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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 6, 2016

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 16:49
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 6, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
  • CUBA


    2:11 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hey, folks. Sorry to be a little late. I apologize.

    Well, you obviously just saw how Secretary Kerry spoke and addressed a lot of the issues probably foremost on your mind from Brussels, which is – he’s far better at this stuff than I am, so that’s all for the better. But as you know, or as I just noted rather, he is in Brussels. He’s there attending the – his final, as Secretary of State, NATO Foreign Ministerial, and he’s obviously discussing with allies and partners efforts to strengthen NATO’s security, protect stability beyond the alliance’s borders, as well as enhance NATO-EU cooperation. Also of note, while in Brussels, he met with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini also to discuss U.S.-EU cooperation.

    I don’t have anything beyond that. So Matt – or Brad, over to you, sir.

    QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t want to go over what the Secretary did, but I did wanted to ask you – I did want to ask you about the comments today by the president of Iran.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: He said that he would prevent the next U.S. president from ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. Is that something in his capacity, according to your understanding of the agreement, that your – this Administration reached?

    MR TONER: Well, so a couple things to say about that. One is I think it’s premature to judge what the next administration may or may not do with the Iran deal, the JCPOA. Second, we’re not going to respond to, as we often don’t respond to, all of the rhetoric, political rhetoric, coming out of Iran.

    That said, as you heard Secretary Kerry just say in Brussels, and I can reiterate it, is what we do agree about, and that is not just us and Iran but it’s also the P5+1, is that the JCPOA has been effective. It has effectively cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and because of their compliance they’ve had some relief on their sanctions. And thus far, all sides, all parties, have lived up to their commitments under the JCPOA and it’s working. So we think it’s a good deal. We’ve said that strongly both publicly and privately. We’re conveying that to the incoming administration.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- I’m not asking you specifically about the merits of the agreement.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: I’m just asking you logistically, the agreement reached--

    MR TONER: -- whether they can --

    QUESTION: -- whether they can prevent the next – I think we had a long question and answer the first couple days.

    MR TONER: Yeah, right.

    QUESTION: And it seemed pretty clear then that the next president can leave the agreement if he wants because it’s not a formal treaty.

    MR TONER: Of course, it’s not a formal treaty. But of course – and of course, no one else can prevent any other party to this agreement from walking away. The counterargument to that is: Why would anyone walk away, because it’s effective?

    QUESTION: And then one other thing --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: -- that the Iranians have talked about, and that is their ability, if they perceive the U.S. or any other P5+1 party to be violating the deal, their ability to snap back parts of their nuclear program. Are you familiar with this in the agreement? Is this a part of the agreement that is there in the public version or in the – is there anywhere in the agreement, public or private, that gives Iran a snapback provision --

    MR TONER: No.

    QUESTION: -- on its enrichment or any other part of its nuclear program?

    MR TONER: The only snapback I’m aware of is, obviously, the snapback provision that allows us to put back in place, very quickly, nuclear-related sanctions. In terms of them being able to snap back, I mean, we’ve seen they’ve taken steps in accordance with the JCPOA. They’ve dismantled two-thirds of their centrifuges, installed centrifuge capacity. They’ve shipped out almost all of the enriched uranium that they had and reduced enriched uranium stockpile from 12,000 kilograms to no more than 300 kilograms, and they’ve poured concrete into the core of their heavy-water reactors. So they’ve taken – again, in accordance with their commitments to the JCPOA – concrete steps that would prohibit them from, quote/unquote, “snapping back.”

    QUESTION: So all this is chest-pumping from Tehran about we could restart certain things within 24 hours, that to you is – they don’t have that right under the deal? And two, if they did that, they’d essentially be violating the deal?

    MR TONER: Well, of course. Yes, yes. Any attempt to restart their program. But I think fundamentally – I don’t want to necessarily present this all as kind of us-versus-them rhetoric. I think broadly stating or stating the obvious here – and it’s not just the United States; it’s all members of the P5+1; it’s Iran – we’re all, I think, in agreement, rightly so, that this is working, that this has benefits for all the parties, and it’s in all of our interest to keep it in place.

    QUESTION: But in the event –

    MR TONER: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Iran --

    QUESTION: No, go ahead.

    MR TONER: Iran then. Let’s finish with Iran, and then I’ll get to you, Said.

    QUESTION: Sure.

    QUESTION: We’ll go to Iran.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Oh, okay. Sorry.

    QUESTION: So Rouhani did also say today – and he’s repeated, I think, what Khamenei said previously – that extending the ISA is a violation of the nuclear deal, even if President Obama were to issue waivers to those sanctions. And he said that they’re going to consider some sort of response to what he called this violation. Have they complained through diplomatic channels officially to you all about extending the ISA?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware – no – that they’ve stated their concerns through diplomatic channels. I don't believe so.

    QUESTION: But you are aware that they – like they view the extension of the ISA as a violation?

    MR TONER: And we obviously reject those views. We’ve been very clear that what we call a clean extension of the Iran Sanctions Act is entirely consistent with our commitments in the JCPOA. And in any case, Secretary Kerry would retain waiver authority and would continue to waive all of the nuclear-related sanctions, the relevant sanctions, authorized by the legislation. And that’s what we committed to do in the JCPOA, so that – we retain that capacity, I guess, is the point.

    QUESTION: In the event that --

    MR TONER: Yes, of course.

    QUESTION: -- the new administration does actually absolve itself of the Iran deal and walks away from it, Iran conceivably has the same right to, let’s say, take commensurate steps, correct, and just say, okay, we’re off --

    MR TONER: I mean, look, this agreement is only – you’re right in that --

    QUESTION: I’m saying in principle --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Go ahead. Yes.

    QUESTION: -- you say that they are within their right to say, okay, we are no longer – we no longer abide by that agreement, correct?

    MR TONER: Right. I mean, of course. And that’s why – but what we’ve seen thus far is that it’s in everyone’s interest to keep it intact.

    QUESTION: Right. And they have, as you stated --

    MR TONER: And they have abided – I mean, we’ve had – we’ve talked about some of these reports, slight overages with heavy water. They’ve been addressed. But so far, they’ve been pretty consistent in addressing and complying with their commitments.

    QUESTION: And just to follow up on Brad’s question --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- prevent, using the word “prevent,” the next administration – could he be possibly – I mean, I don’t want you to get into his head. Could he be possibly talking about the fact that there are other parties to this agreement and they can – together can keep that agreement going, even without the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, yes, I mean in the sense that, again, this is – we’ve talked about this before. This is not an agreement – just a bilateral agreement between Iran and the United States. There are other parties to this, parties who were, frankly, very pivotal in reaching this agreement, and their interests are at stake as well. So obviously, all that is being discussed, is being, obviously, evaluated by the incoming administration. Ultimately, it’s up for them – up to them to make their decisions. I know Secretary Kerry and President Obama, of course, but others are also doing their part to make sure that they have as good an awareness as they can have about the merits of this deal.

    QUESTION: Different subject?

    QUESTION: Different subject.

    MR TONER: Different subject.

    QUESTION: Not Iran.

    MR TONER: Go ahead. And then we’ll get to you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: It’s regarding Trump’s call with the Taiwan leader.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: I just have a few more. So yesterday Josh Earnest said some of the progress that we’ve made in our relationship with China --

    MR TONER: You said – I apologize. You said who said this?

    QUESTION: Josh Earnest.

    MR TONER: Oh, Josh Earnest. Okay, sorry.

    QUESTION: Of the White House. He said some of the progress that we have made in our relationship with China could be undermined by this issue flaring up, and I have a few questions that I hope will just add context. So in June, when President Obama met with Dalai Lama at the White House, China got angry and said the meeting undermined mutual trust and cooperation. Question: Should President Obama have done otherwise, given China’s views on the subject?

    MR TONER: Again, I don't want to necessarily draw those parallels, because we don’t always agree and see eye-to-eye with China on every given issue. That’s, I think, something we’ve been very transparent about talking – or transparent about. And the Dalai Lama, as a major cultural figure and religious figure, is obviously one of those things we don’t see eye-to-eye about, and we’ve retained contact in his capacity as a major cultural and religious figure. We remain in contact with him.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: But let me finish. But with respect to – and I would also say that we always, and we’re very clear about this as well, don’t see eye-to-eye with them on – often on cyber security, although we’ve taken steps to address that, and human rights. Where we have disagreements with China, as part of our relations with them, we’re able to discuss these things and lay them on the table.

    With respect to Taiwan, we’ve been very clear and very forthright in stating what our policy is. And that policy was a major shift at the time, but it helped us get to a place where we are today with China, and we respect that policy and we’ve retained that policy.

    QUESTION: And --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: Just one of those other questions is --

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: China hates seeing U.S. warships in South China Sea; they see that as destabilizing. I know that the U.S. has its reasons to be there, but would the U.S. change its policy because China finds it destabilizing?

    MR TONER: So again, that is based on freedom of navigation and our belief that we should be able to sail or fly over international waters regardless of where they are. And every country should be able to do that. We’ve said oftentimes that we don’t have a dog in the fight over who has territorial rights with respect to the South China Sea. What we don’t want to see there is a further escalation. And we’ve seen a militarization of the South China Sea. That’s a bad thing. That’s a bad thing for the security of the region.

    So what we’ve said all along is that we want to see dialogue. We don’t want to see militarization. We don’t want to see steps to further create construction or whatever or entities and building out of some of these islands. All that is contrary to what our goal is, which is a mechanism – a diplomatic mechanism by which countries can resolve peacefully.

    QUESTION: So the U.S. would not change its policy regardless of how China sees it, correct?

    MR TONER: With regard to the South China Sea, we would not change our policy. Our policy is what it is, which is freedom of navigation.

    QUESTION: I guess my bottom line question is there were a bunch of things that irritated China. Did this Administration criticize Trump for taking that call because this particular issue is taboo?

    MR TONER: I mean, this – taboo? Define taboo. It is a very hot-button issue for China, clearly.

    QUESTION: I mean, there were other hot-button issues that the Administration --

    MR TONER: Of course there are. And that’s not to say in any bilateral relations, whether it’s with China or with any country, that we don’t have disagreements. But with respect to Taiwan, we’ve been pursuing a very specific policy. And it’s not just Democrats versus Republicans. This is both administrations – or administrations of both parties who have pursued a consistent policy with regard to Taiwan, and our recognition or lack of recognition of Taiwan, and our relations with Taiwan. And that has not changed. And in diplomacy that matters. Consistency matters. Thanks.


    QUESTION: On Japan?

    MR TONER: Let me get Steve, and then I promise I’ll go to you.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: The Cuban foreign ministry announced today that it’s moving forward with the United States on developing a road map deepening their detente. I’m just wondering what details you have on this for us and whether discussions with Cuba are being accelerated by both Havana and Washington before the new administration comes in place.

    MR TONER: Yeah, so I don’t have a lot of details. I know that, as you noted, United States and Cuba are holding their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting. It’s in Havana. Wait, today’s not Wednesday. It’s tomorrow, I believe, and December 7th. And acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte will lead the U.S. delegation. And obviously, our Charge d’Affaires in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer will attend on behalf of the United States. So I don’t know – I don’t have a lot of details on what the deliverables will be coming out of that. We’ll certainly update as the meetings take place.

    With regard to your last question: Is this an acceleration? Not at all. As I said, this is a long-scheduled meeting. I believe it might have been delayed somewhat because of the period of mourning after the death of Fidel Castro, but it was long-scheduled. As – yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Do you agree though with the characterization that this is drawing a road map deepening the detente between the U.S. and Cuba?

    MR TONER: Well, I think it’s – in the sense that – yes, I mean, we’re talking about – it’s another opportunity to review progress, certainly, that we’ve been – that has been made since we made the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and review progress on our engagement on a number of priorities. That includes, obviously, human rights, civil aviation, health, law enforcement, economic issues, claims, environmental protection, migration, educational, cultural exchanges, et cetera. So there’s a broad range of topics. Progress has not always been steady in all of them, but we certainly are striving to continue to make progress on all of them. And we’ll get – as I said, tomorrow I should have a better readout for you.

    QUESTION: And some specifics on the --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- deliverables?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll try.

    Thanks, Michel.

    QUESTION: Secretary Kerry in his statement in Brussels seemed the blaming the opposition, the Syrian opposition, for not accepting the ceasefire that Iran and Russia agreed on during Vienna meeting two years ago. And he said that they kept fighting and that led to the situation in Aleppo.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you blame the opposition on this? Can you clarify this position to --

    MR TONER: I think – well, look, we all heard what the Secretary said. The Secretary’s been intimately involved in efforts to bring about an end to the conflict in Syria. And I think what he was doing was important in that he was trying to provide some of the historical context – certainly we all get caught up in the day-to-day, and rightly so, urgency of the situation in Aleppo – who’s gaining ground, what’s happening there, the bombings, the civilian deaths, the suffering, the lack of humanitarian assistance. I think what was useful for the Secretary to do today is he walked us through why we – how we’ve gotten to where we are today. And that has certainly involved concessions on both sides, although we haven’t seen really any concessions on the part of the regime. But there’s been progress and there’s been steps backwards, and this has been a very difficult, to put it mildly, diplomatic process. But I think he was just trying to provide that kind of context.

    What I also think he was trying to say was we’re not done here. This is not over. And I know there’s a lot of speculation about the status of talks that Foreign Minister Lavrov alluded to yesterday. Secretary Kerry did not rule those out. We’re still working to finalize the details of those discussions. So there’s nothing to announce yet, but we’re still working at this. And as Secretary Kerry also said, looking beyond today, is he said this is not – even if Aleppo does fall – and we don’t know if it will or not – that this is not the end. This will not end the conflict there. And so we need to, as he pointed out and Brad mentioned yesterday that he said in Rome, we need to get back to political negotiation.

    QUESTION: But in your opinion, do you think that the opposition bears a big responsibility for the situation in Aleppo now because they didn’t accept the ceasefire that Vienna communique called for?

    MR TONER: I – again, I’m not going to say that they bear a significant responsibility. I think that they have fought hard, suffered greatly – I’m talking about the moderate Syrian opposition – on behalf of democratic – greater political and democratic freedom in Syria. That’s been a difficult fight, and they’ve borne enormous sacrifice to carry out that fight.

    We’re – the United States, other members of the ISSG – are working to bring about a peaceful resolution there.

    QUESTION: But you do agree – do you agree that the opposition, encouraged and financed and armed by many of your allies in the area, especially the Gulf countries --

    MR TONER: I think – yeah.

    QUESTION: -- actually were almost prevented from taking that step towards a ceasefire? You would agree with that?

    MR TONER: Look, I mean – this is --

    QUESTION: I mean (inaudible) historical perspective.

    MR TONER: So yes, in – when – hopefully years from now when people write memoirs and write histories about this conflict, all of that can be taken into account. What I think is important is that this Secretary of State, this Administration has tried to build a process into what is, to put it mildly, an extremely complex situation where you’ve got different entities, different powers, regional powers, et cetera, stakeholders, trying to affect the outcome of this civil war. We brought all of these people together, all of these countries together, governments together, in an effort to try to forge a way forward. We’ve not been successful, but that’s not going to keep us from trying.

    QUESTION: So you – do you accept --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- the premise of his question that the --

    MR TONER: I can’t remember what the premise was.

    QUESTION: -- Saudis or the Qataris or whoever – unknown, unsaid foreign entities prevented the opposition from adhering to a ceasefire?

    MR TONER: No. Ultimately, the opposition has charted its own course, and I’ll leave them to characterize what that course is. But the Secretary has also spoken about the fact that one of the reasons we say there’s no military solution to Syria is that you do have different influencers out there on both sides – or on all sides trying to influence the outcome. And so as I said, even if Aleppo falls, it doesn’t necessarily predict that there’s going to be the end of fighting there.

    QUESTION: And I have one more on Syria.

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: It seemed like the Russian Government was upset that you and others in the international community weren’t sufficiently sad yesterday for the killing of the medics --

    MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, I think I responded – I think it was your question. We just didn’t have concrete details about the incident, but I strongly condemned the attack on a hospital facility.

    QUESTION: Do you have concrete details today or --

    MR TONER: I still don’t. I mean, I just am going off the news reports, to be honest.

    QUESTION: You don’t want to express stronger contrition because the Russians feel you guys weren’t upset enough?

    MR TONER: I condemned any – and I will do it again – we feel strongly that – and again, I said this yesterday when I was asked if it was the opposition, who it was – what I can say is we certainly had no responsibility in this action, and we strongly condemn any attack regardless of who the attacker is on any civilian infrastructure, any medical facility, any medical personnel.

    QUESTION: On Syria?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: The talks – meetings were canceled, right? And what happened?

    MR TONER: I don’t think they’ve – yeah --

    QUESTION: I haven’t seen Secretary Kerry’s remarks, honestly, but --

    MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, he said – he – sure, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to talk over you. He spoke a little bit about this in Syria or --

    QUESTION: In Brussels.

    MR TONER: In Brussels, sorry. He spoke a little bit about the situation in Syria, I apologize.

    QUESTION: That was seven years ago.

    MR TONER: Talks haven’t been canceled. We never were in a position to confirm that these talks were taking place this week. There are – first of all, I think it’s a bad idea to try to negotiate these things in public, so I’m going to be circumspect in what I say, but we are following up on recent talks last week and before last week, trying to work out a way to resolve the fighting in Aleppo – a cessation of hostilities, a pause in the fighting – excuse me – and we’re still pursuing those. We’re just not in a position yet where it makes sense for us to meet. That’s all it is.

    QUESTION: And just --

    MR TONER: So nothing was canceled or anything. It was just --

    QUESTION: With regard to the proposal, the reported proposal – so Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “The thing that the Americans offered on paper and what we backed is now somehow not okay for them. It’s difficult to understand who makes decisions there but apparently, there are plenty of those who want to undermine the authority and practical steps by John Kerry,” end quote. What is your take on this?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to wade into that. I’m not going to talk about what may or may not be discussed or what may or may not be on the table. All I will say is that we continue to work through, both on our end as well as with Russia, on practical steps we can take to bring about a calm in the fighting.

    QUESTION: One more on Syria?

    QUESTION: But why wouldn’t you --

    QUESTION: I’m sorry.

    MR TONER: Why wouldn’t I what? Talk about --

    QUESTION: What is the status of those talks? Why were the meetings, as I understand the meetings – certain meetings that were --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- due to happen this week were canceled? What happened?

    MR TONER: Sure. I mean, again, we’re just not – without getting too much into the details and/or the substance, we’re just not at a point yet where we can say that getting together to have these talks would be constructive. When we get there, we’ll do it. And I’m not trying to be – I’m not trying to be mysterious. I’m just saying I’m not going to get into the substance of our diplomatic discussions, what’s on the table, except to say that we’re looking at practical ways to bring about a pause in the fighting. And that involves, as you can imagine, the regime, it involves the opposition, so it’s a mixed bag. We need to make sure that we’re in a position to talk constructively when we do meet.

    QUESTION: Can I just ask --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: In the last several days, we’ve been talking about a lot of back-and-forth between the U.S. and Russia.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Is the bilateral, no bilateral talks – did that just go out the window, or is this bilateral in the frame of multilateral but for bilateral – I mean, explain it. I mean, it sounds likes that’s gone.

    MR TONER: No, I mean – look, I – Brad, I – it’s a fair question, I think, but I don’t want to get into --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) I don’t want to – I just – I don’t want to get hung up in bilateral versus multilateral. We are actually still continuing to talk to other key parties, other regional parties. Those meetings, those consultations, those conversations are ongoing. That said – and, frankly, at the time we did it, that if there is a real opportunity here for us to make progress, we said that we would restart those bilateral talks. I don’t want to say we’re there yet, but we never ruled it out completely.

    What’s most important is --

    QUESTION: You are – so you are having the --

    MR TONER: We are – of course we’re having bilateral conversations with Lavrov. I mean, we did – with Russia, rather. I mean, he met with Lavrov in Rome last week. We – they’ve talked on the phone several times, so --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) tomorrow?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure I can confirm that. I don’t – it’s not confirmed yet. I mean, they’re going to be, I think, at the OSCE, but I’m not sure that they’re going to have a bilat.

    QUESTION: The Secretary is --

    QUESTION: But what was it that led you to decide, oh, this bilateral freeze, it’s not – it doesn’t advance our interests or whatever? Or did it just – did you just naturally slip back into the diplomatic --

    MR TONER: No, no, I don’t think it was that, actually. I think it was more – look, at the time, it was coming out of UNGA and the failed agreement from – of Lausanne. And I think at the time, the Secretary – and I’m paraphrasing here, but – said until we see some kind of credible steps by Russia to re-instill confidence that there could be a ceasefire, then it’s not worth pursuing a bilateral option and we would consult multilaterally.

    So we did that. Again, that generated ideas. Those consultations continue. But we’re just not there yet, and so we – but we did start again reaching out to Russia because, let’s be honest, they’re an integral stakeholder.

    QUESTION: I – but I just wanted to – what were the concrete steps, then, that they showed that led you to restart having this bilateral --

    MR TONER: Yeah. So again, I don’t want to – I mean, I think --

    QUESTION: -- (inaudible) multiple bilateral talks?

    MR TONER: Look, I think that, again, I don’t want to get into what’s on the table, under discussion to end the fighting or at least pause the fighting in Aleppo.

    QUESTION: I’m not asking about ideas.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m asking about concrete steps, not concrete ideals or ideas.

    MR TONER: Ideas, yeah.

    QUESTION: Concrete steps --

    MR TONER: Well, to be honest, I mean --

    QUESTION: I read that as actions.

    MR TONER: Yeah. To be honest – I mean, to be honest, we’re still talking about some of the concrete steps they could take. I mean, there’s not been a lot of concrete steps, except for – I mean, they’re really – the fighting’s only intensified.

    QUESTION: But you do understand that --

    MR TONER: I understand --

    QUESTION: -- the credibility of making threats and making policy where you say we’re not going to talk to you unless you do something, and then they do nothing and then you start talking to them anyways – it undermines your ability to, one, hold that as leverage over them; and, two, drive any concessions out of them, because you always seem to go back to them in the same format, more or less.

    MR TONER: Well, look, again, we are pursuing multilateral discussions as well as – as well in this process. As to whether we’re back in the bilateral mode with Russia, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. We’re still obviously going to talk to them, but the agreement that was reached in Lausanne is not being implemented, and that’s what we walked away from.

    QUESTION: Mark, do you feel that the Russians are buying time? (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: Unclear to me. Unclear to us, frankly. I mean, we just can’t speak on their behalf. We don’t know what their motivation is.

    QUESTION: After four years of experience

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- of talks with the Russians, you don’t have this feeling yet?

    MR TONER: Look, I mean, there are very clear differences in perception about what is happening in Aleppo, and others have articulated that far more expertly than I have. But fundamentally, it comes down to perceptions about Nusrah and the moderate opposition’s involvement and connection, and I think that until it can be – they can be convinced – the Russians can be convinced – that we can separate Nusrah from the equation and go after Nusrah, we’re not going to get there. We have contended that moderate opposition can be separated. They need – we need time and space to do that. We’ve never quite gotten that time and space to do it. So I mean, these are just – I’m just giving you a – our arguments.

    QUESTION: But you didn’t give me a good answer if you have the feeling that the Russians are buying time.

    MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak on behalf on Russia. I think that --

    QUESTION: On your behalf.

    MR TONER: I think --

    QUESTION: You don’t have --

    MR TONER: So what my answer was – I thought it was actually quite a good one, if I do say so myself. (Laughter.) No, I said that – is that it is a – it is a – there are different perceptions about what is happening in Aleppo. I’m not discounting what their perception is of what is happening in Aleppo. What I am – or what we do find objectionable is their approach, and that is to carry out airstrikes, bombardment of Aleppo, indiscriminate attacks on Aleppo that hurt civilian populations. That we do take objection to or take --

    QUESTION: Why you’re still talking to them? (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: Well, again, I just said – I just said to Brad they are a pivotal stakeholder. I mean, I think anyone looking at Syria would recognize that, is that we need Russia’s involvement and cooperation to bring about any kind of ceasefire.

    QUESTION: What about the --

    QUESTION: You said – on the issue of separation, you said that you agreed that Nusrah should be separated from the other opposition groups and so on.

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: Have you submitted names and locations of these moderate opposition --

    MR TONER: So all of that --

    QUESTION: Because the Russians have claimed --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- all along that you have never done that.

    MR TONER: Again, these were technical talks in groups meeting – both sides meeting in Geneva. And my understanding is that they did get quite specific about where these groups – but again, there was disagreement. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s not unexpected.


    QUESTION: I guess I’m just sort of – I have a fundamental question, which is, like, what is the leverage that the U.S. brings to bear when it comes to discussing with the Russians, trying to get them to stop bombing Aleppo? It seems like it – that – you say that there’s no --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- military solution, there’s only a political solution. But that military presence has given them more leverage in trying to get the political solution that they want. So what exactly is your argument? I think, like, I find it a little bit hard to fathom, like, what those discussions are like, and maybe other people do as well.

    MR TONER: Well look, I mean, a couple of answers to that. One is we at the State Department are pursuing – as is our mandate – a diplomatic track. And that’s our goal here, our priority. And we’ve laid out through intense negotiations a way to do that. But you are correct that we haven’t had a lot of leverage. Part of our argument, if you will, has been that if we’re all likeminded in the sense that we all want to bring about a political solution to the situation in Syria, then we should be able to get it done, and we all would use whatever leverage we had. The leverage that we bring to the table is over some of the moderate Syrian opposition groups. Other members of the ISSG also have leverage over some of those groups. The Russians have leverage over the Syrian regime. So the idea, the concept here, the working concept, was that if we all applied that leverage, we could create a cessation of hostilities and get a political track up and running. We --

    QUESTION: The Russians are approaching this in good faith?

    MR TONER: Again, we’ve been round and round on this issue. I think what I can concretely say is that we strongly object to how they have carried out airstrikes on civilian populations. Whether they say they were intended or not, they were indiscriminate attacks that killed civilians. And in fact, those attacks were part of or contributed to a breakdown in the cessation of hostilities.

    Now, they’ll argue that the moderate opposition was – or the opposition and Nusrah were simply using those pauses to resupply and rearm. Again, it’s a matter of – and we were talking about – I was just talking about this with Brad – we’ve got to get back to a place where both sides trust each other enough that we can get a seven-day, a ten-day pause, get the folks back to Geneva on both sides, so they can begin negotiations. We just haven’t been able to get there.


    QUESTION: Change topics?

    MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

    QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian --

    MR TONER: I thought it was going to be up and down today. I thought the Secretary had done all this. But okay, go ahead. I’m sorry, I’m just kidding.

    QUESTION: I want to go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue for a minute.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: I know – I wonder if you have any more to add to what you said yesterday about the --

    MR TONER: I do.

    QUESTION: -- the measure in the Knesset --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: -- and so on, so go --

    MR TONER: So we’re very concerned about the advancement of this legislation, which, as you know, would allow the legalization of Israeli – forgive me – about the advancement of this legislation that would allow for the legalization of Israeli outposts located in private Palestinian land.

    Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution. And we’ve also been troubled by comments that we’ve heard by some political figures in Israel that this would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank. And again, it all goes back to what Secretary Kerry was discussing at the Saban Forum the other day, which is the more you create the realities on the ground that would prohibit a two-state solution, then the harder it’s going to be to get to that two-state solution.

    QUESTION: Well, people say forget the two-state solution, because they are really afraid that their land is literally being taken from underneath their feet, including people in my neighborhood, my village (inaudible) and so on. Because there’s a great deal of movement, there is leveling of land --

    MR TONER: Yeah. No, I --

    QUESTION: -- the demolition of homes. I mean, there are multiple things that are happening at the same time. And it’s quite scary, because people feel in this transition there is – it’s a free-for-all for the Israeli settlements program. So – what are we --

    MR TONER: Well, we’ve said that – I mean, this is a – this legislation, if it is enacted, would be a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already, as we’ve said, greatly endangering the prospects for a two-state solution. But I also – as you note, it’s changing the reality on the ground, and we’re deeply concerned about it. We’re conveying those concerns. The legislation’s not yet passed into law. We hope that it does not become law, but we certainly hope that changes or modifications can be made to it.

    QUESTION: Could I --

    QUESTION: The Israelis denied --

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Are we on the same topic? No, I just want --

    QUESTION: No, I’m going --

    QUESTION: The Israelis denied entry to a prominent theologian, Ms. Isabel Phiri – she is an assistant secretary general of the World Council on – of Churches in Geneva and so on – on the pretext that she supports BDS, boycott and divestment of Israeli –

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- although she got a legal visa before she landed there, in Tel Aviv. Does that concern you in any way, that this could be used to prevent people that are coming to show solidarity or support to end the occupation?

    MR TONER: So we went round and round on this a couple of weeks ago. We obviously strongly oppose boycotts and sanctions of the state of Israel. That’s well known. But as I said a couple weeks ago, and I’ll say it again, we don’t believe that people who are coming into a country to peacefully protest or to express their disagreement with a given government’s policy on any given issue should be prohibited from entry. That said, Israel is a sovereign nation; it has its own right to control its borders. But as a general principle, we value freedom of expression.


    QUESTION: She’s coming in the spirit of the season and so on, to meet with --

    MR TONER: Again, I just --

    QUESTION: -- Palestinian churches in the West Bank.

    MR TONER: Well again, I – we would – anyone traveling on a valid visa – but again, this is – it is ultimately – I mean, we went round and round on this. I’m not – I’m just saying what our position is, in terms of the right for people to freely express their opinions. But ultimately this is – it’s Israel’s right to determine who enters its territory.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Please. I’ll get back.

    QUESTION: I just had a question on your answer on outposts. You used the expression, private – on “private Palestinian land,” and I just wanted to ask you: Is that – are you saying land – private land that belongs to Palestinian individuals or private land of the – of a state of Palestine or a Palestinian state?

    MR TONER: No, the former. Yeah.

    QUESTION: That it’s --

    MR TONER: The Palestinians --

    QUESTION: Palestinian private land --

    MR TONER: -- who own the land.

    QUESTION: -- belonging to Palestinians.

    MR TONER: Yes, yes. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right.

    QUESTION: Will the U.S. participate in the international conference that Paris called for in –on 20 – on the 21st of December?

    MR TONER: I don’t think we’ve determined whether we’re – I think we’re trying to get more information about it. I don’t think we’ve reached a determination of whether we’ll attend or not.


    QUESTION: Let me just add one more question.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: I met today with this Palestinian teacher. She won the best teacher award in the world and she’s in town. She actually has a very creative program --

    MR TONER: Did she really win the best teacher of the – in the world award? Is that right?

    QUESTION: In the world. Yeah, she --

    QUESTION: She gets a mug. It says “World’s -- ” (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: She has – oh, yeah, she did. Last year --

    MR TONER: No, that’s amazing, actually.

    QUESTION: -- it was an American teacher, this year it’s a Palestinian teacher.

    MR TONER: World’s Greatest – well, okay.

    QUESTION: And she has a creative program where she teaches kids to reject violence and so on and all these things. But – and she said – she told me that at one point you guys talked – or the State Department, someone, wanted to invite her over, and then – and they – like they did not disinvite her, but they stopped the process. Are you aware of that? Would you like to see someone like this come and visit with people and --

    MR TONER: I apologize. So we’re talking about a different person now. This is not the individual that was just denied entry.

    QUESTION: No, no. She was not – she’s here, actually.

    MR TONER: She’s here.

    QUESTION: She was not denied --

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of this case, so we’ll look into it. I promise.

    Please, in the back.

    QUESTION: Mark, with regard to Samantha Power’s recent statement --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- in which she said that genocide denial against the Armenian people takes place, I would like to ask the question but from the following perspective. For eight years, the Administration has used all possible synonyms or euphemism of the genocide term that one can find in vocabulary, except from using the genocide term. Now the final – we are in the final days of the Administration. I would like to clear this topic again. Can you please tell why the genocide term was not used for this period of time?

    MR TONER: So first of all, your – first part of your question I think referred to a speech or remarks that Ambassador Powers gave in – Power gave in the context of honoring Elie Wiesel’s lifelong efforts to raise awareness about the Holocaust and to convince others to stand up in the face of these kinds of injustices and mass atrocities. And they certainly didn’t – her remarks didn’t reflect any kind of shift in the Administration’s policy.

    In answer to your question, look, this President, this Administration, as have past administrations, have repeatedly mourned and acknowledged that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. And we’ve also called for a full and frank acknowledgement of the facts of what happened around those deaths. And that remains our policy. I don’t want to get into terminology or how we referred to it. We acknowledged that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred, as I said, and we want to see a full historical accounting of those events.

    QUESTION: Is it relations with Turkey that stops this – has stopped this Administration and all other administrations from saying the word “genocide”?

    MR TONER: Again – again, I’ve said what our policy is, how we regard it. We acknowledge the tremendous loss of life and suffering of the Armenian people.

    Thanks, guys.

    QUESTION: One of the former administrations, Reagan’s Administration has called the massacre as genocide – President Reagan, not the candidate. I was wondering if you are aware of this – of that --

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of that.

    Okay. Thanks, guys.

    p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 12.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 5, 2016

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 17:15
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 5, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing


    2:10 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Happy Monday.

    QUESTION: Happy Monday.

    QUESTION: Happy Monday.

    MR TONER: Welcome to the State Department. A couple things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions.

    First of all, Libya. The United States expresses its deep concern over the escalation of violence between armed groups in Tripoli and calls on all the parties to immediately heed the Government of National Accord’s appeal to cease fighting. We urge all parties to de-escalate tensions in the capital and respect the terms of the Libyan political agreement, including security arrangements for the withdrawal of armed groups from Libyan cities and their replacement with government army and police units. We reiterate our support – our strong support for Prime Minister Fayiz al-Saraj and the GNA and for the quick restoration of order and security for the people of Libya.

    Also, just a brief update. As many of you are aware, Secretary Kerry is in Berlin today. Earlier, he met with a group of young German professionals involved in deepening and expanding the transatlantic relationship. They had a good discussion. He also met with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At a ceremony following the meeting, the foreign minister presented the Secretary with the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, and this is the highest award Germany can bestow on a non-head of state. Right now, Secretary Kerry, I believe, is having dinner with Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

    And tomorrow, he’ll travel to Brussels to attend the NATO foreign ministerial. It’s his last one as Secretary of State. And he’ll discuss there – he’ll meet there and discuss with allies and partners efforts to further strengthen NATO’s security, project stability to the alliance’s east and south, and enhance NATO-EU cooperation.


    QUESTION: Can we start on the call the president-elect had --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- to – with the Taiwanese president --

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: -- last week? Just to go over some of the logistics, you guys were not informed beforehand that this call might happen. Is that correct?

    MR TONER: That’s correct.

    QUESTION: And has there been any contact with the president-elect or his team or anyone from the transition apparatuses since the call?

    MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of. Since the call took place --

    QUESTION: Yeah, did you --

    MR TONER: -- have we gotten any kind of readout or anything like that?

    QUESTION: Exactly.

    MR TONER: No, we have not.

    QUESTION: And has --

    MR TONER: To my knowledge, we have not.

    QUESTION: Have you had any contacts with – has the Chinese Government had any contact with you particularly about this call?

    MR TONER: So in that regard, and I can’t – it’s for them; I’ll let them read out what that contact entailed – but my understanding is that Chinese vice foreign minister did speak with Ambassador Baucus on the issue, I believe, on Saturday.

    QUESTION: On Saturday?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: And without getting, then, into exactly the substance of what they said, what did you tell them in response?

    MR TONER: Well, I wasn’t privy to the phone conversation. Certainly, what I can say is that there’s no change to our longstanding policy on cross-strait issues, which, as all of you know in this room, is based on the fundamental interest in peaceful and stable cross-strait relations, and obviously we remain firmly committed to the “one China” policy, and that’s based on the three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.

    So from our perspective, there’s been no change in our longstanding policy with regard to Taiwan.

    QUESTION: And you’re speaking on behalf of the Obama --

    MR TONER: I’m speaking on behalf of the --

    QUESTION: -- the Obama Administration or --

    MR TONER: -- present Administration, yes.

    QUESTION: The current Administration?

    MR TONER: That’s – and that is all I can do.

    QUESTION: Right. So you don’t know exactly – one, you don’t know what the phone conversation between the president-elect and the Taiwanese entailed?

    MR TONER: I don’t.

    QUESTION: And you don’t know exactly what their plans are for this “one China” policy that you say --

    MR TONER: No, I’d have to refer you to them, obviously, to speak to it.

    QUESTION: All right, thank you.

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    MR TONER: Oh, sure. Did you want to follow up on --

    QUESTION: Yeah, I’m on the --

    MR TONER: Are you going to go – let’s finish this and then we’ll go over to you. Sure.

    QUESTION: So from the State Department perspective, how will you suggest or advise the transition team for this kind of call?

    MR TONER: How would we --

    QUESTION: How will you advise or suggest the transition team?

    MR TONER: Well, broadly speaking, the Secretary spoke a little bit about this process yesterday when he was at the Saban Forum, and it is normally – and others have spoken about this as well – in the past, president-elects – presidents-elect, rather, excuse me, have consulted with secretaries of state or subject matter experts within the State Department before making these kinds of calls. It’s not necessary. It’s not mandatory. It does allow them to get perspective on policy issues by people who have been intimately involved in these issues for some period of time. And I think the Secretary made the point that that can be helpful.

    QUESTION: Chinese – the Chinese foreign ministry characterized this incident as a petty maneuver on Taiwan’s part. How would you suggest that Taiwanese president – would you encourage her to reach out more to the transition team?

    MR TONER: Look, I’m certainly not – not my job to advise the president of Taiwan or how she should conduct her – or their relations with other countries. All I can speak to is what our current policy is with regard to Taiwan and with regard to cross-strait relations.

    Our primary interest, as I just said, is in stable, peaceful cross-strait relations. And the – one of the ways in which we pursue this, and we’ve done so since, I think, 1979, is that we remain firmly committed to this policy of one China. And as I said, that has not changed previous to or since the phone call by the President-elect.


    QUESTION: This is obviously a transition period and policies have not been articulated yet, policy teams haven’t even completely been formed, but is – what is your sense in terms of the impact of the call for U.S.-Chinese relations? Has it been damaging?

    MR TONER: I mean, I’d really – again, I’d have to say that the Chinese are probably best positioned to characterize their reaction to the phone call.

    QUESTION: But you wouldn’t call it --

    MR TONER: No, of course. I mean, they clearly – they clearly used established diplomatic channels to engage and to express their feelings about the phone call or their position on the phone call. Again, I don’t want to characterize it. It’s not up to us to do that. What our – what I can say is that our response back to them has been that our policy has not changed and it’s going to remain that way, at least for the balance of this Administration.

    Now, we cannot speak to the incoming administration and what their priorities and what their policies might be and how they might change. We just aren’t able to do that at this point.

    QUESTION: And what do you see as the benefit of the policy you’ve had since ’79? I mean, if it was changed, what would be the impact of that? Why would you --

    MR TONER: Well, again, it’s allowed us – I mean, there’s a number of reasons, but by establishing this “one China” policy, it’s allowed us to develop relations – frankly, closer relations with Beijing and also to deepen our unofficial ties with Taipei. So in our estimation, it’s been a productive policy to pursue given Beijing’s very serious concerns in this case. Again, it’s allowed us, in a sense, to, as I say, deepen our cooperation with China on many different aspects, including economic, but certainly security and others; but also, as I said, at the same time, we’re able to still pursue relations with Taipei.

    QUESTION: Change of topic?

    QUESTION: Mark, you said that there’s been no contact whatsoever, diplomatic contact with Taiwan since 1979. None whatsoever, right?

    MR TONER: Well, we’ve had informal contacts. I mean, I – what I think I was responding to is --

    QUESTION: Okay. So how do you conduct your relations with Taiwan in this case? I mean, much as the President-elect said, you sell them arms, you do a lot of trade and all these things.

    MR TONER: Well, right. I mean – again, I mean, we have informal contacts with the leadership in Taipei, and as you note, we do have fairly strong relations with them that includes arms sales and other --

    QUESTION: Trade – they’re the ninth trading partner and --

    MR TONER: Trade – exactly, trade is another important issue. I mean, look, we – again, this policy is predicated on the belief that we can pursue closer relations with Taipei at the same time that – as we are cognizant of China’s security concerns and political concerns regarding Taiwan.

    QUESTION: President Tsai Ing-wen --

    MR TONER: Sure, one more, and then we’ll get --

    QUESTION: President Tsai Ing-wen will be in New York next month on transit to Nicaragua early January. Can we expect any exchanges between the State Department and her team?

    MR TONER: I certainly don’t have anything to announce at this time. You do point out that these – periodically, the president will transit through U.S. territory. What I can say about that is that that kind of transit’s based on longstanding U.S. practice and it’s consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan. And frankly, they’re – reflect or they’re done out of consideration, I think, for the safety, comfort, and convenience for the travelers.

    QUESTION: So will the State Department provide any safety, comfort, assistance to the --

    MR TONER: Again, I mean, there’s a certain protocol here, an informal protocol. We usually allow them to transit here, if nothing else, for their comfort and convenience. But it’s in keeping – it’s consistent with longstanding practice. But I can’t say whether we’ll have any meetings with them. I just don’t have that in front of me at the time to announce or to confirm.

    QUESTION: So is – this phone call will give any influence for – about President Tsai’s transit stop in New York?

    MR TONER: I just – it’s just hard for me to predict. Again, it’s several weeks off, I believe, or a month or so off. Look, we have ongoing relations with Taipei, with the leadership there. That hasn’t changed. What I can just say is that there has been no change yet in our policy regarding Taiwan, and it’s an important point to make because, as we say, that policy has allowed us to improve relations with Beijing, with China, at the same time as engaging in strong bilateral relations with – or strong relations, informal relations, with Taipei.

    QUESTION: Can --

    QUESTION: So can I say that --

    MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, go ahead. It’s okay.

    QUESTION: Can I say – so did the State Department treat this phone call like not improving the relationship between Taipei and --

    MR TONER: I just – I’m sorry, and I know what you’re trying to ask me. I’m not going to characterize it one way or another. This – he is the President-elect. He is making his own decisions. He’s getting his own advice and counsel from his transition team. We respect that. We certainly are – stand by – we being the State Department, but indeed the entire Obama Administration stands ready to brief them, consult with them before they make not just this phone call, but other phone calls to leaders around the world. But it’s by no means, as I said, mandatory. It’s not required.

    So it’s really up to them to make their own decisions with regard to who they’re going to speak to, who they’re going to engage with, and the ramifications or consequences of those actions.


    QUESTION: It sounds from – from what you’re saying, it sounds like this call doesn’t undermine the current “one China” policy that you have.

    MR TONER: It doesn’t. I mean, that policy hasn’t changed. Yes.

    QUESTION: So why did American presidents avoid having conversations like this for the last 40 years if having – if the president-elect having one doesn’t seem to have any effect? You’re saying it’s not a big deal, everything goes on as before, and then at the same time you’re saying we’ve avoided this for 40 years because the “one China” policy is so great and it’s allowed us to do all these wonderful things with both China and Taiwan.

    MR TONER: Well --

    QUESTION: So you’re having it both ways.

    MR TONER: Sure. Well, let’s be clear, is – and this just isn’t me speaking obviously – that Beijing, China’s position on Taiwan, is very well known, and it’s because of that position that we developed and adhere to this “one China” policy. So I’m not saying that one phone call, give or take, is going to upset that balance, but it is – it’s only through consistency in implementing this policy and standing by this policy that you have, as I said, stable cross-strait relations.

    Yeah, one more. One more, and then I promise I’ll get to you. I apologize.

    QUESTION: Sorry. Thank you. Has anyone talked to --

    MR TONER: I think we’ve talked this --

    QUESTION: Has anyone talked to the Taiwanese Government regarding this call?

    MR TONER: Since the phone call?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I’m not aware we have. If that’s different – I just don’t think we have. I don’t think there’s been any calls. But if that’s changed, we do have – excuse me. We do have an unofficial relations – or rather, we have the American Institute in Taiwan, which is how we carry out our relations, informal relations, with Taiwan. I don’t know if they’ve had any contact with government officials since the call, so I’ll just have to check on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: You look confused. I’m just saying I don’t have anything to read out. I don’t have anything to confirm.

    QUESTION: I have, actually, a quick Taiwan follow-up and then Syria.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: So the president-elect said that the Taiwanese leadership had contacted him. Do you know if that’s a habit that they have of trying to contact whoever the U.S. president-elect is, and then it’s up to that president to answer or not? For example, did they try to call Obama in 2008?

    MR TONER: Yeah. Yes, and the answer is I don’t know. I don’t have that in front of me. I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: No, you were going to do Syria, and then I’ll do Syria.

    QUESTION: Syria – Syria --

    MR TONER: Sorry. Please.

    QUESTION: Yeah. So the Russian Government said today that they would start talks with Washington on a rebel withdrawal from eastern Aleppo or from Aleppo this week. Do you have anything on that?

    MR TONER: I’ve seen those comments. We don’t have anything to confirm at this point. Obviously, we’re very seized with the situation, the very dire situation in Aleppo. There was some discussion coming out of the meeting in Rome on Friday that there would be technical talks taking place this week, but we don’t have anything to confirm at this point.

    QUESTION: Mark --

    QUESTION: So is there --

    QUESTION: -- could I just follow up on – a follow-up, Mark?

    QUESTION: Could you talk a little --

    MR TONER: Of course. So follow-up, you and then you, I promise. Don’t give me a look, Said.

    QUESTION: On the technical talks, can you just characterize like what those specifically would be, would be concerning and what – would it be on the idea of withdrawal as the Russians are saying?

    MR TONER: Well, I think it’s – I don’t want to get into – too much into the details. For one thing, they’re still being hashed out. But the basic challenge is the same, which is how do we – how do we meet Russia, and by extension, the regime’s concerns about Nusrah in Aleppo at the same time we bring about a credible cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, even a pause in the fighting, frankly, whereby we can get much-needed humanitarian assistance in. And by that I mean foodstuffs, medical care, et cetera.

    So I mean, the basic parameters are the same of what we’ve been discussing for many, many weeks, indeed months, but – so I don’t want to get too many into the – too much into the details. But the challenge is the same. I mean, it’s – you’ve got Russia very concerned about Nusrah’s presence. At the same time, we’re concerned about the effects and the constant bombardment on the civilian population of Aleppo, and we’re also adamant that while Nusrah is there and is an element of this, that there’s a moderate Syrian opposition that should not and does not deserve to be bombed into submission.


    QUESTION: Thanks. Today, rebels in eastern Aleppo shelled a mobile hospital that Russia set up, killing two Russian medics, injuring another, as well as a number of patients. Do you condemn the attack?

    MR TONER: So here’s what I know about that. I’ve seen the reports. We’ve not been able to confirm. It’s difficult to do, obviously, given the fighting and given our lack of access to what’s happening on the ground. But to answer your question, of course we condemn any attack on a hospital or health care facility.

    QUESTION: Would you – actually, I have a few more. Sorry.

    MR TONER: Okay. Yeah, two more, please.

    QUESTION: The U.S. is – the U.S. is known to have influence with some of the rebel groups.

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: What is your message to them? Should they continue the shelling?

    MR TONER: The shelling of – I think I just was very clear about we would condemn any shelling by anybody – opposition rebels or regime forces, what have you – on health care or hospitals, schools, civilian infrastructure, any of that. And we’ve been – I would hope we’ve been very consistent publicly as well as privately in conveying that message.

    QUESTION: Again --

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: So this is happening in the context of these talks and responding to the talks that the U.S. and Russia are having, as I understand, on the withdrawal of the rebels from Aleppo.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: The rebels said they would not leave. What makes the U.S. think that they would, since you are having the discussions?

    MR TONER: You mean leave Aleppo?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, those – again, this is part of the dynamic that we’re dealing with on the ground. Look, I mean --

    QUESTION: Can the U.S. really bow to them just because it’s --

    MR TONER: Sure, let me – I’m just trying to – so one of the dynamics of the siege that’s been taking place on Aleppo is that, as much as Russia, as much as the regime says that oh, we need to separate and get Nusrah out and separate the opposition from Nusrah. It’s hard to conduct that kind of separation when you’ve got a civilian population, when you have these opposition forces under nearly constant barrage of bombs and assault. That’s hard to do in a combat situation. It’s hard to do if there was actually a ceasefire in place – difficult enough to do, let me put it that way. When you add the fact that there’s this siege taking place on Aleppo, that’s a harder nut to crack, if I can put it that way.

    That said, we recognize that part of the getting to a solution here – and by a solution, I mean an end to the violence – is finding a way to get Nusrah out of the equation, to separate them or to some way address our mutual concerns about Nusrah as a terrorist organization, but also end the fighting. And that’s the challenge. I don’t know how to put it other way. So these are all technical talks taking place. I don’t want to show too much of what we may be talking about. These are for these groups to hopefully address this week, but we don’t know at this point whether those talks are going to take place.

    QUESTION: I guess my question --

    QUESTION: Mark, could I --

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

    MR TONER: That’s okay. Why don’t you go, and then I’ll get back to you.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about a statement made by the Russian deputy foreign minister, Bogdanov.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: He said that they received suggestions, American suggestions on how to – I guess to bring about a cessation of hostilities, or a total cessation of hostilities.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And then they in turn gave them to the Iranians. Are you aware of that? Could you shed some light on this? Could you tell us some of the points that you may have --

    MR TONER: They in turn – that we gave them? I – so I’m not going to --

    QUESTION: You’re not?

    MR TONER: So I’m – no, no, sorry, let me be very clear: I’m not going to talk about the substance of what we’re looking at in terms of proposals, in terms of ways to – we’re just not there yet. And you’ve seen that the Secretary’s been also very disciplined about not talking about the substance of these talks before we’ve had a chance to really develop them and to reach agreement on them. Your – your question was about sharing them with the Iranians --

    QUESTION: Yeah, my question is: Are you aware that whatever proposals you gave to the Russians, they say that they have in turn given them to the Iranians, I guess as party to the conflict --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- in this case, and they are waiting on them? Are you aware of that? Is that something --

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of that particularly.

    QUESTION: Did the Russians tell you, “We are going to share them with the Iranians” beforehand?

    MR TONER: I don’t know. I mean, to some respect the Iranians are part of the ISSG, so I don’t – I just don’t know. I don’t have the --

    QUESTION: Does that impact – I’m sorry --

    MR TONER: That’s okay.

    QUESTION: -- does that impact the ongoing talks that are ongoing now in any way, and do they cover just Aleppo? Are they for the whole of Syria?

    MR TONER: So there’s still – obviously, there’s still the broader talks – and we’ve talked about this – the broader multilateral talks going on in Geneva. Those are ongoing. These technical talks would be a little bit different, more focused on some new ideas to stop the fighting in Aleppo. And those – we’re just not in a position to confirm those will take place yet. We’re just not there yet.

    QUESTION: So they are dedicated to just Aleppo?

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: And they’d be just U.S.-Russia?

    MR TONER: That’s what I don’t know yet. We’re still trying to formalize all this. I’m sorry – we just – this is still in play.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: If – at the Secretary’s news conference in Rome on Friday --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- he said all the talks between the U.S. and Russia and the set of ideas that had been exchanged were about getting to a political – political talks, not about removing Nusrah forces, you – surrender of the opposition in eastern Aleppo. He kind of painted it opposite. He said it was about getting to the intra-Syrian talks. How would a surrender of Nusrah plus opposition --

    MR TONER: So we’re not necessarily – yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: -- in eastern Aleppo – so they would lose everything, and then they would say, “Now we’re ready to talk”? I mean, explain to me the strategy.

    MR TONER: Again, we’re not – I don’t want to get ahead of process here and what we’re talking about. And if I’ve given that impression that we’re talking about some kind of surrender, that’s not the case. We’re talking about an effort to de-escalate or pause the violence in Aleppo. Obviously, the Secretary is right in that our broader endgame here is to get the political talks back up and running. Because as the Secretary made clear when he was in Rome, Russia and the regime are deluded if they think, even if they do take Aleppo, that this is over. It’s not. The rebels – the opposition has shown that they’re not willing to simply give up. And so the only solution – credible, long-term solution to the fighting in Syria is a political one.

    QUESTION: So the Russians and the Russian foreign minister said even last week that these should start immediately, now. And he actually criticized the United Nations for not setting them up immediately. So what is the impasse? His suggestion was it’s the United Nations isn’t setting it up and you guys aren’t pressuring the opposition to start these talks immediately. Is that fair?

    MR TONER: I don’t think it is. I mean, I think the impasse is that the opposition would tell you that why should they go to Geneva and have talks when they’re fighting for their very existence in places like Aleppo. Look, in all – again, the basic strategy, as difficult as it – as it’s been has not changed, and fundamentally it’s cessation of hostilities, then you move to – when you’ve got some kind of credibility established, you can move – and some kind of trust – you can move to and have that become the basis for negotiations to resume in Geneva. We just haven’t been there in months. We had the Geneva in September 10th, but that fell apart quickly, and since then we’ve been nowhere close to that.

    QUESTION: I have one more.

    MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Well, I’ll let your assessment go, which seems like we’re backwards, then, many months from where we were if we’re not even where we were in September. But be that as it may, I just want to ask you specifically on the Russian claim today by the defense ministry that you guys gave – you, the French, and the British may have given the coordinates of their hospital or --

    MR TONER: Yeah --

    QUESTION: -- or clinic to the opposition in order to – for it to be bombed. Do you have a response --

    MR TONER: We’d never do that and it’s completely false.

    QUESTION: So you never give coordinates to the Syrian opposition?

    MR TONER: No. We would never give coordinates to the Syrian opposition.

    QUESTION: Mark, could you --

    MR TONER: Are we done? Yeah.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything on the UN Security Council meeting now – that is happening now and so on? Because the Russians seems to have dismissed it even before it began. They’re saying that the proposal does not meet – whatever – their requirements, which may lead to another veto. Are you – do you have any comment on that?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I know they’re scheduled to meet later this afternoon, I believe.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR TONER: Look, I mean, we’ve been very clear that we welcome any chance to highlight the dire situation in Aleppo and those who are suffering there, so we would welcome and we do welcome this Security Council session. I’m not going to prejudge it or speak to where it may end up, but certainly, once that session is held, we’ll have more to say.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Russia and China vetoed the resolution.

    MR TONER: Well, there you go. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Do you have any reactions?

    MR TONER: We’ll have more to say. We will, and I – the reason I don’t want to get ahead is we’ll have something more formal. I mean, I can certainly speak off the cuff about it, but we’ll have something more formal to say about it in the coming hours.

    QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of different subjects. First of all, it’s been revealed that a fake U.S. embassy was shut down in Ghana. It apparently operated for 10 years.

    MR TONER: Don’t say it like that. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: A couple of questions.

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    QUESTION: Yes. How long – when did the State Department become aware of this, is one question.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: And the other is this embassy – so-called embassy – had access to blank forms that were deemed authentic, issued visas. And so how many people got into the United States from these visas?

    MR TONER: Sure. All good questions. All right, there’s a lot to unpack here. I’ll do my best and then answer any follow-ups. So yes, the quote/unquote “fake embassy.” This was a criminal fraud operation masquerading as a fake U.S. embassy in Ghana, in Accra, and it was shut down, as you know. No visa obtained – no fake visa, and let’s be very clear; we’re talking about counterfeit visas – that no visa that was obtained through this fraud scheme was ever used to enter the United States.

    What happened was that the operators of this fraud operation were able to obtain real Ghanaian passports or even foreign passports that were either lost, stolen, or somehow sold to them. A handful – and I think it was fewer than 10 – of the passports seized by law enforcement contained expired U.S. visas. So they then used these expired visas to, as – to counterfeit off of, to – as prototypes or whatever, as models to attempt to produce counterfeit visas. So the visas in questions were not stolen from the U.S. embassy, and again, this operation – this fake embassy – made and printed counterfeit visas using the expired visas as a blueprint.

    So none of the individuals, as I said, who purchased these counterfeit visas were able to use them to travel to the United States. And why is that? Because it’s very, very hard to counterfeit U.S. visas these days. It’s a highly secure document. It’s got numerous security features designed to prevent successful counterfeiting, and so this operation failed basically because they couldn’t produce – please.

    QUESTION: Were people nabbed coming into JFK or somewhere? Did actually anybody try to use these to get in?

    MR TONER: My understanding is that no – is that no one was actually even attempted or caught at the border. Now, I – we’re still going through some assessment of this operation, but my understanding at this point is that no one was actually stopped at the border trying to enter into the United States using one of these fraudulent visas. My understanding is that, frankly, the counterfeits – visas were of pretty poor quality, so it may have been the fact that these people, once they paid for them and got them, realized they weren’t going to be able to use them to get into the United States.

    QUESTION: And for how long did the State Department know that this operation was going on?

    MR TONER: We only learned about this this year.

    QUESTION: Even though it had been there for 10 years with a U.S. flag flying --

    MR TONER: Yeah, no, apparently --

    QUESTION: -- outside three days a week?

    MR TONER: So – yeah, I mean – look, I mean, I don’t want to – I’ll refer you to the Ghanaian authorities to speak to how this operation existed for so long without it coming to their notice. You can imagine the ways in which that could happen.

    QUESTION: Yes, we can.

    MR TONER: But yeah, we learned about it this year, and the extent of the counterfeiting and visa fraud only became apparent – I think we had an anti-fraud operation called Spartan Vanguard, and that helped, I think, bring the extent, as I said, of this to light.

    I think I’ve answered more or less all the --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    QUESTION: Did you learn about it and bring it to the Ghanaian officials’ attention, or they shut it down?

    MR TONER: I believe it’s that we learned about it and brought it to the Ghanaian authorities’ attention.

    QUESTION: Can you just answer this?

    MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll try.

    QUESTION: So you don’t believe that anyone ever tried to use any of these, that these --

    QUESTION: How did they operate for 10 years, then, if --

    QUESTION: -- these people who didn’t have the perceptive qualities to realize they were walking into a fake U.S. embassy and then pay that fake U.S. embassy then were able to discern on their own that the visas didn’t look good enough, and so they decided not to try? That just seems so wholly unrealistic, it cannot be possible in this universe to be true, on a universal level.

    QUESTION: Or make a report on that to the authorities?

    QUESTION: That nobody tried – all these people who went to a fake U.S. embassy then realized, based on the quality of the visa, that it wouldn’t work and just gave up? Mark, that doesn’t pass the laugh test, seriously.

    MR TONER: Well, no. Look, so first of all, many of the people who engaged in this activity – and I’m not talking about the people who ran the operation, but the people who tried to obtain visas – it was – they were duped. They were conned. And once they were conned, you don’t necessarily go running to the police and say, “I just obtained illegally a U.S. visa, and oh, by the way, it looks terrible, doesn’t it? I can’t use this to get into the United States.”

    Again, I didn’t say categorically that no one did. I thought I said “to our knowledge.” As of today, we do not believe that anyone actually used or was stopped at the border trying to use one of these fake visas to enter into the United States. I can’t speak to what their motivation was for not trying that, but it’s not --

    QUESTION: If you didn’t stop anybody, how do you know that all of them didn’t get in?

    MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we – I’m sorry, I’m trying to --

    QUESTION: If everybody who – if you never stopped a single person with one of these fake visas, how can you plausibly say that you know that they didn’t all get in successfully into the United States?

    MR TONER: Well, look, we – so whenever anybody applies for a visa, we collect the biometric data as part of their visa application. So when you come to the border and they look at your visa, they verify – there’s biometric data at the port of entry. So that’s right there – in a fake visa from a Ghanaian fake embassy, you’re not going to have that biometric data. It’s going to send up alarms. It’s going to not register. And so, as I said, to my knowledge we have not been able to say – although we may find out yes, there were two or three of these individuals, and we stopped them at the border. I just don’t have that in front of me right now.

    QUESTION: Okay, all right.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Follow-up on this?

    MR TONER: Sure, and then I’ll get to you, Margaret.

    QUESTION: So do you have any reason to believe that there might be other operations in any other countries similar to this?

    MR TONER: Well, we’re running this – as I said, I mentioned – it’s got a very cool name, Spartan Vanguard or something. Yeah, Spartan Vanguard. But it’s an anti-fraud operation, and that’s what this is. The intent of it is to kind of sniff out and find out where these fraudulent operations are ongoing. This is a longstanding practice, it’s just that now it’s awfully hard to do because, as I said, of the things that – the security that they’re able to build into these visas. I mean, we all have it. Whether it’s your credit card or whatever, it’s a lot harder to counterfeit that kind of stuff today. But I can’t speak to – say that I’m sure there’s other operations ongoing, and we’re going to keep – remain vigilant and try to stop them.

    QUESTION: But are there any particular areas that you might see more of that activity?

    MR TONER: You mean regions of the world?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: I don’t have that. I don’t know that.

    Yeah, please, Margaret.

    QUESTION: Mark, the House Oversight Committee has a report out here talking about what they say is the State Department taking too long and spending far too much to construct new diplomatic facilities abroad. Some very specific and big numbers in this report. Do you know what is leading to these delays, and is State upset?

    MR TONER: Sure. Margaret, I – so a couple of points to make. One is the safety and security of U.S. personnel serving overseas is obviously at the forefront. It’s our top priority and the cornerstone of all the work that the bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Overseas Building Operations do.

    I’m aware of this report. We have not yet received a copy of it. I think we’ve been allowed what they call a limited camera use – in-camera review of a draft version of the report. So we haven’t even seen the final version of the report. So it’s hard for me to comment on all of the report’s allegations without reviewing the final report, and certainly we remain hopeful that the committee will revise its report based on some of the input and significant concerns that we’ve raised related to the accuracy and fairness and security sensitivities that were contained in the report.

    We’ve also requested that the committee submit its report for an interagency, internal – or rather, sorry, interagency security sensitivity review in advance of its publication to ensure that its release doesn’t – sorry – the release of sensitive information in the report doesn’t compromise any of our people serving abroad or any of our facilities serving abroad.

    So I understand your question. We want to be able, obviously, to address once that report’s gone public the concerns it raises, the allegations it makes. We work really hard in this building to ensure that our embassies, our consulates, our buildings overseas are protected. Obviously, that’s not easy in today’s world. It requires constant updating, innovation. We do so mindful always of the price of that. But I can’t speak to the contents of the report until we’ve received it.

    QUESTION: To be clear, though --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: -- when you said you looked at that draft already, are you saying that there was information in that draft that should not be released to the public?

    MR TONER: So what we’ve asked is that they just submit this to what’s called an interagency security sensitivity review – obviously, not just State Department equities here – involved here. And just so every – so that these other agencies can review what’s in the report so that before it does go public, we can obviously address if there are any – if there is any information that’s deemed sensitive.

    QUESTION: Because the report talks about Kabul, Jakarta, London, Mexico – significant U.S. diplomatic posts --

    MR TONER: Yes.

    QUESTION: -- and saying that while there are questions of security, it’s specifically the amount of taxpayer money that Congress is concerned about. I mean, do you have any kind of timeline as to when these embassies will be both secure and finished? And what’s leading to these delays?

    MR TONER: Well, I can certainly – again, it would have to be on a case-by-case basis – try to get back to you with information about where we’re at in the status of each of these projects. But this is hard, as I said, and with any construction project, not just U.S. embassies abroad, there’s always inevitably some delays in the process. It’s just how building projects work, fortunately or unfortunately, as things need to be updated, need to be addressed. All I can say is that our Diplomatic Security Bureau and our Overseas Buildings Operations Bureau and our Management Bureau work hand in hand to ensure that safety is foremost, first and foremost for Americans living overseas, and also of course we look at the bottom line and what this costs the taxpayer.

    QUESTION: So just to put a fine point on it --

    MR TONER: Of course, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- you fully reject the assertion here that the State Department is taking a risky approach of prioritizing architecture over security and over financial sensibility?

    MR TONER: That we’re – take a risky approach in what? Prioritizing --

    QUESTION: Prioritizing the way an embassy looks over just how much it costs or how secure it is.

    MR TONER: I would – again, not having seen the report myself, security first and foremost; functionality of an embassy is also important. This is the face of the U.S. Government overseas, and that’s important as well, is how it presents American ideals and America to another country. There’s been – I can probably point you to many cases of criticism of – that U.S. embassies have become too fortress-like over the past decades, partly as a result of the security threats that we face.

    So we’re always mindful of aesthetics, but mostly security.

    QUESTION: Thanks.

    QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR TONER: We can go to the Palestinian --

    QUESTION: Okay, and the Secretary’s remarks yesterday. Yesterday Secretary Kerry at the Saban Forum gave – in his remarks gave a stinging rebuke of the settlement policy. But he also refrained from committing to a veto at the United Nations if a resolution on settlements will be forthcoming, only saying that if it is biased, an unfair resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, only then would they veto. Does that – is that a departure from, let’s say, past American policy?

    MR TONER: I don’t think so, Said. I mean, we’ve said that before. I’ve said it before. I know John’s said it before. And it’s consistent with always what’s been our approach. We also often will make the point as well, is we don’t believe that multilateral settings are necessarily the way to – the best way to pursue what we believe is the ultimate goal here, which is a two-state solution. That’s up to the parties. And we’ve said it before, whether it’s – when the UN Security Council or elsewhere, that we oppose any resolutions that seek to delegitimize or are biased against Israel. And that remains the case.

    QUESTION: I just have a couple of follow-ups on that.

    MR TONER: Of course. Yeah.

    QUESTION: But earlier in the day, Prime Minister Netanyahu to the same forum basically said, look, we will continue with settlement. It doesn’t matter who is in power, whether it’s Obama or Trump or anyone. We will continue with this policy. So obviously, they are not heeding your call on the cessation of settlements. In this case, why not – what would be sort of contrary to U.S. principles and so on, on the issue of settlement by going to the United Nations? Why would that stand against your position – your principle position – against settlements?

    MR TONER: Going --

    QUESTION: If you are unable to persuade the Israelis on your own, why not do it in an international forum?

    MR TONER: Well, again, there’s – first of all, there’s been no decisions made either way about any kind of step we may – that may or may not be taken at the UN or elsewhere.

    I was there yesterday at the event. The Secretary spoke, I think, very frankly about and out of friendship, and he talked about some of the challenges. I mean, he got the same question that you just posed, which is Israel doesn’t seem to listen. And he acknowledged that on the case of settlements they often don’t listen, but that doesn’t make our message any less relevant. And I think the Secretary’s abiding point yesterday was you can’t have – and he was also, by the way, very quick to recognize this is not all on Israel, and frankly, settlements aren’t the only impediment to a two-state solution. The Palestinians need to take steps --

    QUESTION: No, he said settlements were not the cause of the conflict but were --

    MR TONER: Exactly. Not the cause of the conflict. But he said that as you look at the reality of settlements and the reality that they’re creating on the ground, it’s hard to imagine how you can get to a two-state solution. That was a very frank message to the Israeli Government, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and it’s been a message we’ve been trying to convey to them. But ultimately, as we’ve said many times before, the U.S. can only try to play a mediating role to try to get the two sides or the two parties back to the negotiating table. We can’t force them, and they’ve got to both do it. And that’s true for Israel; it’s true for the Palestinians.

    QUESTION: He also warned against a vote that might take place today – maybe it has taken place already – in the Knesset on legalizing a sort of --

    MR TONER: You’re talking about a legalization bill. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    QUESTION: Right, right. The legalization bill.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you – did he follow his warning with any kind of a conversation with anyone in the Israeli Government, be it be the prime minister of Israel? He said he spoke with him like 975 times, so did he speak with him on this issue?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure that – I’m not sure that there was a – no, I don’t believe there was a conversation after that event yesterday, but I’m sure his remarks were closely followed by those in the Israeli Government yesterday.

    On the legalization bill, we understand that there is a plan to vote on it tonight. We also understand there may have been some changes to the bill, so we’re – I’d refer you to the Israelis for more information. I don’t have what those changes might be.


    QUESTION: We’ve had what appears to be the first real democratic transition in Central Asia with the election in Uzbekistan yesterday. But the OSCE Human Rights Office says the campaign was, quote, “devoid of genuine competition and that the media covering the election was in a highly restrictive and controlled environment, and the state-defined narrative did not provide voters the opportunity to hear alternative viewpoints.”

    How does the State Department assess this election?

    MR TONER: So you’re correct; the OSCE did note some irregularities in the conduct of the December 4th vote and some shortcomings in the electoral process. They did, however, praise the election’s increased transparency. They praised access to disabled voters and, frankly, unfettered access to 600 international observers. And the embassy I think did – our U.S. embassy did conduct its own observation mission.

    Overall, we congratulate acting President and Prime Minister Mirziyoyev – excuse me, I just really fractured his name, I apologize – Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his election as the new president of Uzbekistan. And as the country – as Uzbekistan transitions into this new chapter, we look forward to sustained regional stability and progress towards broad economic and political and social reforms. And just to highlight that ongoing engagement, there will be a meeting of these Central Asian countries, I think the third one. I was at the first one in Samarkand, I think, last year. And that’ll take place in Hamburg later this week.

    QUESTION: Japan?

    MR TONER: Yes, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe --

    MR TONER: Where are we at? Oh, Japan, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Prime Minister Abe will visit Pearl Harbor later this month and meet with President Obama. Do you have any expectations for this visit?

    MR TONER: Do I have any expectations?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm, or what are your expectations?

    MR TONER: No. I mean, I – honestly, I would just refer you to the statement, I believe, that the White House put out. You’re right. It’s going to take place on December 27th, 2016. But again, in the statement, they just said that it’s an opportunity for the two leaders to review joint efforts over the past four years to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is a critical one for us, obviously. And poignantly, the President will also accompany Prime Minister Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who were killed on December 7th.

    QUESTION: And specifically on --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: -- U.S.-Japan relations, what effect do you think it will have?

    MR TONER: I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: What effect do you think it will have on U.S.-Japan relations?

    MR TONER: You’re talking about the visit to the memorial or the visit to – just the visit in general?

    QUESTION: To – yes, in general.

    MR TONER: Okay. (Laughter.) Sorry. It’s obviously the end of President Obama’s Administration, his tenure as President, and he, as we all know, has been at the forefront of our strategic pivot to Asia, and --

    QUESTION: Thought it was rebalancing.

    MR TONER: Rebalancing, yes. (Laughter.) Thank you. I’m using first-term language here, I apologize. Rebalancing to Asia and I think it’s going to be a chance for them to take stock of what was accomplished, but also look to the future, and I think to just convey that the U.S.-Japan partnership alliance is a critical one to our ongoing engagement with Asia.

    QUESTION: On --

    QUESTION: And do you think – sorry, one more.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. Government will be expecting any sort of apology from Prime Minister Abe while he’s there?

    MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speak to that. That’s – I think it’s – it will be a, as I just said, a very poignant moment in the long process of reconciliation and partnership with Japan coming out of that terrible day.

    QUESTION: But you’re not asking for --

    MR TONER: I’m not asking for --

    QUESTION: You’re not asking for an apology?

    MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no. It’s --

    QUESTION: Mark?

    MR TONER: Please, in the back.

    QUESTION: Mark, on North Korea?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: The North Korean foreign ministry has announced that North Korea will take strong actions against the new UN sanctions and the U.S. additional sanctions on North Korea. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR TONER: I don’t, other than that we would hope that the action – the strong action that they would take would be to address the international community’s very serious concerns about their nuclear ambitions. That’s the actions that these sanctions are designed to prompt.

    QUESTION: Do you have any --

    QUESTION: Can I just ask really quickly – a follow-up on my question? Because apparently, the Israeli Knesset just passed the first law regarding --

    MR TONER: I keep telling them we got to cut the Wi-Fi in here. (Laughter.) I’ll never get out of here. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment on that. Because yesterday, it was – the Secretary said it was very clear and warning against such a step, but apparently, today, that step is taken. So in light of that, would the United States pursue any kind of effort at the United Nations?

    MR TONER: I don’t have any – certainly not going to speak to any actions we may pursue with regard to the United Nations. Our clear – our policy of settlements, I think, is crystal clear.

    Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)


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    External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 2, 2016

Fri, 12/02/2016 - 17:05
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 2, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
  • IRAQ


    2:05 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hey, everybody. Full house today, huh?

    All right, a few things to get started on here at the top and we’ll get started. On Cambodia, we understand that Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha at the request of the prime minister. We welcome the move as a positive step toward restoring political dialogue between the political opposition, CNRP, and the governing Cambodian People’s Party. We expect that Kem Sokha and his political party will be able to freely and fully participate in the political process going forward. We note that more than two dozen individuals remain in detention on what are widely believed to be politically motivated charges and we underscore the need to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, respect for the rule of law, and protect space for the peaceful expression of political views.

    On the Heart of Asia Conference, acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laurel Miller is in Amritsar, India today and tomorrow, where she will join various world leaders, to include Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, to participate in the sixth ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process. Founded in 2011, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process provides a platform for cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors in the pursuit of regional peace and security. This conference is intended to endorse the sixth ministerial Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process declaration and provide direction for the coming year.

    And then just briefly, you’ll see a travel announcement from us a little bit later this afternoon, but just broadly speaking, the Secretary is expected to travel to Europe next week from the 4th through the 8th for a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings. He’ll start the trip in Berlin – a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – to discuss cooperation on a range of regional and global issues. He will also receive the Federal Cross of Merit from the foreign minister and he’ll meet with a group of young Germans committed to maintaining and strengthening our transatlantic relationship. He’ll then go to Brussels on the 6th and 7th for the NATO foreign ministerial, and while in Brussels he will also meet with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini to discuss cooperation between the United States and the EU on a range of global issues. On the 7th and 8th, he’ll travel to Hamburg, Germany to attend the OSCE Ministerial Council hosted by the OSCE chairman in office, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. There’ll be more detail in the announcement that’ll come out, but I just wanted to give you a heads-up that we do expect travel to Europe by the Secretary next week.

    And with that, we’ll start. June.

    QUESTION: Sure. So there – a human rights group announced today that an Iranian American dual national and his wife had been arrested in Iran by the IRGC about three months ago. Just wondering if you all have seen these reports, if you have any comment on them.

    MR KIRBY: Let me see here.

    So we’ve seen those reports of the detention in Iran of a person reported to be a U.S. citizen and a person reported to be a legal permanent resident, and I’m afraid that at this time I don’t have anything more that I can provide on that other than to acknowledge that we’re aware of those reports.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Sorry.

    QUESTION: Iran? Yesterday, the Senate voted to extend the Iran sanctions for another 10 years. What do you expect the impact of this to be?

    MR KIRBY: The impact of the extension?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I think I’d say a couple of things. First of all, as we’ve long said, it’s not necessary to extend the Iran Sanctions Act, and we for our part remain focused on the main objective, which is, of course, to continue to implement the JCPOA. And while we don’t think an extension is necessary, we’ve also been clear that a completely clean extension, as this one is, is entirely consistent with our commitments in the JCPOA. Our expectation is that the President will sign the legislation, but I will also note that Secretary Kerry will retain the waiver authority and he will continue to waive all of the relevant nuclear-related sanctions authorized by the legislation as we committed to do in the JCPOA and have long been since doing since implementation day. So long as Iran adheres to its commitments under the Iran deal, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to maintain sanctions relief.

    It’s important to note that extension of the Iran Sanctions Act does not constrain the United States’ ability to uphold our commitments and it does not affect in any way a scope of the sanctions relief that Iran is receiving under the deal. Okay?

    QUESTION: Could you explain what you meant by – mean by “clean?”

    MR KIRBY: Meaning that this was – this – the legislation was a straight extension for another 10 years of what had been 10 years of sanctions. So it was a simple extension. You might recall that there had been some discussion about amendments to it and changes to it. In this case, it was simply taking what was in effect for the last 10 years and extending it with no changes going forward. Okay?

    QUESTION: So you don’t expect anything to change, really, is what you’re saying?

    MR KIRBY: Well, what I can – what – that’s not what I’m saying.

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

    MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that we never thought it – we didn’t think it was necessary to extend it, and that even with the extension, the Secretary will continue to use his waiver authority to waive the nuclear-related sanctions that were part of the Iran deal. So we’re – the point I’m trying to make is we’re going to continue to meet our obligations under the JCPOA with or without this extension. We did not believe it was necessary, and now that it has passed the Congress – and as I said, I think the White House has said that they would expect the President to sign it – we’re still going to meet those commitments to the JCPOA. We’re still going to use our waiver authority to waive – the Secretary will use his waiver authority, excuse me – to waive nuclear-related sanctions. And we still have at our disposal and we’ll still continue to use the sanctions that are in place to try to curb Iran’s other destabilizing activities that are not related to nuclear activities and not included as part of the JCPOA.

    QUESTION: Does the waiver have any kind of time thing on it? Is it just as long as there’s a waiver?

    MR KIRBY: It’s – as I understand it, it’s a – there’s no time limit on it. I mean, we – the Secretary can waive, as was part of the deal. Because there were sanctions in place before the deal --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- and so he can – and he had the power before and he has it now to waive nuclear-related sanctions --

    QUESTION: My point, though, is --

    MR KIRBY: -- for as long as --

    QUESTION: -- the next secretary of state could decide not to use the waiver.

    MR KIRBY: That would be a decision that the incoming administration or --

    QUESTION: But he wouldn’t have to wait six months or a year; he could – he or she could decide on day one the waiver is – no longer holds.

    MR KIRBY: Dave, that’s my understanding. I’ll have that checked just to make sure because I’m not an expert, but that’s my understanding. I mean, but that will be for the next secretary of state to determine, but we believe – well, (inaudible) we believe; the Secretary will – he will maintain his waiver authority and he will continue to use that waiver authority. And again, let’s not forget the larger outcome here, which is implementation of the JCPOA, which ensures that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons capabilities. And we continue to believe that the Iran deal makes our allies and our partners safer; it makes the American people safer. So implementing – I’m sorry, using this waiver authority helps keep implementation sound and helps keep the deal in place.

    QUESTION: I’m not arguing the case for or against (inaudible).

    MR KIRBY: No, I know, but – I know you’re not.

    QUESTION: I just want to understand the process.

    MR KIRBY: No, no, no. I know you weren’t. But I wanted to make that larger point.

    QUESTION: John, is Stephen Mull with the Secretary in Rome, and will the Secretary be holding any meetings with Jabhat Zarif or any other Iranian authorities?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’ll have to check; I don’t know if Steve’s out there. I don’t think he is. And we’ve been reading out the meetings he has all day; I know of no such meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif.

    QUESTION: Any planned?

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.


    QUESTION: So Kerry had some hopeful words in Rome. He said that U.S. and Russia had some new ideas, and then he said we’ll have to see if those new ideas get any traction in another meeting coming up in I think Geneva.

    MR KIRBY: Well, he’s talking about the meetings – the multilateral meetings that are happening in Geneva.

    QUESTION: Yeah, okay. I mean, is there anything you can say to flesh that out at all? I mean, what is – what does he hope will get traction? Is there anything you can --

    MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve been – I’ve been careful not to try to get into details here in the discussions in Geneva, because as is the case in many negotiations, particularly multilateral ones, nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon. And so we wouldn’t still be having these discussions if we didn’t think there was still a need to be at the table and that there wasn’t some progress being made. But I’m really not at liberty to talk about it in any great detail.

    What I can tell you is that the main focus of the discussions in Geneva are about getting a meaningful, sustainable cessation of hostilities, predominantly in and around Aleppo. Obviously, we want to see one throughout the country, but everybody is very focused on the bloodshed and the siege of Aleppo right now. I think the Secretary spoke very powerfully about that today in Rome. That’s what the focus is on, and it’s about nailing down specific frameworks to make that a reality. So the focus is very much on a cessation of hostilities in and around Aleppo, and I think that’s really as far as I’m going to be able to take it.

    But I would stress though, Deb, that we – the Secretary wouldn’t have alluded to those conversations the way he did, we wouldn’t still have representation at those meetings, if we didn’t think it was worthwhile and if we didn’t think that the – that they were working diligently to that end and that there might be some progress. But we’ll just have to see. We’ll have to see.


    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Gambian election results?

    MR KIRBY: Before we go to Africa --

    QUESTION: I’m sorry.

    MR KIRBY: It’s okay.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: It’s a fair question. We all good?

    QUESTION: Philippines?

    MR KIRBY: Philippines.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    QUESTION: Ukraine? (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: Anybody else? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: If we’re moving on --

    MR KIRBY: I guess we can go to Africa, then, since we’re done. I just wanted to make sure we were good on Syria. Go ahead, Michael.

    QUESTION: Any questions on the – I mean any comment, rather, on the results of the Gambian elections from yesterday?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, hang on just a second.

    We congratulate the Gambian people for their commitment to a peaceful, democratic process and the rule of law. We can confirm that the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission declared on Gambian television that Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party opposition party has won the presidential election as an independent running on behalf of a coalition of seven opposition parties.

    According to the chairman of the IEC, President Jammeh has conceded the election and spoken with the president-elect. This would be a historic achievement for the Gambia. Never before has power changed hands through the ballot box, so it’s a big deal. We encourage all Gambians to respect the election results, and we urge the Government of the Gambia to respect the rights of citizens to freely assemble as they respond to the results of the election. Again, we applaud the Gambian population for participating in this election with a high voter turnout and generally peaceful conditions albeit, of course, with a high security posture.

    Okay? Yeah.

    QUESTION: The U.S. announced today unilateral sanctions on North Korea --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- alongside Japan and South Korea. Could you comment a little bit about this?

    MR KIRBY: So today, in response to North Korea’s continuing provocations and in particular their September 2016 nuclear test, ongoing prohibited development of weapons of mass destruction, and continued violations of UN Security Council resolutions, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated 16 entities and seven individuals for their ties to the Government of North Korea for its nuclear and weapons proliferation efforts, and they identified 16 aircraft blocked as property of a designated entity.

    These designations were made pursuant to Executive Order 13382, which targets WMD proliferators and their supporters; also were made pursuant to Executive Order 13687, which targets the Government of North Korea, the Workers’ Party of Korea and their supporters; and it was pursuant to Executive Order 13722, which targets, in part, North Korea’s trade in metals, graphite, coal, and software; revenue from overseas workers; and North Korea’s transportation, mining, energy, and financial services industries. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can you speak a little more specifically on the DPRK nationals working overseas and then also on the restrictions on Air Koryo?

    MR KIRBY: Well, let’s see. On the overseas labor, as we’ve consistently stated and the Security Council Resolution 2321 – which was also just passed – makes clear, North Korea’s export of labor generates significant revenue for the government and it enables the development of its illicit nuclear and missile programs. Further, our Executive Order 13722 excludes the authority to target North Korea’s exportation of labor.

    And you were asking about the airline. It is North Korea’s state-sponsored airline and it has facilitated shipments of UN-prohibited arms and related material. To support its activities, Air Koryo has representative offices all around the world. The consequences of this designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions or dealing – I’m sorry – dealings with Air Koryo and the freezing of all of Air Koryo’s property and interest in property in the United States or which come within the United States or the possession or control of U.S. persons.

    Any more details, I’d have to refer you to the Treasury Department because this really was issued under their OFAC.


    QUESTION: Could you – do you have a readout on the meetings that Brett McGurk had in Baghdad?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout. He just got into the region. He is having meetings in Iraq, but I don’t have a readout for you at this time.

    QUESTION: And do you know if he plans to go to Erbil?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of his activities. He’s going to be meeting, as he often does, with a range of Iraqi leaders to discuss our progress in Iraq against Daesh, but we just – I mean, he just got there. As I know – as I understand it, these meetings are ongoing and so I think when we get on the back end of it we might be able to provide you a little bit more context.

    Okay? Yeah.

    QUESTION: President-elect Trump had a very short phone call with the Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, I believe it was today. Did the State Department help facilitate that at all?

    MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is we stand by to assist and facilitate and support communication that the transition team is having with foreign leaders. I don’t have any specific – I don’t know of any specific support that was provided for that call.

    QUESTION: Is that something you can check on?

    MR KIRBY: I would ask you to – it’s really more appropriate to talk to the transition team about their preparations for these communications. Our job is to offer support whether that’s in terms of facilitation, translation, or context, which we have done and will continue to do. But the degree to which it’s utilized is really for the transition team to decide, and it’s really more appropriate for them to speak to.


    QUESTION: Ukraine. According to Ukrainian news agency Interfax, member of Ukrainian parliament, Mr. Onyshchenko was rejected for the U.S. visa a few days ago in Paris. And I suppose your team briefed you about the case of Mr. Onyshchenko, who previously indicated his desire to cooperate with the U.S. Government and provide the U.S. Government some specific audio records which could be recognized as the evidences of the violation of the Ukrainian law by the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.

    MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. The name was?

    QUESTION: Mr. Onyshchenko, the member of Ukrainian parliament, indicated his desire to provide to the U.S. Government some specific audio records which could be --

    MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah. No, I’m sorry.

    QUESTION: Of course.

    MR KIRBY: Sorry, I didn’t quite understand you at first. I’m really not at liberty to discuss this much. I’m really going to have to ask you or refer you to the Government of Ukraine to speak to that.

    QUESTION: Could you please confirm that his visa application was rejected?

    MR KIRBY: We do not talk about specific visa applications. I’m sorry. We just don’t. We don’t provide that kind of information.


    QUESTION: If I could just step half a step back and make sure I understand what you were saying when you say you stand by ready to facilitate and assist in communications with the transition team, does “stand by” mean you have not actually done it yet for any of these calls?

    MR KIRBY: No, we have helped facilitate and support some communication that the – some foreign communications that the transition team has gone forward with. But I’m really not at liberty to provide a blow by blow of all – all that is and what exactly they’ve availed themselves of. Again, our job is to make sure they know we’re a ready resource to help and to assist in any way that they deem fit, but how they make decisions and how they conduct dialogue and communication with foreign leaders is really for them to decide and for them to speak to. And the input that they get is really, again, for them to talk to, not us. We do stand ready, and yes, we have provided some support to the transition team as they have pursued some communication.

    QUESTION: And in this case?

    MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to talk about specific phone calls and meetings. That’s really for the president-elect and his team to speak to, not us. But we, again, stand ready to support in any way that they might require. Okay.

    QUESTION: Does the transition team give you guys a heads up if they’re going to call like the president of some country?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that – first of all, there’s no requirement for them to do that. And as I said to Carol, there have been occasions when we have provided material. So then --

    QUESTION: Then you know.

    MR KIRBY: -- then obviously you know if you’re being asked for material or support.

    QUESTION: But if they don’t need it then --

    MR KIRBY: But they don’t have to tell us in advance of any communication that they have with foreign leaders. And again, I’d let them speak to the degree to which they do that.

    QUESTION: Has it complicated anything for you all?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been any complications for us. We’re focused, and look, the Secretary is in Rome today. We’ve got a trip to Europe next week. I mean, we’re focused on implementing the foreign policy agenda of President Obama and this Administration, and we’re going to stay focused on that for the remainder of time that we have in office. And it really – it’s not for us to speak to the foreign policy objectives that the next administration might pursue. I’m not aware that there’s been any tangible practical effect or impact by any of the communications that the president-elect and his team have done since the election.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: All right? Okay. Have a great weekend, everybody. That was almost a record.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)

    DPB # 205


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    External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - December 1, 2016

Thu, 12/01/2016 - 15:42
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 1, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    1:42 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Welcome to the State Department. First of all, I just want to briefly mention we have some interns in the back. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I hope it doesn’t get too ugly in here and shock you. Anyway, welcome, in any case.

    QUESTION: I thought that was the transition team. (Laughter.)

    MR TONER: Yeah. (Laughter.) And so a couple things at the top, and then I’ll get to your questions. First of all, we send our warmest congratulations to Thailand’s new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn on his ascension to the throne today. We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people as he begins his reign as Rama X. His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.

    Also, just a brief mention. Obviously, as many of you, today is World’s AIDS – World AIDS Day, excuse me. And you saw probably the Secretary’s statement on this that was sent out earlier today. Just wanted to note a few things. Thanks to historic levels of investment by the American people through PEPFAR and strong bipartisan support, we are progressing towards the first AIDS-free generation in more than 30 years. PEPFAR is supporting nearly 11.5 million people on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and that exceeds the bold target that was set by President Obama in 2016. And for the first time, we have clear evidence that the AIDS epidemic is becoming controlled and – in older adults and babies in three African countries where PEPFAR has invested substantially. But our work is obviously far from being done. Experts say there is a narrow window to change the course of the pandemic and ultimately end it by 2030.

    On that, I will go – I guess I go to AP. I’m so confused. Reuters is new; they’re all new. But anyway, welcome.

    QUESTION: Hi. I’m Vivian Salama.

    MR TONER: Hi Vivian.

    QUESTION: So the White House suggested that State may have briefed President-elect Trump before his call to Pakistan to Nawaz Sharif, and we’re wondering if that was the case. And if so, what was discussed?

    MR TONER: Not to my knowledge, no. We had no discussion with President-elect Trump prior to that call.

    QUESTION: Have you had any discussion with him prior to any of his calls?

    QUESTION: That was – yeah.

    MR TONER: Not to my knowledge, no.

    QUESTION: A question on North Korea.

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: So the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said today that they view the new UN resolution that was passed on Wednesday as not blocking, quote, “normal trade” with North Korea. And they also said that they believe that they’ve enforced past UN resolutions – past sanctions on North Korea responsibly. What would be the U.S. view on that?

    MR TONER: Well, I’m not sure what they mean or what the spokesperson meant by “normal trade.” I mean, the resolution that was adopted yesterday was very clear in the types of sanctions that it adopted or that it put in place, rather. And that was specifically aimed at targeting North Korea’s hard currency revenues. It imposed sanctions – or a cap, rather, on coal exports; also on the export of monuments, which I didn’t realize is a major, apparently, source of --

    QUESTION: Source of income.

    MR TONER: -- right, income for the regime there. But also on nonferrous metals – that’s copper, nickel, silver, and zinc. So again – I mean, in some case – or not in some cases, but in many cases sanctions are targeted. And in this case it’s the – they’re also very targeted. They’re targeted really at North Korea’s elite and the way that those elite make, frankly, their money. This is not aimed at the North Korean people, and in fact, what we’re trying to do here through these sanctions is focus on changing North Korea’s behavior. We don’t expect that, obviously, to change overnight. But clearly this is the world speaking in one voice about it concern over North Korea’s ongoing provocative actions.

    Now, with regard to China, I don’t necessarily want to give it a report card. We’ve talked about China’s – given its – obviously, the fact that it’s a neighbor of North Korea’s, that it plays an outsized role in terms of the impact of these sanctions and – or rather, the impact that they can have in implementing this sanctions. And of course, all UN member-states are expected to implement sanctions resolutions in good faith. Implementation with regard to sanctions is almost everything. You can have the toughest sanctions in the world; if they’re not implemented correctly, then they’re meaningless. So we continue to work and talk to China about how to effectively – more effectively – implement those sanctions.

    QUESTION: Syria?

    MR TONER: We can go to Syria. Sure.

    QUESTION: Apologies if you address that yesterday, because we were absent.

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) You guys are really making me suffer for that offhanded comment. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Two European newspapers, the French Le Monde and the British Financial Times, have been reporting that there were secret talks between a Russian delegation and some Syrian rebels in Turkey, in Ankara. Are you aware of these talks? And do you think it’s a good thing?

    MR TONER: Well, so we’ve seen these reports of talks taking place between Russia’s and Syrian rebels. I’m going to leave it for the parties involved to confirm these talks and whether they’re actually taking place. I would just say, in terms of our reaction, that we’d welcome any genuine effort to ease the suffering of the Syrian people, particularly in Aleppo, which has endured so much hardship in recent months. So I can’t speak to the content of these talks or the substance of these talks or even the reality of these talks, but again, we would welcome any effort to ease the suffering and to end the fighting.

    For our part, the United States’ part, we obviously remain engaged with the Turks, the Russians, the Saudis, the Qataris, our European allies, and the opposition in Syria. I can confirm today that Secretary Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Rome tomorrow. He’ll also meet with Special Envoy de Mistura tomorrow in Rome as well, and of course, with other multilateral partners in Europe, both tomorrow and obviously next week.

    QUESTION: Zarif is also going to this Mediterranean meeting. Is he going to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif?

    MR TONER: I’m not sure. I don’t have anything to confirm at this point.


    QUESTION: On Syria. Turkey recently attacked Manbij and the Manbij Military Council. There were causalities, including an American. Has there been a U.S. response to that? And if it were to be repeated, would there be a U.S. response?

    MR TONER: A response to --

    QUESTION: The Turkish bombing --

    MR TONER: To the Turkish assault on Manbij.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: Okay. Just because you also mentioned the fact that it was an Amcit. I can speak to that as well, but I just wanted to make sure I was responding to the correct question.

    With respect to Manbij – so Daesh is no longer in Manbij. That city has been liberated. So my first reaction is that we want to see the focus maintained on destroying and eliminating and driving out Daesh from where it still continues to – those cities it continues – and areas it continues to occupy, and those are the missions that we’re supporting actively.

    I’ll also point out that we believe that all military activities in that very congested and complex battle space that is northern Syria need to be very closely coordinated. And that’s to avoid miscalculations; it’s to avoid the risk of hurting innocent civilians who are caught in the middle. It’s also – we don’t want to see any kind of escalation or any tensions between some of these parties that are fighting on the ground.

    So we’re in contact with Turkey, as we’ve been all along, on the overall situation in northern Syria. And we’re working with them on ways to better coordinate activities on the ground in northern Syria and de-escalate tensions.

    With regard to – you did mention an Amcit was killed. I think we’ve spoken to that. There was fighting in – well, fighting in Syria – that’s what I – it was the second part of your question. I don’t have any – I can’t give his name out. We don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. But obviously, we’ll offer whatever assistance we can. But it’s obviously very difficult to provide much support when someone is killed actively fighting on the ground in Syria.

    QUESTION: Can you be more precise about where he was killed?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I know that you mentioned near al-Bab. I don’t have any reason to doubt that, but I’m not sure where, to be honest.


    QUESTION: Egypt.

    QUESTION: Well, could I just – one more.

    MR TONER: Of course. Yeah, go ahead. Please.

    QUESTION: How would you characterize the Turkish response to the U.S. discussions about coordination, focusing on Daesh?

    MR TONER: Well, again, it’s not a surprise or a revelation to anyone in this room that Turkey has concerns regarding some of the groups that are operating in northern Syria and the fact that they equate some of these groups – I’m talking about some of the Syrian Kurds – with the PKK. We’ve been very clear where we fall on this delineation. We obviously consider the PKK to be a foreign terrorist organization, but we don’t include in that designation those groups that are fighting in northern Syria who are Syrian Kurds who it also is important to note have been very effective against Daesh on the battlefield and who we’ve supported. We’ve also supported Syrian Arabs, Syrian Turkmen, other groups actively fighting to remove Daesh from their strongholds in northern Syria. That’s where our focus remains going forward.

    We understand that as these areas are liberated there needs to be some governing body or some controlling body in these towns. Manbij is no exception. Our thinking on this or our priority on this is that forces that hold the ground that’s been taken back from ISIL should reflect local populations. And when the – when the situation is stabilized, it’s essential that local population is there to rebuild and resettle and restore local control.

    That’s always been our operating principle as these areas become liberated, and that’s going to be that going forward. And these are the – sorry, just to finish, conclude my lengthy response. When we talk to the Turkish authorities or Turkish military, and we do frequently, we make all these points. And we’re working through all these with them in what is, as I said, is a very complex battle space with lots of competing interests.

    QUESTION: Then it seems that what – that is what the SDF is doing. It’s allying itself with local forces.

    MR TONER: Largely, what we’ve seen, yes, that they have – that they have – as they have liberated areas, we’ve seen local forces come in. And that’s – as I said, that’s the ideal, in our view, situation.

    QUESTION: And the Turkish allies seem to be – outside of the – outside of the immediate region tend to be Islamic in their – Islamist in their orientation and not of the area, that Turkey’s allies are failing in that regard.

    MR TONER: Well, look, I’m not going to – again, there are multiple ethnic groups and – fighting in northern Syria. I’m not going to necessarily say one should be in one place or in the other. Well, in some regard I would say that. Certainly, we’ve talked about the YPG and the fact that we – that it had to live up to its commitments on where it was – with regard to west of the Euphrates and east of the Euphrates. We believe it’s fulfilled that commitment. But I’m not going to comment on the composition of Turkish-supported forces. I’ll just again reiterate what I just said, which is that we believe these cities, as they’re liberated, should be controlled by local forces that reflect the population of the city.

    Please. Yeah, Steve.

    QUESTION: On Egypt.

    MR TONER: Sorry, Egypt, yes. I apologize.

    QUESTION: The Secretary in the building yesterday had a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I’m wondering if this new anti-NGO law was raised and what was the response from the foreign minister.

    MR TONER: Sure. So it did come up. Obviously, they talked about a range of issues given the breadth of the relationship, the U.S.E-Egyptian relationship, regional and obviously domestic or bilateral. But he also raised our deep concern about the law on civil associations and foundations, which was approved by the Egyptian parliament on November 29th, which we contend will impose severe restrictions on civil society and may, in fact, impede international assistance, including U.S. assistance, to Egypt.

    And obviously, the Secretary underscored, which we do all the time not just with Egypt but in this case as well, our belief that a vibrant civil society is essential to promote good governance and political development and prosperity. And again, that’s not just with respect to Egypt but certainly applies in this case. And he also reiterated our support and our commitment to a stable and prosperous and secure future for Egypt.

    QUESTION: Did – any reaction?

    MR TONER: I don’t want to attempt to characterize his reaction. They’re aware of our concerns about this law.

    QUESTION: Ukraine?

    MR TONER: We can go to Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Could you please comment on the statement of member of Ukrainian parliament Oleksandr Onyshchenko that he contacted the U.S. Government and provided the U.S. Government audio records which could be in evidences of violation of the Ukrainian laws by the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko? He also stated that he had a meeting scheduled on November 29th with a representative of the U.S. Government.

    MR TONER: So thank you. I’ve seen – we’ve seen those reports as well. I’m going to have to refer you to the Department of Justice for comment on this matter. I just don’t have anything to add.

    QUESTION: But could you please confirm that this meeting actually took place?

    MR TONER: I can’t. I apologize for that. I just don’t have a general awareness of it. I’ve seen the reports. It would be a Department of Justice issue to respond to, so I’ll have to refer you to them. Apologize.


    QUESTION: I have a question about Turkey and Greece.

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: The threats against Greece by the Turks, it’s an everyday thing, as you know. Today the foreign minister of Turkey referred to the Greek island of Imia as Turkish soil. And as you know, Imia belonged to Greece. What is your reaction? And please tell me if you are planning to raise this issue to the Turkish Government.

    MR TONER: Well, first of all, my reaction is going to sound very similar to what my reaction was the other day. And that’s not to be glib about your question, but the U.S. is firmly supportive – firmly supports, rather, the sovereignty of both Greece and Turkey. And I – as to these comments, I’ll have to again refer you to the Government of Turkey to explain where they’re coming from. Turkey and Greece, as you well know, have long-established diplomatic channels for addressing Aegean issues. And we encourage Turkey and Greece, as NATO allies, to work together to maintain good relations and good neighborly relations and to foster peace and security in the Aegean. It’s obviously in the interest of the entire region for that to happen.

    Your last question was?

    QUESTION: Yeah, Mark, I mean, don’t you think it’s time for you to ask --

    MR TONER: Well, you asked whether we had raised this with the – yeah.

    QUESTION: Mr. Erdogan to stop threatening Greece? I mean, you have to take a position in it.

    MR TONER: So, well, I just did. But with respect to whether we have raised this directly with President Erdogan, I cannot confirm that or whether we’ve raised it with any of our counterparts in Turkey. I can try to get an answer for you on that.

    QUESTION: I have another question.

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: I saw a report in Newsweek magazine --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- and I will quote exact – exact --

    MR TONER: Okay.

    QUESTION: They say that “There is no longer any doubt that Turkey conducts operations in the United States against Turks and Kurds with whom Erdogan disagrees.” I want to know if you have any reaction on this. I wanted to know if you are worried with all of these illegal activities – Prime Minister Erdogan – in the United States.

    MR TONER: I’ve not even seen that report. You said it’s from Newsweek?

    QUESTION: From Newsweek, yes.

    MR TONER: I’d have to look into them.

    QUESTION: Please, can you take this question?

    MR TONER: I can. I can certainly look into it and see if we have any response to it. Obviously, we would be concerned about any illegal activities and not just connected with any foreign official, but any foreign – or any foreign government. But at this point I have nothing to – I cannot confirm those allegations.


    QUESTION: Mark, a quick question on Gambia.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: That country is holding a presidential election, but internet and international phone calls are restricted, so my question for you is: How concerned are – is the United States about those restrictions? And then after the president is saying that he can rule a billion year, how concerned is the U.S. at – regarding the transparency of the --

    MR TONER: Sure. So you’re obviously talking about the presidential elections in The Gambia. I’ll make a few observations about the elections and what we observed, because we did – our embassy there participated in a joint election observation effort that fielded, I think, some 15 informal observer teams to polling stations throughout The Gambia.

    So a few things: one is that we noted and reported high voter turnout and generally peaceful conditions. There was a high security presence at the voting stations that we observed. We are concerned and remain concerned, however, about some of the substantial issues that you mentioned in the lead-up to the election. And that includes the arrest of opposition supporters and, as you just noted, the disruption or blockage of internet, SMS, phone, and social media. Also there were allegations of voter intimidation and – intimidation and the arrests of some journalists.

    So we understand that the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission is slated to announce the results tomorrow on December 2nd and we’ll certainly look forward to those results. So again, we saw some very positive things in terms of voter turnout and the calm atmosphere in which the elections took place; those are all positives. But again, in the run-up to the election, we did have some concerns about undue pressure, intimidation, and as I mentioned, the disruption of internet services, phone services, et cetera that may have disrupted the flow of information to voters.

    QUESTION: Yesterday, you were asked about a Maryland, U.S. --

    MR TONER: I was.

    QUESTION: Do you have any update on that case?

    MR TONER: I sure do. Hold on. Let me get that for you.

    So yeah, you mentioned – you’re referring to Fanta Jawara, yes, who was, as I mentioned yesterday – this is an American citizen who was found guilty of multiple charges, including unlawful assembly and inciting violence, on July 20th, 2016, and she was sentenced at that time to three years in prison. So we call on the government of The Gambia to immediately release all political prisoners, and that includes Ms. Jawara and the 29 other individuals who were sentenced in July as well, as all the protesters arrested during the April and May demonstrations. These prisoners, we believe, must be treated humanely and given timely access to medical care, but as I said, we call for their immediate release. And we continue – we have had some consular access, but we continue to request periodic consular access to Ms. Jawara with the Gambian Government. So I was asked I think yesterday what our feeling was about Ms. Jawara’s sentencing, and as I said, our call is – our response is that we call for her immediate release.

    QUESTION: So does that mean that because you call the release of her – does that say the U.S. think the charges are not lawful?

    MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve raised our concerns, and I think our concerns were focused primarily on the harsh sentences that were handed out for individuals whose only crime was peacefully protesting. So a three-year or even more sentence for, again, peaceful political protests is what we found to be objectionable.

    Thanks. Yes.

    QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the proposed fix by Senator – Senators McCain and Graham for the JASTA legislation they spoke about yesterday?

    MR TONER: Yeah. So we are aware of the proposal to amend, as you said, Justice Against Sponsors of Terror Act, which is JASTA – known by its acronym. So it’s pending legislation; I’m not in a position where I can comment on the details of that proposal. In general, I can say that the Department of State continues to be interested in working with Congress to modify legislation – the – sorry – the legislation, JASTA, in a way that respects and honors the needs of victims of 9/11 without eroding the sovereign immunity principle that obviously concerns national – U.S. national security interests, because it protects the United States and our personnel overseas. And as we’ve said before, the United States has really the most to lose from the erosion of sovereign immunity given our extensive activities overseas. So we’re going to continue to work with Congress to see if it’s possible to craft changes that would mitigate the potential harm to U.S. interests.

    So I’ll leave it there. Again, I can’t get into the specifics of what they’re proposing. As the legislation – if the legislation gets passed, then at that point we’ll be able to comment on it. But we are engaged on it.


    QUESTION: Back to Africa. The chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress opposition group in Ethiopia has been arrested. Gudina is well known, I think, in this building; has had meetings here and on Capitol Hill in the past; allegedly has met with or communicated with banned terrorist organizations.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Any information on that?

    MR TONER: Yeah, we do, actually. We’re obviously aware that, as you noted, Oromo Federal Congress chairman Dr. Merera Gudina has been detained by the Ethiopian Government. We’re concerned about this report. We strongly encourage the government to make public any charges it has brought against Dr. Merera. If true, this arrest is yet another example of increasing restrictions on independent voices in Ethiopia and, frankly, further reinforces our view that Ethiopia’s declared state of emergency is perhaps being used to silence dissent and deny the constitutionally protected rights of Ethiopia’s citizens. And that’s contrary, I would say, to the promises of political reform made by the Ethiopian Government when the state of emergency was announced, so we’re watching it very closely.


    QUESTION: Brett McGurk is in Baghdad, as you know.

    MR TONER: He is.

    QUESTION: Do you have a readout on his meetings there?

    MR TONER: I don’t have a readout yet. I think he just arrived. Let me see real quick – yeah, he just arrived in Baghdad today, so he’s going to have a week on consultations on – specifically focused on the Mosul operations, but also, of course, our longer-term efforts to support stabilization efforts in the wake after – of ISIL’s defeat. So no readout at this point; I think he just hit the ground and we’ll update as necessary.

    QUESTION: Will he also be – planning to go to Erbil?

    MR TONER: I don’t have anything to announce. He goes to Iraq. He always tries to include Erbil in his itinerary, but I don’t have anything to confirm at this point.

    Is that it, guys? Thank you. Great.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 30, 2016

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 15:19
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 30, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing


    1:48 p.m. EST

    MR TONER: Man. We don’t even attract Reuters and AFP anymore. That’s pretty sad times.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

    MR TONER: But welcome to everyone who did show up in the briefing today. And I do want to note, before we get into your questions, that AP correspondent Matt Lee and his wife Amanda are the proud parents of Vaille Olivia Meister Lee, who was born early this morning at seven pounds, four ounces. So that’s a bit of good news that we can offer this morning. I think they’re all resting comfortably after the event, and indeed, we welcome this good news. And I can say it was broken by – the story was broken by AP, by Brad. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I’ll pass it on. I’m sure he’s secretly watching.

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) I’m sure. I hope to god he’s not. Anyway, Brad, over to you.

    QUESTION: Can you just update us on anything you are doing or not doing regarding Syria? We know you had the talks in Geneva. Have they made any progress? And has there been any further communications with the Russians? Will there be a meeting in Rome, perhaps, among the Secretary and the foreign minister?

    MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have anything to announce yet regarding Rome – I’ll start there – but I can’t rule it out. I don’t have any phone calls or other conversations to read out since I think Kirby mentioned earlier this week. As I think many of you know, there was some action today up at the UN. There was a UN Security Council emergency meeting on Aleppo and our Ambassador Sam Power spoke as – during that meeting. It was an emergency meeting by the, as I said, UN Security Council given the rapidly deteriorating, very dire situation in and around Aleppo. But again, these are a chance for us to highlight what’s happening on the ground in Aleppo and call for an end to the violence.

    With regard to other meetings or events on the ground, I don’t have much to update on beyond that, except that we do continue to meet in our multilateral setting in Geneva.

    QUESTION: Just big picture --

    MR TONER: Please.

    QUESTION: -- how optimistic are you of any of these efforts doing anything to stop the violence in Aleppo right now?

    MR TONER: Well, look – I mean, Brad, we’re still pursuing this effort, and we wouldn’t be doing so if we didn’t believe there was at least a chance. We’ve been clear all along, and been very consistent in our message to both the regime and to Russia, that there can be no military solution to what’s happening in Syria regardless of how much progress they appear to have made with regard to Aleppo. And again, it goes back to the fact that all the parties who are a part of the ISSG, the International Syria Support Group, agreed that there was no military solution to what’s happening in Aleppo. And that includes Russia. So we continue to call for an end to the violence, we continue to call for humanitarian assistance to reach the beleaguered citizens of Aleppo, and we’re going to continue to pursue the reinstatement of a credible ceasefire or cessation of hostilities in Aleppo in our discussions in Geneva. Those are ongoing, but as yet they haven’t reached – they haven’t made the progress we’d like to see them make.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: This came up a while ago, about a U.S. – I don’t know if you have anything new – about a U.S. citizen from Maryland that was arrested in The Gambia. Can you check and see if you have anything? There are some reports that --

    MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

    QUESTION: -- she was arrested along --

    MR TONER: I’m aware of the case, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- she was arrested along with Ousainou Darboe. Her name is Fanta Jawara.

    MR TONER: Fanta Darboe Jawara, yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah. And there --

    MR TONER: Go ahead.

    QUESTION: There are some reports that if the president kind of wins re-election, that he’s going to assassinate these opposition leaders who they arrested, and his fellow inmates, of which she is one of them. So I was just wondering if you have an update on the case. Have you heard about this? Are there concerns?

    MR TONER: I don’t. I haven’t seen those reports. We’ll certainly look into them. As you probably know, Fanta Jawara was found guilty of multiple charges, including unlawful assembly and inciting violence. I think that was in July – July of this past year. And the judge sentenced her to three years in prison.

    QUESTION: Well, she maintains that the only thing she did was, like, that she was alongside this opposition guy who was arrested.

    MR TONER: No, obviously, as I said, I’m aware of the case. I’m not aware of these recent reports or allegations. We can look into them, see if we have anything additional to add.

    QUESTION: Do you – have you maintained that this was a – that rule of law was applied in this case, or do you think that this case was – that she was not necessarily guilty of --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- what she was charged with?

    MR TONER: Well, look, we’ve raised our concerns about the case and about the need to follow rule of law or due process to the Gambian Government.

    QUESTION: Well, what are your concerns --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: What are your concerns about the case? That due law – due process and the rule of law was not applied?

    MR TONER: Well, no, we – look, I mean, in any case like this, when there’s an American citizen arrested overseas, obviously one of the things, first and foremost, is access to that individual. We were able to have access to her. I think we met with her 10 times now. This is probably old – probably been additional times since then, but 10 times since her arrest. We were able to provide her with consular assistance. We were able to attend her court hearings. And I think on November 21st, a consular officer met with her at her most recent hearing.

    We’re monitoring the case. We are concerned about due process, as we are in any case abroad. We’ve made those concerns clear to the Gambian Government. Now, with respect to these new allegations, we can certainly look into them.

    QUESTION: Okay, I understand. But when you say you’re concerned about due process, are you just – are you just wanting to ensure that due process is followed and the rule of law is followed, or are you suggesting that it was not applied in this case and you have concerns about the conviction?

    MR TONER: We want to – the former. We want to make sure that due process is followed in any case.

    QUESTION: So you don’t have any concerns about the conviction?

    MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of. If that’s different, then I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Can you check?

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: New subject.

    MR TONER: Sure, Goyal. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: South Asia – two questions, Mark. Thank you, sir.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: There was a wakeup call and a surgical strike by Prime Minister Modi against black market money or black money in India, and that was called for the terrorists and black-marketers and people who didn’t pay taxes and also hiding or doing business under the table. And he was praised by the IMF, saying that any country doing business – huge business – under the table cannot progress, and we are with India as far as this. And I’ve been saying for 25 years against corruption by the politicians in India and also black market money. So any U.S. --

    MR TONER: You were a voice in the wilderness then. Yeah.

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you, sir. Any U.S. impact as far as this blocking 500 rupees and 1,000 rupees? And because there is --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- chaos in India, but mostly – 92 percent – Indians are supporting Prime Minister Modi.

    MR TONER: Well, you’re right, and you’re right that this recent action followed on a series of steps that the Modi government took over the past two years to reduce black market money, and I think it also included a four-month amnesty for tax evaders in India, which resulted in I think the disclosure or declaration of billions of dollars in hidden assets. This was an action – I’m talking about the discontinuance of the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes – designed to target illicit cash proceeds from corruption and tax dodging.

    And with respect to your question about the impact on American citizens, we got this question I think the day that this was announced. And indeed, as it was an inconvenience for many Indians, it was an inconvenience for Americans who were also there, and we actually put out a statement through our U.S. embassy to American citizens in India about the changes. Again, this was, we believe, an important and necessary step to crack down on this – illegal actions or illicit actions. American citizens who are working and living in India I think have the proper information now to exchange those notes or to get new notes, and it’s a little bit of an adjustment, just as it was an inconvenience, I’m sure, for many Indians, but I think a necessary one to address the corruption.

    QUESTION: Is the U.S. embassy providing any help to American citizens there if they are stuck with – in these long lines and all that?

    MR TONER: You’re talking about any help for the Indians or for the Americans?

    QUESTION: Americans there.

    MR TONER: No, I mean, look, in any case such as this, the embassy’s role would be to simply inform American citizens residing or visiting in India of these changes and, again, how they can replace their notes and just the process into how to do that.

    QUESTION: And one question on Pakistan: As far as terrorism is concerned or counterterrorism with the U.S. and Pakistan is concerned, there had been many cases where people who got training in Pakistan and also financed by Saudis, some – including this Ohio and California and all that, and now there is a – is Pakistan getting – and there was also a report on Twitter – is Pakistan getting any message that most of the people go there and get trainings and they hit U.S. interests here and also abroad, and also at the same time, finally now Pakistan has a new army chief, Mr. Qamar Bajwa.

    MR TONER: Bajwa, yes.

    QUESTION: Any change under his leadership because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and many in the country were seeking --

    MR TONER: Well – sure.

    QUESTION: -- not to have anybody anti-India general in the future.

    MR TONER: Okay. So starting with your second question first, he did just – he was just appointed at the end of November, so let’s give this gentleman a chance to get up to speed, but we certainly congratulate him on the appointment and welcome his – the transition to a new chief of army staff.

    With respect to your first question, I’ll have to just say that I think you’re referring to several cases, one of which is still an ongoing investigation, so I’m not going to address some of the assumptions in your question with regard to the motivation behind these actions or where these people may have received any sort of training. I think those are allegations that we’re just not able – law enforcement’s not able to confirm at this juncture.

    With respect to our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan, that’s ongoing. We work with them quite closely. They’re aware of some of our concerns, which include a safe haven for some terrorist groups that are active in the region. But again, as Kirby and I both made clear many times from this podium, Pakistan’s also paid the price of terrorism. It’s in their interests, obviously, to crack down on any terrorist group that may be finding safe haven within its borders.

    Please, then I’ll get to you, Justin. Sorry.

    QUESTION: I’m sorry if you talked about this already --

    MR TONER: That’s okay.

    QUESTION: -- but is there any new updates on the transition team that’s been here at State? Are they having meetings with officials in the building? What’s the latest on what’s going on?

    MR TONER: No, I haven’t – let me – I mean, I don’t think I have much beyond what we’ve said, which is that they’re here, obviously. They arrived in the State Department. I would have to refer you to that transition team for more specifics about their planning and their actions. Everybody in the State Department obviously stands ready to brief them.

    QUESTION: No, I understand that you stand ready --

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- but have you briefed them?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m not – I don’t have a list in front of me. I can certainly try to do that. I think Kirby’s --

    QUESTION: Yeah, if you could give a little bit more of a --

    MR TONER: -- looked at that as well.

    QUESTION: -- kind of update of --

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- where things are in terms of --

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: I understand that they have arrived and they’re probably reading memos and stuff, but have they under – started undergoing briefings with --

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: -- officials in the building, which you said --

    MR TONER: Again, I don’t want --

    QUESTION: -- was expected.

    MR TONER: Yeah. No, no, I don’t want to give a – sorry, but – and I don’t want to give a – necessarily a play-by-play. My understanding is they’re in the building, they’re reading, I’m not sure – and getting up to speed, as you can expect. I’m not sure that they’ve actually started having these kinds of individual or briefings with the various bureaus or with senior leadership. I can see if I can confirm that.

    QUESTION: Yeah. If you could, please.

    MR TONER: Yeah.


    QUESTION: So if they’re in the building and they’re not getting – what are they doing all day?

    MR TONER: Again, that’s for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: So then you don’t – they haven’t had any meetings?

    MR TONER: I just – I don’t have anything to confirm right now in front of me, sorry. I don’t know if they’ve started --

    QUESTION: So it’s possible they’ve had a lot of meetings; you just can’t say if they’ve had any meetings?

    MR TONER: I’m not aware they’ve had a lot of meetings. Again, I also don’t want to speak on their behalf --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR TONER: -- and I also don’t want to give a play-by-play. But Justin, you had a question? Now, you’ve already – I’ve lost you? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Yeah. Well, they won’t come here and brief us, then, will they, if you can’t speak on their behalf?

    MR TONER: Normally, they would not do that.

    QUESTION: They would not, okay.

    MR TONER: But we can --

    QUESTION: But we’re asking you to speak on your behalf. Are you briefing them? That’s not on their behalf, that’s on your – you’re the briefer.

    MR TONER: So they’re here. They’re settling in. I’m not aware of any briefing --

    QUESTION: That’s speaking on their behalf.

    MR TONER: No, I’m not aware of any – that we’ve briefed them to any extent so far. If that’s changed or that’s different, I’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Mark, my other question was just back to the OSU --

    MR TONER: Please, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- shooting and wondering if now that we’re hearing – and understanding that the investigation’s not complete – but hearing that there are strong indications this person was radicalized and inspired by al-Qaida or ISIS, does this type of incident trigger any, like, revisiting the vetting process and how that works with refugees, or does it just – is that system in place and working perfectly well in your mind?

    MR TONER: Sure. So to talk about your broader question and not necessarily this case, because obviously I don’t want to insert myself into this case and that is still, as I noted earlier, under active investigation, I guess my short answer is of course, we’re always assessing and improving the vetting system.

    But at the same time, let’s be clear that it’s still the most stringent vetting system for any person arriving from abroad into the United States – whether they be traveler or intending immigrant – and we stand by the integrity of that system. So we’re always, of course, looking to improve it, and that includes across the interagency how we look at the information, how we get the information on some of these individuals who may come from areas where there’s not a full set of bio data on them, and how we, again, cross-check that through the various interagency, through the various different interested parties, and ensure that these individuals coming into the United States are safe.

