – all I can say is that we’ve made those concerns clear to Kurdish authorities.
QUESTION: Last one on Kurdistan.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s a different topic.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday – I think the day before yesterday, John Kirby, he was talking about the presidential crisis. And he said United States dealing with Mr. Barzani as the president, because he’s acting as like a president, and that made a lot of reactions and disappointed thousands of people that United States is dealing with Barzani’s presidential as a legitimate president, which is legally – there’s an issue between political parties. And they accused you of siding with one of the political party, which is President Barzani’s party. So do you have any comment on that? Is that the United States position that recognizing somebody as a legitimate president without getting any legal basis?
MR TONER: Well, a few things. First of all, we are, of course – and have said so – that we’re concerned about ongoing tensions in the Iraqi Kurdistan region which has led, in some instances, to some violent demonstrations. And we would call on all parties to continue to exercise restraint.
Second point is we urge Kurdistan’s regional political parties to work constructively to resolve their differences so that the KRG can focus on defeating ISIL – that’s the true enemy and true threat that Kurdistan faces – and facilitating humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced people.
Your question about whether we consider Barzani as the president, that’s ultimately – that’s for the Iraqi Kurdistan region to decide his status. But while those discussions are ongoing, I would just say that he is still fulfilling the role and we are continuing to work with him in that role in his capacity as the president of the KRG. But again, our overarching message here is that all political parties need to come together, resolve their differences, again, so that Kurdistan can focus on the real threat, which is ISIL.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Iraq?
MR TONER: Sure thing, sir. Yes, absolutely. Go ahead.
QUESTION: There are press reports saying that former Prime Minister Maliki and his followers are pressuring the Prime Minister Abadi to resign or to remove him. Did you see these reports?
MR TONER: Honestly, I have not seen those reports. I’d have to look into that. We believe Abadi is – Prime Minister Abadi is doing a good job in carrying out his mandate, trying to create a more unified and inclusive government in Iraq. But I – I’m not aware of those specific reports.
QUESTION: And – someone told me that the embassy in Iraq has praised yesterday the mobilizing force’s militia. Is this a new position?
MR TONER: Mobilizing —
QUESTION: The militias? You know, like the popular militias?
MR TONER: Not aware of the specifics, so I’d have to look into what was said by the embassy. In general, we’ve talked about – obviously under Iraqi central command and control, but we’ve talked about the importance of some of these local fighting groups in carrying out and being very, frankly, very effective in carrying out the fight against ISIL. I’m not sure if it’s in that framework that those comments were made. I’d have to look into it.
MR TONER: Not – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Not cooperating with the Russian coalition.
MR TONER: Look, we’ve spoken before about this. It’s ultimately a sovereign Iraqi decision. We – I can only speak for our role, the U.S.’s role and the coalition’s role. And we feel like we’ve been able to play a very constructive and helpful role. But essentially we’re trying to enable and build a capable Iraqi fighting force. Because, as we’ve talked about before, ultimately it is Iraq’s armed forces that have to be able to provide security for the country and have to be able to defeat and destroy ISIL. Our role is, obviously, is to help them through a variety of means, but train, equip, advise, to strengthen their capacity to take that fight to ISIL.
MR TONER: Please, Nicole.
MR TONER: Well, I’ll take both your questions. (Laughter.)
MR TONER: Oh, okay. Oh, I didn’t see you. Okay, sorry.
MR TONER: Go ahead, Nicole. Or is it still on the same —
QUESTION: Yes, on the same —
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: — what you were saying. U.S. General Dunford came back from Iraq and said that the Iraqi Government assured them that they are not going to be asking for Russia’s support in the fight against ISIL. Then a member of the Iraqi parliament’s defense committee came out and said that Iraq gave no such assurances. Why this diverse messaging? Is it the understanding of the U.S. Government that there is a consensus in Iraq over this issue?
MR TONER: I honestly – I mean, I – I think I would use somewhat the same answer, which is this is – these are sovereign decisions for the Iraqi Government. That these issues are being debated within Iraq’s political structure is frankly not surprising.