    QUESTION: Mark.

    MR TONER: Yes, sir.

    QUESTION: What’s on the agenda in the bilateral meeting between the Secretary and the Egyptian foreign minister beside the signing of the --

    MR TONER: Oh, don’t take away my signing comments. (Laughter.) That was my big thing. I was going to do a topper on that if I can find it – that’s the whole thing. So like it or not, I’m going to give you the information on the cultural property agreement. Actually, it is a significant thing and worth noting.

    So Secretary Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry will sign the U.S.-Egyptian cultural property agreement today – later today. And the agreement will promote collaboration on fighting illicit trafficking in Egyptian artifacts. And it underscores the United States commitment to our relationship with Egypt as well as our global commitment to cultural heritage protection and preservation. And under the agreement, the United States will impose import restrictions on archeological material representing Egypt’s cultural heritage dating from 5200 B.C. through 1517 A.D. And Brad, you’re not allowed to ask me why those dates, because I don’t have an answer for you. But these restrictions are intended to reduce incentive for pillage and trafficking and are frankly one of the many ways that the United States is fighting the global market for – or in illegal antiquities.

    They will, of course, hold a bilateral meeting after the signing ceremony. Look, no surprise what they’ll discuss. They’ll likely discuss regional issues. We obviously have strong interest in Egypt’s views on regional issues – whether it’s Daesh, whether it’s Libya, whether it’s Syria. We’ll also, of course, want to talk to them about the domestic situation in Egypt and the pursuit of the Egyptian people for a stable, democratic, and prosperous country.

    It goes without saying that we want to see Egypt succeed and become a successful, prosperous, and stable country. It’s important for the region. It’s important for the United States.

    QUESTION: Did you confirm that Egypt sent any troops to Syria?

    MR TONER: Did we confirm that – I’m sorry, did --

    QUESTION: There were reports that Egypt may have sent troops, army to Syria.

    MR TONER: No, I’ve not been able to – I don’t have any confirmation of those reports.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) 1517 – I assume that cultural products that are less than 500 years old are not antiquities, since that’s exactly 500 years.

    MR TONER: I don’t know. It’s somewhere around the Ottoman Empire. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but --

    QUESTION: I don’t think it was connected to Luther’s 95 Theses --

    MR TONER: (Laughter.) That’s right.

    QUESTION: -- which were the same year.

    MR TONER: I can assure you I asked the same question when I read it before. I’m not sure. That sounds as – plausible.

    Please, Michael.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Now that you said – you talk about Ottoman Empire --

    MR TONER: Yeah, there we go.

    QUESTION: -- Mark, as you know, Mr. Erdogan is – lately his tone is very aggressive and nationalistic. Now he’s saying that he wants a piece of Greece, of Iraq, and some other countries. He spoke of the borders of his heart. How do the America Government sees this nationalistic rhetoric by the president of Turkey?

    MR TONER: Even though it’s – well, look, I’m not going to attempt to --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR TONER: No, I understand. These are – this is the president of Turkey speaking, but I’m not going to attempt to explain or parse out his comments. I’d refer you to the Turkish Government for an explanation of their president’s comments. What I will say is that as a matter of principle, the United States strongly supports the sovereignty of both Turkey and Greece. I’ll leave it there.

    QUESTION: I have some questions on Cyprus if you --

    MR TONER: Of course.

    QUESTION: As you know, the talks on Cyprus in Switzerland collapsed and the president of Turkey is responsible for this unfortunate development. What is your position on this, and what you are doing to revive the talks?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t know – your first question – you referred to it as collapsed. I don’t know if we’d characterize the situation quite that way. I mean, UN Special Adviser Eide spoke yesterday about the recess in Mont Pelerin. He called it a setback, but he also said he doesn’t see any unbridgeable issues. So of course we’re aware that these UN-backed talks did go into recess last week. I think the leaders returned to Cyprus to reflect on next steps and the way forward. We on our part continue to support the UN-led and facilitated process under UN Special Adviser Espen Eide.

    More generally, we’ve been encouraged by the progress that Cypriot leaders have made this year, and our focus remains on supporting efforts by the parties to reach a comprehensive settlement to reunify Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation. We can get there. We believe that, as I said, there has been progress made. We understand that there’s – the talks are recessed now. I’m not necessarily going to commit or project about possible next steps. That’s really for the parties to decide. We certainly would encourage these talks to go through under the auspices of the UN.


    QUESTION: There are reports today that Secretary Kerry is going in Nicosia on December 8th and 9th. Also there are reports that another official from the State Department is in Cyprus. Can you confirm any of this?

    MR TONER: With regard to possible travel by the Secretary of State, I can’t confirm that. I don’t have anything to announce in that regard. I don’t know who – what other official you’re referring to.

    QUESTION: I heard that another official is there.

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Mr. Cohen, maybe.

    MR TONER: I can check on that. I just don’t know.

    QUESTION: Can you check on this?

    MR TONER: Yep.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR TONER: Please. Hey. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: This morning, the UN Security Council passed additional sanctions on the DPRK.

    MR TONER: Sure.

    QUESTION: I know Ambassador Power addressed this a little bit earlier, but do you have any reaction or comments from this podium?

    MR TONER: Well, thank you. She did, and did so, obviously, very articulately and forcefully. You’re talking about the passage of 2321. It was unanimously adopted by the Security Council. It shows that the Security Council is very united in imposing stronger sanctions on North Korea’s international trade, financial transactions, and weapons-related programs. This is in response to North Korea’s pattern that we’ve seen in the past – more than past months, but certainly increasing over the past months – its behavior that jeopardizes the security of the region and certainly the security of the Korean peninsula. I’d just say significantly, these sanctions go beyond UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was already stronger than past sanctions regimes, by targeting North Korea’s hard currency revenues. I can get into the specifics, but this resolution imposes hard, binding cap that will cut North Korea’s coal exports by more than 60 percent. And also these sanctions will ban export by North Korea of monuments and non-ferrous metals, rather: copper, nickel, silver and zinc. And this is significant because both of these exports have provided tens of millions of dollars to the regime annually.

    What else? Just finally I would just say that obviously none of these sanctions are directed and nor do we seek to punish the people of North Korea who indeed are long-suffering under the current regime. To the contrary, these sanctions are very much targeted at the ruling elite who are responsible for many of these illicit programs. And finally, this is just another attempt to convey to North Korea, to the regime our seriousness and our concern – talking about the international community here, not just the United States – that its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons is in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions and it jeopardizes its international status.

    QUESTION: And then also do you – could you outline any additional unilateral sanctions that the U.S. may be considering, and in particular whether the U.S. is considering any actions to target DPRK nationals that are working overseas?

    MR TONER: I don’t have anything to announce in that regard. I do know that as part of – again, not – these are not U.S. sanctions, but as part of this sanctions – that one aspect of them was to – for lack of a better word since I can’t find the wording in front of me – but to minimize their diplomatic status overseas – or activity, I guess, is how I would phrase that. But I can’t speak to any unilateral steps that we may or may not take in the coming days and weeks.

    QUESTION: Did the Chinese agree these sanctions? China, did they --

    MR TONER: Did China agree? Well, I’d refer you to China to speak on their behalf, but my understanding is yes, they did agree.

    QUESTION: I have another one.

    MR TONER: Of course, go ahead.

    QUESTION: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sent a nine pages letter to Trump demanding end to hostile nuclear threat. Do you have anything --

    MR TONER: Demanding?

    QUESTION: Demanding nuclear – hostile nuclear threat.

    MR TONER: I’m not aware of the letter. I’d have to refer you to the President-elect Trump and his team to confirm receipt of that letter. I’m certainly not going to speak on his behalf or on his team’s behalf until January 20th. President Obama is the acting President, obviously. But I would say that concern, generally speaking, over North Korea’s behavior is not specific even to the United States or one administration in the U.S., but rather it’s a strong international condemnation.

    Is that it? Thanks, guys.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 29, 2016

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 17:04
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 29, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • CUBA


    2:43 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hi everybody.


    QUESTION: Hello.

    MR KIRBY: Sorry I’m a couple minutes late. A couple things here at the top, if you’ll just bear with me. First on the plane crash today with Brazil’s athletes. We are obviously deeply saddened by the news of this crash outside Medellin which claimed dozens of lives, including many members of the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer team. We are in communication, of course, with Colombian authorities and will provide assistance as requested, as I’m given to understand the NTSB has been asked for some assistance, and we’ll be mobilizing to provide whatever’s required.

    Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, and with all the people of Brazil today as they deal with this very difficult news.

    On the Secretary’s call list, I want to point out – I think you saw I put out a statement, but I would like to reiterate today that the Secretary spoke with Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama of the ruling National Democratic Congress Party and New Patriotic Party presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in advance of Ghana’s elections on the 7th of December. The Secretary underscored to both candidates the need to ensure a peaceful and fair electoral process and post-election period, including by publicly pledging to reject violence and address any issues through the judicial system and calling on all of their supporters to do exactly the same. He also urged both candidates to attend the December 1st peace summit in Accra. The Secretary cited Ghana’s position as a leading democracy in Africa and recognized the long history of close relations between the United States and Ghana. He stressed our desire to continue to advance our shared priorities with whoever prevails in Ghana’s election.

    Finally, a travel note. The Secretary will be traveling to Rome and Vatican City on the 2nd and 3rd of December – that’s later on this week – for bilateral meetings and to participate in the Rome Mediterranean Dialogues. In Rome, the Secretary will meet with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni to discuss cooperation on a range of regional and global issues, including Libya, Syria, Iraq, and, of course, the enduring strength of the transatlantic alliance.

    At the Rome Mediterranean Dialogues, the Secretary will work with other senior leaders to deepen cooperation on a range of challenges and opportunities across the Mediterranean region, including advancing the dialogues’ vision of a positive agenda in areas such as entrepreneurship, innovation, and people-to-people exchanges. In Vatican City, the Secretary will meet with Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to discuss international issues and peace efforts, including the humanitarian situation in Syria, violence in Ukraine, and the ongoing dialogue in Venezuela.

    So a busy end of the week for the Secretary. With that, Brad.

    QUESTION: Can we start with Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: There’s been more attacks in eastern Aleppo, reports of at least 20 people killed. On the other hand, the Syrian Government says it’s trying to step up vetting of those fleeing to make sure the people – civilians can pass and extremists can’t. What is your take on the situation?

    MR KIRBY: Well, broadly speaking, obviously, we continue to decry the violence and the bloodshed in Aleppo and the continued efforts by the Syrian regime to take – to reduce the city to rubble in an effort to retake it. Still no humanitarian aid has gotten in. Still so many civilians are afraid to leave, and afraid to stay – afraid to leave because they could be taken on the road out. And you talked about vetting; I can’t speak for the quality of their vetting, but clearly past actions by the regime of civilians trying to leave and the bloodshed that they have suffered, the attacks that they have come under, make them scared to leave; they’re scared to stay, because the bombs continue to drop.

    So we’ve seen this – the – these kind of calls before for being able to leave and safe passage that have never – that have not turned out. And yet what we haven’t seen is a reduction in the bombing and the violence and any delivery of humanitarian aid – food, water, medicine – to the still thousands and thousands of people that are still desperate for help.

    QUESTION: Has there been any progress in either of the tracks of the Geneva talks, either on the aid front, or two, on the Aleppo cessation of hostilities?

    MR KIRBY: Sadly, I’m not able to report any tangible progress in those talks. They do continue, and as I said yesterday, we wouldn’t still be at the table in this multilateral format if we didn’t think it was worth it. But I don’t have any progress specifically to report out today.

    QUESTION: And then any further interaction or telephone calls between the Secretary and the Russian foreign minister?

    MR KIRBY: No, nothing additional. Hasn’t spoken to him since Tuesday.

    QUESTION: There’s been some reports suggesting they might meet soon, perhaps even on this trip to Rome that you spoke about. Is that a possibility?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional on the Secretary’s schedule to read out for you when he’s in Rome. That’s why I kind of detailed as much as I could, that that – those are the things we know about. But I can’t rule a potential sideline meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov out. It’s certainly possible, but we’ll let you know as soon as that firms up – if it firms up.

    QUESTION: And then just the last one from me on Syria/Russia. The Pentagon has come out with its report or part of the report on the September 17th incident.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Given that it’s pretty self-critical – well, it’s very self-critical; you guys --

    MR KIRBY: Indeed. Indeed it is.

    QUESTION: -- made a series of mistakes – has there been any conversation between anyone in this building or in the State Department writ large with someone from Russia or anybody else to indirectly convey anything to Syria?

    MR KIRBY: No, not that I’m aware of, Brad. I think you saw this. The Pentagon just really released their findings today. I’m not aware of any contact or communication from the State Department with respect to this particular incident.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: So --

    QUESTION: A couple Syria questions. The Turkish military said that they have lost contact with two of their soldiers in northern Syria. Do you all have any information on that?

    MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I don’t.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then on the issue of just contacts with Russia, aside from Secretary Kerry, have there been any other kind of bilateral contacts, either face to face or otherwise, between U.S. and Russian officials?

    MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of. Nothing that I’m aware of. And as I said, when it comes to Syria, the suspension of U.S.-Russia bilateral communications specifically with regard to the cessation of hostilities in Syria is still in place. So there wouldn’t normally be any such bilateral engagement. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t – isn’t possible to have conversations, and the Secretary continues to do that, but I’m not aware of anything beneath his level bilaterally with Russia with respect to what’s going on in Syria.

    QUESTION: Can I just follow --

    QUESTION: You’ve expressed concern in the past about uncoordinated Turkish activity in this area. As you understand at the moment, is the Turkish operation in northern Syria in coordination with the coalition against ISIL, or is there – are there still operations going on by your Turkish partners that are not coordinated with your activities?

    MR KIRBY: Well, caveating this with the – a very frank admission that I am not privy to Turkish military operations on a day-to-day basis, we continue to be concerned about uncoordinated military activity in that part of Syria. We want activity against Daesh to be coordinated and part of coalition efforts. I’m not aware that any recent activity by Turkish forces fit that mold, but I would strongly urge you to consult with my Defense Department colleagues and with Turkish military officials. I’m just – I’m a bit at a loss because I don’t follow their tactical operations day to day.

    QUESTION: Yes, just on the Syria situation. So in the absence of direct contact with the Russians, what are you doing? I mean, are you just waiting for eastern Aleppo to come totally under the control of the Syrian regime before you --

    MR KIRBY: Said, I mean, I think you know we’ve talked about this a lot. I --

    QUESTION: I mean, I understand your position on Syria, but I’m saying in this period over the next, let’s say, week or couple weeks, as most analysts expect that eastern Aleppo will fall completely under the control of Syrian – the Syrian army. What are you doing in the interim, in the – during this period?

    MR KIRBY: We continue to engage multilaterally in Geneva to try to get a framework for a cessation of hostilities that can be enforced and sustained, particularly in Aleppo. That is the effort that we continue to pursue, and every day I get up here and I continue to talk about our deep concerns about the actions of the Assad regime and of the support they get from Moscow to do exactly what they’re doing. We’ve said – and I think this is what you’re getting at, but let me just restate it for the sake of restating it – that our firm belief is that there has to be a political solution to the civil war in Syria, not a military one. And so if you’re asking what additionally we’re doing, we’re putting as much energy and effort as we can into trying to reach that political solution, trying to get a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid so that you can create the conditions for political talks to resume, because that’s the right way forward.

    And, obviously, the Syrian regime has other ideas and they continue to bomb and to gas and to starve their own people. And what we’ve said from the very beginning is that all that’s going to do, that strategy – a strategy, by the way, which is – which finds – obviously, it finds purchase in Moscow, because they are continuing to back and support the Assad regime – but all it’s going to do is attract more extremists to Syria. All it’s going to do is prolong – not hasten the end, but prolong the civil conflict in Syria. And therefore, all it’s going to do is prolong the bloodshed and the depredations that the Syrian people continue to endure.

    QUESTION: If and when the Syrian forces take over eastern Aleppo, most analysts believe that all urban areas will have come under the control of the regime, where you will have massive or huge needs of humanitarian aid and so on. Will you be willing – the United States will be willing to infuse these urban areas, the big areas – Damascus, Homs, Hama, Halab, even Idlib to the north – would you be able to send in direct aid to these cities?

    MR KIRBY: Well --

    QUESTION: Even if they are under the control of the regime?

    MR KIRBY: -- the continued focus on getting aid to the people of Syria, wherever they are – and I know we’re focused on Aleppo – is going to be through the UN because that’s the right way to do it. The UN’s equipped to handle this and they have done it successfully in the past, not often enough, but they have been able to do that. Obviously, you need cooperation from the regime and from their Russian backers to be able to get that aid delivered safely and securely and into the hands of the people that need it. And even when aid has made it to some of these cities and towns, some of the ones you mentioned, we’ve seen Syrian soldiers at the very last step ripping out medicine and not letting it go forward. So we continue to believe that the UN’s the right approach here, that they’re the right vehicle to do this, and we’re going to continue to support their efforts to try to make that happen.

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Syria. France and Britain has called the UN Security Council to meet to discuss Syria and the situation in Aleppo. Have you joined their efforts in the UN?

    MR KIRBY: I think we would certainly support, as the Secretary has said many a time, we support good ideas from every corner when it comes to trying to solve the conflict in Syria. So I’m not here and I’m not able to announce any specific U.S. participation in this effort, but we’re mindful of the proposal made. We are supportive of the UN taking that up as a matter of discussion, and we’ll see where it goes.

    QUESTION: Is the Security Council able to do anything, do you think, at this time? Security --

    MR KIRBY: I think the Security Council remains focused on this, Michel. I mean --

    QUESTION: But with the Russian veto every time --

    MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for the – Russia’s vote here. We’re not unmindful of the fact that they sit on the Security Council and that they have a different view of how to move Syria forward – certainly a different view of late, anyway. But that doesn’t mean that discussions inside the UN are a bad idea or that we shouldn’t still try to consider working through the Security Council to achieve better outcomes. I just don’t have anything specific to report out in terms of future.

    QUESTION: And one more question for me. France has called for a meeting for Friends of Syria in Paris. Would the U.S. attend this meeting?

    MR KIRBY: I don't have anything to announce or to speak to at this point. I’ve only seen some press reporting of this idea. If that changes, we’ll let you know.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: More?

    QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR KIRBY: Are we done on Syria? Are you on Syria?

    QUESTION: No. I’m on Yemen.

    MR KIRBY: Yemen. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: All right. Very quickly, have you seen the op-ed written by former President Jimmy Carter?

    MR KIRBY: I have.

    QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on his call that you – the steps that must be taken before January 20th is to grant the American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it to achieve full United Nations membership?

    MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we have great respect for former President Carter and for his tireless efforts to achieve peace while he was in office and certainly in the years following his presidency. He’s a great American. Our view hasn’t changed that we believe that the preferred path for the Palestinians to achieve statehood is through direct negotiations that will lead to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution.

    QUESTION: And how would your recognition contradict negotiations? I mean, couldn’t you just say at the primaries, we say we recognize this cause. Because you’re always calling for a two-state solution, and pretty much you negotiated for months on end. Basically things are pretty outlined, so to speak, pretty delineated, right?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand the question.

    QUESTION: Okay. The question is that in the U.S. vision there is a concept of what this state should look like, correct, the Palestinian state that you are calling for? It has --

    MR KIRBY: We want a two-state solution.

    QUESTION: You want a two-state solution. But there is a geography that you have in mind for this – for this Palestinian – the state (inaudible).

    MR KIRBY: We have made clear our concern about settlements.

    QUESTION: Right. Okay. So – all right. So why not then pursue whatever – what he’s suggesting, that you – the principle, you recognize the principle of the Palestinian state and you join the 137 other countries?

    MR KIRBY: Again, our position is that recognizing the Palestinian state before negotiated settlements – excuse me – would be premature.

    QUESTION: So do you expect negotiations to sort of be – to start up again any time soon?

    MR KIRBY: We would – I think, obviously, we would welcome a resumption of the negotiations. We’ve long said that. But in order to get there, you have to see tangible leadership on both sides to ratchet down the rhetoric and to reduce the violence and to show a willingness to sit down and have discussions about a two-state solution. That hasn’t been the case.

    QUESTION: It’s not expected to happen in the next six weeks, is it?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not a fortuneteller.

    QUESTION: Okay. I have one last question. I was struck by what the Secretary of State said today in his remarks. He said – I mean, he concluded this four-year effort by saying, quote: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. Is that the conclusion of the Secretary of State that this has – we give up?

    MR KIRBY: I think --

    QUESTION: We give up; we are at the end of this process?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I saw your tweet, Said. I think slapping a bumper sticker solution onto what he said grossly overstates what he meant. What he meant was exactly what I just said to you: That we need to see the leadership on both sides take the kinds of actions to realize a two-state solution; to commit to a willingness to sit down and have those kinds of discussions and to effect those kinds of negotiations. And his point was exactly and succinctly right: You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. You have to – ultimately – and we’ve said this time and time again – you have to see leadership exuded and demonstrated there in the region. They have to be willing to get to this two-state solution or it’s not going to be sustainable. And I think if you go back and look at the transcript of his remarks, you’ll see that he expounded on that thought in exactly – almost exactly those words. Okay.


    QUESTION: Can we talk about Georgia?

    MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. I’ve got to – I’m going to stay in the Middle East, if that’s okay.

    Go ahead.

    QUESTION: On Yemen. Secretary of State Kerry said during the Women’s Foreign Policy Group that in the days ahead there’ll be more progress to announce regarding the solution to the conflicts in Yemen. I wonder, do you have any update on that or any readout from calls between Secretary Kerry and his counterparts in that region? And also, given the UN envoy just came out and said that the formation of a new Houthis government is a new and concerning obstacle to the government. How do we square up?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I said the same thing in my statement last night. And obviously, we don’t find that action conducive at all to trying to get to the kind of political – negotiated political solution that can matter for the Yemeni people.

    Look, I’m not going to get ahead of discussions that are ongoing. The Secretary has been nothing but forthright, privately and publicly, about his desire to get a better future for the Yemeni people – to get the conflict to stop, to reach a political solution, a negotiated political solution, that can bring aid to the Yemeni people, can stop the violence, the bloodshed, and try to move a political process forward there. And he’s working it very, very hard, as he is in Libya.

    Now in Libya, we have a Government of National Accord that is internationally recognized, but they are still challenged by extremists in Libyan territory, and there’s a lot of work to be done there as well to solidify this sitting government. And again, he will, for the – for every day that he remains Secretary of State, continue to work this very hard. I just don’t have anything to readout to you or to announce or to speak to specifically with respect to that.

    QUESTION: Are you --

    QUESTION: Did you – go ahead.

    QUESTION: Yeah, are you concerned about actually Yemen breaking up into two? I mean, after all, it was south Yemen and north Yemen and pretty much the lines of demarcation --

    MR KIRBY: I think --

    QUESTION: -- or fighting are really along these lines.

    MR KIRBY: I think what we’re concerned about is seeing – getting to a point where the violence can stop, that the aid can get to the – to people in need, and that we can get a political solution found to the conflict that’s going on in Yemen. I wouldn’t speculate one way or another about potential outcomes there. Obviously, we want to see the nation – the country of Yemen preserved and, more critically, governing institutions that are responsible for and responsive to the Yemeni people established and sustained in a way that the international community can continue to support, obviously, but more critically, they can continue to support or can support the needs of the Yemeni people.

    QUESTION: Can I – I mean, since you raised Libya – do you have any information about – there’s an area just outside Benghazi called Ganfouda that’s been essentially under siege for the last couple months. People can’t get out; they can’t get any food in, lots of women and children supposedly almost on the brink of starvation.

    MR KIRBY: I mean, we’re aware of this situation there and elsewhere in Libya. I don’t have anything specific with respect to the situation on the ground right now.

    QUESTION: Well, the reason I ask is not so much that you control the forces of Mr. Haftar or even anyone else in Libya, but some of the people who are talking about trying to get aid into this area say they can’t get in because there are NATO ships also blocking the seaport in the Benghazi area, because of extremism concerns, but that they also can’t get any aid in and that would be some --

    MR KIRBY: Because NATO ships are off the coast?

    QUESTION: Yeah. So they said --

    MR KIRBY: You know what, let me take that question, Brad.

    QUESTION: So they said --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any blockage by NATO of aid getting in.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: I would find that highly difficult to believe, but --

    QUESTION: Or a NATO country perhaps.

    MR KIRBY: But I’ll check on that. I --

    QUESTION: That’d be helpful. Thanks.

    MR KIRBY: That’s the first – yeah, I just don’t have anything on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: And I don’t want to speculate.

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: On Libya too, General Khalifa Haftar was in Russia today asking for arms to fight extremists in Libya. Do you have any reaction?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen press reports on his travel. I’d let him speak to his travel. I’m not going to comment on who he’s meeting with or what he’s doing, what they’re saying. What I can tell you is that the United States remains fully committed to working with Prime Minister al-Sarraj, the Government of National Accord, and the UN special representative. And we’re going to continue to work with all of them to strengthen security in Libya and improve the capacity of national military forces to secure the country and to confront Daesh, which continues to have a presence in Libya.

    The GNA is Libya’s sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance, as the international community made clear in the May 16th Vienna communique on Libya. And all Libyan forces, including General Haftar and the Libyan National Army, should unite under the GNA’s civilian command. Now is the time, as we’ve said many times, for Libya to build a national military force that’s capable of securing and defending their citizens and their country.

    QUESTION: Based on this, that means you oppose any delivery of arms from Russia to --

    MR KIRBY: As I said, the GNA is Libya’s sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance.


    QUESTION: So would it be a breach, in your understanding of current sanctions, if weapons were to be sent to General Haftar?

    MR KIRBY: I think I’ll leave it where I said it, that they are the sole legitimate international recipient of international security assistance, and I don’t think it’s useful to speculate beyond that right now.


    QUESTION: And do you not consider Haftar as a part of the GNA?

    MR KIRBY: The question is: Does – what does General Haftar consider himself to be? We want everybody to be supportive of the GNA. I’ve said that time and time again, and we continue to make that case.

    Yeah, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Turkey?

    MR KIRBY: Let me go – this gentleman’s been waiting.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: After the October elections, the ruling party in Georgia gained a supermajority in legislature. According to the civil society organizations and watchdog groups, now the Georgian Government has overall control of political institutions, judiciary, and the media. And there is a serious imminent danger that the only nationwide independent television station, Rustavi 2, can be taken over by the government proxy. I wonder if you raised this question with Georgian Government officials and if you’re concerned on this.

    MR KIRBY: Well, what I would say is our understanding is the supreme court is still considering an appeal of the rulings of the appellate and lower courts with respect to transferred ownership of Rustavi 2. We’re obviously concerned about the decision’s implication for pluralism in Georgia’s media space. As we’ve said in the past, freedom of media, political pluralism, and independence of the judiciary are essential foundations of any democracy and they – and we believe they remain critical to Georgia’s successful Euro-Atlantic integration.

    QUESTION: Can I just follow up? There were concerns about selective justice and politically motivated prosecutions in Georgia voiced by a number of international organizations. And the U.S. Government itself made several times statement on that, in particular about the arrest of former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava. I was wondering if you still are concerned on this issue and if you’re continuing raising those issues with the Georgian Government.

    MR KIRBY: We obviously continue to follow these sorts of events very, very closely. They do remain of concern. And without getting into specifics of diplomatic conversations, we continue to voice and raise those concerns through diplomatic channels as appropriate.

    QUESTION: Thank you so much.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Turkey. In France, investigators have found that Turkey was probably involved in the murder of three Kurdish activists in Paris. Are you worried that a NATO member might be involved in assassinations in other NATO capitals?

    MR KIRBY: I just haven’t seen that report. And I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it just hearing it for the first time, so I think I’m going to defer answering until we have some more information about that.

    Okay? Yeah.

    QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali with ARY News TV. Sir, last month on October 7th, United States released a travel advisory about Pakistan in which the Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all non-essential travel to Pakistan. Sir, what --

    MR KIRBY: You don’t need to read it to me. I remember. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: So what is the latest situation there? What is your advice to the American citizens right now for the Pakistani, because --

    MR KIRBY: Well, my advice would be to get on our website and read our Travel Warnings. They are not indicative of bilateral relations with any country. They’re simply a part of our commitment to provide up-to-date – as up-to-date as possible information to U.S. citizens that are traveling or residing abroad. We want them to be able to make informed travel decisions, and that’s what this Travel Warning did. I would point out that the warning you’re reading from was October 7th, and that was a routine update. And as you well know, we update these things routinely, roughly on a – roughly – six-month basis. It doesn’t always come right down to six months, but this was a routine update.

    QUESTION: Sir, one of the reason the State Department cited: The sectarian violence remains a serious threat throughout Pakistan, like the religious minorities have been victim of targeted killings and accusations of blasphemy. Sir, do you really think that Pakistan is making any progress in the protection of religious minorities?

    MR KIRBY: Look, I think this is a topic of discussion that we routinely have with Pakistani officials. I think, without getting into specifics – and I’ve said this before – Pakistani leaders know all too well the threats of extremism and terrorism inside their own borders because they’ve lost too many soldiers, they’ve lost too many citizens. So of course, we continue to have conversations with them about the extremist threat that resides inside of their own borders.

    QUESTION: Pakistani authorities in Islamabad met with the U.S. ambassador and asked him – in fact requested him – for the change in the travel advisory because Pakistan is seeking more American investor in the two big projects – CPEC, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and Gwadar port. Sir, do you really think Americans go to Pakistan for investment in these two big projects?

    MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, you’re right; they did raise their concerns about the Travel Warning with us. Here’s a newsflash: That’s not uncommon when these things get issued. And we welcome discussion on that, but we have an obligation to keep Americans informed. And again, I would remind you this was a Travel Warning. It wasn’t based on some specific credible threat. It was a routine update to a warning. And it wasn’t meant nor is any Travel Warning meant to discourage people from actually traveling or doing legitimate business. That’s not the purpose of it at all.

    And now, your second question in terms of what it’s going to do to American business men and women, I can’t possibly predict that. Those are decisions they have to make. But we have an obligation to our own citizens to keep them up to date, and we’ve done that. But again, I think it’s really important for you and for people in Pakistan to understand what a Travel Warning is. It is simply providing, in this case, a routine update of general information so that they can make informed decisions about traveling – not not to go, just to be informed as they go. And Pakistan is not the only country in the world for which we have existing Travel Warnings.

    QUESTION: Sir, one last question about Pakistan and India. Sir, during the last couple of months, a dozen of soldiers and civilians killed on both side of the border, then – you know the tensions are there. Sir, is there any kind of recent contact with the Pakistani or Indian authorities about what really is happening and (inaudible)?

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to – I’m not going to talk with any detail about the attacks you’re speaking of. We’re certainly aware of them. As I understand it, one of them may, in fact, be ongoing as you and I speak, so completely inappropriate for me to comment one way or the other as local authorities are dealing with these threats. And in at least one case, investigations are just now beginning. We want to respect that process. And look, we’ve talked about the threat of extremism there in the region. It affects everybody on both sides. And we continue to want to see dialogue and discussion between India and Pakistan to improve cooperation, to improve communication, and improve shared efforts against a common threat.


    QUESTION: Can I ask you about Cuba?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: It seemed that the ambassador-designate, or the acting ambassador --

    MR KIRBY: The charge, yeah.

    QUESTION: -- charge will go to the funeral along with Deputy National Security Advisor Rhodes. It was described as an unofficial or a not-formal delegation. Can you explain what that means?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to tread too much on White House equities. They get to determine – they make those decisions. But as I understand it, it’s based on the fact that Fidel Castro was not head of state. His brother Raul was head of state. And I think it was really based on that and it was also based on, obviously --

    QUESTION: Well, what does it mean that it’s not an official delegation? Not – not – I mean, you had an official delegation for Peres’ funeral. He wasn’t head of state.

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d refer you to White House protocol for their --

    QUESTION: I just – I don’t --

    MR KIRBY: They made this decision.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: But --

    QUESTION: But I just don’t know what it means.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not a protocol expert. I just --

    QUESTION: Me either.

    MR KIRBY: So I’d have to point you back to --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m not a Turkish military expert. I’m not a protocol expert.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I thought that was a diplomacy thing because it’s U.S. vis-a-vis a foreign government.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I suppose there’s a diplomatic component to it. I’m just not smart enough to know the difference between an official and an unofficial. I just would point you back to what the White House said, but obviously, look, it’s – he wasn’t a head of state and there’s a history there in terms of his conduct and character as a leader that obviously factors into these kinds of decisions.

    QUESTION: I understand that can – well, I’m not going to belabor it, but I understand that’s why you would say it’s not official. I just don’t know what in practical terms it means. Did they not – I mean, they’re not going at their own expense, they’re still taking taxpayer money to get there,

    MR KIRBY: Well, the charge doesn’t --

    QUESTION: They still represent the United --

    MR KIRBY: The charge – he’s already there, so --

    QUESTION: They still represent the United States while they’re there.

    MR KIRBY: Oh, yes.

    QUESTION: They’re not wearing Hawaiian shorts and t-shirts, so they’re dressed appropriately.

    MR KIRBY: I can call Jeff --

    QUESTION: So I don’t know what it means.

    MR KIRBY: I’ll call Jeff and ask what he’s wearing --

    QUESTION: That’s the problem.

    MR KIRBY: But I --

    QUESTION: It sounds like a way of saying we’re there, but we’re not really there --

    MR KIRBY: Let me --

    QUESTION: -- because you’re scared of being criticized for being there.

    MR KIRBY: Let me see if we can’t get you a more specific answer on the terminology.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: I’m just not an expert on delegation protocol and I wouldn’t begin to try to guess here.

    Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Have a great day.

    QUESTION: Do you have one on South Korea to start --

    MR KIRBY: Why don’t we just take it in – take it when you come up? Thanks.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 28, 2016

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 15:03
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 28, 2016


1:12 p.m. EST

MR KIRBY: Hello everybody. Everybody have a good Thanksgiving? Yeah?


MR KIRBY: All right. I just got something at the top here, and then we’ll go – this morning I think you may have seen our note on Washington-based ambassadors and senior diplomatic representatives from the 68-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL gathered at the Department of State to review the status of our global campaign to defeat this terrorist organization and to discuss next steps.

Coalition members noted the close coordination between our military, intelligence, law enforcement communities, which has resulted in a significant degradation to Daesh’s global network. They also reviewed operations underway to liberate Mosul in Iraq and to isolate Raqqa in Syria, and we’re encouraged by the progress that has been made to date while also maximizing the effort to protect civilian life. Coalition partners reviewed several key indicators that have been useful for measuring our progress in defeating Daesh’s network, to include territory gained and lost, access to foreign terrorist fighters, access to revenue, access to borders, leadership attrition, media and propaganda output, and global cohesion.

Thanks to the efforts from our global coalition, all of these indicators are now trending in a positive direction. And I would refer to the Media Note, again, that we released, for further details on each of these.

We are, as we’ve said many times, making significant progress against this terrorist group, but we also acknowledge that this is going to be a long-term fight. It’s going to require constant international cooperation and pressure and the application of maximum pressure indeed to sustain the momentum achieved to date.

At today’s meeting, coalition members underscored our shared commitment to remain resolute and on the offense across all lines of effort until our mission is complete. And to remind, not all those lines of effort are military. Those are the ones that get the headlines, but that’s not the sum total of everything we’re doing against Daesh.

So with that, we’ll let you start, Dave.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Parallel to that, the other crisis in Syria – can you give us an update on the status of talks in Geneva with your multilateral partners on the Syrian civil war?

MR KIRBY: They still are ongoing. The multilateral effort, the teams, are still discussing ways to get at a framework for cessation of – a cessation of hostilities, pardon me. I don’t have a specific readout to give you as we’ve sort of avoided doing that day by day. But the talks are ongoing, and again, we wouldn’t be there and we wouldn’t be participating in them if we didn’t think there was a reason to do so.

QUESTION: As they continue, a good chunk of formerly rebel-held eastern Aleppo --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- has fallen to regime forces. Is that something that you’ve brought up with your Russian partners in these talks?

MR KIRBY: We haven’t missed an opportunity to continue to raise our deep concerns – indeed outrage – at the continued bombing and siege of Aleppo, and we’ll continue to do that in every forum and every – through every venue that we have available to us.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that Russia is an active participant in the assault on eastern Aleppo --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into --

QUESTION: -- specifically in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: -- I’m not going to get into an order of battle here, as I’ve said. The – what I will say, and we’ve said before, is that Russia has considerable influence over Assad; and when they have shown in the past that they’re willing to use that influence for a positive outcome, it makes a difference. And what we’ve continued to assert is that Russia bears the ultimate responsibility here for what the Syria regime is doing – and being permitted to do – in terms of the devastating civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, to include hospitals in and around Aleppo. And we’ve made that clear time and time again.

But in terms of whose aircraft is flying and all that, I don’t have that kind of information and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to deliver it from this podium in any event. But clearly, tactical aircraft continue to bomb neighborhoods in Aleppo. Clearly, there still is shelling. Hospitals now are all but shut down. I saw a statistic this morning that for the roughly 120,000 children that we estimate, the UN – excuse me – estimates is in Aleppo, there’s two pediatricians. Now, unfortunately, many of the casualties that are being suffered by children don’t necessarily need pediatric care, but it just goes to the point that medical professionals are increasingly at a loss to take care of just basic health necessities there in Aleppo. And I saw a quote from a resident of Aleppo that their concerns are now beyond just food and water; it’s the slaughter. And slaughter was the word that this individual used.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t have any more on Syria, so --

QUESTION: Could I? Please? Syria?




QUESTION: Okay. Could we stay on Syria?


QUESTION: Now, you’re saying “the slaughter,” right?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said --

QUESTION: No, you said --

MR KIRBY: I said a resident of Aleppo --

QUESTION: You said that a resident --

MR KIRBY: -- referred to the fact that --

QUESTION: Well, do you believe statements that speak of slaughter now --

MR KIRBY: Look, we have – we’ve talked about atrocities. We’ve talked about the utter disregard for civilian life. And yes, I think by any stretch if you just look at what’s been happening on there, innocent people are being slaughtered in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Is there any way to have some sort of figures on what’s going on, the death ratio or the slaughter ratio that is ongoing in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Said, you can go online and look at these reputable aid organizations that are keeping track as best they can, and they’ll tell you that literally thousands of people in Aleppo are being affected – killed, wounded, and affected on any given day.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, considering the fact that – in the portions of Aleppo which are the larger portions of Aleppo that are under government control, what, about a million and a half people where life goes on semi-normally and so on, wouldn’t it be better once the government or government forces regain control over eastern Aleppo that they can provide those kind of services that have been denied them in the past?

MR KIRBY: Government forces?

QUESTION: Yes. Syrian Government forces.

MR KIRBY: Syrian Government forces providing services to the people of Aleppo?

QUESTION: Are they not doing that in western Aleppo, which is the larger portion of Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: The only thing that I’ve seen the Syrian Government prove willing to do in Aleppo is kill innocent people, destroy infrastructure, and try to reduce the city to rubble. I’m not aware – and look, I’m not on the ground, but I’m not aware that they’re bringing in baskets of food and water and restoring electricity and trying to bring life back to normal in Aleppo. I’ve seen absolutely zero evidence, and I don’t think you have either.

QUESTION: Have you gathered or have you been able to gather any kind of information on how things are going or what is the situation in western Aleppo under government control in terms of --

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- schools and hospitals and things like --

MR KIRBY: I’m not capable of breaking it down by neighborhood here. Again, every bit of information we get – and we get it from a lot of different places – continues to tell a story of a city under siege, a dwindling population that is increasingly being killed by its own government with the support of backers of that government to include Russia. And again, you don’t have to look any further than going online or looking at television coverage to see what’s going on there, and it’s been going on steadily now day after day after day.

QUESTION: I have a couple more. Now, there were – there was all kinds of analyses and so on saying that Secretary Kerry is doing a – running against the clock to bring about some sort of an end to the siege. Could you share with us some of that or could you tell us or enlighten us on this issue?

MR KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is that the Secretary continues to try to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria, which has to begin with a cessation of hostilities and has to be accompanied by humanitarian aid, and he’s doing that with the same sense of urgency that he has been doing that now for – since he’s been in office.

And yes, of course, Said, he’s mindful of the calendar and he’s mindful of the fact that a new administration will be coming into office here at the end of January. But to suggest that he’s running out the clock or that for – that there’s some sort of frantic or frenetic, last-ditch efforts here in the remaining weeks that he has in office just simply doesn’t comport with the facts. The Secretary has always had a sense of urgency about trying to solve the conflict in Syria through a political solution, and since Aleppo has come under siege now for the last several months, it has always been something on his mind. It has always been something that he has raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov and with other foreign ministers of involved nations and with the ISSG. I mean, this is – I can assure you that the pressure he’s applying, that the effort that he’s expending, is at the same level as it has always been, and that is pretty much full tilt.

QUESTION: On this subject?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: They’re having quite a few phone calls between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past few weeks, and we know very little about – the public knows very little about what they were about. And I – my understanding is that Secretary Kerry has been trying to stop the operations to retake eastern Aleppo. How does he offer to do that? Have they discussed any possible deal?

MR KIRBY: So a couple things on your question. First of all, this reporting out of Moscow that there’s been some sort of flurry of phone activity is just not true. The last conversation that he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov was on Tuesday and we pretty much – and the Russians read them out almost immediately after they’re done and then we confirm them. And I think if you go back – and you can look – that there’s been a consistent level of communication, but this idea that the – that it’s unprecedented levels or however it was characterized by some spokesman over in Moscow is just false, okay?

Number two – number two --

QUESTION: There was the same level – the same level of communication?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, same level. Number two, I don’t know that I agree with your assertion that the public has little idea about what the conversations include because the Russian side reads them out almost instantaneously as soon as the conversations are over, and then we come and we background you with – or actually provide the context from our perspective. So I think, to both the foreign minister’s credit and Secretary Kerry’s credit, we’ve been pretty open about when they speak and what in general they speak about. So I don’t think it’s been – I know there’s been no effort to sort of hide that conversation.

The third point that I’d make to your question is that they had – before we went to a multilateral format, certainly there were bilateral discussions of a very serious, concerted nature with the Russians to try to get to a cessation of hostilities. That failed because the Russians didn’t prove willing to meet their commitments, so we went to a multilateral format, which includes Russia. So of course the Secretary’s going to continue to have conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the context of those multilateral discussions and that will continue.

So to more specifically answer your question about what the Secretary has proposed, I’m not going to get into the specifics. Those talks in Geneva are ongoing and I haven’t yet and I’m not going to start sort of reading out the eaches of every day. But I can tell you that we wouldn’t still be involved in this effort – we the United States – if we didn’t think it was worth it and if we didn’t think that we could potentially get to a meaningful cessation of hostilities that could be sustained. The details of how that would be implemented, again, I think we need to let the discussions continue before we can lay that out.

QUESTION: Just (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you from our – from the U.S. team’s side, we’re going to continue to try to establish a framework by which a cessation of hostilities could actually be put in place, maintained, and enforced so that --

QUESTION: A long-term framework?

MR KIRBY: Well, what we – obviously, what we really want, we want one that is enduring across the country. Right now, the focus is very specifically on Aleppo, I think, for good reason. But eventually, we’d like to get one that’s nationwide.

QUESTION: So the talks are focused on what’s happening right now rather than a long-term planning (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: The multilateral efforts that are being – that are – the multilateral discussions in Geneva are more specifically focused on Aleppo right now.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) right now.

MR KIRBY: Right now in Aleppo, yes, but – but they’re done in the context of an effort – an honest effort to try to get something that is around the country and is more enduring. But right now, of course everybody’s focused on Aleppo.

QUESTION: Is Secretary Kerry’s focus on the humanitarian situation there – or is he also focusing on how to secure the Syrian opposition’s hold on eastern Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: His focus is on getting a cessation of hostilities in place, specifically in Aleppo, so that humanitarian aid can get in – none of it has – and so that we can restore the kind of conditions that are conducive to a resumption of political talks between the opposition and the regime, and that’s what he’s focused on.

QUESTION: So is it only on humanitarian --

MR KIRBY: No, I just said his focus is on getting a cessation of hostilities, to get the violence to stop. And without question, the vast majority of violence is being perpetrated by the regime with its support from backers like Russia. And we want to get that violence to stop, we want to get aid in so that we can get a resumption of political talks.

Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So has Secretary Kerry discussed --

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: There was a report – unconfirmed report in The Washington Post – I would like to ask it, so --

MR KIRBY: I’ll give you one more.

QUESTION: -- Washington Post, yeah, cited an un-named officials who said that there – an arrangement – some kind of an arrangement is being discussed for the opposition to separate from al-Nusrah and for the fighters to leave eastern Aleppo. Can you confirm those reports?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to speak to the claims of anonymous officials. I will tell you that the Russian side has made very clear their concerns about separation of al-Nusrah from other opposition groups, and frankly, we have talked a lot about the need to do that as well. That is a difficult thing. We’ve talked about that for many months, this marbleization, if you will, of – the marbling of opposition groups with al-Nusrah. We’ve been very clear with the opposition groups that we have been in communication with and some of our partners are in communication with about the importance of not being collocated with al-Nusrah, not participating in al-Nusrah operations because they are outside the cessation of hostilities. But I’m not going to get into a readout of the details of the kinds of things that are being discussed.


QUESTION: Over the weekend, the Iraqi parliament passed a law making the Hashd al-Shaabi part of the official Iraqi Armed Forces. What’s your view on this? Are you concerned it will influence – it will increase Iranian influence in Baghdad?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, let me just talk about a couple of things in here. We think that the passage of this law, like all internal legislation, is an internal Iraqi matter. So I’m going to refer you to the Government of Iraq for details on that. That said, the United States continues to support a sovereign, inclusive, unified, and democratic Iraq that serves the aspirations of all Iraqis, and we continue to support Prime Minister Abadi as he controls, commands, and organizes the campaign to go after Daesh inside the country.

QUESTION: Well, there’s concern that’s been expressed by both Kurdish and Sunni Arab politicians that the Hashd al-Shaabi will be used as a military force outside of Iraq. Do you have any concerns about that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, as I said, we’ve been clear that we want all forces fighting Daesh in Iraq, all indigenous forces to be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government and Prime Minister Abadi, and we support his efforts to do that. This proposed legislation is certainly in keeping with what Prime Minister Abadi has said is important to him, which is having command and control over all the forces that are fighting Daesh inside the country. So I think – again, I’m not going to speculate about hypothetical outcomes here except to say that we continue to support a sovereign Iraq that has the resources, the organizational capabilities, and the support of the international community to do so in a sovereign way.

Now, I didn’t answer your question about Iran. And what I would tell you, though, is that we agree with Prime Minister Abadi’s statements on the importance of ensuring that all participants in the fight against Daesh in Iraq are regulated under the control of the Iraqi Government and held to the same accountability standards. We’re concerned, for our part, with helping Iraq rid the country of Daesh, and who, as you know, just last week murdered scores of innocent civilians at a rest stop.

So the only other thing I’d say is – and we’ve said this before – that to the degree anybody is going to assist in the efforts to go after Daesh inside Iraq – now I’m talking about outside Iraqis – we want that to be done in a way that doesn’t further inflame sectarian tensions. Okay?

QUESTION: Are you – would you be satisfied that bringing al-Hashd al-Shaabi under the Government of Iraq and under the authority of the Government of Iraq is a safety valve or enough safety valve against interference and the influence of Iran?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if I could possibly answer that question, Said.

QUESTION: Right, but I mean, from past efforts – I mean, if we look at Tikrit where they – basically, they have played a big role in liberating Tikrit and they had – they were a part, let’s say, to some excesses or even – maybe even massacres, some say, against the Sunni population, so they were not exactly, at the time – at the time of the liberation of Tikrit, a quite – quite disciplined.

MR KIRBY: So, look, a couple of points on that. I mean, we obviously take any allegations or reports of human rights violations very, very seriously, as does Prime Minister Abadi. And he has said – and he has started investigations on various such reports. And we think that’s important to let those investigations go through. And it doesn’t matter to us who is reported to have done it. It – those kinds of reports need to be taken seriously and need to be investigated. And if found that individuals or units are guilty of that, then they need to be held accountable for it. But again, I don’t want to get too far down the road on this legislation. It’s internal Iraqi legislation that they should speak to. But in general, we continue to support all forces in the – of the Iraqi Government that are arrayed against Daesh to be under Iraqi command and control. Okay?

QUESTION: Do you not have concerns that including groups accused of human rights abuses under the control of the Iraqi Government would alienate the Sunni population and sort of leads of the same --

MR KIRBY: No, of course we do. Like I said, we don’t want anything – we don’t want anybody participating in this fight in a manner that would inflame sectarian tensions any more than they already are a problem. So yes, of course we have concerns about that.

QUESTION: If – and if this law were to be finalized and passed, would – or when it goes into effect, if it goes into effect, does this then affect the kind of assistance that the U.S. can give the Iraqi military?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to speculate here about an outcome we don’t know is going to be the case. But we have very strict regulations, very strict laws that we have to obey when it comes to aid and assistance to foreign units – the Leahy law, which I think you’re familiar with – and we follow that law scrupulously. And U.S. aid and assistance cannot and will not go to units that have been proven to have participated in human rights violations. We take that very, very seriously. So if you’re asking me could that be the case – could units in the future, if they’re found to be guilty of human rights violations – Iraqi units, could they be – could be held – aid and assistance suspended due to the Leahy law – the answer is yes, of course. But I’m in no position right now to speculate that this law would lead to that outcome, okay?

QUESTION: I have --

MR KIRBY: We’re just going to take it – we’ll take – I mean, we’re going to take this one step at a time.

QUESTION: I have a Philippines question, so I can --

QUESTION: Wait, a follow-up to that one. At present, the United States does not support militarily – say, with air power – the Hashd al-Shaabi. If they become part – an official part of the Iraqi Armed Forces, would that change?

MR KIRBY: I’m simply not able to speculate about tactical military operations. That’s a better question for my colleagues at the Defense Department.

QUESTION: I have a Philippines question. Philippines President Duterte said in a speech today that the United States had threatened to jail him in the International Criminal Court because of his drug war. Is there – has the U.S. made that threat to him or --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such threat being made, no.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that, then.


QUESTION: BuzzFeed today reported that the police units in Manila and other parts of the Philippines that are still receiving training and funding from the State Department are engaged in this drug war, including the extrajudicial killing – killings associated with that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Let me --

QUESTION: As you mentioned the Leahy law, Senator Leahy has expressed concern as --

MR KIRBY: Yes, of course. So a couple things on that, and I think you’ve heard us state it before: We remain deeply concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines. Historically, State Department-funded training has aimed to transfer the Philippine National Police into a modern, sustainable, democratic police force capable of effectively providing internal security in difficult conditions while, of course, demonstrating respect for democratic principles and human rights.

Since the start of the drug campaign, our law enforcement assistance has been refocused away from narcotics control to supporting maritime security efforts and to providing human rights training to the Philippine National Police. Our assistance programs expand Philippine capacity to conduct effective, lawful investigations and professionalizes the criminal justice system so that it is more accountable, transparent, effective, and just. And just to remind, the United States vigorously vets all units and individuals before providing assistance to the security forces of the Philippines, as we do elsewhere around the world. Okay?

QUESTION: And that change was specifically in response to concerns you have over the way the drug war is being --

MR KIRBY: I would say you’ve heard us several times from this podium express our concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. And as I said, since the beginning of this counternarcotics campaign, we decided the prudent thing to do was to refocus the way that assistance was being spent.


QUESTION: On Yemen, can you give us an update as to what is the status there after all this talk about a ceasefire and a peace deal? There are reports that the Saudi-led coalition have carried out airstrikes again, killing a number of civilians in Hodeidah. What do you have on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would tell you that obviously we continue to support efforts to get a cessation of hostilities and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We certainly have seen reports in just the last several days of continued strikes and violence. We continue to call upon all sides to cooperate with the UN special envoy and to renew their commitment to a cessation of hostilities as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary been in contact again with the principals he was talking to --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any follow-on conversations that he has had with the principals. But he continues to have discussions with regional partners about the situation in Yemen and about how to get a cessation of hostilities in place. Yeah.

QUESTION: South Korea?



QUESTION: What does State make of obviously these five weeks in continued massive protests, calls for President Park to resign? Obviously, they’re a major ally. Are there any concerns in this building about stability either as it relates to our relationship with Seoul or just in the peninsula in general?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean – so a couple of things here. Obviously, the Republic of Korea remains a steadfast ally, friend, and partner. Nothing is going to change about our commitments to that alliance and to our commitment to the security of the peninsula. Certainly, we have seen the press reporting of the political protests, and I would let the protestors and the Government of Korea speak to that. You know where we stand on the right of peaceful protest and assembly and we continue to support that around the world. People should have the ability to go out and voice their concerns about government. But it doesn’t change one iota – our commitment to South Korea, to the government, to the people there, and to making sure that we continue to meet all our alliance commitments.

QUESTION: John? Follow-up. Follow-up on Korea.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Has the State Department spoken to anybody within the South Korean Government about the protests or concerns at all?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any discussions to read out to you. I’m sure our embassy out there is in constant – as they are daily – contact with their counterparts there. But again, the – it’s a democracy and that’s how democracies work. And people have that right and that ability and they’re exercising that right. And I think that’s important.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the election of a new parliament in Kuwait on Saturday?

MR KIRBY: In Kuwait. You guys are jumping me all over the place here, man. You got to give me a few seconds to find the right tab. (Laughter.) Jeez wiz. Going from one part of the book to the next.

QUESTION: We can stay on Korea.

MR KIRBY: You want to stay on Korea?

We congratulate Kuwait and its people on a successful holding of a national parliamentary election. Sorry, national parliamentary elections – plural. Kuwait has long been a regional leader with respect to constitutional governance as reflected by Saturday’s free and competitive legislative elections.




QUESTION: Who’s going to represent the United States at Fidel Castro’s funeral and/or memorial ceremony?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I would refer you to my White House colleagues. As I understand it – as I came out here to the podium – that no decisions had been made yet. Yeah.

QUESTION: Stay close to Kuwait in Bahrain?


QUESTION: Okay. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is citing numerous violations of human rights in the last 10 days, including the forced – the enforced disappearance and targeting of women and human rights activists, the delay of the Nabeel Rajab trial, arbitrary arrest and so on. All week long, I mean, a whole number of things. So first of all, are you aware – are you calling on the Bahraini Government, your ally, to refrain from these violations?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I would say, Said, that we’re aware of these reports. I think we’ve certainly made clear consistently our concerns over human rights in Bahrain to Bahraini leaders. That is a concern we routinely make clear. You can go on our website, look at the human rights report, and see where the department sits with respect to Bahrain on this. But it – I don’t have anything additional or more specific with respect to these reports. We are aware of them. We routinely make clear our concerns.

QUESTION: Has the Bahraini Government been responsive to your concern?

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t get into sharing details of diplomatic conversations. I would just say that for our part we’ve been consistent about those concerns and we will continue to do so, as you can with a close friend and partner like Bahrain. And they do remain a close friend and partner. And it is in the spirit of that partnership and friendship and our genuine concern about Bahrain and Bahrain – and the future for the people of Bahrain that we routinely express those concerns. Yeah.

QUESTION: On Russia?


QUESTION: Last week, EU parliament passed a resolution to counter Russian media, and specifically they called out Sputnik and RT. Are you concerned by this revolution – resolution?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that resolution, so I’d have to take that question.

QUESTION: Do you think – it says they’re engaging in information warfare, and they even discussed that EU and NATO should develop a strategic communications plan to counter Russian media, including Sputnik and RT. Do you think the United States needs to develop a strategy – first of all, do you think RT --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I haven’t seen this report and I haven’t seen – so I’m at a bit of a loss to comment specifically about it. The concerns about Russian activities in the information environment, their use of propaganda – those are not new concerns, and we share concerns with many other nations about the way Russia tries to use the information environment to its own ends, be they political, social, cultural, or economic. And that is something that we’re going to continue to talk about with our allies and with our friends and partners throughout the world, but I don’t have a specific reaction to this resolution, because I just haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Do you share concerns about Sputnik and RT?

MR KIRBY: Look, I have made clear time and time again here about our concerns about Russian efforts to manipulate the information environment in a way that serves their narrative and isn’t necessarily hewed to the truth and to facts. And I think it doesn’t – you can look on my Twitter account and you can see how many times Gayane and I have had disputes here about my perfect willingness to express concerns about the non-editorially independent nature of Russia Today. But I don’t have a specific concern with respect to this resolution and what you’re saying in terms of the – it calling out specific media outlets.

QUESTION: But not specifically to – in the --

MR KIRBY: And the other thing – let me just – if I could just add, you’re here and you’re here. We credential you. We allow you to come into the State Department and into this briefing room even though, as I’ve said, I have some concerns about the editorial independence of some Russian outlets. But you’re allowed in here and you will continue to be allowed in here to pose whatever questions you want at me, including ones today like – that I can’t answer, because I just don’t know about. But I think that’s important. I mean, and if you don’t mind, I’m just – let me just hit this point again.

QUESTION: Oh, sure.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s – that here at the United States State Department, we don’t parcel people out like that and we allow you to come in here and ask whatever you want and we do the best we can to provide the information that we can. And there’s not too many other places – certainly no other government that I know of – that allows media, no matter where their editorial processes land, to do that. And I’m pretty proud of it.

QUESTION: But you --

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I’ve offered you guys to subscribe to the news wire. (Laughter.) But John, John, one other thing: They parallel us --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: No, no, he – let him finish.

QUESTION: They parallel us with Islamic State propaganda within this resolution. I mean, do you think – are you threatened by our propaganda as much as you are --

MR KIRBY: I’m not threatened by Sputnik. And frankly, we’re not threatened by Islamic State propaganda. In fact, one of the things that we’ve talked about --

QUESTION: Would you put them on the same parallel?

MR KIRBY: Would I put --

QUESTION: Would you put them on the same plane?

MR KIRBY: -- Sputnik on the same level with Islamic State? No --

QUESTION: Propaganda.

MR KIRBY: No, I would not.


MR KIRBY: But – and as I said in my opening statement, they talked a lot about Islamic State propaganda efforts in today’s meeting with the ambassadors from the members – the coalition members today and the fact that we know empirically that their – I know I’m getting off the topic here a little bit, but Islamic State’s – Daesh’s efforts to exploit social media are waning and failing and they’re struggling. And it’s hurting their narrative; it’s hurting their morale. We know that for a fact. Okay?

All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day. Hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)

DPB #201

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 22, 2016

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 17:55
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 22, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN


    2:12 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. How are you all doing? I do not have anything to start us out with, so we’ll get right to it.

    QUESTION: Do you have anything from the transition to update us with? (Laughter.) I figured in the spirit of my colleague I would ask.

    MR KIRBY: You’re smiling. You’re grinning --

    QUESTION: The first question. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: -- like a possum eating a sweet potato with that one.

    QUESTION: Come on, Matt.

    MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have any update. They are here in the building today and as I understand it they are – they’re beginning their work, but I don’t have any update.

    QUESTION: The president-elect made a comment about how he would like to see Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit effort in the U.K., as U.S. – as British ambassador to the United States. Is that something you would support? Or were you surprised by the statement?

    MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t characterize our reaction one way or another to the comment. I think Prime Minister May has already spoken to it and I think I’d leave it at that. I mean, obviously, the decisions of who becomes ambassador belongs to the country appointing. And again, I think they’ve spoken to that.

    QUESTION: But you don’t see any pressing need for the current ambassador to be replaced?

    MR KIRBY: We have a great relationship.

    QUESTION: I imagine you have a good relationship.

    MR KIRBY: We have a great relationship with the U.K. ambassador to the United States and I think – again, I think I’ll just leave it at that.

    QUESTION: Can I follow-up – a change of subject, unless somebody wants to ask on the transition?

    Iran? You probably saw that Treasury today said it’s issuing licenses to Airbus to sell commercial vehicle – commercial planes to Iran. Is there – first of all, do you have any reaction to this development given the Secretary has been pushing for business to flow back into Iran?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --

    QUESTION: Specifically for banks, number one.

    MR KIRBY: We’re continuing to implement the deal. I’d refer you to Treasury for details on this particular --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- these particular licenses. It’s really for Treasury to speak to, but it’s very much in keeping with our commitment to meeting our obligations under the JCPOA. And I think my colleague at the White House addressed this a little bit today and reinforcing the fact that these are decisions that have been weeks if not months in the making and been working through the normal process of implementation.

    QUESTION: Is it the – it is their concern that the next administration – well, the president-elect has threatened that – to tear up the JCPOA. Is there a concern in this – in this building that these decisions could be reversed?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I can’t and won’t speculate about what the next administration will do with respect to the Iran deal. All I can reinforce is what we have done and will do. And we’re going to continue to meet our obligations. These licenses that we’re talking about are part and parcel of that effort. We still believe very, very strongly that the Iran deal is good, not just for our friends and partners in the region, but for the world, and certainly are in – very much in keeping with our own national security interests.

    And as the Secretary has said many times, an Iran without nuclear weapons capabilities only helps make – helps reduce the other problems that we have to deal with in the Middle East. They haven’t gone away. Iran’s destabilizing activity is still a major issue of concern for us, but removing their ability to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities certainly makes those other problems a little bit easier to deal with. Not completely. So we obviously continue to strongly support the Iran deal. We will continue to implement it appropriately as we are required to under the JCPOA. Whatever decisions the next administration makes is obviously – it’s for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: But it must sit uneasy – uneasily in this building that these kinds of things could be reversed. I mean, some – some would believe that this is being done now so that it’s – so that these decisions aren’t left until after January 20th, so --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I’ve heard talk about that and speculation about that. I absolutely can fundamentally assure you that we’re doing nothing other than meeting our obligations and our commitments. And the kinds of things that we’re doing, such as the licenses that we’re talking about today, have been weeks if not months in the planning. I mean, this isn’t the kind of thing you throw on like a light switch. It takes time and planning to do it. And the Treasury Department – again, without speaking for them – have been working on this very, very hard. There’s no final push. There’s no sort of concerted effort here to sort of make things irretrievably complete. It is about meeting our obligations.

    And I think it is important – again, without speaking to what the next administration might or might not do, it’s important to remember that this isn’t just a – this isn’t a bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran. It is a multilateral international agreement. And that character of it, the truly international scope of it, I think needs to be taken into account. But again, we continue to firmly believe in the soundness of this deal, in the security that it gives our friends and partners in the region as well as the American people.

    QUESTION: Just explain to me what this obligation is. You’re obliged to license requests for commercial aircraft sales to Iran?

    MR KIRBY: It is – when I talked about obligations, Brad, I was talking about broadly speaking our obligations to meet our commitments under the deal. But as you know, the deal did call for the lifting of some sanctions and it did allow for the resumptions of some licensing, particularly with civil aviation, and that’s what this is regarding to.

    QUESTION: But why is it such a complicated, many-month process if it’s an obligation? What’s the difficulty?

    MR KIRBY: Well, just because something – just because something is a commitment or an obligation doesn’t mean it’s easy to do right away. And again, I can’t speak to the --

    QUESTION: Or that it’s hard to do --

    MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to the process here. I just know that the Treasury Department has been working on this for some time. There had been previous licenses issued. I think we’ve talked about that. I don’t know the – I’m not an expert on the licensing process. Again, I’d refer you to Treasury.

    But the point, the larger point I’m making, is that this decision, the one we’re talking about today, had nothing to do and the timing was not at all related to our own presidential election.

    QUESTION: But you saw the letter from Speaker Ryan, I’m guessing, about asking --

    MR KIRBY: Yes, I have.

    QUESTION: Do you – do you feel that the lame duck period is appropriate for introducing or taking decisions that fundamentally alter the situation regarding investment and business in Iran?

    MR KIRBY: Sure, fair question. So we have seen the letter. I won’t speak for the White House because the letter was addressed to the President, obviously. I’m quite certain that the letter will be responded to appropriately by our colleagues at the White House.

    And the second point I’d make is we will, as we have, continue to have an ongoing dialogue and communication with members of Congress about implementation of the deal.

    And the third thing I’d say is that this particular license that we’re talking about today isn’t new. It is something that has been in train for quite some time, as other licenses have been as well. And again, I ask you to forgive me because I’m not an expert on Treasury Department processes and procedures, so I really don’t know how long and what it takes to get this thing granted. But the point is it’s nothing new, and --

    QUESTION: No, I understand.

    MR KIRBY: And look, we are – we have seen the Speaker’s letter. We’re aware of the Speaker’s concerns. And I’m sure that our colleagues at the White House will respond appropriately.

    QUESTION: I understand the deal, what was first announced in January, so it’d be silly to argue that this is a new process that just started after the election. But your insistence that this is months old and that this is many months in the pipeline or whatever, to me seems to be an acknowledgement that it would be wrong to introduce anything new in this lame duck period, that that would be either unseemly or not in the spirit of a good transition.

    MR KIRBY: So what I would tell you is we’re – there’s no effort, there’s no Machiavellian intent here, to sort of – to push in any way outside the bounds of our normal commitments and obligations here in the final months of the Administration. What we are committed to doing is meeting our obligations in a consistent, forthright manner, and this license that we’re talking about today is one of those obligations.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. First of all, there was a call between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov today?

    MR KIRBY: Yes, there was.

    QUESTION: Okay. Could you give us a read?

    MR KIRBY: So yeah, there was a conversation today over the phone with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Obviously, Syria was the main topic of discussion. And the Secretary and the foreign minister talked about the importance of continuing to work towards a cessation of hostilities, in trying to find ways to get that cessation of hostilities in a place where it can lead to a resumption of political talks, and to try to build a framework that can make sense for that cessation of hostilities to actually work. And obviously, this is – all of this conversation, as previous ones, have been done in the context of the continued bombing and bloodshed in Aleppo and the urgency that the Secretary feels to try to get the cessation of hostilities in place as soon as possible.

    QUESTION: And according to the foreign ministry in Russia – the Russian foreign ministry, forgive me – they also say that the Secretary and foreign minister discussed getting eastern Aleppo back to normal conditions, I guess, without, let’s say, the militants like Jabhat al-Nusrah and others. Could you explain that? Because I did not understand --

    MR KIRBY: Well --

    QUESTION: -- what they were saying. But they’re saying they want – they discussed getting Aleppo back to normal.

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I would let the Russians characterize what they mean by normal – or normalization is, I think, the word that saw phrased in their readout. They can speak for what they think that means. What I can tell you is on our side – and I’ve spoken to the Secretary since the call – that what the Secretary was interested in pursuing was ways to stop the bloodshed in Aleppo, and that – and that they focused very much on that and on getting a cessation of hostilities that can be maintained and sustained, not just in Aleppo, but elsewhere throughout the country, so that political talks can resume.

    Now, clearly, they talked about the continuing threat that’s posed by al-Nusrah, as they have almost every time they’ve talked about certainly the situation in Aleppo. But what the Russian foreign ministry described as normalization, I think I’d let them describe. What we would like to see – I won’t slap the label “normalization” on it, but what we would like to see is for the violence to stop, for the bombing to stop, for the shelling to stop, for humanitarian aid to get in, so that people can live a safe, secure life, and that Aleppo can get back to a sense of calm and peace. And as you look at the images coming out of here – out of there today, I mean, you can see that there’s a long way to go.

    QUESTION: Now, going back to the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, the American ambassador, Samantha Power, she cited a source who said that there was 180 raids, air raids conducted by the Syrians and the Russians. And she cited one source, to which, obviously, the Syrian representative (inaudible) says how could you possibly be so sure of 180 raids. So I must ask this question again. I know I asked it yesterday. What other sources do you have other than someone, let’s say, who might be in eastern Aleppo, who might represent the opposition, who might have their own agenda, and so on? How do you --

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, you --

    QUESTION: Okay. How do you establish the veracity --

    MR KIRBY: Ambassador Power did cite her source --

    QUESTION: Yeah, right.

    MR KIRBY: -- and she cited as a source. She didn’t claim that – the information for herself. She cited the source.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: And it was an example of the continued airstrikes that we see in and around Aleppo.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: And then she went on, of course, to talk about the atrocities and those that we believe need to be held accountable for that. But look, Said, I don’t have a different answer for you today than I did yesterday. We – look, while I said yesterday knowledge is imperfect – of course it is, and I’ve said that from the get-go. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t, through stitching together various sources of information, get a pretty good sense, a pretty good mosaic of the information that’s coming in.

    So yes, it comes from some credible aid agencies like the World Health Organization, like Doctors Without Borders, like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It comes from individuals that we’re in contact with. It comes from groups that we’re in contact with. And yes, to a degree, it comes from intelligence sources that we have that obviously I’m not going to speak to here from the podium.

    But we have a pretty good sense. Is it absolutely perfect and infallible? No. But it’s certainly strong enough and convincing enough to tell us that bombs continue to drop on innocent civilians in Syria, that hospitals now – according to various sources, there are no working hospitals in Aleppo, and so people have nowhere to go for the medical treatment that they’re so desperately in need of as the bombs continue to rain down on top of them. That’s what we need to focus on and that’s what the – that’s why it was so important, I think, for the Secretary and the foreign minister to talk today about trying to – how we can get to a cessation of hostilities that can change the lives of the innocent Syrians that are trapped there in Aleppo.

    QUESTION: And my last one – and my last one on this. She also cited a number of names as committing – having committed war crimes and so on. They’re all in the Syrian army. Surely, you don’t – you don’t disagree that there are also war crimes committed by the opposition, right?

    MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to – Said, I’m not going to elaborate. I’m not --

    QUESTION: I’m saying there were names from the Syrian army, but we did not see or hear any names from the opposition that may have committed war crimes and targeted civilians.

    MR KIRBY: The purpose of – I’m not going to elaborate more on what the ambassador had to say yesterday. The purpose was to lay bare the information that we have with respect to violations by and atrocities committed by Syrian officials and Syrian military units. And I’m not going to get into another debate here with you, or anybody else, about the definition of war crimes. The Secretary has talked about the fact that we believe that war crimes should be investigated; Ambassador Power has talked about that. She laid out some of that case yesterday, I think very, very eloquently. I don’t think – and we talked about this yesterday in terms of humanitarian aid. And when we have seen issues with the opposition not abiding by the cessation of hostilities, not allowing humanitarian aid, we’ve been very quick to bring the issue to their attention and to express our deep concern over that.

    But without question, Said – back to the question – back to the conversation we were having about a mosaic of information – without question, this mosaic of information and the information that we continue to glean from various sources, including intelligence sources, are that the vast majority – and I mean the vast majority – of violations of the cessation of hostilities, of bombing of innocent civilians, of destruction of innocent property and infrastructure, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid getting to desperate people are caused by the Syrian regime and their Russian backers, period. It’s not in dispute.


    QUESTION: Yeah. Continue on Syria. Russian media quote their deputy foreign minister as saying that Syria’s Kurds need to be included in any resumption of the political talks in Syria.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Quote: Kurds should be included in the negotiating process. Kurds are a real military and political force, having control of a considerable part of Syrian territory. They actively participate in the fight against terrorism. What is your view on that?

    MR KIRBY: Our view hasn’t changed on that. I think we’ve talked about this before, that, A, first we realize that Kurdish forces have fought bravely against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria. No question about that. And the support that they predominantly get – at least mostly in Syria – is through air – coalition airpower, and where we can support competent, effective fighters on the ground, we’re going to continue to do that.

    As for the political process, we continue to support – as does every other member of the ISSG, at least those who signed the communiques, and that would include Russia, on paper, anyway – support a UN-led process by which the opposition and the regime can begin to have political discussions about a negotiated solution.

    Now, obviously, we haven’t had those discussions in quite some time because the bombs keep dropping on innocent people. But that’s where we want to get to. We want it to be UN-led, which means that the special envoy – Mr. de Mistura – will decide, in concert with talking to the opposition and the regime, about composition at the table.

    Now, on the opposition side, that has been largely a function of the HNC, the High Negotiating Committee[1], which we continue to support and endorse. And as of the last time that they talked, it was the special envoy’s view that while there were Kurdish representatives kept informed, but that it wasn’t – we weren’t at the point where he believed they needed to be represented at the table.

    Now, look, that was months ago. And we can’t even – so it’s interesting to have this nice little academic argument about who’s at the table. We would love to be able to get to the point where we can actually sit down and have a conversation about the table. Right now you can’t do that because there’s no working hospitals in Aleppo, there’s been no aid that’s gotten in in more than a month, and people continue to die.

    So while it would be entertaining to have an academic debate about this, what we’re focused on, what the Secretary’s focused on, is on getting a cessation of hostilities that can get us to a point where we can have political talks. And then when we get there, if we can get there, then we can have this – we can have another discussion about who is represented. But so far in the two rounds we’ve had, it was the special envoy’s view that while the Kurdish representatives will be kept informed – and he did that religiously; he did a very good job with that – it was not his view that we are at the point where they should be necessarily an active part of the proximity talks.

    QUESTION: So if we were to get to the point where there was discussion at a table, you would be open to the idea that there should be more Kurdish involvement than there has been so far?

    MR KIRBY: What we would be open to is the special envoy having a discussion with the HNC and the regime about who would be represented. And believe me, that is a conversation we would love to be able to have today, but we can’t because of what’s happening in Aleppo.

    QUESTION: I can understand that. I have a second question, which is yesterday you issued a Europe Travel Alert that includes, quote – the warning: “Terrorists may employ a wide variety of tactics, using both conventional and nonconventional weapons.” By nonconventional, did you mean something like CBRN?

    MR KIRBY: We meant nonconventional.

    QUESTION: What would include chemical, biological --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I don’t think it would be wise for me to try to give you a laundry list of what conventional and nonconventional – what – the main point that we were trying to convey to potential travelers is to be vigilant and to recognize that, especially during the holidays, at large public gatherings or in places where many visitors and tourists visit, attend, that they should stay informed and stay safe, and that terrorists have proven in the past – and we have to assume that they will prove capable in the future – of using a variety of means, lethal means, to hurt, kill, and damage innocent people and innocent property. And that’s all we were trying to do.

    QUESTION: Because I spoke with two experts to prepare myself for this question. They had differing views on what nonconventional would mean. One thought that really nonconventional would mean chem, bio and people should carry around little masks if they’re concerned about this.

    MR KIRBY: Look, we – I want to – again, I’m not going to parse the difference between conventional and nonconventional. The main point that we were trying to make is terrorists have in the past and we have to presume will look in the future to use a variety of means to hurt people and to kill people, to sow fear.

    That said – and we’ve also made it clear – nobody’s saying that Americans shouldn’t travel to Europe over the holidays. By estimates, more than a million – some people say more than two million – Americans are planning to travel to Europe over the holidays, and we encourage that travel. We think that that’s a healthy way to see the world, explore cultures and history, and to enjoy time with your family and friends. All we’re suggesting is to recognize that at the holidays that public events and public institutions could be targets of those who wish to wish us will – wish us ill – sorry. And so we want people to stay vigilant and we want them to sign up for our smart travelers program too, so that we can help keep them informed as they enjoy the holidays.

    QUESTION: Could we go back to Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I just have one or two. (Inaudible.) Did you see this report by IHC in London, I think, about --


    QUESTION: -- IHS in London about chemical weapons attacks by ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: What is your comment on --

    MR KIRBY: So we are deeply concerned about reports of chemical weapons being used in Aleppo. I would say we take those reports, obviously, very seriously. Of course, there are no valid excuses for any party to use chemical weapons or chemical agents as a weapon, period. And again, this goes – and this goes back to our view that parties that do that will need to be held to account.

    QUESTION: This report tries to document cases going back to, I think, early 2014 of mustard and chlorine attacks by the Islamic State.

    MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m looking at the wrong thing. You’re right. On ISIL --

    QUESTION: Since you --

    MR KIRBY: You’re right. No, I apologize. I --

    QUESTION: That’s fine.

    MR KIRBY: -- did not – didn’t pay attention enough to the question. Yes, we’ve seen this report as well. I think we’re still examining this particular one by the IHS, that you talked to. So I can’t confirm the veracity of it. What I can tell you, though, is that we have, ourselves, talked about our view that in the past Daesh has proven capable of trying to use chemical agents, whether it’s mustard and/or chlorine. And DOD has spoken to their view that they have at least attempted to do that in the past. So this is very much in keeping with a methodology we’ve seen out of these terrorists. But again, we just – we’re still working our way through their report.

    QUESTION: So in August 2013 when the Syrian military supposedly used chemical weapons, I think the U.S. Government spoke out in a matter of hours that they had pretty concrete evidence that chemical weapons had been used. But I did a look back, and well into 2015 at least, you were still saying there was no credible reports that the Islamic State had used chemical weapons. This would be well over a year after some of these early reports and this report are documented.

    So why – one, I don’t know if this has ever – do you have concrete evidence or what you would call highly credible evidence that the Islamic State group has used chemical weapons? And two, why have you been so much slower to confirm their attacks than you were the Assad government’s?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t have – as I said, we’ve talked in the past about our view that they have at least tried to. I think we’ve been, I think, careful about our statements on this, because you don’t want to levy such a charge unless you know you’re 100 percent sure about it. And so it’s not about reticence. I mean, clearly this is a group we’re not afraid to talk strongly about it and to act strongly against. I think it’s really about information and wanting to be careful. But obviously, I mean, if they did, it would certainly be in keeping with their methodology. I think we’re just – we’re telling you what we think we know when we know it. I mean, it’s not about --

    QUESTION: But just you see the --

    MR KIRBY: It’s not about --

    QUESTION: You see the disconnect. One you can do it within hours, and another it’s been two years since the first reports and you can’t confirm any of them.

    MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for what we can’t confirm, Brad. I mean, we’re just in receipt of this independent organization’s assessment. We’ll take a look at that. And if we have something to add, we’ll do it, but I can’t make up a fact or anything. We’re obviously concerned about this.


    QUESTION: Two topics I want to ask about; both on Europe. So yesterday, you said Russia’s deployment of --

    MR KIRBY: Can we stay on Syria? Is there anymore on Syria?

    QUESTION: Just one.

    QUESTION: Yesterday you were asked about Turkey bombings on the west of Manbij and you said you were going to take a look. I was wondering if you have any further comments on those.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t. I mean, again, we would – what I’ve said in the past is we want to see activity against Daesh and Iraq and Syria be coordinated. And uncoordinated military activity such as some of these actions around al-Bab and Manbij are not, in our view, constructive to the larger goal.

    QUESTION: And I have one Turkey-EU question. Today at the European Parliament, there is discussion whether to suspend Turkey’s EU membership talks. U.S. has been supporting Turkey’s membership to EU for a long time. I was wondering if you have any --

    MR KIRBY: I would refer you to members of the EU to speak to ongoing discussions and consultations they’ve been having.

    More on Syria? Syria?

    QUESTION: So I would like to go back to a mosaic of information, as you said. So it looks like you have some information, but maybe you have some evidence, for example, of Russian airstrikes on hospitals in Aleppo, for example. But you’re not ready to share it public – make it public. And so I would like to know: Do you have real evidence of these strikes conducted by Russia, as you claim? And are you ready to discuss it with Russian side, for example in Geneva talks or something else?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve talked about this several times over the last several days, so let me just restate: It is not the United States making these claims. It is reputable aid agencies. And you can go look for yourself on the website of the --

    QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

    MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Let me finish now. I let you.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- World Health Organization or Doctors Without Borders, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. You can turn on CNN today and look at some pretty gripping footage of what’s going on in Aleppo. You can read reports out of the Associated Press who are quoting doctors who now have no place to work or are being used – are being forced to operate and to treat patients in basements with unsanitary conditions.

    This isn’t the United States leveling claims and allegations. This is an international consensus of reputable agencies and organizations and news outlets that are seeing for themselves and talking to people on the ground about the bombing of hospitals and care facilities. And I said just the other day, sir, that I’m not saying it’s Russian planes or Syrian planes. It’s got to be one or the other. And even if it’s not Russian planes – if it’s just Syrian planes – as we’ve said before, Russia bears the ultimate responsibility for the influence that we know they have over the Assad regime, which they can – which they can utilize to stop this.

    Now, the second part of your question – are we waiting for Geneva? We have been – I’ve been nothing but open about our concerns about Aleppo here from this podium every single day for the last week. There isn’t a single time that the Secretary hasn’t talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov, certainly in recent weeks, where he hasn’t talked about Aleppo, including when we were in Lausanne a month or so ago. So this is not something that we’re waiting to talk about with Russian officials. We’re doing it on a routine, regular basis.

    Now, obviously, the Russians have chosen for whatever reason not to use the influence that we know they have on Assad to get this to stop. And as I went through yesterday with Matt in quite some detail, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to continue to try to reach some progress in Geneva. And again, that was a topic of discussion today when he talked to the foreign minister.


    QUESTION: But the point is that Russia doesn’t agree with these accusations.

    MR KIRBY: They can speak for themselves, and these aren’t accusations. These are observations and claims by a number of reputable aid agencies who are there on the ground or have representatives on the ground.

    QUESTION: But just for example, we contacted with one of these organizations that reported last week. A Health Cluster Turkish Hub reported about five hospitals bombed in Aleppo and Idlib, but they don’t have information who did that. So just, actually, the question is --

    MR KIRBY: Well, who do you suppose did it, then?

    QUESTION: Huh?

    MR KIRBY: Who do you suppose did it?

    QUESTION: They don’t know, because they have a report and there are no words about Russian --

    MR KIRBY: And as I said yesterday – as I said yesterday – look, I don’t want – I really don’t want to get into a rhetorical debate about this. Somebody’s bombing these hospitals, right?

    QUESTION: Yes. That’s --

    MR KIRBY: We agree on that, right? We agree that hospitals are being bombed, right?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: And they’re being shelled. We know it’s not the coalition, and it’s certainly not the United States doing it, right?

    QUESTION: You know --

    MR KIRBY: Okay, so we’re good there. So that means that there’s only two sources: the Russian military or the Syrian military. Actually, three: or both, right? It could be one or the other or both. And as I said yesterday and as I think I said to other colleagues from the Russian press, I don’t know and I’m not going to get into haggling over the order of battle or the tactical operations being done every day. I don’t know whose country’s airplanes are dropping these bombs or whose forces on the ground are shelling. And frankly, it’s either the Syrians or the Russians or both.

    Given that that’s the universe of possibility, it’s kind of in a way irrelevant who’s actually pulling the trigger. The trigger is being pulled, people are dying, hospitals are being destroyed, and that needs to stop. And the Russians have it within their power and their influence to do that, because we’ve seen in the past when cessation of hostilities have been put in place and have been observed, that when the Russians are willing to do it they can use their very strong influence on Assad to reach – to achieve a better outcome, to stop the bloodshed and the violence.

    Did you have a question?

    QUESTION: On Europe.

    MR KIRBY: Europe. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: So yesterday you said Russia’s deployment of missiles to its Kaliningrad region is destabilizing to European security. Do you think the largest buildup of NATO forces near the Russian border since the end of the Cold War and the deployment of the missile defense system, which Russia sees as designed to contain Russia, have in no way contributed to the environment in which Russia is --

    MR KIRBY: You’d have to speak to Russian officials for – you’d have to speak to Russian --

    QUESTION: So Russia is pointing to these things as contributing to its actions. Do you think those things have in no way contributed to the environment in which Russia is putting these missiles?

    MR KIRBY: NATO is a defensive alliance. It’s always been a defensive alliance. It remains a defensive alliance. There’s no reason why Russia should view NATO in any way, shape, or form as a threat. Now, if they do, they can speak to that, not me.

    QUESTION: Do you think – do you think that troop buildup in – near Russia and the defense system near Russia help lower tensions with Russia?

    MR KIRBY: Again, NATO is a defensive alliance, always has been. There’s no reason for anybody in Russia to feel threatened by NATO’s military activities or preparations. And I would tell you, just in terms of recent months and years, there would have been no reason for NATO to advance and commit additional capabilities on the European continent – to include American capabilities – had it not been for Russia’s move in Ukraine.

    QUESTION: Why do you think Russia’s deployment of these systems on its own territory is destabilizing and threatening?

    MR KIRBY: I addressed this yesterday.


    QUESTION: Now on Turkey.

    QUESTION: I – actually a different topic.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: It’s likely different on --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead. No, all right.

    QUESTION: On Turkey, during yesterday’s briefing, you commented on President Erdogan’s remarks on anti-American sentiments in Turkey that sparked following the coup attempt and Turkey says --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- Gulen was behind it. And your comment is, quote: I think many members of Turkish media didn’t do anything to stop that impression from growing, quote. And I was wondering, do you think, rather than the role of Turkish media, Gulen being here in the U.S. could be the main reason for Turkish people to feel that anti-American sentiment?

    MR KIRBY: I – again, we talked about this yesterday. I can’t get inside and I won’t get inside the minds of the Turkish people or Turkish officials. All I can tell you is that we had no – absolutely nothing to do with this coup. We continue to support the democratically elected Government of Turkey and we continue to work closely with Turkey as a member of the coalition to counter Daesh.

    QUESTION: And a couple of Turkish ministers including the justice minister said that Gulen is planning to escape from the U.S. and I was wondering if you have taken –the U.S. is taking any security measures in order to make sure that Gulen --

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that charge and I couldn’t speak to one way or another Mr. Gulen’s situation. That’s really a question for the Justice Department, not for the State Department.


    QUESTION: John, an email question. Do you have any reaction to the decision by the – the apparent decision by the incoming administration not to continue investigating former Secretary of State Clinton? You’ve spent a lot of time up here talking about emails.

    MR KIRBY: Yes, I have.

    QUESTION: What is your reaction to that?

    MR KIRBY: No, I don’t --

    QUESTION: Do you think this is the end of this?

    MR KIRBY: The State Department’s not going to react to that. We’ve seen the comments of the president-elect. That’s for him and his team to speak to. Our focus here, I think as you know, Carol, from the very beginning was to make public through the Freedom of Information Act the email traffic that we received from former Secretary Clinton, number one. Number two is Secretary Kerry also continues to be focused on improving our own records management here at the State Department and our own commitment to transparency. And that’s where our heads have been, not on the legal aspects of this situation.

    QUESTION: What about your internal – you had an internal review that you reopened after the FBI --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, that’s – as far as I know, that’s still ongoing.

    QUESTION: Can I go back to the Europe and the missile defense question, just for a second?

    QUESTION: Can I ask my question first?

    QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah.

    QUESTION: That’s okay.

    QUESTION: Oh, Nicole. My God.

    QUESTION: You don’t have eyes in the back of your head. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t see you. Welcome back.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Nicole.

    QUESTION: Sorry.

    QUESTION: Thank you. No. I just wanted to ask about TPP. The Secretary has worked on it for a number of years and over the years he’s spoken about the various advantages of having TPP in terms of setting standards and benefiting the economy here. I was wondering if you could just speak to the implications of stepping out of TPP, of the U.S. leaving TPP.

    MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary obviously, and you’ve heard him talk about this many times, continues to believe in the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the fact that it will help our economy, it will help grow the economies of those nations that are signatories as well, and it will help raise the standards for workers and employees. So we obviously still believe in the power of TPP and, look, I mean, the World Bank itself talked about – TPP will raise member country GDP by an average of 1.1 percent by 2030, that consumers are likely under TPP to enjoy lower prices and greater variety of products and services as well. So, I mean, there’s – it’s not just the United States. It’s not just this Administration that believes in the power of TPP, but so do many others. Many other international signatories, as well as – as I said, the World Bank.

    So we still believe in the power of it and the – and I think this – and broadly – more broadly speaking the power of trade and what trade can bring to not just one, but many economies in a part of the world, by the way, where the economic gravity – center of gravity is moving inexorably more towards than it is even now. So I think you’ll hear, for the remainder of the time that the Secretary is in office, a continued full-throated endorsement of TPP and its importance.

    But look, what the next administration decides to do, that’s really for them to speak to and to articulate. What we’re going to do is continue to articulate our belief in the strength of the – of TPP.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I just want to go back, briefly, on the missile defense in Europe question.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: And that – this is something that has actually gnawed at me for a year --

    MR KIRBY: Well, then I just can’t wait to talk about it.

    QUESTION: -- or so. But it’s not going to be a rambling thing. I just want – if – when you guys sold this, sold the whole idea of missile defense, it was always pointed – even the last administration always pointed to Iran as the threat. If – and that the Russians shouldn’t worry about it. But if the Iran deal is such a huge success, as you say it is, why is it still necessary?

    MR KIRBY: Because Iran continues to pursue ballistic missile capabilities.

    QUESTION: But you guys got into the deal that the ballistic missile – you bragged about it at the time, that you kept the ballistic missiles --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think we bragged about anything, Matt.

    QUESTION: Well, you said it was a success that you got the ballistic missiles --

    MR KIRBY: I would say that’s fact-sharing, not bragging.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right, whatever. You made a point of --

    MR KIRBY: But look, I mean Iran continues to – but look, Iran --

    QUESTION: -- saying that the ballistic missile sanctions --

    MR KIRBY: Iran continues to pursue ballistic missile capabilities.

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: And so we continue to believe in the value of missile defense.

    QUESTION: But they are still banned from doing ballistic missile activity, right, for eight years, seven years now?

    MR KIRBY: It is certainly part of the deal. But we have to --

    QUESTION: Well, if the missile defense system that you want to put in Europe is aimed at only Iran, why would you not want to make it not necessary? And why wouldn’t you have pushed harder to keep the ballistic missile restrictions in place?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to re-litigate the deal.

    QUESTION: No, I’m just saying --

    MR KIRBY: We continue to believe in the power of the missile defense on the continent because Iran continues to pursue ballistic missile capabilities. That’s one. Number two, which I think is getting at the larger meaning of your question, we have, on many occasions in the past and continue to be willing to share information about the missile defense systems and capabilities that we want to continue to pursue in placement with the Russian Government. As far as I know – and I’m happy to check on this – I don’t believe that that offer has been taken up.

    Yeah. Nike.

    QUESTION: Or taken off the table.

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    QUESTION: All right. Wait. I have one more. But it’s on Yemen. But I’m sorry, I’m late. Did – have you already talked about Yemen?


    MR KIRBY: I have not.

    QUESTION: I just wanted to know if you had – there was any update.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t. Unfortunately, obviously, violations, violence, attacks continue to occur. The Secretary continues to stay engaged.


    QUESTION: Yes. A quick follow-up to Nicole’s question on TPP. You said that the U.S. still believe in the power of trade. Now after the United States withdraw – well, if the next administration do what it said, that it will withdraw the TPP, then what seems to be left one of the trade blocs is RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

    First of all, I understand the United States is not a member of it. Do you have a position – do you have a view on the RCEP? If so, what is it?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I’d let nations that are considering and talking about the RECP[2] that you’re talking about speak to it. We continue to believe in the strength of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and that multilateral trade deal.

    QUESTION: But do you believe some – do you share the view that RCEP will be left to be the only major trade bloc to dominant Asia Pacific region?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we – I don’t want to hypothesize here about outcomes. Again, it’s for the incoming administration to determine what they decide to do about TPP. But for the remaining weeks of the Obama Administration, we’re going to continue to advance what we believe is the strongest and best alternative for international trade in the Asia Pacific region, which is TPP. And I can’t – I just don’t think it would be a useful exercise to speculate about what decisions might come later and what that might mean.

    It’s important to remember that – and I get the gist of this, is that China is pushing RECP[3] – nations have to make these sovereign decisions for themselves, in terms of how they want to trade with the region and with the outside world. And we respect that, but we aren’t the only ones who want to see TPP advanced. There are other nations as well, in the region, that are signing up to it. So I mean, there are larger international consequences here. But again, I can’t speculate for what might happen.

    QUESTION: I don’t mean to put you on the spot. I’m just curious --

    MR KIRBY: No, I think you do.

    QUESTION: I’m just interested to hear how would you respond to some of the analysis that the U.S. is actually pushing its Asian allies to RCEP.

    MR KIRBY: The U.S. is pushing --

    QUESTION: Its Asian allies to RCEP as a trade bloc.

    MR KIRBY: If you mean by hypothetically pulling out of TPP, that would push them towards – is that what you mean?

    QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, you’re asking me to comment about a decision on behalf of the incoming administration one way or the other. I don’t – I can’t do that. I won’t do that. What we want to continue to see is TPP enter into force, and we believe that it is – that it’s the right approach.

    QUESTION: But John, he said he’s going to do it on day one. Surely you can say you think that that’s a bad idea.

    MR KIRBY: We – obviously, we would continue to argue for the soundness – I just did – logic of TPP. I’ve seen the president-elect’s comments, but I am simply not going to get into the habit of --

    QUESTION: Well, you think there’s some way that you can --

    MR KIRBY: -- of debating or commenting on it. We continue to believe in the power of trade. We continue to believe in the strength of TPP. We think that that’s in the best interest of the United States and other signatory nations.

    QUESTION: Right. So why can’t you say that you think that ripping it up on day one – is that a good idea?

    MR KIRBY: Obviously, we don’t favor leaving the TPP. Of course not. Of course not.

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: But the question was: What do I think about forcing other nations to RECP[4]? That is a potential outcome of us pulling out of TPP that I can’t possibly predict. That was the nature of the question.

    QUESTION: But --

    QUESTION: Well, but – but I mean --

    QUESTION: But you can deal with the ramifications now that TPP won’t be passed. I mean, this notion that there’s still a chance is – it’s absurd, no?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I --

    QUESTION: I mean, beyond --

    MR KIRBY: We’re certainly mindful of the hurdles, okay? But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still believe in it.

    QUESTION: And beyond the president-elect’s pledge, you have to realize that if you take the two leading candidates in the presidential election, who both oppose TPP, that’s 95, 96 percent of America voted for candidates that opposed TPP. So you have very little leg to stand on, if any at all. (Laughter.) I mean, what – where is this belief coming from that you have any chance at all?

    MR KIRBY: Because – well, again, it’s not just us. It’s the World Bank. I mean, there are – we still believe in the soundness of TPP. I understand – I mean, I’m not ignorant of what’s being said out there and what the president-elect has said his stated intentions are. Those are decisions that he and his team can speak to. Doesn’t mean that we don’t still believe in the importance of the United States remaining engaged in a very rapidly changing, very economically diverse world. And we believe that it’s critical to strengthen ties between the United States and regions like the Asia Pacific. So you’ve heard the President. The President has talked about the case for international trade when he was in Athens, and I think you’ll expect to see him speak about that for the remainder of his time, as well as Secretary Kerry.

    But the question specifically was, if I’m – because I don’t want to – I just want to make it clear I’m not unmindful of the reality of what the new administration has said.

    QUESTION: Good.

    MR KIRBY: But the question was: Are we concerned that this, in fact, forces other countries to go into RECP[5]? And I don’t know that that would be the outcome of pulling out of TPP.

    QUESTION: But --

    QUESTION: But not only --

    MR KIRBY: It might be, but those are sovereign decisions that those nations have to make.

    QUESTION: Not only is it a possibility, but the Chinese have been pushing this. They were pushing it in Lima.

    MR KIRBY: Well, that’s fine. They can do that.

    QUESTION: So why don’t --

    MR KIRBY: But I can’t tell you what other sovereign nations will do.

    QUESTION: Well, I know, but you could say that you – that yes, one of the reasons that we’re continuing to pursue TPP against these hurdles – which I would say are not really hurdles but, like, insurmountable, mile-high brick walls – but one of the reasons that you’re doing that is because you would not like to see a rival trade pact --

    MR KIRBY: I would just say in general --

    QUESTION: -- that is run by the Chinese, that you have said over and over again would have less stringent standards --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, right.

    QUESTION: -- environmental and workers’ rights and --

    MR KIRBY: So again, I would – without getting into the specifics of RECP[6], what I – what we have said in the past – and I won’t – so I can’t talk to that particular arrangement. But as a general matter, we want to see trade that – trade arrangements that are open, that are transparent, that encourage commerce and trade that enhances stability and security and that meets high labor standards and meets high human rights standards, as we believe the TPP does.


    QUESTION: Also on TPP --

    QUESTION: Can I ask --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: Is there any discussion at all with the other members of TPP that it can somehow be salvaged without the United States?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of individual conversations like that. Again, I think – well, I think I’ve spoken to it quite enough today.


    QUESTION: Very quickly on Palestine – Palestinian-Israeli peace potential, in response to Brad’s question on the lame duck – granted, I think you were talking about the – it was particular to Iran. You said that you will refrain from any renewed effort to – in that realm. Let me ask you about the Palestinian-Israeli versus the lame duck. Would you have – is it inconceivable to have any kind of renewed effort on that track, maybe to launch or to bring it back to life? Any kind of peace process?

    MR KIRBY: I mean, as --

    QUESTION: Is it completely inconceivable?

    MR KIRBY: As I’ve said many times here, Said, I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet. We’re going to continue to stay focused on trying to see us all get closer to a two-state solution.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: We’re mindful of the clock, mindful of the challenges. We’re mindful of the fact that thus far, there hasn’t been strong leadership in the region to try to see that reality, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not still committed to it.

    QUESTION: Because there is – there is precedent. I think President Clinton in the last days of his administration basically introduced something.

    MR KIRBY: I’m simply not going to get ahead of President --

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) process.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of President Obama on this.

    Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Appreciate it. Hey, we need to talk about whether we brief tomorrow. If I don’t brief tomorrow, have a great Thanksgiving.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)

    [1] High Negotiations Committee

    [2] RCEP

    [3] RCEP

    [4] RCEP

    [5] RCEP

    [6] RCEP

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 21, 2016

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 18:10
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 21, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ
  • IRAN
  • IRAN


    2:16 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Just a short topper here about Afghanistan. I think you guys have all seen press reporting out of Kabul. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack this morning on a Shia mosque in Kabul – an attack that killed more than 30 innocent worshippers and wounded what looks to be more than 50 people. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and the friends, obviously, of all those killed, injured and affected by this attack. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Afghanistan, and we remain firmly committed to helping build a secure, peaceful, and prosperous future in Afghanistan which is free of sectarian violence.

    With that, Matt.

    QUESTION: Right, thanks. So I’ll start with my daily post-election-until-January-21 question. I know you don’t – won’t speak for the transition team, but I just want to know: From the State Department’s point of view, is everything going the way it should?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, in terms of making sure that they’ve got office spaces to work out of and that they were greeted on Friday, and we stand by today and the days coming to support them, yes, obviously. I won’t speak for them or their work plan, but as I understand it – I don’t know what their activities are specifically today, but as I understand it, they did intend to come into the building today to resume their work. But I don’t have --

    QUESTION: All right. I’m just curious if you know of meetings beyond the standard, like – kind of like “How do you get in, where your office is, maybe a map”?

    MR KIRBY: I – my understanding is that they were going to start to put those kinds of meetings on their schedule, but I don’t have visibility into --

    QUESTION: No, I’m not asking for specifics, but just, I mean, are they beyond – or from the Department’s point of view, are they beyond the “Here’s a map of the” – “Here’s how you get to the cafeteria” kind of thing, or have they gotten into any kind of policy?

    MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for them and their familiarity with where the cafeteria is. I will tell you that some of them – as I think you know – have worked in the State Department before, so I think they have a basic general lay-down of the building. But in terms of what they’re doing orientation-wise and how adjusted they are to the environment and their office spaces, I just don’t know.

    QUESTION: All right. I want to go to --

    QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up? Is that a dedicated space for the transition team?

    MR KIRBY: Yes.

    QUESTION: Or are they – okay.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I want to start with Yemen and --

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: -- the ceasefire that the Secretary had talked about after his meetings in Oman. And as you pointed – as you or he or someone in a statement pointed out, it had begun, but now it’s ended and it’s not going to be extended. And I’m just wondering: What’s – what happened here? Was it a failed attempt or is it something that you still think you can resuscitate?

    MR KIRBY: I think it’s definitely something the Secretary is still pursuing. And I would tell you that he had a conversation this morning with the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia as well as Foreign Minister al-Jubeir about this issue. He has also spoken today with the UN Special Envoy Ahmed – excuse me, Ahmed about this. So he’s still working very hard to see a cessation of hostilities put in place and to remain in place so that we can get to a political outcome in Yemen.

    Now, again, we’ve seen – we’ve certainly seen comments by at least one Saudi military official that the ceasefire had ended. I’ll let them speak for the degree to which they still believe that that’s the case. Clearly there have been – without question there’s been continued violence since – even since the inception of it over the weekend. There’s also no question about that. But from the Secretary’s perspective, he’s committed to trying to get a cessation of hostilities that can be sustained and maintained in Yemen so that humanitarian aid can get to people and that the political talks can resume.

    QUESTION: Right. Well, is it your view that it ever got off the ground?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, it was announced. And it was --

    QUESTION: Well – (laughter) --

    MR KIRBY: No, but I mean --

    QUESTION: -- I can announce that the sun’s not going to rise in the morning and I would be wrong. But I can do that every day, but it --

    MR KIRBY: Well, the difference is --

    QUESTION: Just because you announce it doesn’t mean that it’s going to actually happen.

    MR KIRBY: Well, the difference is nobody listens to you, Matt. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Well, that may very well be true, but --

    MR KIRBY: But the – they did – no, they did – they did --

    QUESTION: No one currently listens to them either. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: No, they did --

    QUESTION: I mean, you just acknowledged that there were no – that there was still fighting.

    MR KIRBY: They did not – come on, now. There was announcement of it starting, and yes, there were issues of violations or continued violence since the inception of it. There’s no doubt about that. But – well, all I can tell you is the Secretary remains committed to it and to looking for ways to get it enforced and sustainable long term in Yemen, or at least long enough that we can get humanitarian aid in and get the political talks back on track.


    QUESTION: So you mentioned that the Secretary spoke with the Saudis regarding this. Has he actually spoken to the Yemeni Government about the cessation of hostilities?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t believe the Secretary has had direct conversations with the Republic of Yemen Government. But he knows that the special envoy has and they talked a little bit about moving that forward, again, in their call this morning. I would note that as well, I mean, there was – and we talked about this last week – there was contact between Ambassador Tueller and Yemeni Government officials last week on this. So it’s not like there haven’t been contacts and connections and communication with the Yemeni Government. We realize they’re a stakeholder in this process and want to see them support this as well going forward.

    QUESTION: But can you explain – I mean, he’s had direct contact with every other player in this conflict but not the Yemeni Government, it seems, at least recently. Can you explain?

    MR KIRBY: Well, through his ambassador, he has, and that’s what ambassadors exist for. I don’t want to – I’m not trying to be cute here and say that he has some sort of personal problem having those discussions, but Ambassador Tueller did engage last week. The Secretary, as I said, just today – and we’re only halfway through the day – he’s had three conversations with officials about this. So I think it’s something he’s going to stay very, very focused on, he wants the ambassador to stay focused on, and we’re going to keep pursuing it. I wouldn’t rule out conversations going forward one way or the other.

    QUESTION: And just a question on the transition to follow up: Has the Secretary been in touch with members of the transition team today?

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary personally? Not to my knowledge.

    QUESTION: Okay. And --

    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Wait, I think you had one more.

    QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. And can you say who here at the State Department the transition team has been meeting with?

    MR KIRBY: I know that they have – briefly on Friday had discussions with Under Secretary Kennedy, Counselor Kenney, because they were greeted by those two individuals when they arrived. And again, as for their meetings and discussions today, I just wouldn’t be in a position to speak to that. As I mentioned Friday – and I hope you don’t mind me reiterating it again – I’m not going to make it a habit of reading out their daily activities. That’s really for them to speak to. Who they meet with, what they discuss, how much they want to get into that with members of the media, that is for them to decide, not for us to do from this podium. So I’m not going to be providing an agenda of what they’re doing every day.

    QUESTION: And then I have a Syria question which maybe we can get to.

    MR KIRBY: Do you want to defer to Said to go first? Because I think he was Syria, is that right?

    QUESTION: Right.

    QUESTION: Sure, go ahead.

    MR KIRBY: Look at that.

    QUESTION: All right, so --

    QUESTION: Please go ahead.

    QUESTION: Thanks. So the – there’s now no functioning hospital in Aleppo. Given that --

    MR KIRBY: According to the aid agencies, yeah.

    QUESTION: Right. So is there any renewed effort to get humanitarian aid in or air drops?

    MR KIRBY: It’s not about a renewal effort, and it is something that we have been consistently focused on. And again, multilateral discussions continue in Geneva to try to get at a cessation of hostilities that can allow for that aid to get in. The humanitarian situation was something that the Secretary did raise in his pull-aside meeting with the foreign minister down in Lima – Foreign Minister Lavrov, excuse me, in Lima. They talked about that. So it’s something that we remain focused on, as does the international community. And it’s an abomination that no aid has gotten in to Aleppo now for well over – a month, I think, was the last time, while shelling and bombing not only continues but seems to be intensifying. So it’s of deep concern to us and I can assure you that the Secretary remains focused on that.

    QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Security Council session today, the UN Security Council. There was a session today in which Mr. O’Brien, the chief of the humanitarian, gave a very bleak picture about what’s going on, including the non-functioning hospitals and so on.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: But there was also a statement read or a naming of war criminals by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. Do you have any comment on that, like maybe 12 or 10 Syrian officers?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think Ambassador Power was eloquent enough. I don’t think I can improve upon her comments and the urgency with which she expressed them in terms of what’s being done in and around Aleppo. And it wasn’t just Aleppo. She talked about Syria writ large and who’s doing it, and the fact that these individuals and the Syrian regime will need to be held to account, and we’ve said that all along.

    QUESTION: How would you do that? What would be the mechanism to bring these people to justice?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, Said, I’m not going to prognosticate here in terms of process. We’ve talked all along about the fact that there’s going to need to be efforts to properly investigate and to hold accountable those who have visited these atrocities on the Syrian people. But just to give you a sense of what we’ve done already to support investigations, we support UN and Syrian-led efforts to document human violations and abuses; we strongly support the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria via the UN Human Rights Council; we supported the Human Rights Council special session on Aleppo on the 21st of last month which called for a special investigation into the strikes in Aleppo and to name the perpetrators. We continue to co-sponsor the UN General Assembly Third Committee – and we talked a little bit about the Third Committee last week – and their resolution on the human rights situation in Syria. We’ve also supported the establishment of the OPCW-UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism, which, again, Ambassador Power talked about last week and I think little bit today, which is seeking to identify those involved in certain chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

    So we’re very much engaged on this. There are many vehicles here to look into, to analyze, and to lay bare for the world who’s responsible for these atrocities.

    QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask you a question on what Mr. de Mistura suggested, that eastern Aleppo could form its own council, so to speak, and this council may be actually in place to coordinate the humanitarian – the receiving or – humanitarian supplies and so on. Is that an idea that you would support, local councils that would function as a government? The Syrians rejected it, but – the Syrian Government. Is that something that --

    MR KIRBY: I think we’re still going through some of the details in the proposal. We’re aware of it. Obviously, we in general support – as we have supported the importance of local forces being the ones to go after Daesh inside Syria, we certainly would support effective governance at the local level in Syria. The details and the eaches of that, I think we need to continue to talk about and work out.


    QUESTION: And my – I’m sorry, my final one is on what also Ms. Power said on the raids. There are something – I can’t remember the figure exactly, but about 120 air raids conducted by the Syrians and the Russians and so on. But again, she’s saying we have sources that give us this information, that they have eyewitnesses on the ground. Could you tell us who these eyewitnesses might be? Who are they?

    MR KIRBY: No. I’m – I don’t have a list of every eyewitness that provides information, and I’m not sure why that would be relevant. As I’ve said many times, it is – our knowledge of the situation is understandably imperfect. We don’t have U.S. troops in Aleppo right now. We don’t have the ability to have like a single source that’s just all-knowing and omniscient about what’s going on. That said, we have a variety of sources of information that gives us a good idea of the reality. Is it perfect? No. But it comes from reputable aid agencies, and we talked about this last week. It comes from individuals, clearly. It comes from groups that we are in contact with or our partners are in contact with. I mean, so there’s a variety of methods by which we get information. And of course, it’s not as if we don’t get any intelligence about the situation in Syria or in Aleppo, but I’m obviously not going to be at liberty to talk about that in any great detail. Our knowledge isn’t perfect, but it is certainly enough to provide us a good sense of the deplorable situation there.

    And I would – look, I mean, you don’t even have to take my word for it. You can turn on television or get on the internet and you can see some pretty gripping, powerful images coming out of Aleppo through independent news reporting, and it’s enough to tell you right then and there the deplorable situation and the depredations that are continuing to be visited on the people of Syria.

    QUESTION: John?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Can I just clarify – early on in that answer you just said your knowledge of it was imperfect because, quote, “we don’t have U.S. troops in Aleppo right now.” Is there a plan – some kind of plan to put U.S. troops in Aleppo at some point?

    MR KIRBY: You’re -- please do not --

    QUESTION: No, I just want to make sure.

    MR KIRBY: Please do not read into my – what I – I was simply stating the obvious there, but no.

    QUESTION: Okay, but I mean, that’s why I don’t – well, yes, but when you – when you add “right now,” it could suggest to people – anyone --

    MR KIRBY: They shouldn’t take that suggestion away from what I said.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Now that ISIS is being defeated and pushed back in the Mosul area, various local figures in those liberated areas are saying they don’t want to go back to the previous system which failed them so badly. For example, the priest at the St. George Church in Bashiqa said that he wants the town to remain under Kurdish authority. The Iraqi constitution calls for holding a referendum in disputed areas. Would that be an acceptable way to determine the political future of these areas that are now being liberated from ISIS?

    MR KIRBY: Again, I would tell you our focus is on supporting the Government of Iraq as the government continues to prosecute the war against Daesh, whether it’s in Mosul or anywhere else. And decisions and discussions about liberated areas and how they’re going to be governed or how they’re going to be stabilized post-conflict – those are questions for the Government of Iraq to speak to, not us.

    QUESTION: So if it decides to hold a referendum or if, in consultation with Erbil, Baghdad decides to hold referendums, that would be fine with you?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think – it’s, I think, already been acknowledged that the Government of Iraq in coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the governor of Nineveh – that they are all actively planning for the post-Daesh governance in Nineveh province and Mosul specifically. And so I would refer you to them for how those discussions are going and what decisions they might or might not be making. It is not – this is – again, this is a decision for the – decisions for the Government of Iraq to make, not for the coalition to legislate to them.

    QUESTION: John --

    QUESTION: Would you expect those decisions to be made in consultation with the local people?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I – they already are. I mean, you have the governor of Nineveh who’s involved in these discussions with both Baghdad and Erbil. So in that sense, it’s already happening at that level.

    QUESTION: But say like – I mean, the governor of Nineveh is one person. If the people, say, of Bashiqa decide something, if the priest is expressing their wishes, that should be taken into account as well?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to wade into local Iraqi politics here from this podium. We all know – all of us – that post-governance issues have to be addressed. And as I said, we know that Baghdad and Erbil are already having those discussions. Even as the fighting continues in Mosul, they’re thinking beyond. We think that’s smart and we support that kind of dialogue. We support that kind of planning. What comes out of that – the decisions they make, the matrix, the framework, what it looks like, what it feels like – that’s really for Iraqi officials to determine and to speak to. What we support is that ongoing dialogue. And more critically, we support that kind of planning, that kind of forward thinking in terms of what happens when Mosul is liberated, which it will be.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Turkey?

    QUESTION: Can we stay in Syria --

    QUESTION: Oh, sure. Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- and go back to Syria? You said that the bombing has intensified in Aleppo and you are still meeting with the Russians and others in Geneva. What are you planning to do in the next 60 days? Doing the same thing that you’ve done and you’re doing now --

    MR KIRBY: I think if you’re asking me --

    QUESTION: -- regarding the situation in Aleppo?

    MR KIRBY: Well, if you’re asking me are we going to stay focused on the challenges in Syria and on trying to end the civil war and on trying to get a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid deliveries, and political talks resumed, then yes. That is exactly what we will be focused on for the remainder of – certainly for the remainder of the Secretary’s tenure here at the State Department because we still believe that that’s the right forward. We still believe there’s not going to be anything better than a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

    QUESTION: But if the bombing has intensified and there are --

    MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going – I --

    QUESTION: -- more people killed in Aleppo --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals with you, Michel. Obviously we’re seeing --

    QUESTION: They’re not – I’m --

    MR KIRBY: We’re seeing what’s happening --

    QUESTION: I’m stating facts, John.

    MR KIRBY: You said “if it gets worse.”

    QUESTION: But it’s worse now.

    MR KIRBY: I can’t predict what the future is going to be. Obviously, I said it’s – I acknowledged that it’s getting worse. I’ve been acknowledging it every day for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been talking – standing up here and talking about the intensification of the bombing and the shelling in Aleppo and the lack of humanitarian aid and the continued death and maiming and injury of innocent people. I mean, we’ve been nothing but candid about that not just here publicly but privately as well with others that are involved here, and we’re going to stay at it. That’s why the Secretary believes and continues to believe that discussions, multilateral discussions in Geneva, are still worth it, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. If he didn’t believe that it still had merit and that it was still important, we’d pull up stakes and we’d leave. And we’re not. We’re still there having these discussions and we’ll see where it goes.

    But if you’re suggesting – and I’m not saying you are, but if you’re suggesting in your question that there’s not a sense of urgency, that we’re not deeply concerned, that we’re not trying as hard as we can to get the violence to stop or at least to be reduced, then again, that just flies in the face of the actual daily constant pressure and engagement that the Secretary is leading on behalf of the United States Government.

    QUESTION: I meant to ask about the purpose of the meetings in Geneva since you haven’t made any progress through these talks.

    MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I would dispute the notion that there’s been no progress made. That we’re not detailing it and giving a rundown every day shouldn’t tell you that there’s no progress being made. Obviously, we haven’t reached full agreement, or if we did, we’d be talking about it. But it’s just like in any other negotiation; until everything is agreed upon, nothing is agreed upon. Of course, there’s been progress made. And again, if there hasn’t – if there wasn’t any progress, if there wasn’t any move forward, if there wasn’t any hope or expectation that we could get there, we wouldn’t be still at it, we wouldn’t still be engaged. But --

    QUESTION: We haven’t seen anything on the ground.

    MR KIRBY: What do you mean, you haven’t seen anything on it now?

    QUESTION: Well, you say that there’s been progress made. Of course, there’s progress made, is what you said, and if there hadn’t been progress made then we wouldn’t still be talking.

    MR KIRBY: That’s right.

    QUESTION: The problem with that is, is that there’s absolutely no sign, no tangible indication, of any progress being made. So I mean --

    MR KIRBY: I am not – and I said at the beginning, guys, that we weren’t going to read out every single day, that we weren’t going to talk about the negotiations that were going on in a multilateral setting. I understand that because you haven’t seen anything or heard anything, I understand where the perception is coming from. I can just tell you that we continue to be hard at work at this, that we wouldn’t be engaged in this if we didn’t think that there was a chance of success.

    I will also tell you, just to be clear, that the Secretary is looking at this through a pretty pragmatic vision here. He understands that we have tried and failed before, and he’s made no promises that this is going – that this new approach in this multilateral setting is going to work. He was honest about that even back in Lausanne when it got kicked off. But I can tell you that he still believes the work is worth doing; that while we aren’t announcing it for everybody and putting out a press release, there has been progress in these talks; and if it achieves – if we culminate in some kind of a negotiation and a deal that can get us to a cessation of hostilities and meaningful delivery of humanitarian aid and a potential resumption of political talks, then we’ll come out and we’ll detail that for you. But we’re just not there yet.

    QUESTION: Well, it’s not – it’s just – it’s not just that there is no sign of any tangible progress. It’s that the situation has not remained static, as you kind of just said. It’s not static at all.

    MR KIRBY: I have been --

    QUESTION: It’s gotten worse.

    MR KIRBY: I have been nothing but honest about that. And do --

    QUESTION: But – but – don’t you see though in the absence of any sign in – from Geneva of what this progress is that you keep talking about, if the situation in Aleppo or other places were the same as it was, as they were, then that might be a little bit easier to believe. But the fact of the matter is that while you claim that there’s progress being made in Geneva, although incomplete, the situation hasn’t gotten – hasn’t remained static. It’s gotten worse. So --

    MR KIRBY: Well, Matt, I never said that it’s remained static. I don’t think I said that once. I’ve been nothing – again – but clear about the deterioration of conditions in Aleppo. That the conditions are deteriorating – and I’m not walking away from that – but that is serious and obviously it gives us all a sense of urgency. And you saw Ambassador Power’s comments today. Clearly, we’re all focused on that and it’s outrageous. That doesn’t mean though that separate and distinct – that the talks in Geneva haven’t achieved some progress. I’m not saying it’s perfect. I’m not even promising that we’re going to get there. I’m just saying that the Secretary believes it’s work worth doing and we’re going to keep at it. And it doesn’t mean we’re going to keep at it forever. But we wouldn’t be --

    QUESTION: John --

    MR KIRBY: Excuse me. We wouldn’t be still engaged in these discussions if we didn’t think that there was value in it.

    QUESTION: Let’s also consider the fact though that when President Obama met very briefly with President Putin on Saturday that President Putin told him we can’t get anywhere on Ukraine but we can try to do something about Syria. Does the U.S. believe that Russia, which has the influence on the Assad government, can actually stop the shelling of Aleppo, or was Putin simply saying what he needed to say knowing that the cameras were there recording their discussion?

    MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for President Putin, or his motivations, or where his head is on that. You know I won’t do that. But --

    QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that he can be – that he can actually make the shelling stop?

    MR KIRBY: We have seen in the past, when the Russians have proven willing and able to use their considerable influence on Assad to reduce the violence in Syria, that it can be done. So if you’re asking me --

    QUESTION: What is the --

    MR KIRBY: -- can it be done? Can the Russians use that influence in a productive, positive way? Absolutely they can. The question is: Will they? And to date, we have not only seen indications that they aren’t, but that they have, in fact, permitted even more violence and even more atrocity, particularly inside Aleppo. And when I talked about this last week about the hospitals in – again, I’m not an expert on the order of battle here, so I’m not saying whose airplanes it is that are dropping the bombs. The bombs continue to drop. And now we saw at least press reporting over the weekend of renewed use of chlorine. It doesn’t matter, essentially, whether it’s an aircraft with Syrian markings or Russian markings; the Russians – and we’ve said this for now many months – they bear the responsibility for the influence that they have over the Assad regime and for themselves having committed to cessations of hostilities in the past and reductions of violence. And again, when they want to use that influence, we have seen in the past where it can have an effect.

    QUESTION: What is the U.S. prepared to do? What is this Administration prepared to do to induce Moscow to use its influence – simply waiting for it to see the goodness in stopping the shelling of Aleppo, seeing the goodness in persuading Assad that this is only harming his reputation not just now, but for historical purposes? What is the U.S. prepared to do to make Russia use its leverage? Simply waiting for it to do the right thing does not seem to have worked.

    MR KIRBY: Nobody is waiting, Ros. Nobody is waiting. And I think you’ve covered Secretary Kerry long enough to know that that’s not his manner of diplomacy. He doesn’t wait. He has been very actively engaged in this effort – in fact, to the criticism of some that he is – that he’s been too willing to engage.

    But there’s no waiting here, and there’s no naivete or innocent belief in the goodness of Russian intentions. Quite the contrary. The reason why – back to my answer to Michel – that we are still engaged in Geneva, even if not despite the intensification of violence in Aleppo, is because the Secretary shares a very keen sense of urgency about what’s going on – obviously in Aleppo, but in Syria writ large – and that there’s only going to be a political solution to this and that, therefore, if the – if only a political solution is possible, then only through negotiation and diplomacy are you going to be able to achieve the desired result.

    I can’t speak for Russian intentions and motivations. They can do that. I can only tell you that for as long as he’s Secretary of State, I can assure you he will continue to work hard at this problem.

    QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov since he returned from Peru?

    MR KIRBY: Not – I mean, let me – before I answer that, let me just check.

    QUESTION: I mean, I would think that in light of the president’s meeting on Saturday, that it might have behooved both parties to chat with each other.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know that they’ve spoken since his – they did meet bilaterally and then I think they had one phone call – I think we talked about that here.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: And I don’t – and that was a few days ago and not – I don’t see – the last conversation I see with Foreign Minister Lavrov was on Friday.

    QUESTION: You alluded, in your answer there, to criticism from some that the Secretary has been too willing to engage.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Presumably you reject that criticism, correct?

    MR KIRBY: Yes.

    QUESTION: So I mean, that suggests that you still think that this is the right path, but I guess that’s kind of stating the obvious, because you’ve just been saying that over and over again. But the criticism that he has been too willing to engage is wrong according to you, and yet there hasn’t been any significant reduction in the violence and things have gotten worse. I mean, can you square those?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. I mean, that we haven’t achieved the ultimate result we want doesn’t mean that engagement’s the problem. I mean, if you’re not going to engage, if you’re just going to shut down and walk away, well, you can be sure --

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR KIRBY: -- that the situation’s not going to get any better.

    QUESTION: There was a time not so long ago --

    MR KIRBY: And he has been --

    QUESTION: -- that you (inaudible) shut down.

    MR KIRBY: He has been willing to walk away from the table when we couldn’t get there, and I’m not saying that he won’t now. I’m just saying that you can’t but look at some of the imagery just over the weekend and this morning of Aleppo and not be moved to want to continue to work at this problem. And he will.

    QUESTION: Is it fair to assume – on progress. Is it fair to assume that the progress made is the kind of progress that is not – that cannot be measured on a day-to-day basis but basically intended for a long-term political solution?

    MR KIRBY: The progress made in these --

    QUESTION: The progress made – you cited progress made in Geneva. Is it fair to assume or to describe this progress made is not the kind of progress that you would see on a day-to-day basis but rather maybe over the long term?

    MR KIRBY: Well it’s --

    QUESTION: Is it intended for a political solution for the long term?

    MR KIRBY: Again – well, let me – the answer – it’s a difficult answer to provide here because the focus of the multilateral talks in Geneva are really about a cessation of hostilities which, if can be sustained and maintained and enforced and result in a meaningful reduction of the violence such as we saw back in February of this year, then you can get the two sides back to the table or at least into proximity talks as they’ve done before. And we just – we haven’t been able to get there. You can’t bring the opposition to the table when they continue to be bombed and they’re seeing innocent civilians treated the way they’ve been.

    So the focus in Geneva through these multilateral discussions is really much more about getting a cessation of hostilities in place so that you can build the confidence and create the conditions for political talks to resume. And again, we wouldn’t be involved in these discussions if we didn’t think that they – if they didn’t have merit.

    QUESTION: One last question on Syria, John, too. Turkey bombed west of Manbij today and Sheikh Nasr, who were – Manbij military council took over from ISIS. Do you have any reaction to that?

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen specific reports of that bombing. Let – all I’ll say, Michel, is that we – as we’ve said before, we want to see all the military activities be coordinated and be designed and be productive in terms of helping us go after Daesh. That’s the main effort.


    QUESTION: Since he brought up Turkey, can I ask one question about President Erdogan? He told 60 Minutes last night some of the same accusations he made after the attempted coup in July: one, that he believes that the U.S. was behind the coup; and two, that the U.S. is dragging its feet on the extradition of Fetullah Gulen. Do you want to comment?

    MR KIRBY: Well, on the Gulen thing I would say that’s really a matter for the Justice Department, and I’m not going to talk about that process. Our position has always been that we want to have a fact-based discussion about that, and I won’t get ahead of whatever discussions the Justice Department is having. You need to talk to them.

    On the other point, that’s – I watched the interview, or at least most of it. That is not my takeaway from what he said in terms of – he said that he can’t deny – believe that – he can’t deny that certainly many Turkish people are left with that impression that the United States was somehow behind it. And I would just take the opportunity, as we’ve done so many times in the past, to completely refute that, that the United States had absolutely nothing to do with this, and we continue to support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey.


    QUESTION: Can you go a little bit further on that? Why do you think many Turks were left with the impression that the United States was involved in it?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Can you say if you agree that --

    QUESTION: People got – you and your colleagues went on at length at the time of all the sentiment saying that this was coming from Turkish media.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I think many members of the Turkish media didn’t do anything to stop that impression from growing. But you’re – I can’t – I wouldn’t even begin to try to --

    QUESTION: All right.

    QUESTION: -- to speak for the minds of many Turkish citizens and where they might be getting that idea or the depth to which they believe it. All I can do is, again, assert that it’s a ludicrous claim that the United States had anything at all to do with it.


    QUESTION: Thank you, Assistant John Kirby. On North Korea, recently North Korean ambassador to Geneva, Switzerland, So Se Pyong, said that North Korea want to withdraw U.S. troops in South Korea and normalize relations with the United States. What is the U.S. position on this?

    MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. Our position on peninsula security hasn’t changed one bit. We have long said we’re ready to resume talks through the Six-Party process and we have to see that – a genuine desire, a willingness of the regime to do that. And to date, we have not seen that.

    QUESTION: So U.S. have any reason to conversation with the North Korea for future incoming administration?

    MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, I don’t quite --

    QUESTION: Do you have any plan to conversation with the North Korea incoming --

    MR KIRBY: As I said, we believe that the proper vehicle for discussions about peninsular security is through the Six-Party process and that it has to be preceded with an understanding of a complete, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. The North has proven unwilling to engage in that kind of conversation and that kind of commitment. So the onus is on them.

    On troop presence – again, I don’t want to step on my Pentagon colleagues, but just to restate what I think should be obvious to all – we have significant alliance commitments to the Republic of Korea, which includes a force presence of American troops in the – in South Korea, and I see nothing that abrogates that or changes that going forward. We take seriously our alliance commitments to South Korea.

    QUESTION: Trump, president-elected, he appointed a national security advisor, Mike Flynn. He has background with defense intelligence stuff. Do you think next coming – I mean, Trump administration will be more aggressively approaching the North Korea issues or --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Softer?

    MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the president-elect or whatever foreign policies that he’s going to pursue going forward. I think it goes without saying that anybody, regardless of political persuasion, looks at the situation on the Korean peninsula can see that the DPRK remains a significant threat not just to the peninsula but to the region, and is trying to become through their constant pursuit of nuclear capabilities a threat, in fact, to people around the world. And it’s a threat that needs to be taken seriously, but exactly how the next administration will define that is really for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: On Russia? Looking ahead, does State have any concerns about the president-elect’s stated policy resetting relations with Moscow, whether – as it relates to Syria or Ukraine?

    MR KIRBY: I’m just going to refrain from commenting on whatever foreign policy priorities the president-elect will establish. Again, that’s for him and his team to speak to.

    QUESTION: Well, how about – how about this? What lessons would you hope that a political newcomer might take from this Administration and its experiences with Moscow and Putin going forward?

    MR KIRBY: Well, all I would say to that – first of all, it is not our place to provide a lecture to the incoming administration one way or the other. Again, they will have their teams out and about. They will absorb information. They will learn. We will provide whatever context they need and they require, and then they will make decisions about their foreign policy agenda going forward. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. It’s not for us to try to dictate to them how they should think about this or that problem.

    That said, I can only go back to what President Obama and Secretary Kerry have talked about in terms of our relationship with Russia, which is complicated. There are issues where we have been able to reach an accord, that we have been able to cooperate with and work positively to better outcomes with Russia. The Iran deal is one of them. And up until recently, at least for some parts of this year, we had hoped that Syria could be one of them in terms of Russian leadership inside the International Syria Support Group and support through various communiques to cessations of hostilities and political processes.

    Obviously, we’re in a more difficult position right now with Russia with respect to Syria. We certainly have differences over Ukraine. And we won’t and haven’t recognized the illegal annexation of Crimea. There are significant challenges that we face with Russia in cyberspace and we’ve been very open about that as well. So it’s a complicated relationship, but it is a relationship nonetheless. And the degree to which or how the incoming administration will look at that is, again, up to them to decide. But relations with Russia remain critical and in some cases very, very challenging.

    QUESTION: One more quick question. So the U.S. Navy apparently late last week assisted a disabled Iranian fishing boat in the Persian Gulf. I was just wondering, can you talk to – is it a, as far as U.S. policy, a requirement to help those in distress on the high seas?

    MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not a foreign policy requirement. It is, however, a common practice of all seagoing nations that you help mariners in distress. And as I understand it, this was a destroyer, the USS Nitze, and the Navy routinely comes to the aid of – our Navy routinely comes to the aid of mariners in distress at sea wherever they are around the world. I think in the Persian Gulf, they’ve done more than 30 or so of these types of assistance operations in just the last several years. And I’ve been given to understand that almost half of them have been for Iranian sailors. In this case, I think they were fishermen, but this is a common, time-honored humanitarian practice of mariners at sea. It’s not just the U.S. Navy that does it. Other navies do it. In fact, other civilian seagoing mariners do it. The sea is an unforgiving environment and the situation can change in a nanosecond at sea. And so when you come across somebody in distress or in trouble at sea, you – whoever you are – have an obligation to reach out and to help them and that’s what our Navy did in this case.

    QUESTION: Even though that doesn’t seem that reciprocal on their end, I mean, given their capture of our sailors?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I – there is – again, this is a time-honored practice and custom at sea. I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it myself. And it’s something that all mariners need to take seriously, should take seriously. I can tell you that our U.S. Navy certainly does and they’ve proven that over and over again not just in the area of the Persian Gulf, but around the world.

    Yeah, Said.

    QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Okay. According to Haaretz, Jerusalem’s zoning board is set to discuss a plan on Wednesday, the day after tomorrow, to build 500 homes in Ramat Shlomo. Now, this plan was approved two years ago, but the Israelis held back on implementing due to U.S. pressure. You have any comment on that? Will you do the same thing? Will you call on the Israelis not to do it?

    MR KIRBY: No, I would tell you we are deeply concerned by the reports today that a Jerusalem municipal committee does intend to advance this new plan for, I think, 500 housing units – additional housing units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem. Again, I would remind that our policy on settlements is very clear and it’s been very consistent. We strongly oppose Israeli settlement activity which is steadily and systematically accelerating and is corrosive to a two-state solution. And as the Quartet report itself highlighted, continued settlement activity risks entrenching a one-state reality and raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

    QUESTION: Well, there seems to be in the same report – in the same Haaretz report, they’re talking about different groups saying that now these frozen – quote/unquote, “frozen settlements,” it’s time for – to thaw these frozen settlements in anticipation for the coming administration. Would you advise them against that?

    MR KIRBY: Again, I think it’s – you know what our policy is on settlements.

    QUESTION: And very quickly, the – in the Hebron area, the Israeli forces delivered something like 20 demolition notices in a small village (inaudible) in the southern West Bank. Do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: We’re obviously concerned about the acceleration of demolitions and evictions that have been undertaken by Israeli authorities in several locations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem which have left many Palestinians homeless.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: John.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Are you aware that in a U.S. Government bid from this August, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has required new security cameras be purchased only from a Chinese surveillance device-maker for the embassy’s security network?

    MR KIRBY: No, I haven’t seen that report.

    QUESTION: Can you take the question?

    MR KIRBY: I’ll take it gladly. I’ve not heard of that.


    QUESTION: No, no, wait, I got a couple (inaudible) very quick. One, back to Russia just for a second, but for – an issue for the existing Administration: The new missiles going into Kaliningrad, do you have any comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. So while we understand that Russia has the right to exercise its conventional and[i] nuclear forces on its own territory, the deployment of Iskander and S-400 missiles to Kaliningrad is destabilizing to European security. Russia has made threats to move Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad now for the past decade in response to a variety of developments in Europe, none of which demand such a military response. We also call upon Russia to refrain from words or deeds that are inconsistent with the goal of promoting security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.

    QUESTION: This – I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same thing. Maybe we are. Maybe I misread the story. But this is not the Iskander missiles; this is something else. But fair enough if that’s --

    MR KIRBY: Sorry. Did I give you an answer to a question you didn’t ask? It was a great answer, though. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: It wouldn't be the first time.

    MR KIRBY: I think you should use it.

    QUESTION: It’s a great question.

    MR KIRBY: I think you should use it. It’s a terrific answer.

    QUESTION: Well, can you just tell me what your response --

    MR KIRBY: What was the question? Did I screw it up?

    QUESTION: No, no, I think you got – well, I don’t know.

    MR KIRBY: Maybe you asked the wrong question. (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I am accused of that very often. Anyway, I’ll just assume that – I’m not going to assume it. I’m going to – this is your answer – your stock answer to the introduction of any kind of missile by Russia into --

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, this was referring to reports that we’ve seen these Iskanders and S-400s.

    QUESTION: In the last day or so?

    MR KIRBY: Well, that they’ve made announcements in the last day or so that they’re moving them.

    QUESTION: All right. Yes.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. All right, then we are talking about the same thing. Maybe I – and then just on Iran really briefly, you may have seen a report in the Journal this morning about the Administration considering new, kind of last-minute – not concessions but easing more sanctions and granting more licenses to U.S. companies to do business in Iran. Is that something that you guys are interested in doing to kind of shore up or harden, cement the Iran deal before the end of the Administration?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to read out in terms of future decisions, Matt. Obviously, we’re going to stay committed to meeting our JCPOA commitments and obviously continue to believe that the Iran deal is the right thing for the country and for our interests. But I don’t have any additional decisions to read out or discuss.

    QUESTION: Okay. And then I know that we’ve gone over this before and I don’t want to get bogged down on it today, but – and maybe it’s something to revisit at some point. But you will have noted probably that today the Iranians announced that they had shipped their or are shipping their excess heavy water to Oman. Do you know, one – for sale, to put on the market. Do you know who is going to buy this?

    MR KIRBY: I do not.

    QUESTION: Is it correct still that the United States will not be a purchaser of it after that first – that’s still the --

    MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t – yeah, I would not expect the U.S. Government to purchase any Iranian heavy water in the near future.

    QUESTION: All right. And now – and I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds on this, but the case has been made by some that this is not an actual – that the overproduction of heavy water beyond the agreed 130 is not a violation of the JCPOA. Is it the Administration’s position that it is or is it – maybe if you don’t want to use the word “violation,” is it compliant with the – is it producing more than 130? Is that in compliance or not in compliance with the JCPOA as you guys understand it?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think we talked about this. The IAEA, and we agree with them, that they did exceed --

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR KIRBY: -- this 130-metric ton heavy water limit. They – not by much. And I’m not --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: I’m not getting into a binary discussion here. We recognize and we agree with the IAEA that they exceeded that limit, but they informed the IAEA of their plan to address it. They are now addressing it.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: And so our focus is on making sure that Iran stays in compliance and keeps its commitments. I’m – as I wouldn't do last week, I’m not going to go beyond the IAEA language here.

    QUESTION: I get it. Right, I understand it. The reason why there seems to be confusion about this or at least there is confusion about it is because the JCPOA itself says that it sets this limit that you say has been exceeded, but then says that --

    MR KIRBY: Because it estimates – estimates --

    QUESTION: Estimate --

    MR KIRBY: -- that 130 metric tons is about the right amount.

    QUESTION: Exactly, but – right, right. So that’s – but that’s the limit. And you just said in your first answer that they exceeded that limit.

    MR KIRBY: The IAEA said that they exceeded and we agree with them.

    QUESTION: Well, right. Okay, so – right. Okay, so the IAEA said they exceeded the limit. But the way it’s written into the agreement, the very fact of exceeding this or being noncompliant, you make – the argument can be made that they are actually in compliance, that noncompliance equals compliance once they ship it out.

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, once – if you’ve exceeded it and you get it out, then that is being compliant with the JCPOA commitments.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re giving them the --

    MR KIRBY: I mean, but I’m --

    QUESTION: But can you not see that there is another way to look at this --

    MR KIRBY: I understand the word game.

    QUESTION: -- in that they violate or they are not in compliance --

    MR KIRBY: No, I get it. I get it.

    QUESTION: -- with the agreement, and yet, they are in compliance of the agreement at the same time? It just – it’s bizarre.

    MR KIRBY: But again, let’s not – so look, I mean, I understand – and you’re right to be – to continue to push on this, Matt. I don’t take issue with that. But I do think it’s important, aside from the rhetoric about in compliance, out of compliance, violation, or not, that we remember that the system worked in the sense that we found it and they’re addressing it. And we’re going to continue to move forward. That’s the most important part here.

    QUESTION: I get that. But the fact of the matter is if non-compliance results in potential monetary gain for them because they put it on the market and sell it --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody --

    QUESTION: -- that, to a lot of people – a lot, not just the hardcore critics of the regime – looks like it gives them an incentive to overproduce, to be not – to exceed the limit and therefore be not in compliance.

    MR KIRBY: That is not the intent of that provision in the JCPOA, and --

    QUESTION: Well, that may not be the intent, but that’s --

    MR KIRBY: -- while I understand the critics’ view of that --

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: -- there’s absolutely not going to be any slackening of international pressure or by the agency to keep them inside their limits.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)

    [i] Addition of “and”

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 18, 2016

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 16:37
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 18, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ


    2:09 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Hello everybody.

    QUESTION: Hello.

    MR KIRBY: Happy Friday to you. Just a quick topper on Haiti elections. The United States looks forward to transparent, credible, and peaceful elections in Haiti on the 20th of this month. Only through elected leadership can the country make full strides in strengthening its democratic institutions and addressing the many issues in need of urgent attention. We recognize the commendable effort that the Government of Haiti and the Provisional Electoral Council undertook to organize elections despite the challenges that Hurricane Matthew left in its wake. We urge all Haitian actors to ensure that the election is peaceful and fair to allow citizens to cast a vote for their future and for that of the country.


    QUESTION: Thanks. Do I even have to ask the question, or can you anticipate it and give me the answer?

    MR KIRBY: I can confirm that members of the president-elect’s transition team, the team that will be working here at the State Department, have arrived today. They’re here.

    QUESTION: All of them?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know that. I know several are here.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have an exact number and I couldn’t tell you whether that would be a complete team. As I said yesterday, sometimes you’ll see an initial batch and then additionals come later. I just don’t know what their plans are.

    QUESTION: Do you know what they – who they have met with from the --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. They’ve only, honestly – as far as I know, only been in the building for about an hour or so. So I don’t know who, if anyone, that they’ve met with. Obviously, we – staff from Counselor Kenney’s office have been responsible for ushering them in. But I suspect at least some of the time has been spent in the logistics of getting into the building and that kind of thing. But I just don’t know.

    QUESTION: That would mean – and forgive me for being – this getting really into the weeds, I know, but does that mean, like, getting --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- a pass or a badge?

    MR KIRBY: Getting a badge, getting a pass, that kind of thing. I mean – but I honestly don’t know what’s transpired over the last hour. I just know that they’ve only recently arrived.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Can --

    QUESTION: So no indication of where they’re going to begin? Like, is there any kind of – has Counselor Kenney come up with a plan on kind of how this is all going to work?

    MR KIRBY: It’s really up to them, Lesley, how they’re going to manage their time here at the State Department and how they’re going to manage the information flow that they require. It’s not really up to us to do that. Counselor Kenney’s been responsible for making sure that the spaces were available, that they had a place to work, and that everything was in order. And today mainly just focused on getting them into the building and getting them – getting their physical access to their office spaces facilitated. But as far as their agenda and what they want to focus on, what meetings they want to have, what briefings they want, what material they need, that will all be determined by them, and I wouldn’t speak to that.

    QUESTION: I was going to say – and would you speak for them, or they would speak for themselves to members of the press?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know – well, it – I won’t be speaking for the transition team. So that’s one. Number two, in terms of whether and how they communicate with members of the media, that’s really, again, for them to decide. And I wouldn’t know the answer to that. Okay?

    QUESTION: John, I want to ask you about the vetting process. Is that something that is exclusively the domain of the incoming administration, or is it something that the current structure has something to do with it?

    MR KIRBY: The vetting process for whom?

    QUESTION: Those who are --

    MR KIRBY: The vetting process for whom?

    QUESTION: I’m sorry?

    MR KIRBY: The vetting process for whom, Said?

    QUESTION: Vetting process for those who are joining the department, those who are coming to join the department to fill in all these positions and so on. Are they – is that in the exclusive domain of those who are coming, the vetting process, or is it something that you are involved in in any way, shape, or form?

    MR KIRBY: Do you mean the vetting process for the transition team?

    QUESTION: For – no, not for the transition team; for those who are coming to fill in all these positions that we talked about yesterday. You have, like, 3-, 400 – we don’t how many. But how are they vetted? Is it exclusively their thing, or do you have something to do with it?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --

    QUESTION: Do you look at all these potential employees and say, okay, well, we have – you know this about this? You know what I mean.

    MR KIRBY: The responsibility for filling staff positions in the new administration --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- however many they are, will be up to the president-elect and his transition team. And then post-inauguration, it won’t be a transition team anymore; it’ll be the administration, the new administration. They’ll be responsible for deciding and determining, interviewing people for whatever various positions they want to fill. But that’s – that’ll be – obviously, those decisions will be theirs to make.

    QUESTION: John, could you tell us exactly how you are going to work with them? Are you going to talk about any issue? Are you going to work on each issue, each policy, each country, each regional issue? How does it work?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we are certainly prepared to be that thorough if that’s what the transition team desires. But really, the information flow both in terms of quantity and content will be up to them to determine. So as I’ve said several times this week, we are prepared, ready, willing, and able to offer them whatever context and information, whatever briefing materials, whether they’re in paper form or in meetings, that they require. I mean, we really want to serve them and to serve their needs. And so we’ve – we are ready to go. The bureaus have been preparing for weeks now to have material ready for them to look at if they want it, but it really will be determined by their appetite for information in terms – what they really want.

    QUESTION: So --

    QUESTION: On – sorry. On one specific issue, on the Iran nuclear deal, we talk about it earlier this week or last week. Are you more concerned than you were with the nomination which occurred this morning at the NSC and at the head of the CIA? Are you worried about the possibility that the incoming administration would change its policy regarding the nuclear deal?

    MR KIRBY: Well, as I’ve said many times, Nick, we’re focused on pursuing the foreign policy agenda and priorities of this Administration. We only have one president at a time, and our focus is on continuing the foreign policy agenda of President Obama. That’s what Secretary Kerry is committed to, and a part of that is obviously continuing to meet our obligations under the JCPOA. We still believe in the soundness and the importance of and the criticality of the Iran deal and the security that it provides not just to the region but to the world. So we’re going to stay committed to that.

    I cannot speak for the foreign policy agenda or priorities of the incoming administration. That is for them to speak to and only them to speak to, as well as to whatever personnel decisions – kind of gets back to Said – whatever personnel decisions they make, that – those are their decisions and for them to speak to. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can you just tell us: Who greeted them? I saw them coming in, but I don’t know the gentleman who greeted them from the State Department – the transition team.

    MR KIRBY: You’re asking me who the gentleman was that greeted them at the door?

    QUESTION: Yeah. Who greeted them at the door?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I can --

    QUESTION: Okay. And then --

    MR KIRBY: I can try to find out. I think it was probably somebody on Counselor Kenney’s staff, but I don’t know that for sure. Since I wasn’t in the lobby like you, I just don’t know who was there.

    QUESTION: I just happened to be there. So – and who did they meet – who are they going to meet with first? The counselor or --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. As I said, I don’t know what their agenda is for the afternoon, and again, that’s for them to determine. And I’m just assuming – that’s a dangerous thing to do from this podium, but --

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: -- my guess is that --

    QUESTION: Anywhere, really. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: Well, not if you’re Matt Lee. (Laughter.) I think in general – I mean, it’s only been an hour or so, so I suspect that the initial time that they’ve spent here is just really getting security passes and badges and getting familiar with the office space and that kind of thing. But I just don’t know.

    QUESTION: And when is the Secretary expected back? And you expect them, obviously, to meet with him, right?

    MR KIRBY: The Secretary will be back in town this evening. He’s already wheels-up from Lima and heading back, so he’ll be back early this evening. I do not know what plans – what his schedule looks like in terms of meeting with the transition team. And I want to stress again that the – we are driven and he has made it clear that he wants us all driven to making them feel welcome and meeting their needs, and so I will not be from this podium making it a habit to read out what they’re doing and who they’re meeting with. That’s really not for us to speak to. So I just want to lay that out right at the outset that I’m not going to be providing a daily tick-tock of their activities.

    More critically, their agenda, their time is really for them to fill the way they see – deem fit. And we are – we’re going to, again, make them feel welcome. We’re going to handle this transition in a professional, seamless, effective way, and that means that – that means we need to be dedicated to fulfilling their needs. And again, that’s where the Secretary wants everybody’s head – heads to be and that’s where they are.

    QUESTION: Can I just – it’s somewhat related to this. I’m wondering if you know if – whether or not you have heard from the Japanese Government about the meeting between the president-elect and the prime minister that --

    MR KIRBY: To my knowledge, there has been no such contact with the Japanese Government after the meeting.

    QUESTION: And is – is that something that you would have expected or would have wanted or appreciated?

    MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think there was any expectation --

    QUESTION: No? Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- here that we would have heard from them.


    QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. First of all, could you update us on the phone call between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

    QUESTION: It wasn’t a phone call.

    QUESTION: Was it a meeting? I’m sorry, I take it back – a meeting.

    MR KIRBY: They met briefly --

    QUESTION: They met briefly.

    MR KIRBY: -- yesterday, and we issued a – well, we didn’t issue, but they did a little communication with reporters after the meeting. The transcript that we released talked about what they spoke about, which was obviously largely Syria. And both of them indicated that Aleppo was on the topic – on the agenda list of topics discussed and how we can continue to try to still work towards a cessation of hostilities.

    QUESTION: Let me follow up on the issue of the hospitals. A spokesman for the Russian ministry of defense said that these hospitals – to quote him – “were only in your imagination.” Do you have a response to that? He said three days later, “We don’t know where these hospitals are. We don’t know what their location is.” And so on.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I’ve seen the comments, and they don’t – they – they don’t even merit a response by me. As we’ve talked about the last couple of days, it isn’t John Kirby saying that hospitals are being hit.

    QUESTION: No, I understand that.

    MR KIRBY: It is respectable aid agencies that are reporting this on their own, not – proactively. And so, as I said yesterday, I can’t speak for the Syrian military or the Russian military. I don’t know whose airplanes are hitting these hospitals. What I can say is we’ve got credible claims from legitimate, well-established agencies that are reporting this. And they are hospitals, and they are patients – people that are trying to get well are in fact being bombed. And frankly, it doesn’t really matter whose airplane is dropping the bomb – it’s either the Syrians or the Russians or both – the fact is it’s got to stop. It needs to stop.

    And that in addition to this violence – against, again, health care facilities mind you – no aid – none, zero – has gotten in in recent months to the people of Aleppo. And I talked about it yesterday and I – or not yesterday, I think a week ago – but we continue to see residents of Aleppo tying – picture this in your mind, tying ropes around their abdomens to stave off the hunger pains. These health care facilities, the same ones that are being bombed, doctors in there are reporting using unsanitary equipment and gear because they can’t get supplies in to operate and to work on people – unsanitary. People are going to unsanitary sources of water. They’re eating weeds and seed stock as well as their own livestock to try to survive. Eighty percent of households in Syria, according to information I saw this morning, about 80 percent of them – they’re also having to sell off their assets, whether it’s furniture or dishware, just to try to find some kind of resources with which to feed themselves.

    And I do want to read a quote now. This is a quote from an Associated Press story. So I’m quoting from a press report. I understand that. But an AP story that talked about hospital workers being forced in Aleppo to rush to evacuate infants from a hospital that was being bombed. And this doctor is quoted – now he’s texting, apparently, this correspondent, and this is the doctor’s text: “Now it is being bombed” – the hospital. “I am sorry, I have to go transfer the children.” He’s the head of the pediatric hospital. This is a text and a message to the AP. “And as we drove out with the ambulance war planes were firing and artillery was shelling, but thank God we were not hurt.” Infants in incubators having to be taken out of a hospital because it’s being bombed --

    QUESTION: My last one --

    MR KIRBY: So it’s completely reprehensible and without any justification whatsoever.

    QUESTION: My last one is on the aid. The UN is saying that all sides – the Russians, the Syrians, the opposition – they are all preventing aid from going in. So everybody is party to this kind of thing. Do you concur? Do you agree? Do you dispute that?

    MR KIRBY: The information that we have is that by far, the vast majority of obstacles that are being put in place to aid getting in by the Syrian regime and their Russian backers. Now, I talked about this a few days ago. It’s not that we haven’t seen reports that certain opposition groups have also caused a problem. We’ve seen those reports and they’re deeply concerning to us, as I said the other day, and we have communicated that concern to opposition groups and to other nations who have influence on other opposition groups. So I’m not saying that it’s not in the realm of possibility, that there are other obstacles being put in place. But by far, without question, every bit of information we’re getting is that the obstruction of aid getting in is being caused by the regime and their backers.

    QUESTION: Just one small point here. The Russian foreign ministry says that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov did speak by phone today. Are you aware of that?

    MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, but I thought you were referring to yesterday.

    QUESTION: That’s what I was referring to.

    QUESTION: So --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, they did have a brief conversation today.

    QUESTION: So after meeting in person yesterday, is there anything new after this phone call?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have a full readout of the conversation with the foreign minister. It apparently happened pretty recently. I suspect that the topic was again Syria, but I just don’t have a full readout of it. But yeah, they talked today. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Turkey’s main opposition party, the CHP, has announced that it’s so opposed to Erdogan’s proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a presidential system that the CHP will begin a series of rallies against it. And of course, the second largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish HTP – HDP, whose leadership Erdogan has imprisoned, opposes it too. What is your view of this proposed change in Turkey to a presidential system? Do you see it as anti-democratic?

    MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports on this as well. I’m not going to speculate at this point, and this is really a matter for Turkish officials to speak to. It’s a matter for them to clarify and discuss. I just don’t have enough information right now to speculate one way or the other.

    QUESTION: About the constitutional amendment that Erdogan is --

    MR KIRBY: That’s right. I don’t have enough information and – on it to speculate at this point. This is an issue for Turkish officials to speak to.

    QUESTION: Do you see that’s – any inconsistency between your readiness to talk about Haitian elections and not really talking about what’s going on internally in Turkey?

    MR KIRBY: No.


    MR KIRBY: I mean look, I’m not trying to be glib, but there’s a big difference for me welcoming Haitian elections which have been long delayed and obviously were set back by a hurricane than it is to get me to speculate on some proposed constitutional amendments in Turkey that I don’t have full visibility on and information on. And so I’m just – it’s – one is an election that we know we have a date on the calendar. The second issue is a completely different one. It’s a proposed amendment to the constitution that, as you rightly noted, is only just today been announced and spoken to. I just don’t have enough information to speculate.

    That doesn’t mean that Turkey’s democracy doesn’t still matter to us, and we’ve said that time and time again, or that we want to see Turkey’s democratic institutions survive and thrive and succeed. All that is the same, but I’m just not in a position right now to speculate for you on it.

    QUESTION: I remember that Deputy Secretary Blinken did emphasize the importance of the rule of law in Turkey and spoke against some of the measures that the Turkish Government had taken – 36,000 imprisoned people now, 100,000 people having lost their jobs. And for some of us analysts and journalists, it seems that there is a relationship between this proposed amendment and the human rights abuses that we’re seeing in Turkey now.

    MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’ve gone about as far as I can on this today. Okay?

    QUESTION: Iraq? A few questions on conflicting statements coming from Iraq. Masoud Barzani, the President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region says, that he has an agreement with the U.S. and the Iraqi Government that Kurdish forces would not withdraw from the lands that they reclaimed from ISIL before the beginning of the Mosul operation the U.S. ambassador to Iraq says he is confident that they will withdraw. Iraqi officials say the Peshmerga will have to leave. Earlier this week, Ambassador Silliman had a meeting with Masoud Barzani, and you now have these really conflicting statements coming out. Did they or did they not have the agreement that Masoud Barzani is talking about?

    MR KIRBY: So we’ve talked about this a couple of times this week. I don’t have anything further to add than what we’ve said before about this.

    QUESTION: Which is?

    MR KIRBY: Both in terms of the ambassador’s visit and the comments by President Barzani. The only thing I would add, and I know I said this before, but – is that the Mosul campaign is an Iraqi-led campaign. It has been Iraqi-planned and it is being executed by Iraqi forces. Yes, the coalition is supporting and obviously we train, advise, assist, and with air power, but it is an Iraqi campaign. And the order of battle, to use a military term, and the organization and the way it’s going to be prosecuted – those are Iraqi decisions. And so I’m going to defer to the Iraqi Government to speak to that.

    QUESTION: Do you know if they, at the meeting, they spoke English? Could this be something that was lost in translation?

    MR KIRBY: I do not know – I honestly don’t know the answer to that. And – but I don’t want to – by saying I don’t know it doesn’t mean that I’m agreeing with the premise that there was some sort of translation issues here. We can check to see if there were translation facilities provided in the meeting. But again, we’ve already spoken to the ambassador’s visit, we’ve spoken to the meeting itself, and I would just stress again that this is an Iraqi-led campaign and therefore these have to be Iraqi decisions.

    QUESTION: And related to that – I have one more. So I would like to quote Barzani at the – he sounds really adamant about it. So he said, “These areas were liberated by the blood of eleven hundred, five hundred – 11,500 mortars and wounded from the Peshmerga. It is not possible, after all these sacrifices, to return them to direct federal control.” And I want to ask: Does it even matter for the U.S. whether there is an agreement with the Iraqi Kurds? And a related question: Can the coalition afford to ignore the Iraqi Kurds’ plans and ambitions?

    MR KIRBY: What matters to us is that Mosul gets liberated, Daesh gets kicked out. What matters to us is that that campaign is under the chain of command of the Iraqi Government in Baghdad under Prime Minister Abadi. What matters to us is that Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Government make the final decisions about not only how they’re going to execute this campaign, but how their forces are going to be organized. And we know that Baghdad and Erbil have been in close communication in the months leading up to Mosul and certainly as it’s now being prosecuted. And we would encourage that dialogue to continue, but these are decisions that they have to make and they have to speak to.

    For the United States, our role, our part, is in supporting Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts. We do that militarily, primarily through training, advising, and assisting Iraqi Security Forces. And we have done that and we’ll continue to do that, because there’s going to be more work to be done when Mosul falls. And of course, we’ve been supporting not just the United States, but certainly we’ve been a leader in terms of the air support that is provided to Iraqi Security Forces on the ground.

    QUESTION: So do you --

    MR KIRBY: That’s what our focus is.

    QUESTION: I understood. Among the things that you said what matters to us, there was no agreement with the Iraqi Kurds that – does that matter to the U.S. to have such an agreement?

    MR KIRBY: An agreement?

    QUESTION: To be in agreement with the Iraqi Kurds on this specific issue, because they seemed really adamant about this.

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’ve already spoken to the ambassador’s visit. I’ve already spoken to these comments here. What matters to us is, again, that this is – that this campaign is led by Iraqi Security Forces, that it’s all under Prime Minister Abadi’s chain of command. That’s what matters most to us. There is no doubt that the Peshmerga have been and continue to fight bravely against Daesh – no question – as have the Iraqi Security Forces in the south. And what matters, we believe, not just to us but to the entire coalition, including Iraqi leaders, is that Daesh gets defeated, that Daesh gets thrown out of Mosul. And that campaign is progressing. And we don’t talk about it much, and you know I don’t like getting into battlefield updates, but we’re hearing that it’s still progressing, that they’re making progress. And so that’s what we’re going to be focused on. Okay?

    QUESTION: A follow-up?

    QUESTION: There’s a --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Is the implication of what you’re saying that if Baghdad and Erbil reach an agreement that would change the boundaries between the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq from what they were before – if that’s an agreed – agreement reached between Baghdad and Erbil, that would be acceptable to you?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to hypothesize or speculate about boundary changes here. That – I’m not going to go there. What we have seen is Baghdad and Erbil communicate and have dialogue about what’s going on particularly there in Mosul. We want to see that dialogue continue and we want the issues between them to be worked out between them. Our role – the United States – in leading this coalition is to support them from the air and to make sure that we continue to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces as they press the fight against Daesh.

    QUESTION: But you know that President-elect Trump is very positive about the Kurds. He said they’ve been – they’re proven the best fighters, they’re the most loyal to us, they have a great heart, and he says we should be working with them much more than we are. So what I take from his appreciation of the Kurds is that by the time these issues come to a resolution – which is going to be some months from now because this is an ongoing military campaign – it will be President Trump. And perhaps the new – and likely the new administration would be more favorably inclined than maybe the current one to some sort of changes in these borders that Baghdad and Erbil might reach together. Do you think that’s a reasonable way to look at things?

    QUESTION: You might have the luxury of being able to predict and speculate about what’s going to happen under President-elect Trump’s administration. I don’t. I can tell you that we continue to be focused on supporting Prime Minister Abadi and his efforts to prosecute this campaign. That won’t change.

    And as I’ve said – I just said it a few minutes ago and I’ve said it many times – there’s no question that Peshmerga forces have fought bravely, courageously, and continue to do so. And we respect that. Likewise, Iraqi Security Forces have also fought bravely and effectively and continue to do so. As I have, I think, articulated many times, the focus is we want to defeat Daesh. The whole coalition is designed to defeat Daesh. And to the degree that everybody’s efforts are aligned with that and focused on that, we’ll have success and we’ll have it – it will come faster and it will be more sustainable. And so that’s, again, where U.S. leadership is really aimed at. Okay?


    MR KIRBY: Huh?


    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: Do you have a readout about the meeting between the Secretary and the Taiwanese representative, Jim Soong?

    MR KIRBY: I do not.


    QUESTION: South Asia. Thank you, sir. Two questions. One, India has now a new ambassador Mr. Navtej Sarna in Washington, and he was in the building presenting his – whatever the required papers to the State Department before presenting his credentials to the President. He comes at the time when we will have here a new government and new president in Washington. I mean, of course, President-elect Donald Trump. Mr. Sarna has been known for the last over almost 20 years in Washington at the embassy for press spokesman and also spokesperson for the conflict between India and Delhi. And before coming here, he was the high commissioner to UK where he fostered the UK-India relations. And his mission here, also same thing, to foster the U.S.-India relations.

    My question here: How do we deal here with a new ambassador, with a new president, with new government in Washington? So – because Mr. Trump has been saying that under his administration India-U.S. relations will be greater than ever we have seen.

    MR KIRBY: Again, I can appreciate everybody’s interest in speculating about what the new administration will do foreign policy-wise. I cannot speak to that, Goyal. I just don’t know. All I can tell you is that we greatly value and respect the relationship we have with India today and the one that we have worked very, very hard at improving and strengthening. And we’re going to stay completely focused on that for the remainder of this Administration. We welcome the new ambassador and we look forward to working closely with him as he settles into his new duties, but I can tell you that nothing’s going to change for the remainder of Secretary Kerry’s tenure about the very keen focus that we’re going to continue to place on our bilateral relationship with India. What happens after the inauguration of our new president is really for the new administration to speak to. But there’s no question that India remains and will remain a key partner in that part of the world and that strong bilateral relations will need to continue. But how that – what it looks like, the form and content and shape, that’s – I couldn’t possibly predict what that is.

    QUESTION: And second, as far as fighting against terrorism --

    MR KIRBY: Are you okay?

    QUESTION: -- in the region, President-elect Trump was very much against the terrorism or fighting against terrorism, root out terrorism from around the globe, and including from South Asia. But also, at the same time, do you see any policy change as far as fighting under his administration against terrorism --

    MR KIRBY: Goyal, I --

    QUESTION: -- especially for U.S.-Pakistan relations? Because where this problem is existing still today and chaos is going on in the region.

    MR KIRBY: Goyal, I cannot speak for the incoming administration. I can’t. I’ve seen some comments that they’ve made about a counterterrorism focus. That’s for them to address. Nothing changes about our focus on the importance of regional, collaborative, and effective counterterrorism operations and to our interest in seeing all the countries in the region likewise expend a great deal of energy and effort and leadership on that. I just can’t speculate about the future and I wouldn’t do that, okay?

    QUESTION: Well, can I just quickly ask you in the same thing: Do you --

    MR KIRBY: If it’s the same thing about the new administration --

    QUESTION: No, no.

    MR KIRBY: -- my answer is going to be very much similar to what I just gave you.

    QUESTION: No, no, not the new administration, currently going on. Does this Administration or this building or Secretary favors Pakistan to name as the state sponsor of terrorism? Because a bill going on and online signatures have reached to the White House and State Department, and there was a bill in the Congress that it’s time to send a strong message to Pakistan: Stop terrorism.

    MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to get into a discussion about that. We routinely discuss with our Pakistani counterparts the importance for continued focus and energy on the counterterrorism efforts and the terrorism threat, particularly along that spine between the two countries. Our focus on this and the focus that we want to see Pakistan expend on it, that’s not going to change.

    QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

    MR KIRBY: Said.

    QUESTION: Yes. Sir, can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: And we have some Palestinian journalists in the back from Gaza and the West Bank.

    MR KIRBY: Welcome.

    QUESTION: Welcome, yeah.

    MR KIRBY: Good to have you here.

    QUESTION: Okay. Very quickly, the PA – the Palestinian Authority – is increasingly using its police forces to quash peaceful protests of Palestinians. And in fact, they conduct raids and so on into Palestinian camps, into Palestinian neighborhoods. Are you concerned that this – a force that you have trained and financed and so on is conducting itself in this fashion?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen those same reports. I’m not going to comment on specifics. I think you know I won’t do that, but obviously, we’re always concerned and we will always want to caution everyone to avoid violence, to use restraint, and to maintain calm.

    QUESTION: Because I think there is a feeling there is some sort of a vacuum in the next couple months and so on, and as the gap gets wider between the governed and the government --

    MR KIRBY: A vacuum in the next couple of months?

    QUESTION: No, it’s a vacuum in terms of direct American influence, possibly, in the peace process, which lets, like, those in control – the PA --

    MR KIRBY: Because there’s two months left in the Administration?

    QUESTION: No, man, because you’re busy. I mean, I’m not saying that you guys are --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, and one of the things that we’re busy on is continuing to focus on this issue.

    QUESTION: Well, let me put it this way: The peace process is off the radar screen for the time being. Would you agree with that? Would --

    MR KIRBY: No, I would not agree with that. Look, I mean, the Secretary continues to spend a lot of energy and effort on this and so does the President. I mean, there’s not – nobody’s taking a foot off the gas here, because there’s too much left of the Administration, particularly on this issue. So I would absolutely refute the notion that there’s some sort of vacuum here or lack of attention being paid to it.

    QUESTION: Well --

    QUESTION: Well, wait a second. Are you saying that you still think in two months that you can put together a --

    MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that.

    QUESTION: -- peace process and --

    MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that, but I --

    QUESTION: -- achieve a result?

    MR KIRBY: But I didn’t – no, I didn’t say that. What I said was we’re not going to stop focusing on this. We’re not going to – there’s not going to be a vacuum here --

    QUESTION: Yeah, but every administration, you realize, at some point is going to have – has to realize that time has run out.

    MR KIRBY: I think everybody realizes --

    QUESTION: It was literally the day after the election in 2008 when a bunch of us flew with Secretary Rice to the Middle East to – basically for her to announce that the Annapolis process wasn’t going to result in anything. It sounds as though --

    MR KIRBY: I think everybody realizes that – first of all, we’re mindful of the calendar --

    QUESTION: All right.

    MR KIRBY: -- and the clock. Everybody realizes the challenges with respect to the time left here. But that doesn’t mean that the Secretary is not going to continue to stay focused on this.

    QUESTION: Well, then let me ask you this: that some Israeli officials are mulling granting settlers protected population status. It was the attorney general and the Justice Minister Shaked examining three possible solutions to legalize settlements in the West Bank, including defining settlers as local population like the Palestinians, and that would allow to them to expropriate Palestinian land. Have you seen the report and can you comment on that?

    MR KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports and again, Said, our policy and view on settlements has not changed. It remains absolutely the same.

    QUESTION: But we have seen in this past week alone an acceleration of these measures that are designed to sort of embolden the settlement processes and so on. In fact, there was an editorial today in The Washington Post that speaks about this and so on. So I know you’ve given a strong statement at the beginning of the week on settlements, but that is not really deterring the Israelis, is it?

    MR KIRBY: It’s not what?

    QUESTION: It’s not deterring them, is it?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak to Israeli decisions here. But again, let me reiterate that our policy on settlements is absolutely clear and it’s consistent. We believe they are corrosive to the cause of peace and that legislation such as what we talked about earlier in the week and other decisions to advance settlements, they are endangering prospects for a two-state solution, absolutely.


    QUESTION: (Inaudible) I’ll go last.

    MR KIRBY: I think he’s done.

    QUESTION: No one else? I just wanted to ask you very briefly about this vote yesterday in the UN on the Third Committee, the vote on the resolution opposing Nazism – neo-Nazism. You don’t have anything on this?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t, no, no, Matt. Let me take that question for you.

    QUESTION: So – well, let me ask it and then you can – maybe take the question and --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I --

    QUESTION: You guys were one of three countries to vote against this. And I realize why you did it from the explanation of vote that was read by your representative --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- saying that it – it infringes on freedom of speech and freedom of expression and you think that it was being used as – by the Russians who proposed it to be – to interfere politically in other countries. But at the end of the explanation of vote, it said that the United States is going to oppose this, as it has done in years past, and we urge other states also to oppose it. Well, only three countries opposed it: you, Ukraine, and Palau. So I’m wondering, one, was this just an epic failure on the part of – on your behalf to get anyone else to agree to vote no? And two, you obviously felt strongly about it, because you voted no instead of abstaining. And most of your European allies – NATO members, members of the EU – abstained. And I’m just wondering, why was it that you felt so strongly that you voted no along with only two other countries instead of abstaining like most of your allies? That’s --

    MR KIRBY: All right. Well, let me get back to you on that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Have a good weekend.

    (The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 17, 2016

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 17:43
John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 17, 2016

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN


    2:19 p.m. EST

    MR KIRBY: Okay, guys. Just a quick update on the Secretary’s travel. I think you saw that – you know that he’s in Lima today leading the State Department’s delegation to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meeting. He will have, or by this time has had, a number of meetings today including bilateral discussions with the Japanese foreign minister, the Philippine foreign minister, the Taiwanese APEC special envoy, the Peruvian foreign minister, the Russian foreign minister, and the Canadian foreign minister. Now, some of those haven’t happened yet. Some have. I think the team on the ground will be putting out readouts. I think they’ve already put out a readout of the meeting with Foreign Minister Kishida. So you’ll see those rolling along.

    QUESTION: For each one?

    MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding they’ll do one for each one, so you’ll see those from Mark out on the road.

    With that, Matt.

    QUESTION: Right. Let me start with my daily transition --

    MR KIRBY: I have nothing to update you on.

    QUESTION: Wow. That was fast.

    MR KIRBY: Yep. Next.

    QUESTION: There has been some reporting out there that there is – with people expressing concern that the president-elect is – and his staff are – or vice president-elect and their staffs are having conversations by phone with foreign leaders that are not on secure lines. I’m just wondering, one, does the State Department have any idea what kind of phone lines are being used? And two, does it care? Is this an issue for security or otherwise? Is it an issue?

    MR KIRBY: Well, the answer to the first question is no, we don’t have visibility into the method of transmission here in terms of how the calls are being set up and facilitated. I don’t think it – I mean – and you know this, Matt, that it is possible and it’s fairly routine – not in every case, but in many cases – for the phone calls even that we have with the foreign counterparts are sometimes done over unclassified telephone systems. Not every one, but I would say a majority of them are done that way. And obviously, we would leave it to the transition team to speak to --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- the degree to which – what they were discussing and the degree to which any of that might have been sent.

    QUESTION: So anyway – so what you’re saying is, basically, there isn’t a concern from the State Department about how these calls are being done?

    MR KIRBY: It’s not for us to comment on that right now.

    QUESTION: Well, I mean, it might be if it was a problem.

    MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t --

    QUESTION: And I’m just trying to figure out --

    MR KIRBY: We don’t have visibility into the content and --

    QUESTION: I understand that, but --

    MR KIRBY: -- we don’t have visibility into who’s being – who they’re calling and when.

    QUESTION: Right, but --

    MR KIRBY: And so, I mean, obviously, one would have to assume --

    QUESTION: Do you have --

    MR KIRBY: -- that the transition --

    QUESTION: Right, right.

    MR KIRBY: -- that the transition team understands the limits of unclassified discussions.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: But that’s really for them to speak to.

    QUESTION: I understand that, but I want to know from the – this current Administration’s perspective, is this a potential problem, or is it not something, as you said, that – is it not something that you’re at all concerned about because, as you said, a vast majority or a majority of phone calls --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, it’s --

    QUESTION: -- right now take place over unsecure lines?

    MR KIRBY: It depends on what’s being conveyed over an unclassified network. I mean, it’s hard for me to say, “Is it a problem or not” when we don’t have visibility into what’s being discussed.

    QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking if it’s a problem or not.

    MR KIRBY: Well, you --

    QUESTION: Is there a concern that it might be a problem?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again --

    QUESTION: That’s the question.

    MR KIRBY: We’re going to rely on the judgment of --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- the president-elect’s team to determine the appropriate nature of their conversations.

    QUESTION: All right. So I just want to make sure then that I got this straight: That it is not a particular concern of the State Department how the president-elect and the vice president-elect speak with foreign leaders.

    MR KIRBY: It is up to the president-elect --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- and his team to determine the nature of their conversations with foreign leaders.

    QUESTION: And then last one – and sorry, Lesley, I’ll – thank you. And then the last one on this. So the Secretary met with the foreign minister of Japan in Peru. The readout that you guys sent out didn’t say anything about the prime minister of Japan meeting with the president-elect today. I’m wondering, did they talk about that at all? Has the Government of Japan been in touch with the Administration about Prime Minister Abe’s visit today?

    MR KIRBY: Well, two different questions. I’m not aware of any contact that we’ve had with the Government of Japan in any kind of formal way about the visit, and I would just point you to the readout. I obviously wasn’t there when the visit happened, so Mark gave a readout that I thought was pretty complete, and I simply won’t go beyond that.

    QUESTION: Okay. So as far – so we don’t know if it was --

    MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, it’s just – I would just have to point you to the readout.

    QUESTION: Well, yeah, I know, but --

    MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t go into any more detail than this, and I just --

    QUESTION: -- can we find out if it was? I mean, maybe it wasn’t discussed, I don’t know, and that’s why it wasn’t in the readout.

    MR KIRBY: I can ask the question, but I don’t think that we’re going to go beyond the readout.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    QUESTION: Are you aware --

    QUESTION: Just to follow up on that.

    MR KIRBY: Hang on. Lesley first, then --

    QUESTION: Are you aware of any briefing notes being shared with them at all on Japan or any of these countries?

    MR KIRBY: I am not.

    QUESTION: And a follow-up on the Japanese one – and you say you haven’t had any contact with the Japanese regarding any events out there?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any contact with the Japanese Government --

    QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

    MR KIRBY: -- with respect to this meeting today.

    QUESTION: But – yeah, that doesn’t mean it isn’t – hasn’t happened, right?

    MR KIRBY: I have no knowledge of any contact between the State Department and the Government of Japan when it comes to this meeting.


    QUESTION: Did you prepare briefing material for the Trump team for the Japan meeting for the prime minister?

    MR KIRBY: As I said yesterday, there was no briefing materials shared with the president-elect’s team.

    QUESTION: That hasn’t changed --

    QUESTION: Yeah, on this issue --

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Nike.

    QUESTION: Right. On the Abe and Trump meeting, do you have any expectation of the meeting? I know it’s defined as a private meeting. Do you have any expectation?

    MR KIRBY: That’s really for the transition team – for the president-elect’s team to speak to.

    QUESTION: Do you expect that the, like, recommitment to a stronger alliance --

    MR KIRBY: Nike, you’re asking the wrong guy. That’s really for the president-elect to speak to. The conversations he’s having, the meetings he’s having, that is for him and his team to describe, to characterize, to comment on, not for us.

    QUESTION: Do you have any kind of information on when was the longest transitional contact period that we’ve had in recent presidential history?

    MR KIRBY: The longest --

    QUESTION: The longest period without contact between the transition team and so on?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have that kind of history. Look, it’s – I’ve been through a couple of these.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: Now, not here at the State Department of course. But I mean, it varies. Each incoming administration has their own inner workings and their own team and organizational approach. And there’s no right or wrong way to do it, and there’s no right or wrong time period to put teams in place at various agencies. Each transition team has to decide that for themselves. And again, I’d point you to the president-elect’s team to speak to their thinking on this.

    What I will tell you – again, what I’ve said yesterday – is that we are ready to receive them here at the State Department and to provide all of the support that they need once they’re ready for it. But it’s really for them to decide that, and I just don’t have the history of just presidential administration change over the last 10, 12 years. I just don’t know.

    QUESTION: Okay. I just have a quick follow-up. At one point – I mean, considering that tomorrow is the last day of the week, next week is really a very short week, and then we probably roll into December and so on – at what point, if they don’t contact you during that period, it becomes disconcerting or a concern to you in this case?

    MR KIRBY: It’s – the – it’s not about concern for us, Said. I mean, we’re ready to support them in any way that they deem fit. And we’ve got folks here at the State Department that are teed up and ready to do that. It’s really the timing and the timeline, the way it’s structured – all that is for the president-elect’s team to decide. It’s not about concern here; it’s about their plans and how they want to run the transition efforts. But again, that’s – those are their decisions.

    QUESTION: But are they aware of how thick your book is that you have there and --

    MR KIRBY: My book? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: I mean, your book – I’m talking about – no, I’m serious. I mean all of these issues that you guys deal with daily and so on and that they require a great deal of briefing.

    MR KIRBY: I don’t – I can’t speak for where their heads are on different issues about foreign policy, Said. I’m quite certain that they’re mindful of the larger world around them and the scope of the issues that they’re going to be grappling with very soon after the inauguration. But I can’t speak to their level of expertise on all – I can’t even speak to my level of expertise on all this stuff. (Laughter.) All I can tell you is that we – we’re ready, as I’ve said, to receive them and to offer them materials as they need to start to begin and build out their foreign policy agenda.

    QUESTION: Can I follow up on the --

    QUESTION: Can you give us a figure on the --

    MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Lesley.

    QUESTION: -- number of people that will be coming in or replacing --

    MR KIRBY: No idea. You’d have to talk to the president-elect.

    QUESTION: Like is it 300, 400, 200?

    MR KIRBY: I have no idea. I don’t know, Said.

    QUESTION: What issues do you think are the most – are the very first ones that you think that the – a Trump transition team needs to get a handle on at this department? Some officials are talking, saying that the fight against Daesh is one, that you can’t wait until the 20th for a transition to happen, that you could – if – as soon as they name someone now, that the next day they can come in and start working with the team, because you can’t have any pause in that fight.

    MR KIRBY: It’s not for me to – it’s not for us to lay out an agenda of items that --

    QUESTION: Well, you can recommend. I understand --

    MR KIRBY: But it’s not for us to lay out an agenda of items for the transition team to focus on. They will have to make decisions about what they want to prioritize in their foreign policy agenda. All I can tell you is that on the foreign policy agenda of the Obama Administration and the one that Secretary Kerry is committed to continuing to pursue for the remainder of time that he’s in office, obviously the fight against Daesh is right up there at the top. And I think you – that there was in Berlin over the last couple of days another counter-ISIL coalition meeting Brett McGurk attended a good, wide-ranging discussion about our progress in that fight and also some of the challenges that remain.

    I would say the conflict in Syria certainly is going to continue to dominate the Secretary’s time for the next two months. Climate change – and I think if you haven’t, again, seen the Secretary’s very eloquent speech yesterday from Marrakech, I encourage you to look at that – but obviously, continuing our focus on the Paris Agreement and on climate change will remain front and center. International trade and economic development obviously will continue to be a key focus of the Secretary going forward here over the next couple of months. And then, obviously, the situation in Ukraine and in Europe will continue to be, I think, dominant on his agenda.

    Not to mention – and I left it off and I shouldn’t have – is, of course, Yemen and the conflict in Yemen and trying to see a peaceful resolution to that conflict and, just as importantly, humanitarian aid getting to so many Yemenis who have – who are in desperate need of it.

    So there is an awful lot on the Secretary’s plate for the next two months. Those are the things that he will continue to prioritize. I’m sure I missed a few. But as for what they will focus on and what they will choose to highlight, that’s really for them to decide.

    QUESTION: I wasn’t really – I was thinking of issues – I mean, and I think that’s why everybody’s asking about the transition questions is because you can’t have people walking off the job on – in January 20 and just say, okay, there you go, Mosul and Raqqa.

    MR KIRBY: Well, that’s the whole purpose – frankly, that’s the whole purpose for a transition process is so that one team can hand off to the other context and information to help them make these kinds of decisions. Ultimately, how they approach these – the issues will be up to them. Ultimately, in what priority they want to put them will be up to them. But that’s why we are ready and willing to receive them here and to provide them – to answer any questions they have about these issues and our approaches to them and what we’ve been doing, our successes and also some of the challenges that we face. So we intend to be – as the Secretary has made clear, we will be fully candid and open with them about the full scope of these issues. But again, ultimately, what they choose to prioritize is up to them.

    But again, that’s the whole reason for a transition process, is so that you’ve got a couple of months there to take advantage of the experience of an outgoing team, to avail yourself of the information and context to make your own decisions going forward.

    QUESTION: Can we stay on Yemen since you mentioned it last --

    QUESTION: Can I ask one --

    QUESTION: -- I just wondered – on Yemen?