QUESTION: It —
MR TONER: Go ahead, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s not just within Iraq that it is being debated, but clearly it is important to the U.S. as well, because a top U.S. general is speaking about this. Isn’t it important for the U.S. that that topic —
MR TONER: Of whether Iraq —
QUESTION: Would, yes, ask for Russia’s support?
MR TONER: Again, our understanding is that they have not asked for that support. But if that debate continues, that debate continues. I can only speak on what the U.S. is doing in working with Iraq’s security forces, and which is what I just tried to lay down. What they may be seeking in terms of cooperation with Russia, then I would have to refer you to Iraq.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. insist that Iraq give no – give such assurances, that —
MR TONER: Assurances that they wouldn’t cooperate with Russia?
MR TONER: I’m not aware of that, nor would I really talk – speak to what we may or may not have said to Iraq’s government, like we don’t talk about our private conversations with any government, but —
QUESTION: Actually, but the U.S. General Dunford, he did talk about this. And he said, quote, “I said it would make it very difficult for” – “I said” – told the Iraqis, presumably – “it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support that you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well.”
MR TONER: Again, these are discussions —
QUESTION: Was it the leverage that the – that U.S. officials used in order to ask Iraq?
MR TONER: Is it a leverage? No, I would say we’re having frank and open and candid conversations with the Iraqi Government. But again, these are ultimately decisions that the Iraqis are going to have to make for themselves.
Go ahead, Nicole.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Russia?
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: President Putin, in public remarks, accused the U.S. of playing, to use his words, a “double game” when it comes to terrorism and distinguishing between moderate and extreme terrorists, which he argued you can’t do. And he also criticized the use of terrorists to topple undesirable regimes. Just wondering if I could get a response to those comments and want to make sure that you saw/heard them.
MR TONER: Honestly, I have not seen them. I’m not sure when he made them or what context we made them. We stand by our approach to countering terrorism. Whether you’re talking about taking the fight against al-Qaida or against ISIL in the region, we’ve built what we believe is an effective 65-member coalition that is carrying out airstrikes in support of local armed groups that are effectively fighting ISIL, but also in Iraq helping Iraqi security forces take the fight against ISIL. But as we’ve said many times, that’s just one component of our overall strategy. So I’m not sure what he’s implying, whether he’s speaking specifically about Syria or whether he’s speaking about – he’s specifically talking about Syria, then – okay. I’ll stay focused on Syria, then.
Again, I don’t know that our stated goals couldn’t be clear with regard to Syria. Certainly we’ve got the threat posed by ISIL. That’s a very serious and real threat, and I think, frankly, we agree with Russia that ISIL needs to be confronted and destroyed. But with regards to what is happening under Assad, we’ve also been very clear that there is no – there’s no solution to that other than through a political process. The Secretary spoke to this again in Berlin today. We need a political process going forward, and ultimately one, again, that cannot include Assad. But there is a moderate Syrian opposition out there in Syria that is struggling against Assad’s regime that has brutally attacked it, continues to attack it, and we need to see that opposition, obviously, have a chance to be a part of any meaningful and inclusive political transition.
QUESTION: Another question on —
MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead, and then I’ll go over to you. Thanks.
QUESTION: President Putin today said that Syrian regime forces and Syrian PYD should combine their forces against ISIS.
MR TONER: Syrian – apologize. One more time. The —
QUESTION: Syrian regime forces and Syrian PYD, the Kurdish forces, should combine their forces against ISIS. Would you welcome such alliance between Assad forces and Syrian Kurds?
MR TONER: Again, without having seen his remarks, we’ve been very clear that to us the Syrian regime is not a viable or trustworthy actor in any kind of anti-ISIL coalition efforts.
QUESTION: A short question.
MR TONER: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Have you had any chance to look into the allegations of ethnic cleansing by PYD? Amnesty International two weeks ago published a reported and you said that —
MR TONER: I’m aware of the report. I’ll have to check. I mean, I know, obviously, we took those concerns seriously. We were looking at the report very closely. I don’t know that we – I’ll check and see if we have any follow-up for you.