    MR KIRBY: Go ahead. Are we still on transition?

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR KIRBY: Okay.

    QUESTION: I understand this is similar to what it is that Said asked, but just in order for people to have context over this – the way this transition is happening compared to past administrations, are you able to share at all when it is that the transition began between the Obama – the handover from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration within the State Department, or from the Clinton Administration to the Bush Administration?

    MR KIRBY: As I understand it, some members of the – and this is just from talking to staff members here. As I understand it, some members – a very small number from the Obama team – came to stay early on in the – within days of the election, but that it took – it’s not like – it didn’t happen all at once. And so the whole transition team – I think it took a couple of weeks or so before the whole transition team really kind of got up and running here. But they had some – a small number – who came over, again, within days. But – and from President Clinton to President Bush, again, that’s going way back, but again, you know there was a – that was a contested election, so it took much longer for transition teams to get into place because we didn’t have a result for so long.

    So it really depends. There’s no right or wrong approach here. It really is up to the president-elect’s team to decide how they want to do this and in what manner. They have spoken to this very publicly over the last couple of days about their approach to the transition, and I’d point you to their comments about their confidence in the process so far.

    But it – but Abigail, it is their process, and that’s important to respect. It is their decisions to make about how they’re going to approach the transition. All we can do from our end, as the Secretary, again, has made crystal clear to everybody here, is we’re going to be fully cooperative and helpful and we’re going to be ready. So when they’re ready, we want to make sure we are. They’ve got office spaces here at the State Department that are set up for them, we have experts across the agency that are fully prepared to brief them on whatever they want, and we’re going to be as open, as candid, as forthright as we can, because we want to make this as seamless a transition for them as possible.

    QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Transition, please?

    MR KIRBY: One more on transition? Sure.

    QUESTION: Yeah. The transition team had a conference call this morning and which they said that they – they’re releasing the names of the State Department guys tomorrow. They will be coming here. Have they informed you about it?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t have any contact to read out to you today.

    QUESTION: And secondly, has Secretary spoken to the President-elect?

    MR KIRBY: Has – I’m sorry?

    QUESTION: Has Secretary spoken to President-elect?

    MR KIRBY: No.

    QUESTION: No. He’s always traveling globally, and when the election was going on he had – he has said publicly that he has been hearing concerns about some of the rhetorics during the election campaign from the various world leaders. After the elections, is he hearing the same kind of concerns? What’s the feedback --

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for – I’m not going --

    QUESTION: What’s the feedback you’re receiving from the world leaders?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the discussions he’s had since the election. Now, we’ve put readouts out on almost all of these discussions. I would refer you to those readouts, and those foreign leaders can speak for themselves. But you’re right; broadly speaking, without going into individual (inaudible) before the election, he was open about the general concerns that he was hearing from foreign leaders about the campaign rhetoric. Since the election, I think I’d have to point you to those leaders that he met with to speak to their views of it. That wouldn’t be appropriate for us to do.


    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: Could you update us on the status of the ceasefire in Yemen that was brokered in Muscat, Oman a couple days ago?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Hang on one second.

    So what I would tell you is we recognize that the Houthis have publicly committed to the cessation of hostilities, provided that all sides implement the same commitment. We also understand that the Saudi-led coalition has also expressed a willingness to return to a cessation of hostilities. We’re working very hard to get all the parties now to agree to this. And we have seen reports – I know today is the day that it was supposed to begin; I get that. We’ve seen reports that there’s been some continued fighting, and again, we urge all parties, including the Republic of Yemen Government, to quickly and publicly announce their support for the cessation.

    So we’re still working this very, very hard. We want this to be done, as we’ve said before, under UN auspices under the special envoy and through his leadership.

    QUESTION: Can you tell us about the content of a letter in the meeting between, I think, Assistant Secretary Tim King, I believe, with the Yemeni President Hadi in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, I believe? What was the content? Was there some sort of an American apology in that letter?

    MR KIRBY: What I would say is that as part of our ongoing engagement, senior Department officials did meet today with Republic of Yemen Government officials to discuss the U.S. position toward reaching a durable settlement to the conflict. Our position, again, towards the conflict remains the same: We want all sides to return to a cessation of hostilities and to accept the UN roadmap as a basis for discussions. So Ambassador Tueller and Deputy Assistant Secretary Tim Lenderking did meet with President Hadi to convey those messages.

    QUESTION: So the Yemenis or Yemeni sources claim that the Secretary of State Kerry may have been in a bit of a hurry to conclude a deal, that it was not well thought out or well conducted. Do you agree with that? Was he in a hurry to conclude some sort of a deal?

    MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary would make no apologies for having a sense of urgency here --

    QUESTION: Right, of course.

    MR KIRBY: -- to try to end this conflict. You want to call it in a hurry? Fine, you can call it in a hurry. But he certainly --

    QUESTION: No, I mean, I’m not saying it. They’re saying it.

    MR KIRBY: No, I know. But obviously, he has a sense of urgency here about trying to end this conflict and to doing so peacefully. And I don’t – again, he would make no apology for that.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Turkish President Erdogan is in Pakistan today, and he publicly suggested to Pakistan that the West was behind ISIS in order to hurt Muslims, quote, “It is certain that Western countries are standing by Daesh. Now Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and many others are suffering from terrorism and separatist terrorism.” What’s your comment on that? Do you think it’s a reasonable statement?

    MR KIRBY: No, I do not.

    QUESTION: Could you --

    MR KIRBY: Do you have another question? (Laughter.)

    QUESTION: Well, I do – actually, I do have another question, but you think it’s a completely unreasonable statement and he’s --

    MR KIRBY: Any such notion, I think, is just – it doesn’t really merit a response. I mean, the United States in particular has been at the leading edge here of countering terrorism around the world, and there’s a coalition now of some 67 entities, mostly countries, that are aligned against Daesh. As I said, there was just a meeting in Berlin – a counter-ISIL coalition meeting that went through an enormous amount of progress that we’re making against this group. I think the record speaks for itself.

    QUESTION: And Turkey’s a member of that coalition too, isn’t it?

    MR KIRBY: They are indeed.

    QUESTION: Okay. My other question on Turkey: At yesterday’s briefing at the Pentagon, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve pointed to disputes between the U.S. and Turkey over the Turkish-backed offensive on al-Bab in Syria. The U.S. had been supporting that offensive by the Turkey’s ally – Arab allies with airstrikes, now it’s not and some other things. And the spokesman said that these differences between the U.S. and Turkey were being dealt with in diplomatic channels. He wouldn’t speak to them. So could you help us understand what those differences are and what progress, if any, has been made on resolving them?

    MR KIRBY: Well, I would point you to the spokesman for Inherent Resolve to go into more detail here about what he’s referring to. What I would just say is what we’ve said before. We continue to want the activity, and particularly in that part of Syria, to be coordinated. And that we’ve said that uncoordinated military activity hasn’t been – we don’t deem it to be constructive and helpful to the overall effort against Daesh. So I have nothing more to add to that.

    QUESTION: Well, he --

    MR KIRBY: But are we having constant communication with Turkish officials about the campaign in Syria? Absolutely, we are.

    QUESTION: He wouldn’t speak about the – when people asked, he wouldn’t speak. He says diplomatic channels, which is why I’ve asked you. Well, if one can guess at it -- is, is the Turkish offensive on al-Bab causing problems for the campaign to isolate Raqqa?

    MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to talk about operational matters. I think you know that I won’t do that. That is a better question posed to my colleagues at the Pentagon. What we have said here is that we continue to want coalition efforts to be aligned and arrayed against Daesh. That’s the – that is the common threat, that’s the common enemy, that’s the purpose the coalition exists, and as I said, we just had a very useful set of discussions in Berlin about the progress we’re making. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges to it. And one of the challenges we’ve talked about is the potential for uncoordinated military activity to not necessarily be helpful to the overall effort.

    Okay? Yeah.

    QUESTION: Will you take my questions today despite my being a reporter with RT?

    MR KIRBY: I took your questions yesterday, I’ve taken them before, I have every intention of taking them today. If I hadn’t thought that I would take your questions, I wouldn’t have called on you when you raised your hand.

    QUESTION: I appreciate that. Thank you. Your colleague, a State Department official, emailed me the list of hospitals, which you didn’t have at the briefing yesterday. The list included three hospitals struck in rural western Aleppo and two in the Idlib province within the past few days. For your information, my colleagues at RT in Moscow did ask Russian officials about the hospitals on that list.

    MR KIRBY: Good.

    QUESTION: The information comes from the World Health Organization, which indeed says five hospitals in Syria in those locations were attacked. The WHO told us that it was not their job to assign blame, but since the accusations are so serious, they must be looked into, I think. With that, I want to ask a few questions: Did you – and I mean the State Department – draw the conclusion that Russia hit the hospitals based on their location, knowing that Russia was carrying out operations in Idlib in the past few days? Was it based on the location?

    MR KIRBY: What I said yesterday was these hospitals – we had information that these hospitals were hit from credible aid agencies. You mentioned WHO. We know it wasn’t the coalition aircraft, so it had – there had to be Syrian or Russian aircraft. I don’t know and wouldn’t get into, as I never have from this podium, a specific discussion of each and every airstrike and who and how it was conducted. That’s not for me to say.

    QUESTION: So do – is that – just to make it clear, are you or are you not accusing both Russian and Syrian militaries of hitting the hospitals?

    MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that --

    QUESTION: Both --

    MR KIRBY: -- that there have been credible accounts of hospitals that were hit – hospitals. Let’s not forget that as we – you and I go in this little back-and-forth – hospitals, medical care facilities. These were credible accounts of them being hit. We know that they weren’t hit by coalition aircraft, so that leaves only – now, wait a second – that leaves only two other potential players here, and that’s either the Syrian regime or their Russian backers. They’re the only other ones that are flying tactical aircraft over Aleppo and have conducted airstrikes. Now, if you’re asking me to tell you --

    QUESTION: Which one --

    MR KIRBY: -- what kind of aircraft on each hospital and how many – I don’t have that information.

    QUESTION: And do you --

    MR KIRBY: All I was doing yesterday was saying that we’ve seen these credible allegations and claims and they are extremely worrisome.

    QUESTION: Do you distinguish between – well, obviously, you said you don’t know which air force hit which hospitals. But do you distinguish between the two or do you accuse them both together of that?

    MR KIRBY: I wasn’t – Gayane, I wasn’t making accusations. I was simply expressing concern that we had seen from credible aid agencies – and I think the World Health Organization is credible – about continued Syrian and Russian-backed airstrikes in and around Aleppo where innocent people are being killed, people that are going to hospital to get better and they’re being killed. And let’s not forget that. This isn’t about accusations, and I’m not making accusations. I was yesterday expressing serious concern that we still have, because we saw another report today from Doctors Without Borders that another two hospitals were struck today. You can go look at Doctors Without Borders on their website and see that. Okay?

    QUESTION: Can I just do a quick follow-up?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Why is it so difficult to determine who struck what? I mean, in this kind of environment, we know the combatants, as you said; we know who was carrying out airstrikes and so on. So why is it so difficult to determine that this was hit at this particular time and so on? I mean, you had definitely all kinds of --

    MR KIRBY: We don’t have perfect visibility – we don’t have perfect visibility and – Said, look, I don’t want to get into a military discussion here.

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: Again, I think this is a better question put to my colleagues across the river. But we don’t have perfect visibility on the tactical situation in and around Aleppo or even in many areas of Syria. The fight – the military effort in Syria is dedicated to Daesh and to the fight against that terrorist group. And on those issues, on those strikes, on those operations, our colleagues in the military have been very candid and forthcoming with detail, but we don’t have perfect visibility.

    QUESTION: Because apparently, I mean, rebels or opposition sources and so on, they make all kinds of claims. They claim that there is no ISIS, let’s say, in eastern Aleppo, there are no militant groups and so on. They make these – how do you determine what is credible and what is not when you don’t have your own assets on the ground?

    MR KIRBY: We do the best we can knitting together a fabric of information sources that we have. Some of it can come from intelligence sources --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- some of it comes from press reporting, some of it comes from credible aid agencies and organizations, some of it comes from the opposition groups that we’re in daily communication with. I mean, there’s a variety of sources that allow you to put together the best picture possible, but it’s not perfect, and I’ve never said that it’s perfect, our information is --

    QUESTION: And my last one on this: Was there any contact between the Secretary of State and the Russian foreign minister today?

    MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, they’re expected to meet in Lima. I don’t think that meeting has happened yet. As I understand it, it’s happening later this afternoon and I’m sure that Mark will put out a readout when it’s over.

    QUESTION: You think there will be some sort of resurrection of the September 9th agreement?

    MR KIRBY: The September 9th agreement is --

    QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I mean the ceasefire agreement that was – that’s gone?

    MR KIRBY: I mean, that’s still – no, I wouldn’t say that it’s gone.

    QUESTION: Completely.

    MR KIRBY: I mean, it’s still the – it’s still what we’re trying to achieve there, Said, but obviously it hasn’t met with success so we wouldn’t be having this particular exchange. But the multilateral discussions in Geneva continue. I think the Secretary’s hope, and frankly, his expectation is that we’ll be able to get there, but we’ll see.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    QUESTION: So, John, your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry said that Foreign Minister Lavrov would be raising with Secretary Kerry the incident, shall we say – the exchange that happened yesterday over Syria and the hospital strikes from this room. Do you – have you been in contact with them about this? Do you know anything about it? Do you – has the – is the Secretary --

    MR KIRBY: Have I been in contact with who about this?

    QUESTION: With either the Secretary or with the – has – have any Russians been – Russian diplomats been in touch?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been any --

    QUESTION: Okay.

    MR KIRBY: -- contact from the Russian side on this. We’ve seen tweets and press reporting that this is going to be raised in the meeting. And I know that Mark’s aware of that, but the meeting hasn’t happened yet. So we’ll see.

    QUESTION: Okay. Can I go to --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah. Back there.


    QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Since the election of Mr. Trump as the next president of the United States of America, sir, the immigrants of these countries have a lot of concerns, and as you know, that there are more than 400 racism-related incidents all over the country and we are witnessing more on the social media and on the websites, while Mr. Trump also announced to suspend the Syrian refugee program. So does this Administration, the Obama Administration, have a concern if such a thing happening here? That --

    MR KIRBY: Is – that some – abolish what program?

    QUESTION: Syrian refugee program.

    MR KIRBY: The refugee program.

    QUESTION: Yeah, Syrian refugees program. He announced that he is going to suspend that program.

    MR KIRBY: Well, look, I – the new administration, they will make whatever foreign policy decisions, whatever national security decisions they believe are appropriate and that is for them to speak to. And I don’t know how they’re going to approach that or any other foreign policy challenge that will be facing them on the 20th of January. And it’s not our place here at the State Department to speak for them or to characterize whatever decisions they’re going to make, whether it’s with taking in refugees or the conflict in Syria or climate change. That’s for them to speak to.

    What we’re going to do is two things. We’re going to stay prepared and ready for when their team gets here to provide them all the information and context that they require to be informed as they make those decisions. And number two, for the 60-some odd days that the Administration has left in office, we’re going to continue to pursue the foreign policy agenda and priorities and objectives that we have before us, that President Obama has set in place, and that is what the – that’s what the Secretary is going to be focused on for the next couple of months.

    QUESTION: Sir, I have one more on Pakistan. Sir, they are – the tensions at the Pak and India borders are on rise. Like two days ago, more than 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed at the border, while same number of Indian soldiers were also killed. Sir, you always urge both the countries to restart the dialogue process and to solve their problems with a – with the dialogue, but what kind of diplomatic efforts are going on from U.S. side to calm down the situation when both the countries have the nuclear assets and nuclear bombs, and so it’s a very tense situation there?

    MR KIRBY: We remain in close communication with our counterparts in both countries, and again, as we’ve said before, urge them both to work bilaterally to try to reduce tensions. Okay?


    QUESTION: Can we go to APEC?


    QUESTION: Yes. I just want to make sure I understand – did you said at the beginning that the Secretary Kerry is planning to meet with the special envoy from Taiwan during the meeting?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think that’s what I said in there. Yeah. The Taiwanese APEC special envoy, James Soong. Yeah.

    QUESTION: Okay. Do you have more details on that? When is the meeting and --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. As I said, these – I gave you a list of the meetings that he has today. Some of them have happened, some of them are happening as we speak, and again, I think you’ll hear more from Mark, who’s out there with the Secretary. He’ll provide readouts of these meetings as they happen. The only one that I know we’ve read out so far is the meeting with Foreign Minister Kishida.

    QUESTION: What does United States want to get out from the meeting with – what should we set our expectations for?

    MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of it since I don’t even know if it’s happened, Nike. So why don’t we just wait for the readout and I’m sure Mark will provide you the context on the back end of the meeting, okay?

    QUESTION: Could you at least give us some sense of the status of U.S.-Taiwan relations?

    MR KIRBY: There’s been no change to our relations with Taiwan and there’s been no change to our “one China” policy. I think you know that.

    QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?

    MR KIRBY: Yeah.

    QUESTION: So as I promised Mark when he was up on the podium last week --

    MR KIRBY: I think I know where this is going.

    QUESTION: Yeah. I’m going to return to my line of questioning about the nuclear agreement and the IAEA finding, which is now fully public, even though it was fully public last week.

    MR KIRBY: Fully public by being leaked, you mean.

    QUESTION: Well --

    MR KIRBY: Well --

    QUESTION: -- it was out there.

    MR KIRBY: Right, it was out there.

    QUESTION: So it’s out there now for real, not a leaked copy.

    MR KIRBY: That’s right.

    QUESTION: It finds that Iran for the second time was not in compliance/violated the nuclear deal by overproducing heavy water. Why – Mark last week was reluctant to call this a violation. In fact, not reluctant; he refused to say that it was a violation, and I’m wondering if that’s – now that the report is public, is the Administration willing to accept that this was a violation of the nuclear deal?

    MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly agree with the IAEA that they slightly exceeded the 130 metric ton heavy water stockpile limit by something of a tenth of a metric ton. And as I think Mark said, we certainly made clear to Iran that it should take quick action to resolve this issue without delay in keeping with its JCPOA commitments. It is our understanding that they’re working to do just that.

    QUESTION: Is it or – is it a violation or is it not a violation?

    MR KIRBY: I think, again, we agree with the IAEA that they did exceed by a small amount the heavy water stockpile that the deal requires them to have. But – and we have made it clear to Iran that we want to see this resolved quickly. Iran has taken steps to do just that.

    And the other thing I’d say is – and I know you won’t fully appreciate this --

    QUESTION: (Laughter.) Well, you might be surprised.

    MR KIRBY: -- but this is – this in-excess stockpile, I mean, one of the reasons we were able to know about it was because of the regimen that’s been put in place by the deal. When we were having the debate on Capitol Hill about the deal and we talked – and the Secretary talked about this, that we’re going to know. And so we know. And the concerns have been expressed to Iran, and they’re dealing with it.

    QUESTION: Yeah, but everyone in the Administration – even the President said the other day that Iran has been in compliance with the JCPOA since it was implemented, and the IAEA has found now twice where it wasn’t in compliance. Why is that – how is that – how are those not violations?

    MR KIRBY: I – again, I’m not going to parse words here.

    QUESTION: I mean, it’s just calling it what it is, right?

    MR KIRBY: They – in – well, I would also say that in removing this extra – and it is a small amount --

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: -- that the removal itself is in keeping with their commitments under the JCPOA to, if they exceed it, they’ve got to get rid of it. And so that’s what they’re doing.

    QUESTION: And so – what do they do? They ship it out and then they sell it, right?

    MR KIRBY: That’s one way to do it. I mean, to find --

    QUESTION: So they’re actually making money off of violating the agreement.

    MR KIRBY: -- to find places to sell it or to transport it. So I’d have to – I --

    QUESTION: Isn’t that an incentive for them to violate the heavy – at least the heavy water element of the agreement?

    MR KIRBY: Actually, I mean, our understanding is that that’s a difficult task.

    QUESTION: What?

    MR KIRBY: To find buyers for that.

    QUESTION: To sell it?

    MR KIRBY: It’s not easily done.

    QUESTION: Well, you guys bought a whole bunch of it not that long ago. (Laughter.)

    MR KIRBY: It’s not easily done. It’s not easily done. So look, I don’t want to – look, I’m not trying to justify them being in excess or make any excuses for that, Matt. We’ve – we’re concerned about this, and we’ve expressed that concern. And we expect them to stay inside the limit that the JCPOA requires of them. So I’m not making light of this at all.

    QUESTION: I --

    MR KIRBY: But --

    QUESTION: Go ahead.

    MR KIRBY: But this is an example of how the system is supposed to work. When they exceed, when they don’t meet every single – each of the commitments, the IAEA will know and will call them on it.

    QUESTION: Right, but --

    MR KIRBY: And they are now resolving.

    QUESTION: But you’re – but in – but in fact, you’re not calling them on it, because you’re not saying they violated it when they did. And the way it’s --

    MR KIRBY: The IAEA said they slightly exceeded it. We agreed with that assessment.

    QUESTION: But is that a – but I don’t understand why you can’t call that what it is, which is a violation of the agreement.

    MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been clear about our expectations for --

    QUESTION: So – and how – then all right, so let’s leave that aside then. Getting back to this, hasn’t this agreement been set up in a way that if, instead of being punished for noncompliance or violation, Iran is actually being rewarded for it because they’re going to make money off of it?

    MR KIRBY: No. As I said – look, I’m not an expert on the heavy water marketplace. As I understand, that’s not an easy thing to sell. So I don’t see that as an incentive to Iran in any way. I just don’t.

    QUESTION: So is the United States no longer in the business of buying heavy water from Iran?

    MR KIRBY: I’m – I can’t speak to future decisions. I don’t know.

    QUESTION: Well, you – but at the time, people said that it was a one-off that – the last time it happened, it was --

    MR KIRBY: Right.

    QUESTION: -- explained to us as a one-off deal.

    MR KIRBY: I know of no – I know of no decisions pending for us to purchase more.

    QUESTION: Right. But someone is going to buy it, right? Or you don’t know that?

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know that.

    QUESTION: It’s just going to sit in where --

    MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to talk to Iranian officials about what they’re doing to do with the excess.


    QUESTION: Can I squeeze in a couple questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

    MR KIRBY: Sure.

    QUESTION: It’s the same thing we talked about it before, but it seems that yesterday the bill to legalize – according to Reuters, the bill to legalize the settler outpost advanced in the Israeli legislature. I wonder if you have any comment on that. I know you commented yesterday and the day before, but it seems to be --

    MR KIRBY: And so --

    QUESTION: And the day before. But this is the thing: It keep – seems to be advancing. I mean, that is not being held back. So --

    MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, Said, we obviously are deeply concerned by the advancement of this legislation that would allow for the legalization of illegal Israeli outposts that are located on private Palestinian land. Israel’s own attorney general has reportedly expressed serious concerns about the constitutionality of this proposed legislation. If this law were enacted, we believe it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of outposts that are illegal under Israel’s domestic law deep in the West Bank, and it would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that is inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and break longstanding Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian property.

    QUESTION: On that answer, can I just make – that’s exactly the same answer that Elizabeth gave. It hasn’t been changed since their initial vote over the weekend, has it?

    MR KIRBY: No. No, our position on this proposed legislation hasn’t changed --

    QUESTION: No, I know that. But if you had not --

    MR KIRBY: -- except that it’s now advanced and --

    QUESTION: It hasn’t been – I know that, but your language hasn’t been updated to reflect the new vote.

    MR KIRBY: I did not read with great specificity Elizabeth’s transcript. As I understand it --

    QUESTION: You did not?

    MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t. And I --

    QUESTION: Really?

    MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t.

    QUESTION: Boy.

    MR KIRBY: I trust her. But I don’t know that the language has changed.

    QUESTION: Was it? It’s exactly the same.

    MR KIRBY: She says it’s the same.

    QUESTION: All right. Okay. Thank you.

    QUESTION: Let me just follow up very quickly. Also the supreme court turned down a village request to show documents that they do own the land and so on. I am saying that they took 100 dunam which is like 25, 30 acres of land – agricultural land from a village near Qalqilya.

    The point is with the peace process and negotiations are in a coma and there is no restraint, the Israelis are not restrained. Would you consider, like the major power in the world, maybe being the arbiter to see what is the legality of this thing? I mean, to look into it yourself. Is that something that can be done?

    MR KIRBY: Look, Said, I think – I mean – we --

    QUESTION: Is that something that can be assumed by the United States?

    MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been exceedingly clear about our view on settlements, on demolitions in the West Bank, and I – I mean, I just don’t have anything more to add. I mean, we have been very clear and we continue to have discussions with Israeli leaders about that.

    QUESTION: Should there be, in the absence of direct negotiations or something that you – under your guidance that you have shepherded in the past – should there be anything that ought to be done at the level of the United Nations to look into this matter, the land confiscation, the settlements, and so on?

    MR KIRBY: I think we’ve – well --

    QUESTION: We’re not – no, we’re not talking about a two-state solution; we’re not talking about recognizing Palestine. We’re talking about something that is actually tangible and physical, which is the land, the settlement.

    MR KIRBY: I know.

    QUESTION: Shouldn’t there be something done?

    MR KIRBY: I’m very aware that it’s a tangible issue.

    QUESTION: Right.

    MR KIRBY: And, again, we continue to talk to all sides here to take the kinds of steps to ratchet down the tensions to get us closer to a two-state solution. I’m not going to get ahead of action inside the UN one way or the other, but we have been exceedingly clear about our position on settlements and that hasn’t changed.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    (The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)

    DPB # 197

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 15, 2016

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 16:44
Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 15, 2016


2:06 p.m. EST

MS TRUDEAU: AFP has deigned to join us.

QUESTION: Two of them.

MS TRUDEAU: I know, it’s the tag team.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: We appreciate that. Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I have a few things at the top.

First, on Burma: We’re concerned by reports of a spike in violence in Burma’s Rakhine State. We’re following the situation closely and attempting to get reliable information about developments there. I’d note that the U.S. Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel, along with a visiting delegation of officials from the State Department as well as other U.S. agencies, held a previously scheduled bilateral dialogue with the Government of Burma today in Naypyidaw. The delegation included the deputy assistant secretaries from both the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau, as well as the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau. The U.S. delegation stressed the need for the Government of Burma to facilitate a credible and independent investigation of these allegations to improve transparency and information sharing, and to provide access for both media as well as humanitarian aid.

We note the recent visit to Rakhine State by Ambassador Marciel and other representatives was a positive step in improving international access, but it’s important for the government to do more to stem the violence and provide assistance to those in these affected areas.

Next, a quick update on the Secretary’s travel. As you’ve seen, Secretary Kerry met with the Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, as well as National Security AdvisorSheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi today. He’s now headed to Marrakech, where he’ll participate in the 22nd Conference of the Parties, COP-22, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. While at COP-22, Secretary Kerry will deliver a speech that highlights the urgency of addressing climate change and the importance of a continued, ambitious climate action around the world.

And with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can I just start – ask you very briefly on your Burma statement?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Who exactly did this delegation meet with?

MS TRUDEAU: So it met with – let me see if I’ve got this. So it was with their counterparts with the Burmese Government, so it’s ministries of border affairs, home affairs, and foreign affairs. Separately they also met with a host of local NGO, and they’ve also met separately with officials from Rakhine State.

QUESTION: But they haven’t met with anyone from the military?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, I’ve got border affairs, home affairs, and foreign affairs, as well as the office of the state counsellor.

QUESTION: Do you think that they got to meet with the right people to --

MS TRUDEAU: I think that they engaged with the interlocutors that they felt were important there. If they did meet with the military, I can update you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Moving on.


QUESTION: This is going to be your daily question here. Any contact from the transition team yet?

MS TRUDEAU: As of this morning, we have no update to offer you; we have no contact to report.

QUESTION: Okay. None at all that you’re aware of?

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: And that – and – okay. All right. Then, unless anyone has questions about that --

QUESTION: Yeah. Is that normal that at this stage you would not have had contact with the transition team?

MS TRUDEAU: We discussed this yesterday. It’s up to the president-elect and his team. We stand ready to welcome them, provide the briefing materials, the facilitation, as we look towards inauguration in January.

QUESTION: I guess the other question would be though you – so you don’t see this as being some kind of a snub or --

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, absolutely not.


MS TRUDEAU: No, absolutely not.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up Matt very quickly?


QUESTION: But it seems like it’s not only with the State Department but also with the Pentagon and even the White House that there is no – been no contact in the transition teams.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would direct you to the president-elect’s team.

QUESTION: I mean, just going back to the normalcy of those things.

MS TRUDEAU: I would direct you to the president-elect’s team. We stand ready to support. We look forward to having those discussions.

QUESTION: Can I change to the subject of Yemen?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: The Secretary, in his comments to people – to reporters in Abu Dhabi earlier today talked about the – getting an agreement --


QUESTION: -- on a ceasefire to start on the 17th, whatever day of the week that is. But immediately afterwards, the Yemeni Government, President Hadi’s government, said: What? – basically – we’re not on board with this. And I’m just wondering, was this premature that – what the Secretary announced?

MS TRUDEAU: No, I wouldn’t say it was premature at all. If people missed this, the Secretary actually made these remarks this morning our time in Abu Dhabi. As we all know, the Secretary continues to actively engage the parties in the conflict to bring the fighting to an end. As part of this sustained effort in Muscat yesterday – actually very early this morning – Secretary Kerry met with members of the Houthi delegation in a push to make progress into restoring – resolving the conflict in Yemen.

As the Secretary said in his remarks to the press, the Houthis have indicated a willingness to abide by the terms of the April 10th cessation of hostilities on the condition that other parties abide by that commitment as well. We understand the Saudi-led coalition has also expressed a willingness to return to the cessation. Additionally, the Houthis accepted the UN-drafted roadmap as a basis for negotiations to end the conflict to work for the establishment of a new national unity government.

In terms of your question, in terms of the Yemeni Government, we continue to support the UN special envoy’s work. This is his role as he seeks to negotiate the details of this solution moving forward. In terms of the interactions that he’s had directly with the Government of Yemen, I’d point you to the UN special envoy.

QUESTION: Okay. So then you’re saying that he did not exaggerate or – because he said only that the Houthis had agreed and --

MS TRUDEAU: No. We believe that for the reaction of the Government of Yemen, as I said, I’m going to point you to the special envoy. We believe that we have an agreement on the UN roadmap. We continually – we continue, though, to urge the Republic of Yemen to support this roadmap, to agree to those terms. As you noted, the 17th is – has been posited as a start date. We continue to work on the granularity of that.

QUESTION: Right. But it’s not – not all parties have agreed to it.

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that we have a good path towards the parties agreeing. I note the Yemeni Government’s reaction to this this morning.

QUESTION: Yeah. So not all parties have agreed to it, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe we have a good start towards it. Correct.


MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: Correct?


QUESTION: Not all parties have agreed to it.

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve seen the Yemeni Government’s reaction – yes.

QUESTION: Right. They rejected it. So why – I mean, can you just say --

MS TRUDEAU: So we have three days as we move to --

QUESTION: I’m just looking to --

MS TRUDEAU: As we look three days as we --

QUESTION: I’m looking for some kind of acknowledgement from you guys that it’s – all is not well and good with the ceasefire in Yemen --


QUESTION: -- yet because not everyone has agreed to it.

MS TRUDEAU: No. And I think what we explained is part of the Secretary’s remarks on what I’ve just said is that we’ve made enormous progress. We think that this provides an opening. We’re looking towards November 17th as that time. We continue to engage with the UN special envoy as he works to bring all parties to the table.

QUESTION: Okay. But you do acknowledge that President Hadi’s government needs to be brought onboard still?

MS TRUDEAU: I saw those remarks. Yes.

QUESTION: Does that mean yes, you accept that --


QUESTION: -- the government has yet to agree?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe that is correct.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: And Elizabeth, did you think that the Secretary coordinated with the government before his announcement or not? And do you think that there is a coordination between the Saudis and the government, the Yemeni Government, in this regard too?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So in terms of the coordination between the Saudis and the government, I’d refer you to those parties. Where we are working is with the UN special envoy in his role to facilitate the communication between the parties.

QUESTION: But how can he announce such an agreement or ceasefire --

MS TRUDEAU: What he announced was that we have made significant progress towards that roadmap, towards the UN roadmap, looking at a November 17th date; that he had had constructive engagements with the Houthis about this; and that we believe there’s a path forward.

QUESTION: But it’s not – this issue is not related to the Houthis only.

MS TRUDEAU: Well no, of course. And that’s what we’ve said and we continue to work with the UN special envoy as he continues to talk with all parties to move towards that November 17th date.

QUESTION: And why don’t you talk to the Yemeni Government directly as the Secretary talked to the Houthis directly?

MS TRUDEAU: So the conversation that the Secretary had with the Houthis was to talk about that UN roadmap. In terms of conversation directly with the Yemeni Government, we believe that’s the role of the UN special envoy and we direct you there.

QUESTION: And it’s not the role of the UN special envoy to talk to the Houthis too?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that it was important to talk to the Houthis as we move forward and try and move to that 17th to get that cessation of hostilities to create a roadmap going forward under the UN auspices.

QUESTION: As you know, the Houthis get significant support from abroad. Has the Secretary been in touch with Foreign Minister Zarif?

MS TRUDEAU: I have no calls to read out on that.

QUESTION: So you don’t know then if the Houthis’ main sponsor is also onboard? It’s not just the Yemeni Government that is not yet onboard, but you don’t know whether the --

MS TRUDEAU: The Secretary had direct engagement with the Houthis regarding the path forward on this. They have accepted the UN roadmap as the path forward, so we take their word for it.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know how many times the Secretary has had direct contact with this – with the Houthis, Houthi leaders?

MS TRUDEAU: Actually, I don’t. I do note it’s unusual. I can check though.

QUESTION: It’s – yeah. I don’t know that he’s ever had himself. I know that there have been contacts, but is this the first?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I don’t believe that, but we’ll check. And if he has before, then I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Where did he meet with them? In Oman or UAE?

MS TRUDEAU: He met with them last night, so that was in Oman.

QUESTION: And do you have the names of the --

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second. I do not.

QUESTION: -- of the Houthi representatives?

MS TRUDEAU: I do not. Why don’t we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Yemen? A quick Yemeni --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course on Yemen.

QUESTION: Right. I’m just confused, trying to clarify. The 17, the date of the November 17th – who proposed it?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe this came out actually of the discussions that the Secretary had, noting, as Matt has pointed out, that there’s still some granularity, that there’s work to do moving towards that – that cessation. But we believe we have a path forward on this.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Was it premature, do you think? Sorry.

MS TRUDEAU: No, I don’t believe it was premature. I think – I think with the Houthis’ agreement on this, this was a significant step.

Are we moving to Syria? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we do Syria? Yeah. Could you update us? Apparently, the Russians resumed bombardment of Idlib and these areas although not in the Aleppo area. Could you first update us on what the situation is and if there has been any kind of contact with the Russians on this issue?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we have seen that. We strongly condemn the resumption of airstrikes in Syria by the Russians as well as the Syrian regime. The most recent reported attacks are on five hospitals and one mobile clinic in Syria. We believe it’s a violation of international law.

It’s also worth noting – and I would say this as an aside – but noting our focus has been on the delivery of aid, is that despite Russian claims that it halted airstrikes in the past month, Russia allowed no aid or food into east Aleppo; they let eastern Aleppo residents starve while seeking praise from the international community for halting indiscriminate strikes for three weeks.

We have consistently tried to work to de-escalate the violence in Syria. We’re at the table again in Geneva on that today. And we’ve consistently pushed for the provision of humanitarian aid to these civilians suffering under siege. Instead of joining us constructively to reach that goal, Russia again has backed the Assad regime in their ruthless war against the Syrian people.

QUESTION: You’re saying that they have halted aid during the times --

MS TRUDEAU: They did not permit the facilitation --

QUESTION: How did they do that? How did they do that physically? I mean, did they like have barricades? Did they stop the – obstructed the roads and --

MS TRUDEAU: In terms of – they did not facilitate the access. They worked with their partners in the regime to block the aid.

QUESTION: What specifically did --

QUESTION: Okay. There are also reports --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, go ahead, and I’ll follow up on you.

QUESTION: And just on this one, I mean, what specifically did Russia do in this latest bombing campaign that you’re saying is a violation of international law?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, it’s – we’re taking a look at what Russia is hitting. It’s hitting mobile clinics. It’s hitting hospitals. Again, it’s denying aid. We’ve said this repeatedly: Russia had an opportunity here to facilitate aid and food and medicine to these people under siege. It failed to do so.

QUESTION: But is the – is – when you’re saying it’s a violation of international law, are you talking about something they have specifically done as part of this resumption of airstrikes, whether it’s the hitting of hospitals, or are you saying this is just what they’ve been up to?

MS TRUDEAU: The set of actions that they have taken within the last weeks.

QUESTION: Over the last many weeks?



QUESTION: According to the UN --

QUESTION: Are you surprised?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve talked a lot about Russia’s actions and their words. Russia, for three weeks, made a significant point of saying that it had halted bombardment of Aleppo.


MS TRUDEAU: And had broadcast that through it’s various platforms and various outlets. The resumption of airstrikes today I won’t say is a surprise; it’s certainly a disappointment.

QUESTION: But they did say that they – that these pauses were temporary in nature and they kept being extended. And then --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, with the idea that it would be for aid access, which did not happen.

QUESTION: Right. And then it – right. And then they did tell – make the announcement that everyone should leave that part of the city. That doesn’t make it any – that doesn’t mitigate it --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Warning civilians that you’re going to bomb them doesn’t make bombing civilians (inaudible).

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that it does. I’m just asking you that --

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: -- you don’t think that that’s a mitigating factor.

QUESTION: So does this mean it has yet --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on. One second, Lesley. I want to go to Said, because we --

QUESTION: No, I – stay on Syria. Just very, very quickly – now, they’re making a separation between bombing Aleppo and bombing Idlib. You don’t make that separation. You think that’s part of the same campaign.

MS TRUDEAU: We think bombing civilians --



QUESTION: But it’s one – it’s part of the same campaign.


QUESTION: The same Russian aerial bombardment campaign. And my last question is: It seems that areas under government control is also suffering from lack of aid and so on, according to the United Nations. Do you have any information on that? There is --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t. On that, that would be best a question for the UN. Civilians need aid, period.

Lesley, I’m sorry to cut you off.

QUESTION: No, no, not at all. Have you raised your thoughts with the Russians, if you are talking in --

MS TRUDEAU: So we continue to have these discussions in Geneva.

QUESTION: Was it raised with them there?




QUESTION: So – wait. Today?

MS TRUDEAU: We met in Geneva --


MS TRUDEAU: -- on the issue of – the issue of the possibility of strikes – I’m not sure on the timing, because I believe the strikes happened while they were still meeting in Geneva. We’ve raised the issue of bombardment. Let me check the exact timing and see if it came up today.

QUESTION: Well, but, wait – but I mean, you can’t say that --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So we were meeting in Geneva. We talked about the issue --

QUESTION: There was a meeting underway when the resumption of the attacks happened?

MS TRUDEAU: I want to check the exact timing on that. Okay.



MS TRUDEAU: Are we done on Syria?

QUESTION: Well, I just want to go back to the – not the point that I made yesterday, but my question from yesterday. If they were, in fact, in the middle of a meeting – how can you say that these meetings are accomplishing anything when in the middle of it the bombardment resumes?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We believe that Russia and the Syrian regime’s actions are inexcusable. However, we still believe that the only way forward is a political resolution and that resolution will happen through multilateral talks.

QUESTION: Right. But these multilateral talks are not aimed a political resolution. They’re – I thought they were aimed at trying to get the ceasefire back.

MS TRUDEAU: It is. A ceasefire, aid delivery, creating the space --

QUESTION: I know. But these meetings --

MS TRUDEAU: -- to have that political resolution.

QUESTION: But the meetings in Geneva are not aimed at – I mean, they are ultimately aimed at restarting the political talks.

MS TRUDEAU: They are.

QUESTION: But in the immediate term they’re supposed to be for the ceasefire, right?

MS TRUDEAU: That’s correct. But we do view this as a sequence of steps.

QUESTION: I get that. But you’re still saying that these meetings are worthwhile.


QUESTION: And I don’t understand how you can say that if in the very middle of the meeting the attacks begin again.

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to believe it’s important to talk.


QUESTION: And when will you be ready to withdraw from --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of that, Michel.


MS TRUDEAU: One more.

QUESTION: Well, I was trying to figure out – can we just clarify, at what level are these discussions again?

MS TRUDEAU: They’re working level.

QUESTION: So if you say --


QUESTION: I mean, is Ratney there? Is the special envoy there?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, it’s working-level discussions. It’s my understanding that the special envoy is not in Geneva right now.

QUESTION: But what are the achievements of these meetings or of these groups?

MS TRUDEAU: We talked about this at length yesterday, Michel.

QUESTION: But we didn’t get it yet. If there is no results yet and they are still meeting, what’s the purpose of meeting without achieving anything?

MS TRUDEAU: We actually spent about 20 minutes unpacking this yesterday. We are not saying that these discussions in Geneva are coming to an immediate conclusion or an immediate win, but we continue to believe that this is the best path forward – is a discussion in a multilateral setting. And we’ll stay at the table until we believe it’s not the case.

QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador in Iraq visited Erbil over the weekend.


QUESTION: Could you give us a readout on his meeting, please?

MS TRUDEAU: I did. I believe you might have seen the embassy in Baghdad actually issued a statement on this today, but I’m happy to recap it. Ambassador Silliman did visit the Iraq Kurdistan region yesterday. The ambassador was accompanied by the Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Terry Wolff. The ambassador met separately with President Barzani and other IKR officials to discuss progress in the battle against Daesh, U.S. support for the Peshmerga, and the IDP situation in the area. The ambassador praised the sacrifices and the bravery of the Peshmerga and thanked the leaders for their support of the more than 1 million IDPs and refugees who have come to the IKR. Ambassador Silliman also encouraged the Kurdish leaders to continue what we see as productive dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to address outstanding issues.

QUESTION: And while he was there, he gave a press conference, asked – answered a reporter’s question, saying he was confident that Peshmerga forces would return to their pre-ISIS positions once ISIS is defeated. Was that just an opinion he was expressing or a formal policy that you intend to enforce?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think we’ve spoken about this before. The Peshmerga themselves have said that and we would hold them to their word.

QUESTION: Well, there are, kind of, changing circumstances in that a lot has happened – a lot of bloodshed, a lot of animosity. In fact, the CIA director, John Brennan, has expressed skepticism that Iraq can ever be put back together again. And I’m wondering if that – if you still remain firmly committed to that or there’s room for negotiations between Baghdad?

MS TRUDEAU: No, we remain firmly committed to that.

QUESTION: Do you think that will continue in the new administration?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I would refer you to the president-elect’s team to discuss any of his policies for the next administration.

QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: Very quickly, I have a quick question. We discussed this a couple weeks ago – I think Matt raised it on the – this barring BDS supporters and so on from entering Israel. Well, it passed its first reading yesterday and so on, and in fact, they were called by former Israeli Minister of Justice Livni – Tzipi Livni called it McCarthyism and we should allow everybody in, and that would actually help the BDS movement. Do you have any comment on all this? I mean, I know you said that you don’t interfere, but I wanted to know if you do have a position.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I guess I – yeah, I’d reiterate what – I think it was Mark who briefed --


MS TRUDEAU: -- that day where we spoke about this. We’re aware of the various reactions to the proposed bill to bar pro-BDS activists from entering Israel. We understand. I’d also note that the legislation requires several more steps before becoming law. The United States strong opposition to boycott and sanctions of the state of Israel is well known, however, as a general principle, we value freedom of expression even in cases where we do not agree with the views espoused. In terms of where the legislation is and the local reaction in the Israeli community, I’d refer you to Israel.

QUESTION: What should, let’s say, Americans of Palestinian descent that are active on these issues – when they go to, let’s say, and they land at Tel Aviv airport and so on, and they’re barred from entering the country or held, what should they do? What should the – what do you advise them to do in this case?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think we’ve spoken about this before --


MS TRUDEAU: -- and we’ve spoken about our conversations with Israel and treating all Americans equally on that. And while every country has a right to control its borders, we certainly support the freedom of expression even when we don’t agree with the policy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, on the U.S. tanks that appeared in the --

MS TRUDEAU: The armored personnel carriers?



QUESTION: Any update on it?

MS TRUDEAU: So we actually have been looking into it, so thanks for that, because I did want to update you. We take any allegations of end-use violations seriously – in Lebanon, in Syria, anywhere around the world. Our embassy in Beirut is working with the Lebanese armed forces to investigate the images circulating on social media purporting to show Hizballah displaying U.S. military equipment in Syria.

We’d note that the Lebanese military has publicly stated that the M113s depicted online in the Hizballah military parade were never part of their equipment roster. We’d also note the vehicles in the photos that you can see circulating on Twitter are extremely common in the region. The M113s are old. They’re found in a number of different countries’ militaries in the region. Identifying their origin is difficult, something that we have not yet assessed exactly at this period of time. However, we continue to work closely with our colleagues within the Pentagon and the intelligence community and will update you either later this week or later as soon as we come to a conclusion.


QUESTION: So what countries have them in their --


QUESTION: What countries in the region --

MS TRUDEAU: So I actually – I asked that, and apparently it’s a number of countries in the region, and these apparently also – it’s things I did not know about M113s – is they can last for decades. They can last upwards – 40, 50 years. So as we continue to take a look at these images that were circulating on social media, we’ll drill down; we’ll see if we can identify it by the configurations of the tanks, things like that.

QUESTION: Right. Well, bravo. I’m glad that they last long. It’s another testament to American manufacturing.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you. Thank you. Buy American, Matt.

QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) Well, so Hizballah should buy American? Is that what you’re saying?

MS TRUDEAU: Or not, yeah.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. I --


QUESTION: You say “a number of countries.” Can you name them or at least give --

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, I don’t want to get ahead of it, because we’re still looking.

QUESTION: Well, how many? What’s the number?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I will say several. We’re still looking --

QUESTION: Three, four, five?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to characterize it.

QUESTION: It’s not like – well then, how – but how can you come and say a number of countries and then not --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. As soon as we have more granularity, more details – but I will say, as I mentioned yesterday, that we’re actively looking at this. It is of concern, as end use is anywhere around the world. And as soon as I have something more, I’ll update you guys.

QUESTION: I think Israel has some, but I think they’re probably unlikely to be Hizballah’s supply.

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that they are actually old Iranian tanks from the shah days?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I’m just not in a position to --

QUESTION: But do you suspect that? Do you suspect that they may have been old Iranian tanks that have found their way to Lebanon?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I’m not in a position to sort of judge hypotheticals like that. We’re looking into it. As soon as I have an update, you guys will get it.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. deliver such arms to Iraq, to the Iraqi Government, lately?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, we’re taking a look. We’ll get back to you as soon as we have more, Michel.



QUESTION: The other question: Does --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- the Iraqi Government have the same kind of tanks?

MS TRUDEAU: These are questions in terms of that sort of capability that, as we take a look at the photos that were circulating on social media, we’ll be able to narrow it down. I just don’t have an answer for you.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, three weeks ago Kirby told us that the ICC has made a valuable contribution to the service of accountability in a number of situations. This was in reference to African countries – a handful of them withdrawing cooperation from the ICC. Now the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, says she’s investigating U.S. military and the CIA for potential war crimes in Afghanistan. Will you cooperate with this investigation? Do you find it helpful, a valuable contribution to the service of accountability?

MS TRUDEAU: So I think you’re talking about the preliminary examination report of the Office of the Prosecutor. Obviously, we’re aware of the report. I’d note the United States is deeply committed to complying with the law of war. We have a robust national system of investigation and accountability that is as good as any country in the world. We do not believe that an ICC examination or investigation with respect to the actions of U.S. personnel in relation to the situation in Afghanistan is warranted or appropriate. As we previously noted, the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute and has not consented to ICC jurisdiction.

QUESTION: Is that the reason that it’s inappropriate, because you’re not a member?

MS TRUDEAU: We – for that and for other reasons. We do not believe it’s warranted or appropriate.

QUESTION: Well, Sudan says that – Sudan is not a member.


QUESTION: And it says that the indictment of its president is not appropriate or warranted. What’s the difference?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we have a robust system of accountability. It is longstanding U.S. policy, and you guys see this every day. Kirby, I think, of anyone, speaks about the accountability of U.S. military systems. Though when credible allegations of wrongdoing by U.S. forces are made, an investigation is undertaken so appropriate actions may be taken.

QUESTION: So the reason that this is not hypocritical is because one, you’re not a member, and two, you conduct investigations and hold people accountable on your own and don’t need the International Criminal Court to --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as you said, we’re not a member, we’re not subject to ICC jurisdiction and we also do have a robust system --


MS TRUDEAU: -- of national accountability.

QUESTION: So I think you’re saying --

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: -- yes, that those are the reasons.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: One, you’re not a member, and two, you handle these kinds of investigations on your own.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: But I don’t understand how those two things – I mean, there are lots of countries that aren’t members – and when you say that it’s a bad thing or a negative thing for African countries to want to leave because they think it’s unfair and then say – and then give this as your reasoning for why it’s inappropriate for the ICC to look into these allegations, do you not see how that opens the way – opens the door to --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would say, as we said --

QUESTION: -- people saying that you’re – that there’s a double standard here?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we have engaged with the ICC and we’ve supported ICC investigations and prosecution of cases that we believe advance our values in accordance with U.S. law. I understand your point, but we hold ourselves accountable more than – I wouldn’t say more than any other country, but we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards when it comes – we believe that we have national systems of accountability that are more than sufficient.

QUESTION: But if --

QUESTION: Okay, but there’s been criticism, though --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m aware.

QUESTION: -- of the national system of accountability that – and do you reject that as being --

MS TRUDEAU: No, we --

QUESTION: -- unfair criticism?

MS TRUDEAU: We – what I would say is that we do an extraordinary job of investigating and of holding those accountable -- investigating credible allegations, holding ourselves accountable, holding our personnel accountable, and closing investigations in a manner that serves justice.

QUESTION: So in these – with these specific allegations that the prosecutors say that they were looking into, people have been held – there have been investigations and people have been held accountable for --

MS TRUDEAU: On specific investigations on issues like that, especially the ones in this report, I am going to have to refer you to the Department of Defense. I can speak broadly about our view on this report.

QUESTION: Right, but the – you’re saying that the ICC doesn’t need to or shouldn’t investigate this, because the U.S. has its own system, so I’m --

MS TRUDEAU: We have extensively examined the conduct of our own forces in Afghanistan, for example.

QUESTION: And determined what?

MS TRUDEAU: We have made public reports on detention operations, we have extensively examined our own activities, we have been as transparent as possible.

QUESTION: Right, but the findings were – and people were or were not held accountable for any abuses?

MS TRUDEAU: In many cases, people were held accountable. Yes.

QUESTION: They were? Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I’m sorry, Dave.

QUESTION: Yeah, so you said that you have in the past cooperated with similar ICC investigations into other countries where you see an opportunity to advance American values.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: So you’re selectively using the ICC as a tool of foreign policy, rather than as justice.

MS TRUDEAU: No, I would say that we – as I said, that we cooperate with the ICC, we support the ICC. We believe the ICC, as we have made clear --

QUESTION: You support the ICC’s investigation of other countries.

MS TRUDEAU: We have supported the ICC when we believe in cases, for example, of accusations of genocide where you have these grave violations of – grave atrocities on this, but we’re not a signatory to the Rome statute; we are not members. We have our own system of accountability.

QUESTION: Right. Does that undermine your case for asking, for example, African countries to cooperate with us?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve raised our concerns. When countries --

QUESTION: Your concerns bear little weight since you yourself would not put yourself under their jurisdiction.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, when we did raise concerns, we’ve always been clear that we ourselves are not signatories.

QUESTION: You were a signatory at one point.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we --

QUESTION: Not a ratifier.

MS TRUDEAU: Not a ratifier. Thank you.

QUESTION: I have --

MS TRUDEAU: One more.

QUESTION: I don’t know if this was addressed before. Maybe you did or there was a statement over the weekend and I missed it, but Hong Kong? And --

MS TRUDEAU: I haven’t, so if you --


MS TRUDEAU: -- if you want to ask about them.

QUESTION: The removal of these legislatures on the oath issue.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We are aware of reports that a Hong Kong court has disqualified two legislator-elects who altered the wording of their --

QUESTION: I think it’s legislators-elect.

MS TRUDEAU: What did I say? Legislators – did I put the plural on the wrong --

QUESTION: It’s like attorneys general.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you. Legislators-elect who altered the wording of their oaths of office. The United States strongly supports and values Hong Kong’s legislative council and independent judiciary, two institutions that play a critically important role in promoting and protecting the special administrative region’s high degree of autonomy under Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” framework that has been in place since 1997. We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.

QUESTION: Okay, maybe I missed it. So you think that – you don’t like this action by the court?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that the Chinese and the Hong Kong SAR government and all elected politicians in Hong Kong should refrain from any actions that fuel concern or undermine confidence in the “one country, two systems” principle.

QUESTION: So does that mean that you – that altering the oath, you’re opposed to, or that the court stripping them of their office is of concern? Which or both?

MS TRUDEAU: Both. We --

QUESTION: So you don’t like the fact that they changed the oath and you don’t like the fact that the court ruled the way it did.

MS TRUDEAU: We believed that – actually, both. So one, it was an independent – the independent legislative council, the independent judiciary, we believe played that important role. But we also call on both the Hong Kong politicians as well as the Chinese Government.

QUESTION: Can I have a quick Hong Kong question?


QUESTION: The student advocate Joshua Wong is coming in Washington, and he’s supposed to be in Congress tomorrow. Is there any plan from this building? Anyone is meeting with him?

MS TRUDEAU: I have no meetings to read out for his visit. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, guys.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 14, 2016

Mon, 11/14/2016 - 16:24
Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 14, 2016


2:01 p.m. EST

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. We know that the President will be speaking about 3 o’clock, so we’ll do this as quickly as we can today so you all can watch that. I do have a few things at the top.

First, on Pakistan: The United States condemns in the strongest terms the attack on Saturday on a Sufi shrine in Balochistan that killed 52 innocent worshippers and wounded over a hundred more. We extend our condolences to the victims and their families. Attacks like this only deepen our shared resolve to defeat terrorism and end the targeting of religious minorities. We stand with the people of Pakistan at this difficult hour and remain committed to supporting religious freedom. We’ll continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat of terrorism.

In Afghanistan, we also strongly condemn the suicide attack on coalition personnel at Bagram Airfield this weekend that killed two U.S. servicemembers and two U.S. contractors, and injured 16 other U.S. servicemembers and one Polish soldier participating in the NATO mission. Our deepest sympathies go to the family and friends affected by this tragic loss. So we mourn their sacrifice, we reaffirm our commitment to protect the homeland, and help our Afghan partners secure their country and their future.

On Ghana, the United States is deeply disappointed by the targeting of the home and family of the primary opposition presidential candidate. We condemn all violence in Ghana, including political violence in the period leading to, during, and immediately following Ghana’s elections scheduled for December 7th. Ghanaians from across the political spectrum have worked hard to build one of the leading democracies in Africa. We call on all Ghanaians to remain peaceful and respect the democratic process. We specifically call on candidates, their parties, and their supporters to reaffirm their pledges to renounce violence and settle any disputes through the judicial process.

And finally, I believe you all saw the readout of Secretary Kerry’s meetings today in Oman, where he met in Muscat with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said in Muscat. Secretary Kerry and the sultan reaffirmed the enduring partnership between the United States and the Sultanate of Oman. Secretary expressed the United States’ deep appreciation for the helpful role that Oman has played in securing the recent release of U.S. citizens held in Yemen. He also discussed with the sultan the conflict in Yemen, the urgent need to find a durable political settlement to ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.

I think also, as you know, the Secretary met with his counterpart, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, where they discussed a range of regional issues of mutual concern, including the conflict in Yemen.

The Secretary travels to Abu Dhabi tomorrow to meet with the crown prince, and we’ll have more on that tomorrow.

And with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks. Let’s start with any transition news that you might have. Has there been any contact yet? Have – do you have any idea when the president-elect’s team will be showing up?

MS TRUDEAU: So we have no updates from this weekend. As we said on Friday, the department stands ready to help the transition team and support them as we move to Inauguration Day, but I have no updates.

QUESTION: But does that mean that no, there hasn’t been any contact?

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Does anyone have anything on that, or --

QUESTION: Well, from – so just to clarify, so nobody from the president-elect’s office, nor from the State Department, has reached out?

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: So what would normally happen? Would the State Department --

MS TRUDEAU: I think this is standard. I think at this stage we’ll wait for the transition team. Certainly we’re poised to help, we’re poised to support with a range of administrative, logistical briefing information materials. We would welcome that. And as soon as I do have an update, I’ll make sure you guys get it.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Just to understand clearly, how is what – the Secretary’s activities, how do you brief the president-elect on what he’s doing far as U.S. foreign policy – from the State Department’s perspective, not from the White House? How do you do it?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think we would back it up and we would take a look at --


MS TRUDEAU: -- the range of foreign policy issues. We’ve spoken about this in previous transitions from the podium.


MS TRUDEAU: There’s briefing books, there’s oral materials coming in. So it really – it’s something that the State Department is adaptable, looking at what the transition team would need. And we look forward to working with them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Elizabeth, on Syria, Secretary Kerry has called Minister Lavrov today. Do you have any readout for this phone call?

MS TRUDEAU: So I don’t have much of a readout. I can confirm that the Secretary did speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, spoke about the situation in Aleppo. They also re-emphasized the need for a political solution to the conflict in Syria. But beyond that, I have no details to offer.

QUESTION: But it looks like the Syrian regime and the Russians are planning to invade eastern Aleppo soon. Did they discuss this? Has the Secretary asked the Russians to postpone this military operation?

MS TRUDEAU: So I know they discussed the situation in Aleppo. In terms of what the regime or their Russian backers are planning on doing, I’d refer you to them to speak to their plan. But the Secretary did re-emphasize, again, that there’s no military solution to the conflict in Syria.

QUESTION: And are you concerned about such an operation?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as we’ve said all along, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Aleppo. We’re deeply concerned about the civilian toll that we’re seeing there. What we have said all along is that aid needs to go in and that there needs to be a period where we can get back to the political negotiations. The Secretary in his conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov did emphasize the dire situation in Aleppo and --

QUESTION: But since this whole – since the September 9th agreement collapsed not too many days after it was actually announced, you guys have spoken – and then the bilateral contact, or at least in terms of a ceasefire was broken, you guys have talked about how the teams are still meeting in Geneva and continue --

MS TRUDEAU: Which they are, including today.

QUESTION: So exactly what have they done over the course of the last month and a half since the bilateral U.S.-Russia thing broke down?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to detail the conversations that we’re having in Geneva. What I would say, and I confirmed this this morning, is we continue to have conversations there in a multilateral setting, taking a look at the emphasis that we’ve placed on aid, that we’ve placed on re-establishing a cessation of hostilities and the political transition.

QUESTION: Can you – can you --

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering, can you point to any kind of success that these talks – that you continue to have – have made? I mean, is there any --

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t point to success, but I can point to the fact that we continue to think that they’re valuable enough that we remain at the table.