She actually – then I’ll go – sorry.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) There were also reports earlier that President Putin said that Syrian leadership should establish some sort of contact with opposition forces. I know yesterday John Kirby said that in Secretary Kerry’s trip tomorrow, he’s not going to meet with opposition. But sort of first, what is the U.S. reaction to Putin’s statements? Then second, does this at all change the calculus of whether Kerry will be meeting with opposition leaders on the ground?
MR TONER: Second question I’ll answer first: I’m not aware that it’s changed the calculus at all in terms of the Secretary’s schedule. Your first question – you’re saying that – forgive me again – President Putin said that —
QUESTION: Suggested that —
MR TONER: — that the Syrian regime needs to reach out to the opposition?
QUESTION: Correct, yeah.
MR TONER: Okay. Well, look, again, there is a process laid out via the Geneva communique that lays out the framework for a political transition. We want to see that take place. We want to see it – and the Secretary actually spoke to this a few weeks ago when he was at the UN General Assembly, is that we can have a ceasefire in place tomorrow, a durable ceasefire in place in Syria, if the government – the regime, the Assad regime – stops its attacks on the Syrian people. And from that we can begin to pull together a political process along the lines of the Geneva communique.
Where we’ve been, as you well know, pretty adamant about, is that ultimately that can’t result with Assad still remaining in power. We just believe he’s lost all credibility. But in terms of – ultimately, yes, the Syrian Government and Syrian opposition are going to have to talk and figure out a plan moving forward.
QUESTION: Sorry. Change topic, although somewhat related to Russia. I wonder, Mark, if you —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — might have a comment on the situation in Montenegro, where Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is facing rising protests. Opposition leaders there are calling for his ouster. And they actually have openly said that they’re being backed by Serbia and Moscow. Does this Department stand with the prime minister, who has become known in recent years for his vocal support of NATO and the desire to make Montenegro part of NATO? I believe NATO officials have actually said that they’ll decide by the end of this year whether to accept Montenegro as a member.
MR TONER: Look, I mean, it’s not for us to necessarily back one side or the other. There’s clearly some political debate going on in Montenegro. I would say that, broadly speaking, Montenegro holds its own future in its hands and as a sovereign nation is free to decide whether it wants to seek NATO membership. NATO is a defensive alliance, and the countries of the Balkan region are and will remain free to determine their own associations.
Talking about the political unrest, look, we obviously support freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest. That’s fundamental to any democracy. We’ve said that many times. And so we urge all sides involved in the protest to display restraint and respect for the rule of law. But again, returning to your central – the premise of your question, we’re going to continue to support Montenegro’s efforts to advance along its Euro-Atlantic path, and that includes NATO membership.
QUESTION: Are there concerns here about the peaceful nature of the protests? There are big protests called for this coming weekend. I think last weekend the opposition, protestors actually roasted a pig in front of the parliament building. And this weekend, they say they’ll overthrow the government unless the prime minister steps down. Doesn’t this seem like a bit of a recipe for disaster? And could you also draw, perhaps, a parallel to what happened in Ukraine with people from this podium saying that the Russians fomented a movement against the Ukrainian Government?
MR TONER: Well, I want to be very cautious about drawing parallels. This is a momentous period for Montenegro. Clearly, there’s much political debate and a lot of passion being played out currently in Montenegro – as you mentioned, the protests last week and the upcoming protests this weekend. Again, I think our concern, in any of these kinds of cases, would be that these protests are carried out peacefully. We fully respect and, in fact, encourage the right to protest, to speak your mind. That’s an essential part of any democracy, whether it’s the United States or Montenegro. But what ultimately is key is that these protests be conducted in a peaceful manner. So of course we’re concerned about the potential that they’re not this weekend. And we would just encourage all sides to exercise restraint.
QUESTION: Is it your view that Moscow is meddling heavy-handedly in the situation?
MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to respond to that. We’re – our focus, as I said, is supporting, as much as we can, the Montenegro people’s and government’s stated aspirations for closer ties with the Euro-Atlantic community.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Toner.
MR TONER: Sure.