QUESTION: But they haven’t – but they’ve produced nothing, then, right?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, we continue to engage. I don’t have a result to point to, Matt.

QUESTION: Just that – right, I know, that I – and that’s the issue here because you guys have said, and actually, everyone has said all the time that – or everyone does say all the time that there’s no point in having talks for talks’ sake. And frankly, if they’ve been meeting for a month and a half and you can’t point to a single thing that they’ve accomplished, I just wonder what the – what is the point of continuing this? It seems just like it’s a charade and an excuse for people to get a lot of expensive room service meals in luxury hotels in Switzerland.

MS TRUDEAU: I think where we are very focused on is the fact that we go back to our fundamental principles where we’ve focused on, on – in the conflict in Syria, is that there is no military solution. The only solution on this is going to be through a multilateral setting. We are having these talks because we think it’s important to have these talks and we wouldn’t continue to engage in these talks if we didn’t think it was valuable. Again, I’m not in a position --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, just --

MS TRUDEAU: -- where I can unpack the specific strands of our work – where we’ve seen progress, where we don’t see progress – but what I will say is that we’re there, we’re at the table, we’re in Geneva, we continue to push.

QUESTION: Can – but can you give one reason why you think that they’re valuable?

MS TRUDEAU: I think they’re valuable because what’s our other solution? Our other solution is a military solution and the international community understands there is no military solution for the conflict in Syria. So what we do is we continue to engage every day, pushing for a political one.

QUESTION: Well, that’s a very odd way to describe – to ascribe value to something, because, I mean, if they don’t produce anything, they’re not productive, right?

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to believe it’s valuable.

QUESTION: All right. Can we – are we done on Syria?

QUESTION: On Russia and Syria.

QUESTION: I had a follow-up.

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on, a few on Syria and then we’ll move on. We’ll go to Said, then Michel.

QUESTION: I just want to – the – according to the Russian foreign ministry’s readout of the meeting, they’re saying that Minister Lavrov raised the fact that you refuse to separate the terrorists from the other groups and so on, and that is basically causing the problems in eastern Aleppo.

MS TRUDEAU: So I couldn’t speak to the veracity of the Russian foreign ministry’s readout on that. What I would say is what we’ve said all along, is we do understand this is a problem. We’ve talked about the marbleization on that.


MS TRUDEAU: We’ve talked about our efforts to pull those groups apart that continue.

QUESTION: So what are you doing in terms of basically pulling them apart from one another, to use your words?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s a – this is something that we’ve spoken about for weeks and weeks, Said. We continue to have conversations with the groups on the ground. We’ve also said how difficult it will be when these groups are under constant bombardment and this is – this is a situation where it’s very difficult for them to pull apart. When they’re under threat, they’re under attack. We believe it’s important. Our view on Nusrah and certainly Daesh have not changed.

QUESTION: So now with – apparently, there is a decision to target al-Qaida-affiliated groups and so on in eastern Aleppo. That would really include many of the groups under that umbrella, correct? I mean, including some of the groups that you may have supported in the past.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve spoken about who is included in the cessation of hostilities – the one that was put in place earlier this year. Nusrah, Daesh have always been excluded under that.


QUESTION: Yes, Elizabeth. You were saying that there is no military solution, but Russia and the Syrian regime are talking about a military solution in eastern Aleppo and the – it looks like the military offensive on eastern Aleppo is imminent.

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to believe that attacks like this just push the country further into chaos. They continue to push the country farther from the goal of a nonviolent solution.


QUESTION: Also, still on Syria. Do you – following up what Matt was saying, do you really believe that there can be progress made in the next two months, or is it really just a situation of --

MS TRUDEAU: No, we do, or else --

QUESTION: -- maintaining the situation as it is until a – I mean, it’s a difficult --


QUESTION: -- situation to be in, where – I mean, what progress can one make in two months when you’ve got a new administration --

MS TRUDEAU: We believe it’s valuable to be at the table to continue to explore all opportunities that will alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, and to create that space for a political dialogue. We work at this every single day.

QUESTION: Can I ask, has the president-elect’s transition team in any way – I know he’s getting daily security briefings, but have they in any way joined or been briefed on this situation?

MS TRUDEAU: I would refer you to the president-elect’s transition team on that, Lesley.


QUESTION: Can I stay in the region --


QUESTION: -- but move south a little bit to Bahrain?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: You will have seen, I believe, that this secular leader has been arrested after giving an interview – or for giving an interview about Prince Charles’ visit to Bahrain, and I’m wondering if you have anything to say --

MS TRUDEAU: I think you’re talking about Ibrahim Sharif.

QUESTION: Sharif, yes.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We are aware of media reports, actually, that Ibrahim Sharif, the former leader of the opposition Waad political society, has been questioned and charged over comments he actually made in an AP article. We’re following the case closely. As we’ve said before, we believe that no one anywhere should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in freedom of expression, even when that expression is critical. Any charges against Sharif on that basis should be dropped.

QUESTION: Can I go to Colombia?

QUESTION: Thanks. Just do you know if his --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- if you’ve raised this case directly with the Bahrainis?

MS TRUDEAU: We have. We have raised the case of Ibrahim Sharif and other human rights separately directly with the Bahrainis.

QUESTION: Okay. So this – I mean, this just kind of happened over the weekend, so --


QUESTION: But since his – since he was detained, you have --

MS TRUDEAU: It is my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. All right, thank you.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the Colombians – the Colombian Government publishing a revised peace accord? Do you --

MS TRUDEAU: I think you saw a statement from the Secretary this weekend.

QUESTION: I actually didn’t, but --

MS TRUDEAU: It was – let me recap that statement for you. So the Secretary actually spoke to this this weekend. We congratulate Colombia on achieving a revised peace accord and we continue to support efforts by President Santos and the Colombian people to pursue a just and lasting peace, the peace that Colombia deserves. The United States has supported Colombia in conflict; we will continue to be a strong partner in peace.

QUESTION: And then on Venezuela --


QUESTION: -- you didn’t put out a statement on that.

MS TRUDEAU: We did not.

QUESTION: So the discussions – the second round of peace talk – of talks on Venezuela. When Tom Shannon was here, he was pushing for the release of prisoners and said that was the most significant thing that everybody’s watching for. As they moved into the talks, obviously didn’t see anything on that happen. So do you continue to do that? Do you think it’s on the way? How did you think the second round went?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’d characterize it this way, is we’re pleased to hear that reports from the Venezuelan Government and the political opposition that they’ve made some progress in their dialogue. We understand the dialogue continues. We hope it will continue to bear fruit in the coming days. As we’ve said before – and I believe the under secretary addressed this – is that Venezuela needs a good-faith and productive effort to end its political impasse and to address the urgent challenges facing the Venezuelan people. We continue to work with our partners in the region through the Organization of American States to support the dialogue.

Nike. I’ll get to you, Said.


QUESTION: A quick follow-up on Colombia.


QUESTION: What is the U.S. position on the referendum of the revised peace accord? Would the United States support it?

MS TRUDEAU: Sure. How the revised accord is submitted for approval is really up to the Colombian Government to decide.


QUESTION: If I may, can I --

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry. Of course.

QUESTION: Take your time.

QUESTION: One quick question on South Sudan.


QUESTION: A United – USAID-funded radio station, Eye Radio, was shut down last Friday by the government. Do you – first, do you have anything on that? What does that say about --

MS TRUDEAU: I do, and thank you for the question. We are aware that South Sudanese authorities recently shut down Eye Radio. We’d note this follows the closure of other media outlets. Such actions send the wrong message to the people of South Sudan, who are guaranteed the right of freedom of information and expression by their own laws and constitution. As we’ve said many times, a society that’s free, vibrant, and successful depends on the unrestricted flow of information and ideas through a free and independent press. We understand Eye Radio and South Sudanese authorities are engaged in talks right now to restoring Eye Radio and allowing it to reopen. We’re also raising it directly with our counterparts in Juba.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Great. Said.

QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict very quickly?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the – Israel’s ministerial committee for legislation unanimously approved a law to retroactively legalize the illegal outposts. Do you have any comment on that?

MS TRUDEAU: I do. I’ve got quite a bit to say on that, so --

QUESTION: All right, all right.

MS TRUDEAU: -- give me a second. We’re deeply concerned about the advancement of legislation that would allow for the legalization of illegal Israeli outposts located on private Palestinian land. Israel’s own attorney general has reportedly expressed serious concerns about the constitutionality of the proposed legislation. If this law were enacted, it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank. This would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that’s inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and also break longstanding Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land. Our policy, as you know, on settlements is clear. We believe they are corrosive to the cause of peace. This legislation would be a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already gravely endangering the prospects for a two-state solution.

This only makes the clearer the choice Israel faces between building more settlements and preserving the possibility of peace. I would note we understand this legislation has several more steps to go before it’s passed. We hope it does not become law.

QUESTION: Now, the logical follow-up. Now, if they go ahead and do this, will – will you, before – this Administration before departing, will they do anything or they are not likely to do anything?

MS TRUDEAU: So that’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to get in there.


MS TRUDEAU: Obviously, we very – made very clear our position on this proposed legislation.

QUESTION: So independent of the incoming administration, are you likely to do something tangible if they move ahead and (inaudible)?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I’m not going to speak to this. We’ve made our position very clear on this. Let’s see where that goes.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a couple more if you would indulge me.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: Also, a couple of days ago the Israelis – they made a Palestinian family of 12 – or a number of families demolish their own homes in East Jerusalem. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve spoken before to this practice of demolition.

QUESTION: Yes. Right.

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that any actions like that that raise tensions are counterproductive to peace.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Well, can I just add to --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- to your comment on the draft law. You referred to the settlement enterprise.

MS TRUDEAU: The idea of settlements, new settlements, the retroactive legalization of existing illegal settlements – so settlements taken as a whole.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, “settlement enterprise” suggests that it’s --

MS TRUDEAU: Should I say “settlement issue?” That’s probably better.

QUESTION: I don’t know what you --


QUESTION: I don’t know what you mean by “enterprise.”

MS TRUDEAU: I would say the issue of settlements. It’s a good clarification.

QUESTION: Can we go back and find out if – because, I mean, if the Administration believes that settlements are a quote/unquote “enterprise” that is – that suggests that it’s got --

MS TRUDEAU: I’ll check. I think what we meant is --

QUESTION: -- it’s got some broader implication to it.

MS TRUDEAU: -- the issue of settlements writ large.

QUESTION: Okay. And then nearby, Syria – just – over the weekend you may have seen some photographs that appeared on Twitter and other social media that appeared to show some U.S. tanks being in a Hizballah parade in Homs. Do you know anything about that?

MS TRUDEAU: So I saw the social media report’s very grainy photographs. I have no information on it. I will note that we’re working with our interagency counterparts to find out more information and get some clarity on it.

QUESTION: Well, if – and I realize you will be able to dodge this by saying it’s a hypothetical, but it shouldn’t --

MS TRUDEAU: I love it when you set me up like that.

QUESTION: But it – well, but it shouldn't really be a hypothetical. If it turns out that these were tanks that were sold to the Lebanese armed forces and then ended up in Hizballah’s hands, wouldn't that be some kind – wouldn't that violate some kind of U.S. law?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, Hizballah is a foreign terrorist organization, clearly.

QUESTION: Yeah. So wouldn't it violate some kind of --

MS TRUDEAU: Why don’t I look for granularity, get some clarity on this? I don’t want to speak --

QUESTION: I’m not interested in – I mean, I am interested, but I think this is a question that can be answered without you knowing definitively whether these tanks --

MS TRUDEAU: Obviously, we would be gravely concerned if equipment ended up in the hands of Hizballah.

QUESTION: Equipment that you sold or gave to the Lebanese armed forces.

MS TRUDEAU: To whomever.

QUESTION: There is a precedent for this. It happened in the middle ‘70s. I mean, the Lebanese army basically broke up and everybody went to his own group, so to speak, or --

MS TRUDEAU: Again, what we’re looking at --

QUESTION: So it could --

MS TRUDEAU: -- is sort of a Twitter feed with some grainy photos. As I said, we’re trying to look for clarity on this. As I have more information, either we can discount it or we have more, I’ll definitely come back.

QUESTION: How urgently are you looking into --

MS TRUDEAU: Very much.




MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Matt?

QUESTION: That’s it.

QUESTION: No, thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 10, 2016

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 16:48
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 10, 2016


2:06 p.m. EST

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Greetings on a Thursday.

QUESTION: Last day of the week.

MR TONER: True that.

QUESTION: Tomorrow’s a holiday.

MR TONER: Tomorrow’s a federal holiday. And as the Europeans should also know, it’s Armistice Day. The 11th – 11th day of the 11th month --

QUESTION: (Inaudible), yes.

MR TONER: -- 11th hour, I believe, was when it hit. A little bit of European history there.

Anyway, welcome to the State Department. A few things at the top: First of all, at the State Department today, we have 250 young business and social entrepreneurs from across the Western Hemisphere joining us for the closing summit of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, or, as we like to put it – as we like to put most things into acronyms – YLAI, which is a professional fellows program. And they’ve just spent the past five weeks in cities across the United States.

As part of the summit here in D.C., they’re engaging senior department officials, including Under Secretary Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary also for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte. And the fellows will close the day with a Q&A with Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, which will be moderated by Under Secretary Rick Stengel, on the value of being an active global citizen. YLAI emphasizes entrepreneurship and is one of the young leaders initiatives that aims to empower young people around the world to tackle our shared global challenges.

And just a very quick update: The Secretary left for this morning – or left this morning for Antarctica, where he’ll arrive at the Pegasus Ice Field midmorning. He’ll meet with McMurdo staff there, and they’ll discuss their important work and the impact of climate change. These scientists and researchers study a wide range of subjects in the extreme south of the planet. And as you know, the Secretary will be hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. And tomorrow he’ll travel, weather permitting, to the South Pole, and then return to New Zealand.

And I know Kirby got the chance last week, but I just wanted to take note of Arshad Mohammed’s departure – imminent departure from the building. I just want to say – speak personally and professionally, but personally, Arshad’s been a great friend and has always kept me honest and made me a better spokesperson. He’s a great journalist, a tough journalist. The two go hand in hand sometimes. I respect him enormously and I very much appreciate, as I said, his friendship and guidance in the time that I’ve been in the Public Affairs Bureau and in the deputy spokesperson, and even before that as director of the Press Office – those roles. So we’re going to miss him, and I know you’re not going far, so please – and I know you’ll continue to keep us honest here from the podium, but all the best.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.

MR TONER: Great.

QUESTION: I’ll echo that sentiment and since it – I think it is your last briefing, right?


QUESTION: Take it away. (Laughter.)


MR TONER: Well put.

QUESTION: Thank you. Well, I’ll start with the Philippines. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Just down to business. Okay.

QUESTION: Did you want me to --

MR TONER: No, it’s okay. It’s okay.

QUESTION: Okay. I’ll say something.

MR TONER: No, I’m joking.

QUESTION: If you will allow me to apostrophize for a moment, these briefings have sometimes seemed otiose or almost pyrrhic – (laughter) – but I have greatly enjoyed our exegetical and Talmudic efforts to understand American foreign policy. I’ve used all five of those words in briefings over the last dozen or more years. (Laughter.) I’ve had enormous --

MR TONER: Well put.

QUESTION: I’ve had enormous fun and I wish everybody in the room, those on this side of the podium and those on that side of the podium, well as you keep doing this.

MR TONER: Thanks.

QUESTION: But I do have a question about the Philippines.

MR TONER: Of course. (Laughter.) Yeah.

QUESTION: So as I’m sure you have seen, a Philippine law enforcement agency has filed bribery, graft, and drug-related complaints against one of President Duterte’s fiercest critics. Her name is Senator Leila De Lima. Does this move toward prosecution strike you as politically motivated?

MR TONER: We’re aware of reports, Arshad. I don’t have a lot to add at this point. Of course, we’re looking at it very closely but we don’t have any kind of pronouncements to make as to what it might mean. But of course we’re watching it very closely and we would urge the Filipino Government to conduct any legal actions against a politician in accord with its international legal obligation and its own legal process – due process.

Go ahead.


MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: I wanted to see if you could give us an update on a transition – transition planning, if there’s been any contact yet with the incoming – or the people who will decide who the incoming team is.

MR TONER: I don’t. I deliberately left that off of the topper just because I don’t have a lot really to add. I don’t have any substantive update – I guess I’ll put it that way – on the transition process here at the State Department beyond what I said yesterday. Of course, we stand ready, as I said yesterday, to work with the incoming team once that team is designated and arrives here. But we don’t have any firm word as to when that might be. As we have updates, I’ll certainly – we’ll certainly provide them to you.

QUESTION: So there’s been not a single envoy from the Trump transition team that’s come into the building as far as you know?

MR TONER: No, not that I’m aware of, no.


MR TONER: I checked before coming out here.

QUESTION: So is that – is that --

MR TONER: All quiet on that front --

QUESTION: In past --

MR TONER: -- but again, we’re poised. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In past transitions --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- was it normal that they would send someone right away?

MR TONER: I think it varies, Said.

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge (inaudible) remember --

MR TONER: No, I think it – right, no, no, it’s a fair question. I think it varies as to – I mean, look, we’re two days past what was a very tumultuous, I’ll put it that way, campaign and even Election Day. So you saw that the president-elect and his team are moving forward. There was a meeting earlier today that we all watched at the White House. He’s up on Capitol Hill now. He’s moving forward, taking steps, but as to – there’s no – I guess what I’m saying is there’s no timeline for how this works. For our part we’re ready to receive them and to work with them as soon as they are able to get in place.

QUESTION: I guess my question is, I know that the president-elect gets the intelligence and so on and all these things.


QUESTION: Is there something similar that the State Department provides his team? Is there something --

MR TONER: Well, again, I think once that – once the transition team moves over here, we would provide them with briefings. I think that would, obviously, depend on the clearance level or whether they would come with – what clearance level they would come into the building with. And then certainly as there’s a secretary of state-designate named, we would work with that individual very closely, as well as their top aides.

QUESTION: If you make any major policy decisions in the next nine weeks, do you brief them in advance?

MR TONER: That’s a good question. I don’t have a ready answer for that. I would guess that, if not in advance, we’d obviously notify them and work with them to – so that they can understand the decision making behind any policy shifts. That said, I don’t have anything to announce. I don’t anticipate – I mean, I – we’ve been pretty clear about what our stated priorities are going forward for the next two months. There’s very little time left on the clock, but we’re going to keep at the business that we’ve set before us.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MR TONER: We can go to Syria.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you update us on --

MR TONER: Speaking of one of those issues where we continue to try to make progress.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, could you update us on anything that is new or ongoing as far as Syria is concerned? Has there been any contact with the Russians?

MR TONER: I don’t. I mean, you saw – we’ve seen reports, obviously, Russia said they’re going to extend this pause in Aleppo. We are concerned, frankly, by the UN’s announcement earlier today about the – that the last available food rations had been distributed in Aleppo earlier today. We would support any UN effort or plan that can provide access or greater humanitarian assistance to Aleppo, and we would call on the Russians and the regime to allow that access. Obviously, that’s something they agreed to in the February 22nd cessation of hostilities.

Beyond that, as I said, we continue to meet in Geneva. Those meetings are ongoing. I’m not aware that they’re an everyday occurrence, but that process continues.


QUESTION: Thanks. The CENTCOM said U.S. strikes in Syria and Iraq over the past two years have killed 119 civilians. Do you see that number as too many or do you find it acceptable for two years of operations?

MR TONER: In answer to your second question, we don’t – we certainly don’t find any civilian death acceptable. And I think we’ve made that very clear many times from the podium. And certainly, I know the Department of Defense has also made that very clear. We, obviously, regret any unintentional loss of life or injury resulting from coalition airstrikes in Iraq.

I do want to take note – you mentioned – I think that it only confirmed 64 civilian deaths in this most recent announcement, but – I don’t want to quibble over numbers, but again, we take any civilian casualty very seriously. We assess all incidents as thoroughly as possible, and that includes considering information from a variety of sources, U.S. Government departments and agencies as well as human rights documentation. We’ve talked a little bit about that before and – as well as different human rights groups. And more for the Department of Defense, although the Department of State does work within this process, but the Department of Defense does consider any information – any new information – when and if it is provided in order to carry out the most extensive review of any incident that it’s – that it can.

And just to make the point again that we’ve made before, that we make every effort to protect civilians during our operations. That includes the use of precision munitions or weapons. And as we’ve said before, it also includes making a decision at times to not strike valid targets if we feel it puts undue risk on civilians.

QUESTION: U.S. investigations into civilian casualties usually lead to the conclusion that it was unintentional and therefore not a crime. Through these two years of U.S. operations in Syria and Iraq, are you aware of any instances in relation to the killing of civilians that was ruled a crime? I’m not aware of one. Are you?

MR TONER: No, I’m not. No. I would, frankly, be shocked if that were the case. Again – but that doesn’t remove the onus on our own government, specifically the Department of Defense, to take any report of an incident like this very seriously and to look into it and to compile a report about it and then, as you saw today, to actually publish a report on these allegations and to basically own up to when we have caused civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Do you think intent is what should decide whether killing of a civilian is a crime or not?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m certainly not an expert in how you would establish criminal intent. All I can say is that we stand by our commitment to investigate any allegation of civilian casualties and civilian killings. We report them. We’re as transparent as possible about our findings, and that also includes the input of NGOs and other human rights organizations. We work with them to – when they have credible allegations, credible reports. We also work with them and consult with them about how we can do better due diligence on our own procedures. So I’ll – that’s all I feel capable of speaking to.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, Amnesty International estimated at least 300 civilians killed in coalition strikes in Syria alone, while the number that the Pentagon acknowledged is much lower. Why do you think the discrepancy?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I would refer you to the Department of Defense. What I can say is we have actually brought – I think our DOD colleagues have brought in some of these – I’m not sure if it’s Amnesty International specifically, but some of these other NGOs who have higher – have reported some of these higher numbers to try to square the circle, if you will, to try to talk about where these discrepancies might have come into play. So there is an honest effort, an honest exchange there between some of these NGOs. Again, I don’t if specifically – if that includes Amnesty International, but I do know it does include some of the NGOs.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the --

MR TONER: Sure thing.

QUESTION: -- the IAEA Iran report from yesterday?


QUESTION: So have you been able to determine whether or not Iran not being in compliance with the agreement is a violation of the agreement?

MR TONER: So I don’t have a straight-up answer for you, except to say that this is what – what is reported on in the IAEA report that has not gone public yet is a technical issue that was caught by the IAEA, and Iran is taking steps to address it. And in fact, what I did find out in – that they’re doing it over and above what they need to do. If I have it in front of me here, they’re making preparations for a large transfer of almost five metric tons of nuclear-grade heavy water out of Iran, which the IAEA will be able to verify. And once they do that, that will drop them well below this limit. But that does not in any way mitigate the fact that they did overstep or go beyond the limit. We take that very seriously. I’m not going to use the V-word necessarily in this case. But we and our partners are going to continue to hold Iran accountable, and because of the JCPOA – P – JCPOA, we do have a system in place that we can hold Iran accountable.

QUESTION: Can I just – why is it that you’re reluctant to call what would seem to the average person to be --


QUESTION: -- a violation of the agreement --


QUESTION: -- a violation or the V-word, as you --

MR TONER: For the – for – I was trying to be cute there --


MR TONER: -- and that was unfair.

QUESTION: No, no, I – (inaudible.)

MR TONER: But – no, but – so first of all, if you look at the wording within the JCPOA, it actually says that Iran’s needs, consistent with the parameters, spelling out – I won’t read all the technical – are estimated to be 130 metric tons. That’s not a hard, certain figure. That said, it is a ceiling that we look at and certainly the IAEA looks at. But to say because it’s, I think, one-tenth of a metric ton over that limit – to say that’s an outright violation of the JCPOA and would somehow put that agreement in doubt, I think – I don’t want to necessarily say that.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but doesn’t that open the door to other --

QUESTION: Violations?

QUESTION: -- to them violating other elements of the agreement and then you guys saying, well, they’re going to take steps to address it, so it’s not an issue? I mean – the agreement is a whole thing and you might say that this is a technical aspect of it, but the entire agreement is technical. I mean, how many other technicalities do they – do you let the – or do you let them get away with?

MR TONER: Well, we’re not letting them getting away with it, but I get it.

QUESTION: I mean, that’s the wrong word, but --

MR TONER: I guess that’s – no, but I guess that’s the ultimate point of – bone of contention here. Well, not “we” but the IAEA has identified where they have gone over the limit. Iran has owned up to that. They’ve not made any effort to hide that. And they are taking immediate steps to address it, and as I said, going beyond in actually what they need to do to address it.

That, to us, shows that the agreement’s working. That’s what the agreement is set up to do, that we have – we collectively have eyes on what Iran is doing with regard to its nuclear program that we can address these problems as they arise. Now, if Iran refused to abide by that limit or obfuscated or tried to hide the ball or however you want to put it, then that would be a major concern, and that could be considered a violation, but they’re not.

QUESTION: So this is not, then, a violation, because they have said, okay, you caught us?

MR TONER: We feel like they’re addressing this, yes.

QUESTION: We’re – and so now we’re going to ship it out, even though they haven’t done so yet?

MR TONER: And again, we’re watching this very closely and I don’t want to give any impression that we’re not. And if they don’t, then that’s a problem.

QUESTION: Okay, but – so are you prepared to offer the same kind of terms for violation to other parts of the – other parts of the deal, say if they – if they’re found to be operating many, many more centrifuges than they were allowed to or higher --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- capacity ones?

MR TONER: -- a couple points there. One is --

QUESTION: I mean, if they’re one or two over, is that not a violation?

MR TONER: Again, it’s a matter of what we’re talking about. It’s a matter of how far they’re over and whether they’re taking steps to address it. And let me just remind people who are listening in on this, but it’s important to note that heavy water is not – is non-nuclear and is not a breakout concern. That said, they’ve overstepped their limits.

QUESTION: Right, exactly.

MR TONER: They’re addressing it.

QUESTION: I mean, that’s not – the point is not that it’s an imminent or a potential imminent threat. The point is that they agreed to do something and then they didn’t do it. And, I mean, it sounds to me like you’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this was potentially an accident or they didn’t realize they were producing more than they should have, but I’m not sure that that matters. I mean, it’s like a penalty in sports. You can – you clip someone on a football field, the flag goes down and you get a penalty for it, even if you’re sorry that you did it, right?

MR TONER: So again, we’ve now had two instances where Iran has slightly exceeded its limits. The IAEA has promptly reported and identified the issue and the U.S. has immediately raised our concerns with Iran directly and our JCPOA partners. And Iran has taken quick action to address the situation. So it’s not like we’re giving them a free pass here. And I’m not saying that that’s going to be the case with every aspect of the JCPOA, I just am not equipped or not --

QUESTION: All right, so there is no --

MR TONER: -- ready or willing to say that.

QUESTION: There’s no concern or no sense from inside the Administration that not penalizing them for non-compliance might encourage other non-compliance?

MR TONER: I think it’s something that has to be calibrated and looked at very closely. I think if we see a trend line here or if we see bigger infractions or infractions elsewhere that are more serious, that’s always an assessment that the IAEA, as well as the other JCPOA partners, are going to have to make. But as long as we see Iran recognizing where it’s come up short – or exceeded, in this case – and taking steps to address it, then --

QUESTION: All right, well what would be a trend for you?

MR TONER: We’re not going --

QUESTION: As you say, this is the second time. Does it have to be three times? There’s a school of thought out there that two is a trend. Maybe that’s not the Administration’s position. How many --

MR TONER: It’s not a hat trick.

QUESTION: How many more times does it have to happen before you call it a trend that is worthy or that is deserving of some kind of a determination of a violation and some kind of penalty?

MR TONER: Sure. Fortunately for the American public and for everyone, I’m not the one making those calls. It’s – this is nuclear experts within the IAEA who have a long experience in tracking these kinds of programs who can look at the data, have access to the data, have access to Iran’s programs, who can make a far better assessment than I can.

QUESTION: Last one on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: It’s my understanding that if there are instances of non-compliance, to use your non-V word language --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I like that.

QUESTION: -- that Congress has to be –Congress is supposed to be notified. And in fact, in the earlier instance of non-compliance on the heavy water, they were notified --

MR TONER: They were notified, yeah.

QUESTION: -- of this. Have they been notified of this instance?

MR TONER: I’m not – well, I’ll get that answer for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: You mentioned the United States directly raised concerns with Iran about this. Can you tell us more about that? What level was that done at?

MR TONER: I don’t. I don’t have more detail to provide. I don’t know at what level, but we have – I said actually we immediately raised our concerns with Iran. I mean, there’s various channels. I don’t think it was Secretary to Foreign Minister Zarif. I think it was at a lower level.

QUESTION: Can I – I don’t know if you’ve seen the comments by Foreign Minister Zarif --

MR TONER: I did.

QUESTION: -- today, yeah. So among other things, he says that their hope, desire, and preference is for the full implementation of the nuclear agreement, quote, “which is not bilateral for one side to be able to scrap,” close quote. Do you share that view that the JCPOA, which after all, is an understanding and not technically an agreement --


QUESTION: -- cannot be abrogated by one side?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, and I think I talked a little bit about this yesterday with respect to Oren’s question, any party – and I’m speaking very hypothetically here, because I don’t want in any way kind of attempt to hypothesize about what the incoming administration is going to do, I’m just talking purely about an agreement – the fact that any party can walk away from it and that will have profound consequences on the integrity of the agreement. And certainly that would be true in Iran’s case.

Honestly, I looked at his comments. I didn’t see anything there that surprised me or looked out of place. I mean, I think the important thing about the JCPOA is that this was an agreement reached through negotiations with, as I said, the P5+1 and Iran. And it’s incumbent on all the parties to uphold their commitments and certainly that’s something that Secretary Kerry has been a very strong advocate for, including when initial sanctions were lifting – lifted even – working with the financial community to help ensure that they understood the environment, the business environment and sanctions environment, with regard to Iran. We’ve upheld our commitments thus far and that’s what I can speak to.

QUESTION: So your view, though, is that any party – any of the parties to the understanding can essentially – I mean, you said walk away from, but can unilaterally decide to cease to meet their obligations under it?

MR TONER: Well, I said – what I said was that would have profound consequences on the integrity of the agreement. I mean, I think that --

QUESTION: Right. Obviously.

MR TONER: Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Right. But my point is: I’m trying to get at whether he --

MR TONER: It’s not a treaty.

QUESTION: I know it’s not a treaty and I know it’s not even an agreement --

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: -- in some legal technical sense, which I don’t understand, but is it your view that you can simply – that any party to it can essentially end it just by saying we’re not playing ball with this anymore; we’re not going to meet our commitments under this anymore?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, if that party were to be Iran, there would be consequences to that.


MR TONER: And I mean, we can’t --

QUESTION: But if that party were to be the United States, there might also be consequences. You might end up with an Iran that actually then actively pursues a nuclear program again, right?

MR TONER: Exactly. I mean, those are – yeah. I mean, I’m not – yes. That’s the reality of the situation. So this is in what we believe to be in everyone’s interests, including the world’s interests, that if Iran abides by this agreement, and all the parties abide by the agreement, then we have collectively shut off Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon, which is a win for the security of the region, security of the United States, and the globe.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the bottom line is then that just by fiat anybody can basically end it, correct?

MR TONER: Again, I – it is not a legally binding treaty, so that is my understanding. If that’s incorrect, I’ll certainly correct that. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Can I move on --

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, I think we’re --

QUESTION: -- to the – what? The --

MR TONER: Oh, Steve. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- Palestinian --

QUESTION: But he --

MR TONER: Which one? I don’t know. Okay.

QUESTION: -- needs to run, so I’ll wait for him.

QUESTION: No, it’s okay.

MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. Of course, Said. Go.

QUESTION: No, I just wanted to follow up on the question that was posed to you yesterday about the embassy --


QUESTION: -- the United States Embassy in Israel, regarding the – I think there is the --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, and I think you said that you will take the question and --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s –

QUESTION: Do you have --

MR TONER: I wanted to make sure, and I think we – if we didn’t, I apologize – get the language to Matt Lee.


MR TONER: But since Israel’s founding – you’re talking about the – what the U.S. embassy – where the location of the U.S. embassy.


MR TONER: So I mean, since Israel’s founding, the administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy here and that is recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. And we remain committed to this long-standing policy – we, the Obama Administration.

QUESTION: But in fact, there was a congressional act in 1995 that was supposed – that called for the moving the embassy by 1999 if they allocated the money. And ever since then, presidents have used a waiver.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: They used the executive waiver. So there is nothing in the law that will prevent moving the embassy. But it is up to the discretion of the president, correct?

MR TONER: It is correct that administrations since, as you note, 1995 have consistently exercised a waiver, because it’s been determined – they’ve determined, we’ve determined, that it is in our national security interests to do so.

QUESTION: And will that be the advice that you give the coming administration?

MR TONER: I would think, as we consult with the incoming administration, we’ll certainly make sure they understand, which is all we can do, our rationale behind exercising that waiver.

QUESTION: And my last one. Sorry.

MR TONER: It’s okay. No worries.

QUESTION: On the language that was adopted in the – during the convention, the GOP convention, back in July, which expunged any reference to the two-state solution, and in fact, there were statements yesterday by the minister of education and the minister of justice saying that basically the election of a new president shelves and nullifies any reference to the two-state solution. Do you have any comment on that or any take on that?

MR TONER: I don’t, beyond the fact that no administration – previous administrations worked harder than this one to try to get to that two-state solution. The President, but certainly Secretary Kerry and before him, Secretary Clinton, have worked long and hard to bring the two sides together, the two parties together into direct negotiations. We have not gotten there. It’s been a somewhat frustrating effort, but it was – it remains, I think, what we view as the only means to a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So it’s going to remain this Administration’s pursuit until the very final moments.

QUESTION: Is it an active pursuit until the final moments or are there any diplomatic initiatives or policy initiatives planned on that? Or is it simply your view will remain until the end?

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t have anything specific to announce, but I can tell you that Secretary Kerry remains very engaged on it. He speaks frequently with leaders in the region, but also with Prime Minister Netanyahu about new approaches or new ideas and ways to revitalize those efforts. Again, I don’t have any groundbreaking announcements to make, but I can’t rule out that there may be a new initiative before the end of this administration.


QUESTION: Mark, three and a half hours ago, the State Department’s travel Twitter account sent out a quite specific and somewhat alarming tweet. I quote: “Possible pending attack targeting foreigners at Serena Hotel and at guest house located in PD 10 Kabul City.” Just wondering if there’s been any more information on that and if you got anything on what prompted it. It seems a bit unusual to have this specific alert like this.

MR TONER: Sure. I honestly don’t have an update on that for you. My guess is that this was information, even intelligence that was received by our embassy that was immediately pushed out via Twitter, but also I would imagine the other platforms as well in an effort to immediately share that, what is actionable intelligence, with the American community on the ground to prevent a possible threat to their safety. But as we get updates to that, we’ll certainly provide them.

QUESTION: Please, thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Of course.

QUESTION: Just a quick note --


QUESTION: -- for the record. I looked into the number 119 civilians killed over the last two years – that number includes the latest announcement as well as the --

MR TONER: I see.

QUESTION: -- Pentagon’s previous disclosures.

MR TONER: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: Just maybe one more question.


QUESTION: How would you characterize that number? Do you see it as too high?

MR TONER: I think, again, I would say any – and I’m not trying to be glib or any – I’m trying to be serious about this. I think the bar has to be set very high, which is that any death, civilian death, unintentional or intentional, is too many. And so while we look into these reports, while we seek to learn from them what happened after action, if there were civilian deaths caused, it helps us carry out these kinds of airstrikes in a more effective way that doesn’t put civilian lives at risk.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No, if you’ll take one more.

MR TONER: Oh, go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Did you see the Washington Post story about the Trump campaign having had contacts with Russia? Is there – if I’m not mistaken, a number of countries, including some of your close allies like Britain, delegate diplomats to follow the American elections. They will sometimes travel to campaign rallies and observe the candidates and so on. Is there, to the State Department’s point of view, anything intrinsically inappropriate about a presidential campaign having contacts with a foreign government?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to the depth of these contacts, the extent of these contacts. I just have to refer you to President-elect Trump’s transition team to answer any questions about those contacts. As you note, there are instances where other foreign governments, as you said, have contacts with the different political parties during a campaign. I just don’t have anything to add to what’s been already reported.

QUESTION: Well, but do you regard such contacts as some kind of interference?

MR TONER: Again, without knowing the extent, without knowing the nature of those contacts, I just --

QUESTION: Well, just on the faith – on the face of it.

MR TONER: On the face, no.

QUESTION: The fact that there were – or someone says there were --

MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, on the face of it --

QUESTION: -- is that an issue?

MR TONER: -- without knowing any more about the depth of them, the – what they were about, no. It’s not particularly concerning.

QUESTION: So this has not been typical in previous presidential races?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just don’t know the precedent there.

QUESTION: Thank you. See you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)

DPB # 193

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 9, 2016

Wed, 11/09/2016 - 15:59
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 9, 2016


2:02 p.m. EST

MR TONER:  Hey everybody.  Welcome to the State Department.  A couple things at the top.  First, on a scheduling note.  We’ll have seven winners receive the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad at a ceremony tomorrow, Thursday, November 10th, at 10 a.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom will highlight the winners’ extraordinary and exemplary service and present the awards at this ceremony.  Now, the SOSA awards recognize U.S. Government employees, family members, including domestic partners and other members of household at embassies and consulates who performed exceptional volunteer service to their communities, mission, or host country, or rendered outstanding assistance in emergencies.  So that’s tomorrow.

Also just wanted to say a few words at the top about the outcome of yesterday’s and last night’s presidential election.  President Obama and Secretary Kerry are obviously very committed to preparing for a well-coordinated and effective transition to the incoming administration.  Ensuring a professional and orderly transfer of power – transfer at the State Department, rather, is a top priority for Secretary Kerry.  And several months ago he designated three experienced senior career officials to oversee that transition – Counselor Kristie Kenney and Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, and they’re working closely with Executive Secretary Joseph MacManus.

When the president-elect’s transition team does arrive at the State Department, the full expertise and support of the State Department will be at their disposal.  As we’ve done with every transition, we’ll provide administrative support staff to assist the team as they request information or briefings from the department.

Just a last word.  President Obama put it very eloquently a few hours ago when he said that a peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.  And I think the world saw that and hopefully was reassured by it in full display last night in President-elect Trump’s remarks, this morning in Secretary Clinton’s very gracious concession speech, and also in President Obama’s remarks, as I said, a short time ago.  Our focus at the State Department is to work, I think, to ensure two things: one, that we continue to work to make progress on our foreign policy priorities in the time remaining for this administration; and then secondly, that we work as closely and effectively with the incoming administration to ensure a smooth transition with respect to this nation’s national security and its foreign policy priorities.


QUESTION:  Right.  Let’s stick with transition for --

MR TONER:  Of course, yeah.

QUESTION:  -- a minute.  Other than the letter that the Secretary sent to the employees, has there actually been any work on transition?  Has the campaign been in touch yet, that you’re aware of?

MR TONER:  Right, so – and I don’t think this has changed so far today, but my understanding as of this morning was that there was not – there has not been any contact from the President-elect’s transition team with respect to the State Department.  Of course, there is a space, as you probably noticed, already set aside for them, as it has been for past incoming administrations.  But certainly we’re ready with respect to when they do arrive here, and that could come as soon as tomorrow, to greet them and to make them as comfortable and meet their needs as best we can.

QUESTION:  Well, do you have reason to believe that it could be as early as tomorrow?

MR TONER:  I think it will happen very soon.  I don’t have a date certain.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But there hasn’t been --


QUESTION:  That you’re aware of, they haven’t been in touch yet?

MR TONER:  Right.

QUESTION:  And is it their responsibility to get in touch with you, or do you get into touch with them?

MR TONER:  I think it’s their responsibility.  And I think that’ll happen both at the White House – obviously, you saw Josh spoke about and the President spoke about --


MR TONER:  -- a meeting with the President.  But I think this will all fall into place very quickly in the next couple of days.



QUESTION:  And a couple of things policy-related to the transition.  The President-elect has, during the campaign, spoke about his ideas for foreign policy, many of which are dramatically opposed to or not in line with this current administration’s.  So in the – over the course of the – until January, the end of January, do you expect that the Administration will maintain its strong stance in favor of the Iran deal, for example, in favor of TPP, in favor of climate – the Paris climate agreement?  Or will these things become less of a priority since they are not a priority for or in fact they are – well, they’re a priority to replace under the next administration?

MR TONER:  Yeah.  Well, they are a priority.  The very – of course, the Iran agreement’s already been implemented and being implemented.  Of course, we’re not in any way, shape, or form going to relent from that effort.  And there are other priorities, as you mentioned, with respect to TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – other agreements out there and also pursuing a political resolution to the conflict in Syria.  I mean, there’s any number of priorities, as you noted, that we’re going to remain focused on making as much progress on as we can in the remaining two months.  That includes --

QUESTION:  But even though every indication is the next administration is going to either not have them as priorities or try to dismantle them?

MR TONER:  I think, Matt – and I’m being very careful here because I don’t want to ever attempt to speak on behalf or for the incoming administration – what I would say is that’s part of the transition.  We’re going to work with them.  We’re going to brief them up as much as we possibly can on all of the issues of interest to them, but that’s really for them to speak to, what their foreign policy priorities are going to be.


MR TONER:  Let me finish.  So, I mean, we have two months more or less remaining to this administration.  We’re not going to take our foot off the pedal.

QUESTION:  Right.  But I mean – well, so does that mean you’re going to try to convince the people on the transition team that your way is – that they should carry on with policies that they don’t think are -- 

MR TONER:  Again, I think it’s – we’re going to make every effort to make sure that they understand the current administration’s perspective on all of these issues and the importance of what we’ve accomplished and the progress we’ve made on these issues, including climate change, including Syria, including Iran, et cetera.  Ultimately, it’s for the incoming administration to choose its foreign policy goals and priorities to pass.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then just very quickly is specifically one of the things that the President-elect has said when he was a candidate.  He said that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  This is something that previous administrations have not done – have resisted, in fact – since --  

MR TONER:  That’s correct.

QUESTION:  And I’m just wondering, can you remind us very briefly why exactly that is?  And if you want to do it as a TQ, that’s fine.

MR TONER:  Well, sure.  And I would prefer to actually get the policy out there as word-for-word as I possibly can.  But there is a longstanding, as you note, policy from both sides of the aisle – so to speak – with regard to Jerusalem’s status.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then just a last one on Iran.

QUESTION:  Mark -- 

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  And this also has to do with the transition.  So you will have seen that the IAEA report came out today finding Iran to be in violation of the heavy water stockpile provision of it.  This is the second time that’s happened.  Why are you – or do you still say – is it still your position that Iran is adhering to its commitments?

MR TONER:  So I have to caveat my response by saying we normally don’t discuss the details of these reports before they’re made public by the Board of Governors.  But as you note, the report’s already been in the media, and as you note, there were in the coverage some concerns reported on – sorry – in the reports on the report, there are concerns about – that Iran has exceeded its heavy water limit.  And indeed, the IAEA has observed that Iran has slightly exceeded its 130 metric ton heavy water stockpile limit under the JCPOA by 100 kilograms.  So that’s about one-tenth of a metric ton. 

A couple of points to make on that.  It’s important to note that Iran made no effort to hide this – hide what it was doing from the IAEA.  During the course of its ongoing heavy water production, Iran produced a little more heavy water than permitted but is now taking steps to address the issue by shipping a – the excess quantity out of the country, we expect in the coming days.  So the IAEA flagged us.  Iran made no attempt to hide it, and they’re taking immediate steps to address it.

QUESTION:  And that’s supposed to make – that’s supposed to be a relief, that they made no effort to hide it?

MR TONER:  No, I just wanted to – I said -- 

QUESTION:  So it’s okay if they blatantly violate it and don’t try and to – don’t try to cover it up?  I don’t get it. 

MR TONER:  Well, Matt --  

QUESTION:  It’s a violation, is it not?

MR TONER:  Well, look, it is – so they exceeded the limits.  They acknowledged it.

QUESTION:  Right.  That’s a violation, is it not?

MR TONER:  Well, again, it’s – but they’re addressing it.  I mean, this is something that -- 

QUESTION:  But did they – so you don’t think – they violated the deal and you can’t – and you won’t say that they violated the deal?  I don’t --  

MR TONER:  So they – again, yes, they exceeded the allowable amount of heavy water that they were permitted.

QUESTION:  Is that or is that not a violation of the agreement?  Whether or not they’re taking steps to address it, they still violated it, didn’t they?

MR TONER:  I’m not sure whether that constitutes a formal violation.  I’d have to look into that, to be honest with you.  I mean, they certainly exceeded, again, what their – their allowable amount of heavy water.  Whether that constitutes, again, a formal violation of JCPOA writ large, I’m not certain about that.  Again, what’s important here is that this was detected, it was acknowledged, and they’re taking steps to address it.


QUESTION:  Mark, can I follow up on the transition, please?

MR TONER:  Yeah, please.

QUESTION:  So I know you’ve had three people – there’s a transition team already in place – you have State Department people --  

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- and the Trump campaign has not reached out. 

MR TONER:  And that’s not – but anyway, I’m not --  


MR TONER:  It’s just – yeah.  It’s just – because the elections were last night.

QUESTION:  It’s a few hours old.

MR TONER:  They’re probably a little tired.

QUESTION:  So – but the question is:  Would you expect someone to, from the campaign, from Trump’s side, to join those three in the transition?  I mean, how soon do you think that could be?

MR TONER:  Sure.  So in anticipation of a lot of these kind of process-oriented questions, we’re going to try to get somebody to – who can – who’s intimate with the process to come and try to brief you guys a little bit more thoroughly on this tomorrow if we can arrange it.

But normally how these work is that a transition team from the president-elect’s administration will come in and set up shop here at the State Department.  They’ll be briefed on the full range of issues – all the regional issues, all the functional issues as they, again, work towards the ultimate transition on January 20th.  And that’s a real important part of the democratic process and this period and it’s why I don’t want to try to speak to – again, trying to separate what were the campaign issues from the transition period now, because this is governance now and moving towards a change in governance.  So I don’t want to speak on their behalf. 

All we can do as the present Administration is to work to make sure that as they develop their policies that they’re going to implement, that they’re as well informed as they can possibly be by our team here.

QUESTION:  You’ve probably seen today, there’s a lot of expressions from around the world of concern, mainly about the uncertainty and the difference in policies from the Clinton and then the Trump campaigns.  What is the State Department doing or what can it do now to reassure allies and – that none of that – none of what is – what you’ve got going right now could be disrupted in the next – certainly until the handover?

MR TONER:  Well – and Josh Earnest over at the White House spoke a little bit to this in his briefing just a short time ago.  A couple of points to make.  I mean, it was a very contentious election.  I think everyone acknowledges that.  And it’s normal that that would have an effect on world leaders, certainly even on the financial markets we’ve seen.  The world watches our presidential elections very closely.

But we’ve already seen, as I said, a transition process begin.  And again, it’s part of the democratic process.  It speaks to the integrity and the stability of our democratic process that even as election results were still coming in and being finalized, President-Elect Trump spoke in a very conciliatory manner about his opponent, and she came out this morning, Secretary Clinton, and conceded.  And then you saw the President speak as well.

I think the world, as I said, would take note that that is reassuring.  I think for our part, and certainly Secretary Kerry going forward, we’ve accomplished a lot in four years.  We’ve made great strides in certainly environmental issues, but on a number issues including Iran, including a range of other issues, trade as well.  We’re going to continue to work towards making as much progress as we can in the remaining time with the understanding that, as we’ve seen with past administrations, there is this tendency to at least look at and consider thoughtfully the previous administration’s policies before embarking on a new course.

QUESTION:  Is it – my last question is --

MR TONER:  I think that’s all we can attempt to do, frankly.

QUESTION:  My last question is --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- I mean, do you expect an exodus from this building over the next few weeks?  I mean, there’s a lot of people that feel that Trump’s – that what he said he was going to do going forward doesn’t gel with how they believe.  So is there any evidence of it yet?  Have you got notices or do you expect --

MR TONER:  Sure.  Well, it’s a valid question.  I wouldn’t attempt to speak for my colleagues in the State Department.  I’m a career diplomat.  I’m a public servant.  And with that, frankly, comes an awareness that you’re there to serve the U.S. Government regardless of whether they – that’s a Republican or a Democratic administration.  Obviously, there are political appointees in the State Department, but I can tell you that what I’ve seen firsthand this morning is very serious professionalism and commitment, as I said, to making sure that this incoming administration, whether these people agree with their policies or not, are given every opportunity for a smooth transition and are as informed as possible before that transition takes place.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION:  Just to follow on that --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- as has been mentioned here today, the president-elect differs so greatly on so many issues: Iran, trade, climate, Cuba, Syria, NATO alliances, nuclear proliferation – just basic tenets of the things that – and assumptions that this Administration has been working under.  What about – if you haven’t seen people saying, “I’m leaving today,” career diplomats, which is what I gather you’re saying, are you and is the Secretary worried about morale in these last days?  He – the first thing in his statement basically tells people, his staff, to continue focus moving ahead.  So given the disparity between the president-elect and this Administration, what do you see the morale here being in the coming days and weeks?

MR TONER:  Look, I think – again, it’s a fair question.  I think when you choose a path of public service, you do so with the recognition that – and again, I’m not speaking to the incoming administration or the present Administration – you have to compartmentalize your own political beliefs from your professional duties.  That is something that is incumbent on any public servant, whether it’s at the State Department or any other federal agency, or the military for that matter.  That’s what, frankly, provides continuity and institutional knowledge for our government.  So I wouldn’t predict any mass exodus, far from it. 

I think that under Secretary Kerry and under President Obama and under Secretary Clinton as well, this State Department has achieved great things.  I think they’re focused on continuing to work on the priorities.  Some of the urgent ones, like getting a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities in Syria that is attainable in two months, or next week, if we can get there through our multilateral efforts.  I don’t think any – there’s any kind of attitude that – of resignation or of – or any other attitude other than that, focused on the priorities of this Administration and ensuring that the new administration, incoming administration, has a smooth transition.

Please, Steve.


QUESTION:  Just one – sorry, just one follow-up.

MR TONER:  Yeah, please go ahead.  Yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  On one of these areas in particular --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- in Cuba, just quickly:  They announced today that they – they’re going to do five days of military training.  Do you see that as a reaction to the election?  Is this something that concerns you?  What’s your reaction, your response?

MR TONER:  Yeah.  I mean, it’s a – so it’s my understanding – I’m not going to speculate on what prompted it.  My understanding is that they’re routine military exercises.  But as to the timing, I have no idea why now.  I’d refer you to the Government of Cuba for that question.


QUESTION:  Can you tell us where the Secretary of State was precisely when he got the news about the election results --

MR TONER:  Sure.

QUESTION:  -- and by what method?  Was he watching television, got a phone call, or --

MR TONER:  Right.  He’s --

QUESTION:  -- because he was on his way to --

MR TONER:  So he’s on his way to Antarctica, so that’s a fair question – how he got it, carrier pigeon or – that’s right – snowmobile.  No, he’s actually – he was not yet there.  In fact, some of you may be aware that the actual trip into Antarctica has been – has been delayed somewhat by weather.  They hope to leave later today.  But he was actually – he had arrived late in the day, or in our night, in New Zealand, but well before the final results were actually called.  So he was able to watch the results in his hotel.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR TONER:  Please.  Yeah, (inaudible).

QUESTION:  So we kind of touched on this, but I want to see if we can go into it a little more in depth.  The issue of the Iran deal – Trump said – has said that he wants to tear it up.  Is that even possible?

MR TONER:  Well, anything’s possible.  I mean, and look, this Secretary obviously and this Administration feels very strongly that the Iran deal has worked.  It has prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon within a short period of time, and it’s put in place a regime of verification by the IAEA that will prevent it from achieving a nuclear weapon in any kind of short-term breakout time.  That’s a real success, and we worked hard to get there, as you all know in this room, and to then convince Congress that this was in America’s national security interest and the region’s national security interests.  So obviously, as part of the transition, we’re going to work and the Secretary is going to work very closely to make that case to the incoming secretary of state.

QUESTION:  So what’s the – what would the – well, first of all, what would the impact be if they actually – if he actually went through with his, I guess, threats, I guess, to --

MR TONER:  I just – again, the day after the election, without having even a secretary of state nominated for the new administration, but certainly while this Administration’s still in place, I just wouldn’t speak to hypotheticals about what decisions President-elect Trump or his administration may take.

QUESTION:  But what would the – I mean, if the Obama Administration hadn’t been able to obtain this agreement, what would the results be?  What would have happened?

MR TONER:  Well, again, this was – I mean, that was part of reaching implementation day, but certainly all of the parties who signed to the – signed up to this agreement had obligations to meet, one of which was having parliamentary or congressional approval.  So that was – that required a pretty significant lobbying effort.  But again, I think looking back in the past year or so since implementation day, we have seen that this agreement has done what we said it was going to do, which is limit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  It always was focused on that.  It wasn’t focused on changing Iran’s behavior writ large.  It was focused on preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION:  What – but wasn’t one of the other obligations of this that Iran would curb or limit its heavy water production?  And did they not, in fact, not do that?

MR TONER:  Well, again – and I would let experts --

QUESTION:  I just don’t understand why this is --

MR TONER:  No, no, no, I’m not trying to – I just – I don’t – I don’t want to say that this was some kind of formal violation of the JCPOA or something that – and that’s my own limitations of understanding of the agreement – whether they’ve got a period of time where they can address these – this overproduction of heavy water.  It’s not significant.  It was caught.  Again, you said “blatant,” but they didn’t try to hide it or obfuscate or in any way – they – this was something that occurred and they’re addressing it.  So I don’t want to make too much out of this, is my point.

QUESTION:  Right, but isn’t not trying to hide a violation worse than --

MR TONER:  No.  I mean, I wouldn’t say that at all.


MR TONER:  In fact, I would say that it shows that there is now a channel of – or just a channel of communication between – and access between Iran and the IAEA that was part of the goals of the JCPOA.

QUESTION:  Or it shows that they just – they don’t care if they’re caught.

MR TONER:  That’s not true, Matt.  And again, I don’t want to speak to a report that hasn’t been published yet, but our understanding is that the Iranians – and again, I’m also not – I feel like I’m in this peculiar spot of justifying Iranians’ – Iran’s behavior.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, we’ll wait until the thing is public and then go at this again.

MR TONER:  All I’m trying to – the only point I’m trying to make, Matt, is that it’s partly a success of this agreement that this was caught and is being addressed.

QUESTION:  Okay, but can’t you look – you surely have an open enough mind to see that --

MR TONER:  I can see the glass as half empty or half full.  Was that (inaudible).

QUESTION:  -- from the other side that this is a sign that Iran isn’t complying.

MR TONER:  But again – and I don’t have the particulars and I don’t want to necessarily get into particulars – I have no idea if this was an accidental overage or whatever.  I just don’t know the --

QUESTION:  All right.  Well, when it comes out – when it’s public --

MR TONER:  Fair enough.

QUESTION:  Sir, I want to get back to my line of questioning.

MR TONER:  Yeah, sure.  Of course.

QUESTION:  Is there a – is there like a back-out clause in the Iran deal or some kind of a procedure for if the parties want to back out of it?

MR TONER:  Well, I mean, look --

QUESTION:  What is the procedure if they – if people want to – if one of the parties wants to --

MR TONER:  I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot.  I mean, there’s always – I mean, the agreement is valid only as long as all parties uphold it.  I mean, that’s always – so, I mean, that’s always something that we’re mindful of, other members of the P5+1 are mindful of.  But again, I don’t want to speak to hypotheticals.

QUESTION:  I mean, there are certain elements of the Iran detail that aren’t revocable.  I mean, there’s been cash that’s been --

MR TONER:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- that’s been passed over or released, right?

MR TONER:  Well, there’s – right.

QUESTION:  Changed hands in one way or another.

MR TONER:  Right, right, right, but no – in fairness, though, I don’t want to – I – you’re conflating several – I don’t necessarily want to relitigate or discuss that again.  But --

QUESTION:  I’m not relitigating whether --

MR TONER:  Yeah.  No worries.  I just want to make sure that --

QUESTION:  -- why that money was exchanged, but --

MR TONER:  That was a different – no, but seriously, it was a different resolution for a Hague – The Hague – or The Hague – I forget what it’s called.  Not The Hague Tribunal, but The Hague settlement process.  Excuse me.

QUESTION:  So those money – there were funds that were released.  There was also some sanctions that were lifted --

MR TONER:  As part of implementation day, because --

QUESTION:  As part of the -- as part of the implementation day, yeah.

MR TONER:  -- Iran met their commitments, right.  But we’ve always left it – sorry.

QUESTION:  But what are the things that can’t – that have yet to happen, that still – I guess, what are the – I mean, those things can’t be – you can’t back out of the things that have been done.  But are you saying that if this government in the future just decides not to do the next things on the list, that it could do that?

MR TONER:  I’m just not going to speak to decisions that the new incoming administration has or hasn’t made yet.  I just – I’m not going to go there, sorry.  Please.

QUESTION:  Okay, I’m trying to understand that answer, that – is there any provision that all that money in cash can come back?

MR TONER:  No, and I – the only reason that I was – anyway – dwelling on that is – and we, as I said, we discussed this in excruciating detail a few months ago.  That money was part of The Hague settlement process for money that we owed Iran.  And I think that there was a lot of back and forth and a lot of conflating it with somehow money that Iran had gotten from us as part of a deal.  That’s not at all the case.  So I just want to make that clear.  But that money has been paid, that was a settlement that was actually to the advantage of the American taxpayer, because of the interest level – the interest rate that we got on it.

QUESTION:  Okay, the other one is on the State Department data going on the web.  According to the NARA specifications – and this question has been raised earlier and – their deadline says that some of them are end of 2016 that all – everything has to be stored online like – and then --

MR TONER:  Help me here.  We’re talking about emails in FOIA or --

QUESTION:  Everything.  The National Archives had given a deadline when Jason Baron was the director that made all – that every data of every federal government will be on – not for people to see, but --

MR TONER:  Yeah, no, I – right, I --

QUESTION:  -- in the cloud or whatever.

MR TONER:  Yeah, I understand what you’re talking about.

QUESTION:  So there is a – one of the deadline is 2016.

MR TONER:  Okay.

QUESTION:  So is the State Department going to meet it?  Is it going to --

MR TONER:  Going to meet that deadline? 


MR TONER:  Let me get an update for you.  I just don’t have that in front of me. 


MR TONER:  I’ll get an update for you.  Please.

QUESTION:  So the President-elect spoke a lot about Japan throughout the campaign.  What would you say is the impact of his election on the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship?