MR TONER: Yeah. And you know what, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to refer you to the Department of Justice for that.
MR TONER: Sure. It’s a legal proceeding, so I can’t really speak to it.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Presidential candidate Eric Chu from the ruling party Kuomintang is planning to visit Washington this month at the invitation of American Institute in Taiwan. So are you aware of any arrangement for anyone in this building that will be meeting with him?
MR TONER: I’m not. So I’ll have to – I’ll take the question and look into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You may have to take this question, as it’s very specific.
MR TONER: Okay. I’ll try my best.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — Congressman Pompeo raises a meeting that he said transpired several days before the attack in Benghazi between State Department officials and an al-Qaida leader, Wissam Bin Hamid. Secretary Clinton says she was unaware of the meeting. Are you able to say whether this —
MR TONER: Sorry. Just one time, the meeting with —
QUESTION: With an al-Qaida leader, Wissam Bin Hamid.
MR TONER: With who? And – sorry. Who met with him? I apologize. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: No, not at all. Between State Department officials and an al-Qaida leader several days before the attack, regarding security at the mission.
MR TONER: And took place in Benghazi?
MR TONER: Okay. You’re right. I will have to take that question. I’m not aware of that. I never heard reference to it or anything, so —
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MR TONER: All right. No worries. I’ll try to get back to you.
QUESTION: One other question along those lines.
MR TONER: Sure, sure. Go ahead. Please.
MR TONER: It’s – I mean, unusual – I mean, look. I mean, we’ve only had – email’s a relatively new beast, shall we say, and – or a new creation. And so I think each secretary’s a little bit different in how they get information. And certainly that evolves as technology is developed over time. And frankly, it’s one of the more central aspects of the whole email FOIA requests that we talk about a lot, which is – as we developed along these – and get a clear understanding of how secretaries are communicating and how that’s changing with technology, that it raises all kinds of questions that we’re trying to deal with in terms of record keeping and that kind of thing.
So I’m not – it’s hard for me to say whether that’s unusual. There’s – I would have to refer you to previous secretaries.
QUESTION: Mr. Toner, can I go back to my question without going into the —
MR TONER: Okay, yes.
QUESTION: — legal details?
MR TONER: Okay.
MR TONER: I’m just – and I’m sorry. I understand my answer isn’t satisfying, but —
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) It is – just only I am trying to find out —
MR TONER: But you are asking about a legal case.
QUESTION: No. I am just trying to find out what is the U.S. position regarding what’s going on right now in Venezuela. It’s not just only that, but it’s just only the elections.
MR TONER: Well, I think we’ve spoken to this before. We want to see —
QUESTION: It is the political prisoners.
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, more broadly, we’ve spoken about our concerns about the upcoming elections, and we want to see them free and fair. We want to see political parties have access to media – all of the elements that constitute a free and fair election, we want to see those in place. And we’ve talked about it I think just last week. We want to see the elections move forward. We believe that the Venezuelan people deserve free and fair elections, and elections that are held on schedule.
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: At the same time when Pompeo was asking about that meeting, he also was bringing up 600 – he was saying that there were 600 requests over a period of time for additional security in Benghazi via email. And the Secretary said that none of them ever reached her desk, and then he kind of countered, “But you got 150 emails from Sidney Blumenthal.” So, I mean, the question is: Did – is – are those requests supposed to get to her via email, or is that – someone else is going to get those?
MR TONER: Well, it’s a fair point. Again, without having personal knowledge – but we’ve talked about more broadly —
QUESTION: I mean, if she’s getting those emails from Blumenthal, that’s on a computer on her desk, or that’s on her phone, or what is going on there?
MR TONER: Well, again, just – okay, so getting back to your original question, though – and she said this before – Secretary Clinton has spoken to this before, we’ve spoken to this before. Secretaries of State get their information from a variety of sources, not just through email, and certainly not just through personal email. And so what you’re asking about is security upgrades in email requests or however those requests – which wouldn’t necessarily come simply through email. We have a Diplomatic Security Bureau here, and they are charged with looking at those issues and ensuring that security, if necessary, is upgraded. And frankly, the Accountability Review Board has already looked in detail at all of these questions and provided their analysis. And as the Secretary rightly said, the – we took the ARB’s recommendations on board and have enacted or are in the process of enacting all of the recommendations.
But I’m sorry, your last thing was about the —
QUESTION: Well —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — it’s about whether or not she had a computer on her desk. But I mean —
MR TONER: I simply don’t know. I mean, I – I just can’t speak to that. I —
QUESTION: But the other question is that I think that in the hearing, it came up that Ambassador Stevens didn’t have her personal email. Is that your understanding?
MR TONER: Again, I don’t – it’s – it’s hard for me to say whether he was emailing her directly. I mean, as we’ve heard other people say, it’s not all that common to email back and forth with the Secretary of State. But there’s a —
QUESTION: She was using that email exclusively, right?
MR TONER: Right. But I’m not sure what, in terms of her personal email, that – whether Ambassador Stevens had it or not. But what I can say is that she frequently spoke to him and was in fairly regular contact given the importance of our mission in Libya and the situation in general in Libya at the time.
Yeah. Please, sir.
QUESTION: Mark, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is scheduled to visit Baghdad for the budget negotiation with Baghdad, which last year didn’t work. This year, they are trying to make it work. So what is United States position on that? And last year, you were part of the negotiation between both parties, Erbil and Baghdad, to sign the deal to oil revenue sharing. So what is your position on that? Are you encouraging this kind of renewing the deal or working together more closely on the budget issue?
MR TONER: Sure. I mean, if you’re speaking specifically about oil revenues and oil exports and revenue sharing, our position is unchanged. We think that Baghdad and Erbil should work out a workable agreement on how oil exports and revenue sharing can be acceptable to all sides. We support continued dialogue towards a resolution of this matter and believe that cooperation on economic matters is something that benefits all Iraqis and should benefit all Iraqis and strengthens the country as a whole.
QUESTION: You believe having them working together on economically – in the budget, especially, the 2016 budget that – which is coming – will have a positive impact if they make the deal on the fight against ISIS?
MR TONER: Sure, absolutely. I mean, I think obviously, economic – equitable economic cooperation – I’ll get it out of my mouth here – equitable economic cooperation, agreement on a budget, strengthens the country as a whole, and therefore allows greater solidarity, as we said, to face what is the true threat to Iraq, which is ISIL.
QUESTION: This year, you haven’t – sorry, the last one.
MR TONER: That’s okay.
QUESTION: This year, you haven’t been directly involved in the talks. Is there any reason?
MR TONER: I’m not aware of our involvement. I’ll have to check on that. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: As I understand it, Secretary Kerry will be meeting separately with King Abdullah and with Palestinian President Abbas. Can you go into any more detail or provide insight into the reason behind the decision to meet separately with the two leaders?
MR TONER: Oh, I – sure. I mean, these – so, yeah, he is going to be – I’m just checking my – yes, he is supposed to meet Saturday with King Abdullah and then, as you said, I believe separately with Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestine.
Look, I think, just as he met today one-on-one with Prime Minister Netanyahu, this is really an opportunity for him to have kind of frank – not “kind of,” but to have frank and candid conversations with the various players, if you will, and to really try to come up with concrete ways that, as we’ve said, all sides involved in this can take affirmative steps to reduce tensions. So I think ultimately, what we’re talking about is an opportunity for him to roll up his sleeves, if you will, and really talk about some of the issues at play.
Is that it?
QUESTION: One question?
MR TONER: One more, sure.
MR TONER: Did we make our assessment? Were we supposed to make our assessment? I think we said yesterday we weren’t surprised that he would go to Moscow, given their increased support of his regime. I think what we would have hoped took place during that meeting is that Russia and President Putin used its influence, his influence, to encourage Assad to stop brutalizing the Syrian people and to take steps towards a political process that will end the fighting conclusively. I don’t know whether that message, indeed, was conveyed or not. We maintain that Russia can still make constructive contributions overall in fighting ISIL in Syria if it chooses to do so.
That it, guys? Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)
Source: U.S Department of State
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