MR TONER:  Well, look, I mean, the U.S.-Japan relationship is a cornerstone relationship.  Part of our strong presence in Asia – the Asia Pacific and that relationship is going to remain, regardless of the administration, a cornerstone for the United States in its relations with Asia.  And I can only imagine that it’s going to grow stronger in the coming weeks, months, and years.  They’re a strong ally and partner and, certainly, within this administration we’ve been able to deepen and strengthen that partnership.  So I guess my message would be one of reassurance to the Japanese people that that relationship is of a core foreign policy interest to the United States.  Please, in back.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I just wanted --

MR TONER:  No, go ahead – if you – we can shift, I’ll get to you in a second.

QUESTION:  I just want to follow.  Thank you.  On difference of North Korean policy, and how will the difference between current Obama’s administrations and next coming Trump administration toward North Korean policy?

MR TONER:  Well, again, that’s a question that you’re going to have the opportunity to ask the incoming administration.  You know where we stand with regard to North Korea and its, frankly, pattern of behavior that’s caused so much insecurity in the peninsula and in the region.  We’re going to continue to apply pressure on the regime and Pyongyang to try to get them to change that behavior and answer the international community’s concerns about their nuclear ambitions.  That’s going to continue full-stop in the remaining two months. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR TONER:  Sure.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I have another separate question.

MR TONER:  Yeah, sure.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the Administration’s or the department’s priorities for the next two months.

MR TONER:  Right.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us what those are?

MR TONER:  I can.  Well, I mean, obviously – I promise I won’t go on, but the coalition – the anti-Daesh coalition, has made, frankly, significant, important progress in the past year.  We’re in the process of liberating Mosul.  We’re in the process of an initial stage to isolate and eventually liberate Raqqa.  It’s not to say that Daesh is defeated, but in the last year and a half we have really set up a structure, working effectively with partners on the ground and with Iraqi forces on the ground, that has put Daesh – Daesh, rather – on the defensive.  That’s going to continue.  That’s been a successful effort.  It’s not to say they’re defeated, not to say they can’t still strike out and cause violence, but that’s a significant effort.

Climate change – we’re getting ready.  The Secretary is going to be in Marrakesh next week.  This year we had the entry into force of the Paris Agreement.  We had the agreement on capturing emissions from international civil aviation, and also the agreement from Kigali to phase down on hydrofluorocarbons.  So that’s been a trifecta that’s been a real success with regard to combating climate change.  Those efforts are going to continue in the months ahead. 

And then just the urgency of what’s happening in Syria and trying to get a cessation of hostilities into place – we continue to meet with – in a multilateral venue, or setting, rather, in Geneva.  We’re still trying to overcome some of the gaps, but we’re still working hard to get some kind of credible cessation of hostilities in place, certainly in Aleppo but throughout Syria, and try to get a political transition back in place.  That’s – there’s an urgency there that’s obviously not something even for the next couple of months, but something in the days and weeks ahead that we need to address.

I’ll stop there.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR TONER:  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Sorry, one last one before we run off.

MR TONER:  Yeah, of course.

QUESTION:  Apparently, Russian – an aide to Russian President Putin says he believes that a Trump administration would lift sanctions against Russia.  I know you can’t comment on what that administration would do, but perhaps you could tell us what your stance is now on sanctions (inaudible).

MR TONER:  Our stance is what it’s been and will remain in – certainly throughout this Administration, which is with regard to sanctions on Crimea, those remain in place until Russia removes its forces from Crimea and gives that peninsula back to Ukraine.  With regard to other sanctions with respect to Ukraine and its actions in eastern Ukraine, those sanctions remain in place until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented.  And we continue to make progress and work in that regard, but that’s the clearest path to remove sanctions for Russia.

QUESTION:  What’s the consequences of – if those sanctions weren’t there, what would the consequences be?

MR TONER:  Well, again, it’s the question of what sanctions do and how you use them in a diplomatic setting.  They’re a way to apply leverage, to apply pressure on Russia.  They’ve had a significant impact on Russia’s economy.  I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but we can certainly get them for you.  But it’s had an effect of applying pressure, and that’s what its intent is.  It’s not a means to an – an end all to itself, but it’s a way to make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences.

QUESTION:  I just got one on this Administration, nothing to do with transition.

MR TONER:  Okay, yeah.

QUESTION:  That – you know what happened in India yesterday.  Narendra Modi, prime minister, he dumped rupees 500 and rupees 1,000 --


QUESTION:  -- currency notes.  And today the banks are closed, ATMs are not working.  There are a lot of Americans who are traveling --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- who are there.  What are the – anything our embassy is doing there or this department has issued anything?  So if you have any --

MR TONER:  It’s a fair question whether we’ve issued anything via our consular system to the – to Americans who are traveling there or whether we’re updating our travel documents or travel information about India.  I assume that’s in train, if it hasn’t been done already.  But to speak to the – speak to the broader actions that were taken, it was, frankly, the anti-corruption measure that was taken by the Modi government, following a series of steps that that government has taken in the past years in an attempt to reduce counterfeit money or black money.

QUESTION:  All that --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- that is fine.  I did not find anything --

MR TONER:  You’re just asking about the impact on tourists?  Yeah.

QUESTION:   I did not find anything on the embassy --

MR TONER:  It’s a completely legitimate question.  I think we’re --

QUESTION:  -- embassy website --

MR TONER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- for the people who are right there there, because the 500 and 1,000 --

MR TONER:  I know.

QUESTION:  -- I was there a couple – a few months ago, and these are the notes that you really carry.  It’s cash. 

MR TONER:  Yeah.  No, I’m aware that this has had --

QUESTION:  People are --

MR TONER:  I’m aware that it’s had an impact.  I assume --


MR TONER:  -- that we have informed at least Americans who are visiting or living in India of how to work around this and to deal with it.

QUESTION:  Can we go back to the Ukraine question real quick?

MR TONER:  Of course.

QUESTION:  So you – does this Administration feel that the sanctions tempered Russia’s behavior towards Ukraine or in that part of Europe?  And would – if they weren’t there, would Russia have been more – I guess more aggressive in its behavior?

MR TONER:  Sure.  I mean, look, it’s – I don’t think it’s possible to say categorically that it stopped Russia’s bad behavior in eastern Ukraine, because we saw, even after sanctions were implemented, a continuation of that behavior with respect to Russian forces and weaponry moving around or being positioned in, frankly, Ukraine’s sovereign territory.  But I do believe that it was a useful, as I said, application of pressure to get Russia to want to resolve the unrest in eastern Ukraine, and how we’re working to do that is through the Minsk agreement.  We’re still not there with full implementation, but that’s the way to resolve the current unrest.


QUESTION:  Thank you.


QUESTION:  Thank you. 

 (The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 4, 2016

Fri, 11/04/2016 - 17:52

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 4, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:20 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay guys, a few things at the top here. And I’ve got several, so just bear with me.

First, let me say that the United States condemns the indefensible bombing in Diyarbakir. We wish the wounded a speedy recovery and offer our deepest condolences to all the loved ones of those who lost their lives. We again call on the PKK to cease its senseless, brutal attacks, and we continue to stand by our friend and ally Turkey in this fight.

Also on Turkey, the United States is deeply concerned by the Turkish Government’s detentions of opposition members of parliament, including the co-chairs of the HDP, and by government restrictions on internet access today. Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke this morning with Turkish – the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Under Secretary Yalcin and raised these concerns. He made clear that when democracies pursue legal action against an elected representative, they must do so in a manner that reinforces the public’s confidence in rule of law, and that restricting the internet undermines confidence in Turkey’s democracy and economic prosperity. The deputy secretary and the under secretary also discussed U.S. cooperation, of course, in Syria and Iraq, and next steps in the counter-ISIL campaign.

I think you saw earlier today that the Secretary met with the UN Secretary-General-designate Antonio Guterres at the State Department. The Secretary took the opportunity to use this meeting to congratulate Mr. Guterres on his appointment, of course, and to underscore our desire to work closely with him in his new role. They discussed some of the important global challenges that will continue to require UN leadership, such as ending the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan; addressing climate change; implementing sustainable development goals; and responding to global migration and other humanitarian crises.

On the Paris Agreement, in case you missed the anniversary today --

QUESTION: I did not.

MR KIRBY: -- actually – what’s that?

QUESTION: I did not.

MR KIRBY: You didn’t. Good. Less than a year after being adopted, the historic Paris Agreement now officially enters into force. I think as you know, the Paris Agreement is the most ambitious and inclusive climate agreement ever achieved. With this momentum now, we head into COP22, which will be in Marrakesh starting next week, with a strong focus on now implementation and action towards actually getting there on all the things that countries need to do.

On Monday we’ll have right here at the podium the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Dr. Jonathan Pershing. He’ll give you a preview of COP22.

And then speaking of COP22, I think you’ll see a travel announcement from us shortly about the Secretary’s upcoming travel. He will leave on Monday, the 7th of November. His first stop will be Antarctica, where he will have a chance to visit with the scientists and researchers both at McMurdo Station as well as the South Pole. He’ll be the first Secretary of State and the most senior U.S. Government official to ever travel to Antarctica, and he’ll be there from the 10th to the 12th of November. Follow-on stops on this trip include Wellington, New Zealand for bilateral discussions on the 12th and 13th; on the 14th he’ll be in Oman; on the 15th, United Arab Emirates. We go to Morocco on the 15th and 16th for COP22, and then he goes on to Peru for the APEC conference on the 17th and 18th before returning home. So it’s a long trip, lots to cover. But we’ll keep you guys posted as the schedule continues to firm up.

QUESTION: Can I just ask very briefly on the trip and Antarctica? I mean, he’s not going directly there, is he? He’s got to stop beforehand, right? In New Zealand?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, several stops.

QUESTION: Well, in New Zealand, though. I mean, he’s – you can’t just fly --

MR KIRBY: I thought you were talking about fueling.

QUESTION: No. No, I’m just saying you can’t just fly from Washington to Antarctica.

MR KIRBY: No, you can’t.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MR KIRBY: That’s impossible.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MR KIRBY: It can’t be done.

QUESTION: -- he’s leaving – where --

MR KIRBY: So we are – we’re going to --

QUESTION: He’s going to Christchurch or is he going someplace else?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, so we’ll be stopping in Christchurch, but really the first stop in Christchurch will just be to follow on.


MR KIRBY: We’ll go back to Christchurch for bilateral meetings.

QUESTION: And then what – okay, so he’s going there. What’s he going to – what’s the purpose of going?

MR KIRBY: Of Christchurch?

QUESTION: No, Antarctica.

MR KIRBY: So I think McMurdo Station is the largest research station of the U.S. Antarctic Program, as well as surrounding areas on Ross Island. And he’ll also visit the U.S. Government’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. There he’ll have a chance to meet with scientists and researchers that are studying a wide range of subjects in the extreme south, including, of course, climate change. He’ll also get a chance to see firsthand part of the recently established Ross Sea region marine protected area which we announced a week or so ago, the world’s largest marine protected area, which is 1.5 million square kilometers or about – nearly 600 square miles. So this visit will be hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. So it’s a chance to really see firsthand what’s going on with climate change research.

QUESTION: But it’s – climate change and ice?

MR KIRBY: Of course, yeah.

QUESTION: Has he voted?

QUESTION: He will be – he’s leaving on Monday, so he’s not – so he’s --

MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, let’s just – go ahead. Stay on --


QUESTION: Is the scheduling of this designed to keep him out of the country during the election?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Well, I mean, I remember the last --

MR KIRBY: I mean, will it? Yes. But is there some sort of design to keep him out of the country on Election Day? No. I mean, the Secretary has been wanting to get down there for a long, long time, and frankly, this schedule was very literally driven by the weather. As a matter of fact, as I understand it from the briefings that we got last week from scientists, that we are – that you wait much longer in the year and it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to travel down there.

QUESTION: And then – but so do you know, has he voted?

MR KIRBY: I understand that he has voted.

QUESTION: In Massachusetts?

MR KIRBY: I – assuming it’s still his home state. I can check on that, but I know that he has voted, yeah.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Is he physically going to go from the Amundsen station to the spot, the actual spot of the South Pole? Do you – are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: Yes. So it’s a – it’s – you go to Christchurch, it’s about a five-hour flight to McMurdo. We’ll spend the night there because of just the time it takes to get there and acclimatizing. And then we’ll get up the next morning and it’s about a three-hour flight from there to the pole. There’s an actual research facility at the pole.

QUESTION: So he’ll go outside and go to that marker for the South Pole?

MR KIRBY: I’m assuming so.


MR KIRBY: I don’t know, but the research – as I understand it, the research facility itself is just a few hundred meters from the actual pole, so we’ll --

QUESTION: Yes. You still have to go outside to get there, though.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m assuming you have to go outside to get there.


MR KIRBY: But the research facility’s right there, so we will be on the South Pole.

QUESTION: Do you know if the foreign minister of New Zealand is going to be going with them, or --

MR KIRBY: He will not be.

QUESTION: So there’s no real like technically diplomatic component to the trip. I understand there’s a climate change --

MR KIRBY: The purpose for the South Pole is to talk to researchers and scientists --

QUESTION: Got you.

MR KIRBY: -- largely about climate change research.


QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Well, can I just ask about Antarctica?


QUESTION: Just what – I mean, what specifically does he hope to achieve with this visit and how much is it going to cost U.S. taxpayers for him to go look around --

MR KIRBY: I will see if we can get you an estimate. I don’t have that. But I think any basic understanding or attempt to understand climate change, you have to understand what’s going on both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, especially with melting glaciers and ice and the sea level rise that can come from that. And as an individual who has literally championed climate change research and awareness for decades now, the Secretary is and will remain committed to increasing the awareness and education of the public about this. And he himself feels it’s important – particularly in the wake of us entering into force now the Paris Agreement, and in advance of the COP22 discussions which will all be about implementing the agreement, that it’s important for him to see firsthand what we’re learning about the environment down there on the South Pole and what information we can then glean from the research to make better, smarter policy decisions. Because that, in the end, as you’ve heard the Secretary talk about – that’s really the answer here, is energy policy, and he believes it’s important to go down there and see that for himself.

QUESTION: Because there’s some criticism that this trip is basically the Secretary wants to knock Antarctica off his bucket list and he’s doing it sort of on taxpayer expense.

MR KIRBY: Where’s the criticism coming from or – I haven’t seen that. Have you?

QUESTION: I – I’ll send you some, yeah. I mean, it’s --


QUESTION: It just --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know how there can be criticism of this when we haven’t even announced the trip, but --

QUESTION: Well, you just did. The criticism obviously came in the last 10 minutes. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: It must have come in the last five minutes. But nevertheless, Nick – nevertheless, you’ve traveled with the Secretary. I think you know how packed his schedule is, and he wouldn’t be making this trip – or any other trip, for that matter – if he didn’t think it was important to advancing issues that are important to our national security and our foreign policy. And climate change is – and it’s not just the State Department that said that; the Pentagon has said it’s a national security imperative. And that was a study two, three years ago. So given all the stakes for the planet, particularly for sea level rise, but – by melting ice, the Secretary believes this is an important trip to make and it’s some – and it’s a place that he’s been wanting to go for a while now. It is largely weather-dependent and that has restricted our – somewhat our ability to be able to get down there, plus you want to get down there when there’s research going on that is the most relevant to what we’re trying to learn, and this is a good time to go.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey on your statement?


QUESTION: I realize that you said that Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke to a senior Turkish foreign ministry official. Is that the only contact that you’re expecting today on the arrests of these pro-Kurdish MPs and --

MR KIRBY: Is that the only --

QUESTION: Is that the only contact that you’re expecting or is the Secretary planning to call the foreign minister? Is the President planning to – or (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any other contact to speak to now, Matt, but I certainly wouldn’t rule other discussions out. He talks quite a bit with --


MR KIRBY: -- Foreign Minister Cavusoglu.

QUESTION: You said you’re deeply concerned, but, I mean, why? Just because the fact of the arrests or do you see this as part of the broader crackdown on media and opposition that you’ve been talking about --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- for months and as a sign that things are actually getting worse rather than better?

MR KIRBY: I’d say both. I mean, the arrests themselves concern us, but certainly – and I’ve talked about this before. We have seen a continuing trend of very stringent limits on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, certainly shutting down access to the internet also is not conducive to the free expression that’s, again, enshrined in the Turkish constitution. So it is another act in what we have continued to see as a worrisome trend. So it’s both. I mean, on the face of it, we felt strong enough to raise it, but it is – you have to take it in context of everything else we’re seeing.

QUESTION: Right, but, I mean, is this the kind of behavior that you think is worthy of a NATO ally?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, the fact that they’re a NATO ally has nothing to – we don’t judge this just based on the fact that they’re a NATO ally. They’re also a democracy, and they’re a democracy and a country that we care about.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) so forget about the NATO --

MR KIRBY: But obviously --

QUESTION: Then how about --

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we care about --

QUESTION: -- democracy?

MR KIRBY: We care about the health of Turkey’s democracy and we care about the future of Turkey and that’s why we raise these problems, but we’re not pinning this to their membership in the alliance.

QUESTION: All right. Well, what is the – what do you think, how would you describe the health of the – of Turkish democracy?

MR KIRBY: It is obviously still – we still believe it to be a democracy and we have said repeatedly, certainly since the coup, that we continue to support the democratically elected institutions and Government of Turkey. We recognize that in the wake of what was a absolutely serious coup attempt in July that they have every right and should have every right and responsibility to try to get to the bottom of it and to deal with it.

At the same time, we have been very honest about expressing our concerns about some of the manners and methods in which they have gone about doing that. So if you’re asking me, are they still a democracy, of course they are.

QUESTION: No, no --

MR KIRBY: And it’s because we believe them to be and we believe them to be serious about that that we’re able to have these discussions.

QUESTION: I asked you what you thought the state of the health of the --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- Turkey’s democracy was and you answered that --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- it is a democracy. So --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- you obviously think it still has a pulse if you think that it’s – but is it sick? Is it not healthy?

MR KIRBY: I’m not qualified to characterize it or give them a letter grade here. I mean, it’s a discussion that we routinely and will continue to have with them, and we’re not – again, not bashful about expressing our concerns when we have them. That’s what allies and friends do.


QUESTION: On Turkey, first of all, a year ago --

MR KIRBY: Are you sure you want to ask a Turkey question?

QUESTION: Yes, I got a couple questions. Thank you. The November election last year was not classified as fair and free elections by the OSCE report. So you keep referring Turkish – Turkey as democratically elected government, whereas this Administration, also the OSCE, did not classify it as fair and free elections. How do you view --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I – look, as I said to Matt, I’m not going to give them a letter grade here, and I don’t have the OSCE report in front of me to --

QUESTION: We discussed it.

MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing that you’ve read it. I’m just saying that those findings nevertheless, they are still – it’s still a democracy and there are principles enshrined in their constitution, many of which we’ve talked about here a lot, that we continue to want to see observed.

QUESTION: The first week of June, President Obama was in Poland, and he was talking about the NATO membership and he was saying that universal values and democratic institutions are the core at the NATO alliance. So you, I think, just said that this has nothing to do with NATO membership. Isn’t that the democratic values is the part of the membership?

MR KIRBY: No, you’re over-simplifying my answer back to Matt, which was do these arrests – how do you feel about these arrests in light of the fact that they’re a NATO ally? And I – what I was trying to do was say we’re not drawing a connection between these arrests and their membership in the alliance. And yes, the alliance is – one of the guiding principles of it is a devotion to democratic ideals. And Turkey is still a democracy and Turkey is still a member of the alliance.

QUESTION: A week ago, Human Rights Watch issued a report regarding the torture in the Turkish jails. This report followed Amnesty reports which had similar findings. You did not have a statement last week. I was wondering if you have anything today.

MR KIRBY: I would say what we’ve said before about this: Any allegations of torture and mistreatment are, of course, concerning to us.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on that? The UN Human Rights Office --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t even finish yet.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, my apologies. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: My good stuff here.


MR KIRBY: Look, we urge – obviously, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation of any alleged incidents of abuse perpetrated by government officials. So we take this seriously. And now you can go.

QUESTION: A final question, my final question. In 2009, President Obama did his first overseas bilateral visit to Turkey, and Turkey was applauded as the model partner and the model democracy or inspiring democracy. Now, at the end of the Obama Administration, we are talking about the health of the democracy and whether Turkey is still a democracy. Do you have --

MR KIRBY: You are talking about that.

QUESTION: No, everybody is talking about that.

MR KIRBY: You are the ones raising that question every day. And --

QUESTION: And everybody does.

QUESTION: Well, to be fair, it’s not just him that’s raising it every day.

MR KIRBY: And to your --

QUESTION: It’s a lot of people. And it’s a lot of people in Europe, it’s a lot of people here.

MR KIRBY: I got it, I got it. Were – are you ask – again are you – go ahead.

QUESTION: My question was: Do you think this Administration has any blame for its Turkish ally going through this downward spiral on human rights issues as well as democratic issues, whether you think that you took enough – your policies handled Turkey well on these regards?

MR KIRBY: The question is: Is it the United States fault that --

QUESTION: Whether you take any blame on this. Do you think your policies have been consistent and good enough to --

MR KIRBY: Yes, our policies have been consistent about our relationship with Turkey, absolutely. And this is a country, I think it’s important to remember, that just a few months ago, had members of their own military shelling and dropping bombs in their capital. Now, can you imagine what that would feel like and be like in our country if it happened? How seriously the democratically elected government, whether you like him or not, democratically elected, how they would – the responsibilities they would have to respond to that? A lot’s happened. You cited comments made back when – Poland? Right?

QUESTION: Two months, three months ago, yes.

MR KIRBY: To now?

QUESTION: About NATO. It was about NATO.

MR KIRBY: Before the coup?


MR KIRBY: Yeah. A lot’s happened since early summer and --

QUESTION: Are you sure you want to be talking about the prospect of a coup in the United States?

MR KIRBY: I’m just saying, imagine what the reaction would – here would be if that were to happen. Obviously, it’s not going to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is – wait a second, guys, just hang on. I take great exception to this – to a notion or even the suggestion that the United States is somehow to blame for what’s happening inside Turkey, as if our policy determined the events of – since summer. Look, they suffered a nearly successful coup attempt and --

QUESTION: Did they – did they --

MR KIRBY: And they’re reacting to it. And in the reacting to it, we have been firm and consistent, as recently as today with the deputy secretary’s meeting – or sorry, discussion – we’ve been clear and consistent about our concerns about how Turkey is dealing in the – with the aftermath of the coup. But they’re an ally. They’re a friend. They’re a partner. And we’re going to keep the dialogue close, we’re going to keep the relationship strong, and we’re going to keep working at this. But a suggestion of laying it at the feet of the United States Government and United States policy is not only wrong-headed, but it’s well oversimplified that any one nation’s policy about any other one nation is going to determine the entire direction it moves with respect to its democratic institutions.

QUESTION: Kirby, why do you think that U.S. --

QUESTION: Today we --

QUESTION: -- that the United States – as you say, you have been public and consistent --


QUESTION: -- in your concerns both about the manifest reduction in media freedoms and about the incarcerations of large numbers of people, tens of thousands detained, right? Why do you think those arguments do not appear to have found much resonance with your Turkish allies? I get that they suffered a political trauma, but you’ve been making this case – and it doesn’t appear, certainly not on the media freedom side, right, and not really particularly on the roundups of the officer corps and other people like school teachers. It’s very broad and deep. So why do you think your arguments have found so little resonance in the Turkish Government?

MR KIRBY: That’s hard to say, but I would make two points. One is it’s difficult to know exactly what’s inside the minds of Turkish leaders as they make these decisions, but they are making these decisions. President Erdogan is making these decisions as a – the head of government.

The second thing I’d say, Arshad, is it’s – again, it’s this idea that it’s U.S. policy alone here that’s driving the flow of the democratic river through Ankara, and it’s not just about the United States. There are – other nations, many other nations, have had and have expressed similar concerns about the situation in Turkey. Yes, we do it probably more often and certainly more publicly than some nations, but it’s not just the United States that has these concerns or has raised those concerns. So it’s not just about – it’s not just about Turkish leaders, to borrow I think what you’re trying to say, rebuffing U.S. calls. It is – there – other nations also have expressed these concerns. And why we’re still seeing these kinds of decisions get made, it’s just difficult to know.

QUESTION: Follow-up to that --

QUESTION: Following up on the – to – on the question of a while back, today the UN Human Rights Office said that the arrest of the pro-Kurdish politicians combined with the detention and suspension of 110,000 officials goes beyond what is permissible. Would you agree with that statement?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, and I – look, I’m not going to characterize each and every report that’s made. We have – I think, Steve, you can go back and look at everything we’ve been saying about this and see exactly where our heads are. And I wouldn’t – if it wasn’t important to us in terms of our concerns about what’s going on, I wouldn’t have read out the discussion that the deputy secretary had just today. So I’m not going to, again, give them a letter grade here. That’s not my job.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for a letter grade. Asking for a reaction to the UN Human Rights Office --

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to – you’re asking me to confirm what another group is saying. I haven’t seen that report. I would just go back to what we’ve said before about our concerns. They’ve been clear and they’ve been consistent.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are – given the strong criticism from the EU as well as your own and from the UN Human Rights Office, and Arshad’s comment that they haven’t been really responsive so far, are you contemplating further measures, whether the United States alone or in concert with the EU and perhaps through the UN?

MR KIRBY: What we’re focused on is having a continuing dialogue with Turkish leaders about the situation there and about continuing to express our concerns when we have them and as well as our support, which gets lost in this discussion, our support for the democratically elected government of Turkey. So we’re going to focus on the bilateral relationship. And as for next steps or decisions that might or might not be made, I’m not going to speculate.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Turkey says this is a legal issue; it’s not a political one. As HDP parliament members detained after failing to answer for an investigation summons. Among the charges facing HDP members are offenses of spreading PKK propaganda, which the group you mentioned in your opening statement carried out an attack this morning, killed nine people and injured hundreds of people. I was wondering what is your comment on that, as well, about Turkey’s (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I think I would just point you back to what I said at the beginning, which is – which states very clearly what our concerns are. And I’m not going to – I’m not going to characterize or dispute a characterization by the Turkish Government on this. We’ve been on-the-record now, both in a discussion with a representative from their ministry of foreign affairs with our deputy secretary, and with me here at the podium about our concerns about these arrests. I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: HDP co-chairman Demirtas was here last summer and he met some high-level officials in this building, as well. I was wondering – there is an accusation in Turkey, actually, about HDP having a organic link with the terrorist group PKK. I was wondering if this topic came up in discussions --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a more specific readout of the discussion.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think that the arrests of the Kurdish parliamentarians puts at even greater risk the Kurdish population, the people of Kurdish origin, in Turkey? As a background, in 1915, how many years ago, the Armenian genocide was launched after the Ottoman Church Government arrested the Armenian parliamentarians of the Ottoman Parliament. And now, the voices of Kurdish people in Ankara, in the Turkish parliament, are being silenced. Do you think that this puts at even greater risk the Kurds of Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve responded to this arrest. I’d point you back to what I said at the beginning of the briefing on that. Turkey’s own constitution enshrines in it freedom of expression, a free press, freedom of assembly, freedom to protest peacefully, all those terrific democratic principles. And we – what we want to see is Turkey live up to those principles, which means that all Turkish citizens, no matter who they are, have the ability and have a voice and a vote in their country’s future. I’m not going to speculate, I’m not in a position to do that, to determine right here from the podium what these arrests mean for larger issues for the Kurdish people in Turkey. We’ve been very clear about our concerns over some of these decisions and I’d leave it there. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about the phrase that you used, which was a nice turn of phrase: the driving the flow of the democratic river through Ankara. Did you just come up with that on your – just now?


QUESTION: Because I wrote that down too. I --

QUESTION: I thought it was quite good. It would have been --

MR KIRBY: I want to see it – I’d like to see it in some of the coverage.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Would’ve been – it would have been better if you could have worked in the Bosporus.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.


MR KIRBY: Well, my geography is a little weak, Matt, but --

QUESTION: Yeah, well --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I was just trying to make a point.


MR KIRBY: And I do want to see it quoted, I thought it was a great line too. (Laughter.) Yeah.

QUESTION: John, you said you are deeply concerned about the recent incidents in Turkey. And we know that the leadership of the HDP were here in the United States and spoke up and raised their concerns about the direction where Turkey has been leading, which is getting worse. What does it take for you to say you condemn it and make a more clear message to the Turkish leadership that this is not, as Human Rights says, not permissible?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, we have been nothing but clear and consistent about our concerns over what’s happening in Turkey. Now, maybe you might want to quibble with the verbs that we’re using up here, but I think any reading of things we’ve said publicly and readouts of meetings that we’ve had privately will show you that we have been nothing but clear and consistent about our concerns. Okay?



QUESTION: Can we go to Syria? First of all, could you give us an assessment of the current cessation of hostilities, if you have an assessment of the current cessation of hostilities?

MR KIRBY: Well, no, there isn’t a cessation of hostilities. I mean, and there’s still discussions going on in Geneva to try to get us to one.

QUESTION: I’m saying that it’s – what the Russians announced, that this is – they extended the cessation of hostilities this week.

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no, Said. They said that they were going to extend a humanitarian pause and --

QUESTION: Extend the humanitarian pause.

MR KIRBY: And – yeah, I don’t – I’m not – I don’t have a battlefield update in terms of whether that pause has actually been fully observed or not. We have seen violence in and around Aleppo, but I’m not going to get into a blow-by-blow. What I can tell you, though – remember, though, a humanitarian pause was designed for what? To allow people to leave, but it was also to allow aid to get in. And how much aid has gotten in? None. And so we’re seeing reports now of citizens of Aleppo tying ropes around their abdomens to try to get around the abdominal pain that they’re feeling from starvation. They’re going to contaminated water sources for drinking water, because there isn’t any. What little hospitals there are in Aleppo are now being forced underground into basements, and the medical personnel that are staffing them, we’re seeing reports now, of them having to use non-sanitized equipment to try to tend wounds and to try to make people feel better. They’re not able to sanitize their equipment.

So whether the pause is in effect or not, you’d have to talk to the Russians. But the Syrian people, particularly the citizens of Aleppo, certainly aren’t feeling any benefits from it.

QUESTION: So on the actual bombardment: Are there any ongoing aerial bombardment by the Russians or the Syrians?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t have a battlefield update here for you, and I tend to avoid trying to get into that.

QUESTION: But there’s been any increased bombardment from eastern Aleppo to western Aleppo? Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: I – Said, I don’t have an operational update for you. What we have seen – again, I don’t know what the situation on the ground is today in terms of bombing. I don’t know. That’s a better question put to those who actually have the influence and the control to do that, and that’s the Russian military. What we’ve seen is these humanitarian pauses stop and start, and when they stop, the bombing starts again. And throughout how many extensions, whether it’s this one or not, how much aid have we actually seen get in, which was the stated purpose of doing it in the first place? The answer is none, and that’s unacceptable. And that’s why we’re going to continue to work in Geneva to try to get a meaningful cessation of hostilities, something that the Syrian people can actually count on, and that can be sustained over a longer period of time.

QUESTION: My last question: The Chinese ambassador to Damascus, Qi Qianjin, said that both you and the Russians should work together to bring the Syria crisis to an end, that you should look beyond your own – your strategic interests, both of you, and work toward --

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re grateful for the input, but I think that, again, any reading of recent history will tell you that we’ve tried mightily to work with the Russians, predominantly until of late in a bilateral fashion to do exactly that, and it didn’t get us anywhere, because the Russians weren’t willing to meet their commitments. So now we’re doing it in a multilateral format, something smaller than the ISSG. Those discussions are ongoing. We’ll see where they go.

QUESTION: Are you really grateful for the Chinese input?

MR KIRBY: We’re always grateful for --

QUESTION: It sounded like you might not be.

MR KIRBY: We’re always grateful for good ideas from all around, including from you, Matt. (Laughter.) Absolutely.

QUESTION: Now I know you’re not (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Can I change topics?


QUESTION: Can I go the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly.


QUESTION: You always make a point – whenever you criticize the settlements and so on, you always make a point that also the Palestinians should stop their incitement and so on. I wanted to ask you something. The Israelis are increasingly besieging refugee camps, more checkpoints – they’re introducing more checkpoints and so on – like yesterday at the Jalazone refugee camp and so on, really causing a great deal of – and – or contributing to raising tensions between Palestinians and Israelis.

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: I wonder if that – those acts are not considered incitement by the Israelis.

MR KIRBY: You’re talking – what acts?

QUESTION: I talk about the – increasingly there are more checkpoints --

MR KIRBY: Checkpoints being --

QUESTION: -- increasingly there are raids at night, they are arresting people – whole families and so on.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I said before, and specifically on checkpoints – or closures of them – that we would hope that any measures that Israel takes will be limited and will minimize the impact on the vast majority of non-violent citizens.

QUESTION: One other question. In my – in fact, in my neighborhood of Abu Dis, the Israelis went in this morning and ordered the mosques not to have the morning prayer for – call for prayer. Isn’t that an incitement? Isn’t that something that is – might incite the population and so on?

MR KIRBY: Look, you know I’m loath to get into characterizing each and every decision made and every comment put forth, but I think you also know, Said, how seriously here in the United States we take the right of freedom of religion. And we want to see people everywhere be able to worship the way they choose to worship. I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: But that is a completely Palestinian town. I mean, there are no settlers in the city – in the town. The closest settlement is --

MR KIRBY: No, I --

QUESTION: They just went in and they enforced this order without giving an explanation.

MR KIRBY: I understand what you’re saying. I can’t confirm the specifics of what you’re saying, but in general, of course we always support the right of people to worship as they deem fit, as they believe.

Okay, thanks everybody. Have a great weekend. Oh, one thing before you go, before you go, before you go – and I meant to do this at the top, but you weren’t here. This is the last briefing that I have with Arshad. I know your last day is not today – it’s next week – but I will be on a trip and I won’t be here to --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: I’ve already (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I won’t be here for your last day. So I wanted to, on behalf of everybody that – in the Public Affairs Bureau, certainly on my behalf, thanks for your professionalism, for your dogged pursuit of some tough issues, and trying to get to the bottom, to get to the truth, to get the facts on issues. Anybody that’s stood up at this podium knows that you are no easy questioner, and that’s a credit to you and to the organization that you work for. When your hand goes up and I call on you, I know that I need to know what I’m talking about, because the questions are going to be smart and your expectations of answers – they’re going to be high. So I respect you as a professional. We’re going to miss you here. I know you’re moving – you’re still going to be covering us in a different capacity at Reuters. We wish you well in that endeavor, all the best. It’s a well-deserved move for you. But again, thanks for being such a pro.

And I think a round of applause. (Applause.)

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 3, 2016

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 17:40

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 3, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:14 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Thursday. Abigail, put the phone down. (Laughter.) I’m teasing. It was a joke. (Laughter.) You can use your phone all you want. Anyway, welcome to the State Department. I just have one thing at the top and then I’ll get to your questions.

This is about Lebanon. The United States congratulates Saad Hariri on being named prime minister-designate of Lebanon. Today Lebanon took another important step to help build a better future for all of its citizens. The Lebanese people deserve an inclusive government that promotes peace and stability, restores basic services, and confronts the range of economic and political – or rather, economic and security challenges currently facing the country. The United States stands with the people of Lebanon in support of a secure, stable, and sovereign state.


QUESTION: Well, let’s just stay with – I’ll just start with Lebanon very briefly --


QUESTION: -- and then move – I think there will be a natural segue here. You may have seen that Foreign Minister Zarif is going to be going to Beirut to greet the new president and potential prime minister this week. He’ll be, if not the first, among the first foreign visitors. Does that give you guys any pause at all?

MR TONER: No. I have not seen those reports, first of all. But look, Kirby spoke to this the other day. We’re going to judge the new government by its actions. We’re aware of its affiliation or at least its backing or support of, rather, of[1] Hizballah. But as we’ve made clear, we’re going to look to see what kind of new government they form and whether it’s in accordance with the constitutions. And I’d just say this isn’t the first time that we’ve confronted a very complex political environment in Lebanon.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But you say you want to judge the new government by – the new president, the new government by its actions. But if their first action is to meet with the Iranians, what does that tell you?

MR TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to that. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s their first action. Let’s give it a bit more time.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Please.


MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Today is the anniversary of the takeover of the embassy. And once again, as they do every year, it’s not really a surprise --


QUESTION: -- there were big demonstrations and lots of chants of “Death to America” and burning of flags, et cetera. I’m wondering, one, if you think that that is in keeping with the kind of relationship that you had hoped to promote, or improve, at least, in the wake of the nuclear agreement.

MR TONER: So you’re absolutely right. It’s – this day certainly brings out the overhyped rhetoric on the part of many in the Iranian Government. We don’t necessarily want to engage in all the various statements that are made on a day like today.

I think in response to your second part of your question, I don’t know that we ever held out hopes that our agreement with regard to – or the JCPOA would across the board change Iranians’ – Iran’s behavior overnight. And it speaks to the fact that Iran needs to choose what kind of role it’s going to play in the region. All kinds of – and also it speaks to the fact that there’s a certain political environment in Iran. Like any country, there’s heated political rhetoric that comes out. And I’m just not going to respond to every instance of that in this case.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I mean, you may not have hoped, or if you did it was a – no, I won’t even suggest that you did hope --


QUESTION: -- but that it would change overnight. But I mean, surely there was – an opening was seen whereby what had been talks exclusively about the nuclear – the nuclear deal with the side talks on the American prisoners, then expanded to include Syria talks. So there was – but --

MR TONER: That’s a valid point.


MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- now you see, again, after this, and after you welcomed their chosen – or a guy they support as – to be president of Lebanon, you basically extended another kind of olive branch there, and yet you’re met with the same vitriolic rhetoric.

MR TONER: So I wouldn’t necessarily couch our support for the new government in Lebanon in that – quite those terms. I think what we’re looking for in Lebanon --

QUESTION: You might want --

MR TONER: -- what we’re looking for in – sure.

QUESTION: You might want to say that it’s purely – it has to do with Lebanon, but people look at it much more broadly. And if --


QUESTION: And you have to recognize that they do. Because I mean, you basically welcoming Iran’s guy as – to be – as president of Lebanon, and that’s --

MR TONER: What we’re welcoming in Lebanon is --

QUESTION: And that’s the way that --


QUESTION: -- Iranians look at it.

MR TONER: What we’re welcoming in Lebanon is a new government that we hope can restore basic services, stability to the country. And we’re going to look at its behavior going forward, and we’re going to judge it according to its actions.

That said, going back to your question about Iran and its behavior, of course – so a couple points. And the reason I said what I said is today is a – as you noted, an emotionally charged and politically charged day in Iran, so I don’t want to judge comments necessarily made in the environment of today’s anniversary.

QUESTION: These aren’t comments that are just made today.

MR TONER: But let me finish. Let me finish.

QUESTION: They make them every day.

MR TONER: Let me finish. Let me finish, with respect to how we view our relationship with Iran going forward. And the other reason I said what I said in response to your initial question was we did the JCPOA because it took that nuclear threat off the table, and we figured that that was something worth pursuing in its own right.

That said, do we want to see Iran play a more constructive role in the region? Of course, we do. Could it, with regard to Syria and with regard to Yemen and other conflicts? Of course, it could. We’re going to continue where those options look realistic to continue to pursue them.

QUESTION: Okay. But those are broad policy --


QUESTION: In the short term, would you like to see them – I mean, they can turn this rhetoric off if they wanted to, presumably. Would you like to see them stop?

MR TONER: Well, again – and I’m – of course, we’d like to see the – no one likes to see this kind of hyper-charged rhetoric on the part of any government anywhere, and anti-American sentiments expressed. But again, we’re not going to base our whole relationship going forward based on – or base our relationship going forward on these kind of heated political remarks made on the part of --

QUESTION: And I’m going to drop this shortly.


QUESTION: But I mean, it’s not just heated political rhetoric. This is like their policy.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, with regard to – you’re talking about the remarks made today on --

QUESTION: I’m talking about the chants of “Death to America.” I mean, it seems it’s coming from the supreme leader. This is not just like some guy, one guy standing out there with – on speakers’ corner or something with a tin foil hat on. It’s thousands of people and very powerful parts of the government that are doing it. So it’s not just rhetoric; it’s policy.

But anyway, that’s – we’ll just --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: I just – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Just, do you actually regard “Death to America” as being Iranian policy? Because Iranian senior officials sit down across the table in very fancy hotels, mostly in Europe, with senior American officials; they engage with them; they negotiate stuff with them over the course of the months, years. Do you regard “Death to America” as being – as truly being Iran’s policy?

MR TONER: No. What I would say is we continue to see Iranian behavior in the region that is, frankly, not positive, that is unconstructive, with regard – and I’m speaking specifically with regard to Yemen, with regard to Syria, but other places as well – and that raise our concerns. And as much as we can engage constructively Iran on any of those issues, we’re going to do so. But we’re mindful of the fact that its behavior hasn’t changed across the board just because we got agreement on the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Would you add Lebanon to that list --


QUESTION: -- in terms of their unconstructive and not-helpful behavior?



QUESTION: So just last one. This will be brief, I think.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: And that is that there’s been some attention paid to some comments that Secretary Kerry made in London earlier this week about the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, and the sanctions relief in terms of European banks doing business with Iran. He said in his Chatham House comments that the banks did not need to do any extra, additional due diligence before – they just needed to do the standard amount of due diligence that they would do for another country if they were looking to do business with – in Iran. And there’s been some pushback, or seems to have been some pushback on that from Treasury, which says that no, in fact, you have to do enhanced due diligence because Iran is a high-risk market. Is that – what’s going on here? Was the Secretary saying something that’s different than what the actual policy is?

MR TONER: Without having seen how Treasury may have responded, I think the Secretary was just making the point that – and we’ve made an effort to explain this and we’ve – you’re all well aware of some of the engagement efforts that we’ve made with regard to financial institutions and companies explaining what sanctions have been relieved and the – have been lifted as a result of the JCPOA and the fact that – what business can be done with Iran going forward. I just don’t have the details of what the Department of Treasury may have tried to clarify there so.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.


QUESTION: Afghanistan.

MR TONER: Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Afghan officials say at least 30 civilians, including women and children, have been killed and dozens more wounded in a NATO strike in Kunduz. Any comment?

MR TONER: So yes, I do, obviously. It’s a terrible event. I think the Department of Defense has already spoken to this. But as part of an Afghan operation, friendly forces around Kunduz received direct fire, and airstrikes were conducted in order to defend them. We obviously take any reports or allegations of civilian casualties very seriously. This was, however, an Afghan operation, and so we’ll work – just let me finish – we’ll work with our Afghan partners in order to investigate this incident thoroughly. But I would encourage you to go to them for additional details.

QUESTION: It was a U.S. strike, was it?

MR TONER: My understanding it was not. It was an Afghan-led operation.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. But do you – are there Afghan-trained pilots operating Afghan-trained – Afghan-owned or borrowed or leased aircraft that conducted the strikes?

MR TONER: My understanding is this, again – and I don’t have the details. I just know the Department of Defense has said that this was an Afghan operation and that we – that they’re conducting the investigation into the incident.

QUESTION: Are you – okay.



QUESTION: I didn’t think that the Afghans had pilots that could fly aircraft of this sort.

MR TONER: If there’s any change in that, I promise I’ll update that. That’s just – I’m going – operating with what I have. It’s a valid question, but I just don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: On October --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: On October 22nd, on the outskirts of Mosul in Iraq, there was a coalition strike, which killed eight civilians according to a family member of the deceased. The coalition confirmed the strikes – the strike and they said that they’re investigating the casualties. I heard you – Mr. Kirby say, I remember, one civilian casualty is too many. Is it the policy – is it the U.S. policy or is it something you say?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. You’re saying is it our policy to -- or is it --

QUESTION: One too many.


QUESTION: When you say one civilian casualty is too --

MR TONER: Not at all. I mean, it’s not something we simply say. Let me clarify that. We take any civilian – let’s put it this way – any credible allegation of civilian casualties very seriously, and we investigate it thoroughly. That’s, again, the Department of Defense, and frankly, we hold that standard up to any other military in the world in terms of both following up on any credible allegation of a casualty or civilian casualty event and taking appropriate action with respect to consequences.

QUESTION: There is evidence that the civilian casualties are happening. So when you say, “one is too many,” do I understand it too literally? Should I not --

MR TONER: Again, recognizing – so two points to make here: One is that whenever we carry out a military strike, whether it’s part of the coalition or not, we take every effort and take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, to the point where we will choose sometimes not to take strikes against known enemy targets because it puts civilians at risk. We’re pretty scrupulous about that.

That said, this is kinetic warfare, and sometimes accidents may happen. And when they do and there are credible reports of civilian casualties, we investigate those reports very thoroughly. And in fact, I mean, I think Kirby spoke to this yesterday at the Foreign Press Center, but we have a number of events, allegations – credible allegations of civilian casualty incidents that we’ve investigated and reported on and even posted the findings on Department of Defense website.

QUESTION: Well, the U.S. argument against Russia’s actions in eastern Aleppo was that the fight against terrorists there was not worth the civilian casualties, not like that in Mosul. Do you think it’s worth it? I mean, there is evidence that they’re happening. And my understanding is that the operations are at their beginning. So it’s just --

MR TONER: So – and I would make this clarification. What we have seen – and I think we’ve talked about this a fair amount last week – what we have seen in around Aleppo are indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, schools, civilian targets that raise questions whether these are deliberate targets.

With regard to our operations in and around Mosul, of course we’ll investigate and look into any credible allegation of civilian causalities. And I’m not sure what the status of this particular event that you’ve raised is, but if it’s a credible allegation we will investigate it. We don’t see the same on the Russian side, and certainly not on the Syrian regime side.

QUESTION: Do you really believe that Russia is deliberately targeting civilians there? So you don’t believe when they say that they are targeting al-Nusrah in eastern Aleppo?

MR TONER: Again, when we look at the evidence that we’ve seen on the ground, it can only lead to the conclusion that civilians were being deliberately targeted in some of these actions in an effort to intimidate – I don't know – I mean, you tell me what the motivation is behind it, but perhaps in an effort to drive out the civilians from Aleppo in order to eventually take the city. Again, that’s not what you’re seeing in and around Aleppo – or in and around Mosul, not at all.

But I can never say in an operation, a military operation, that civilians won’t get hurt, injured, or killed. But what I can say is that we make every effort, as part of the anti-Daesh coalition and as a leader in that, to avoid civilian causalities.


QUESTION: Different topic.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Philippines. Secretary of State Kerry today at the swearing-in ceremony for Ambassador Sung Kim said that he hopes to visit Manila again before his tenure is up. Has there been some sort of olive branch by President Duterte or some other indications that reveal some sort of change of climate that would clear the way for such a visit?

MR TONER: So Secretary – and thank you for drawing attention. I do want to congratulate Ambassador Sung Kim and also thank Ambassador Goldberg for his service in the Philippines. I think the Secretary was making clear that this relationship matters to the United States. It’s very important. And in fact, he emphasized the strong ties that our nations have, people-to-people ties. I think he cited some 30,000 Filipino Americans on active duty in our military; four million Filipino Americans live in the United States. This is – these are strong bonds. And I simply – I think he was expressing his desire not to see those bonds threatened in any way, shape, or form by some of the political rhetoric flying around. And he was emphasizing the fact that we’re going to continue to work to strengthen our relationship with the Philippines, and we’re going to continue to pursue a strong economic and security cooperation with them.




QUESTION: -- can you – have you discussed the possibility of a visit with the Philippines yet?

MR TONER: Nothing to announce, no.

QUESTION: And then can you outline a bit of the priorities for Ambassador Kim in the Philippines?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, he spoke to it, obviously, today. And his remarks at least should be out there, if not they will be soon. Again, I mean, we’ve talked about it a lot. We already have a very strong security relationship with them, military-to-military cooperation. They’re, as you’ve heard, a treaty ally of ours, and so we take that very seriously. We want to strengthen that military cooperation. We’re working with them on their counter-narcotics efforts, mindful though that when they do carry out these kinds of efforts that they need to abide by international standards and international law. And we’re also – again, people-to-people ties, economic ties – this is a vital relationship in the overall framework of our close ties to the Asian region, and we’re going to continue to pursue those areas of cooperation.

QUESTION: Staying in Asia.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: It’s about the recent Travel Warning issued from the U.S., and now the Australians have issued a travel warning. Did the Australians – you share any intelligence with the Australians (inaudible)?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t speak to that. What I can clarify though – it wasn’t a Travel Warning, and there’s an important distinction to make there, Tejinder. The U.S. embassy did – in New Delhi did release a security message on November 1st that was highlighting recent media reports, frankly, that indicate ISIL’s desire to attack targets in India. I think it talked about increased threats to markets, religious sites, and festival venues. And this is a pretty common thing for an embassy to do when presented with this kind of information. As I said, this is information that was in the Indian media, but we’re certainly – when we have that kind of information, we’re going to send it out via our networks to the American community.

QUESTION: My next question was going to be on that, that you – in the language it says “recent India media reports.” There are thousands of channels and millions of newspapers out there.

MR TONER: Yep. It’s a vital --

QUESTION: And it’s a --

MR TONER: -- vibrant media scene in India.

QUESTION: Yes, and --

MR TONER: Of which you are a part.

QUESTION: And most of it – most of it is very sensationalism and fearmongering and anti-Pakistan, anti – kind of thing. So on the basis of that, are you not joining hands with the media? Or can you define or give us a list of the media that you have --

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I don’t have the list of media in front of me. What I would say is that you are absolutely right, and I wouldn’t say just India. Many media environments have a broad swath of viewpoints, shall we say. And I think that – I trust, in fact, that our embassy and its public affairs section and press section are able to evaluate that media market and assess whether the information is credible or not.

QUESTION: Just a --

MR TONER: Please go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: -- quick one on that. That whenever there are state or any kind of elections in India, the media takes sides and there is a lot of fearmongering that starts and --

MR TONER: Understood.

QUESTION: So I’m trying to see if we can find which are the medias your embassies – the able people did consult to come to this conclusion, because the – one of the elections is the UP, the (inaudible) Uttar Pradesh – these elections. So --

MR TONER: When I was in New Delhi a couple months ago, I was very impressed with the newspapers I read and the breadth of coverage. And frankly, there are some very, very good media outlets, including newspapers, in India that I’m sure figure into the assessment of the embassy when it’s carrying out or evaluating this kind of information. And I’m not joking. I’m just saying that there’s a very sophisticated media market, and that’s what both our Foreign Service officers posted in embassies overseas but also the Indians who are employed by the embassy are paid to do. They’re paid to evaluate and analyze that media.

Please, sir, in the back.


MR TONER: Syria? Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports suggesting that the U.S. and Turkey agreed on clearing YPG forces from Manbij under U.S. and Turkey supervision. I was wondering if you can confirm this report.

MR TONER: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have anything to confirm them. It’s the first I’m hearing about any kind of effort, so I can’t confirm.

QUESTION: And what’s your position on YPG forces being in Manbij, by the way?

MR TONER: What’s our position?


MR TONER: Again, we’ve worked with the YPG pretty extensively in northern Syria. They’ve been an effective fighting force against Daesh. We’ve talked about that fact. They’re part of, frankly, a broad coalition of forces – Syrian Turks, Syrian Arabs as well – who have been effectively fighting against Daesh in northern Syria. What we have spoken to before is we understand Turkey’s concerns with respect to some elements of the YPG, and we have asked them to live up to the commitments that they have made to us with regard to where they are based and where they are – yes, I would say based in Syria --

QUESTION: Did you make any --

MR TONER: -- in northern Syria. And what we’ve seen thus far is that they’ve lived up to those commitments.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that they cleared the place?

MR TONER: I think it’s our – was our assessment that they had cleared out, yes.

Yes. I’m sorry, yeah.


MR TONER: Sudan, yeah.

QUESTION: A letter was sent by members in Congress to Secretary Kerry expressing deep concern about the increased number of migration or refugees from Darfur, and also mentioning reports about the use by the Government of Sudan of chemical weapons against civilians. Are you aware of this and do you have a reaction?

MR TONER: Sorry, you’re talking about a letter?

QUESTION: A letter to the Secretary from a number of members in Congress expressing concern about increased migration of people in Darfur and talking about reports of the government using chemical weapons against civilians and asking for investigation on this.

MR TONER: I mean, it – with regard to the use of chemical weapons, of course, if there were credible reports of chemical weapons use, we would take those very seriously and also call on an investigation. I’m frankly not aware of the letter you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Humanitarian aid to people who are fledding Darfur?

MR TONER: You’re talking about that we should provide more humanitarian --

QUESTION: No, no, there are – they are asking for the Secretary to help in making sure that people who are fledding to get humanitarian aid.

MR TONER: Yeah, I mean, look – I mean, Samir, I don’t have this – the number in front of me, but we provide humanitarian assistance to Sudan. We’re the leading provider of humanitarian assistance in the world today. Can we do more? We may be able to do more, but I’m quite comfortable that we’re doing our part.

QUESTION: They are concerned about the situation is getting worse.

MR TONER: And we are too. And we’ll certainly look at the letter and respond to Congress, but I don’t have any readout to give to you.

QUESTION: South Sudan, please.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The UN has come out this week with a report about the violence in July. Firstly, can I get your reaction to the very difficult details that were contained in there of the failure to protect civilians and aid workers?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, you’re talking about the independent special investigation that was conducted into the July violence in Juba. And they did brief today at the Security Council and we thank them for that. Couple things to say about it: First of all, it’s absolutely critical that the South Sudanese Government protect civilians, humanitarian workers, and other international aid workers within its borders. And the government should act on the report that was compiled by the Terrain investigation committee and hold all the perpetrators of that violence accountable through a fair and credible process that’s consistent with South Sudan’s international human rights obligations.

The UNMISS peacekeeping mission, which was the focus of the report, and their actions is mandated under Security Council resolutions to use all necessary means to protect civilians under threat of physical violence regardless of the source of such violence, and within its capacity, certainly in the areas of deployment, with specific protections for women and children. And upholding that mandate enhances the faith in peacekeepers and the utility of peacekeeping missions everywhere. And we certainly express our gratitude to the peacekeepers who tried to stem the violence and extend our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives during the violence in July.

I think that we would say that we remain a proponent of UN peacekeeping. Peacekeeping missions, leaders are an indispensable tool for promoting peace and reconciliation in some of the worst spots of the world. And we’re going to continue to make every opportunity to work with UN leadership, including the secretary-general, to hold peacekeeping operations to the highest standards.

QUESTION: Now, the commander at the time of UNMISS, a Kenyan man called Ondieki, has been deemed to be responsible for a failure of leadership and has essentially been sacked. As a result of that, and the reaction to the report, the Kenyans have withdrawn over 1,000 troops from South Sudan. How concerned are you?

MR TONER: So with regard to his sacking, as you put it, that’s a decision for the UN secretary-general and we respect that decision. I’d refer you to the UN for more details. With regard to reports that Kenyan – Kenya, rather, has – intends to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from UNMISS, we have seen those reports. We certainly appreciate the invaluable role that Kenya has played in carrying out UNMISS’s peacekeeping operations – peacekeeping mission, rather – and it’s our hope that they’ll continue to play a role. Kenyan troops also serve in several other UN missions, and we’ve continued to discuss the importance of Kenya’s role and contribution to UNMISS with Kenyan authorities, so I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Given that there’s a lot of work being done to try to increase the size of the UN force, this looks very much to be a step in the wrong direction. Is it hampering your ability to step up that force, and therefore is it compromising to South Sudanese security going forward?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve seen reports about Kenya’s intentions. We’re going to continue to engage with the Kenyan Government. I think, drawing on the conclusions of this report, certainly we want to see reforms made to the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. But you’re correct in that it’s absolutely vital that we maintain a robust presence there given the current climate.

QUESTION: When you say --


QUESTION: -- you’ve seen reports, I mean, President Kenyatta has announced this.

MR TONER: Right. Sorry.

QUESTION: You don’t believe him?

MR TONER: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying we’re continuing to talk to the Kenyans about their intentions.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean you’re hoping to convince him otherwise, or asking him to change his mind?

MR TONER: Again, we’re going to continue to engage with him. We believe --

QUESTION: Yeah, but what does that mean? I mean, you can say we’re going to continue to engage with him and then go have a cup of coffee with the guy and chat about the weather. That – I mean, are you --

MR TONER: Well, ultimately, they’re going to make their own sovereign decisions.

QUESTION: Are you going to – I understand that --

MR TONER: But we --

QUESTION: -- but, I mean, would you prefer that they not withdraw their troops from – and when you – are – when you say “engage,” are you going to say hey, President Kenyatta, we don’t think this is a good idea?

MR TONER: We don’t want to see UNMISS compromised – the numbers – in terms of troop numbers on the ground, peacekeepers’ numbers. And we’re mindful of that. Obviously, Kenya’s going to make its own decisions, but we’re going to continue --

QUESTION: Right, but those troops could come from --

QUESTION: Matt, (inaudible) – let him finish the sentence.

MR TONER: No, but we’re going to continue to make the case that they need to – that we’re appreciative of the role they’ve played there.

QUESTION: And would like them to continue?

MR TONER: Would like them to continue.

QUESTION: So, in other words, you will be – you are talking to President Kenyatta about reversing his decision to pull troops out.

MR TONER: Matt, we’re in discussions with --

QUESTION: I don’t understand why that’s such a difficult question.

MR TONER: No, I’m just saying we’re --

QUESTION: Either you like the decision or you don’t, and if you don’t like it, are you going to ask him to reconsider or not? I mean, that’s all.

MR TONER: No, I get it, but, I mean, we’re going to continue to talk to Kenya about its role in UNMISS. I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a broader question about this, then?

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems to me that the makeup of this UN force is still pretty much the same as it was in July. Many of those forces were – seem to be completely incapable of carrying out their mandate. Should we be looking at this in a much broader perspective and saying how do we resolve these issues?

MR TONER: I think in the sense that – well, look, first of all, we’ve long supported reforms to UN peacekeeping missions to strengthen them, and we’re going to continue to pursue those reforms. But I think you’re right in the sense that this report and – certainly shine a light on some failings, and we’re going to continue to push for reforms to strengthen peacekeeping across the board.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: No. I got --

MR TONER: Okay. Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- brief ones. Venezuela. I’m just wondering, do you have any kind of a readout from the conclusion of Tom Shannon’s trip down there? Did it come out and I miss it? Which is possible, as I was watching nothing but baseball last night.

MR TONER: I think we might – I mean, his last day was yesterday, but I mean, he’s obviously – he’s back here. He did meet with senior government officials. I don’t seem to have a list in front of me of who – is that what you’re looking for, who in fact he met with?


MR TONER: What are you looking for?

QUESTION: What he actually did. I’m not interested in the New Light of Myanmar’s caption of every general and whatever he met with. I don’t want a list of people he met with. I want the substance – as much substance as we can get of what the --


QUESTION: -- what the subject of the conversation was.


QUESTION: And specifically whether or not you think that this dialogue that they have going on --

MR TONER: Well, of course, we think it’s --

QUESTION: -- is worthwhile.


QUESTION: What he said about that, if it’s --


QUESTION: Does he encourage – was he encouraging them to continue?

MR TONER: So first of all, I mean, I think his visit did show that our continued support for the ongoing dialogue process, as well as, frankly, our interest in the wellbeing of the Venezuelan people, who are enduring some very difficult times right now. And we would call on both sides to maintain the dialogue and strengthen it and work to determine solutions to – cooperate to determined solutions to Venezuela’s very urgent problems and respect the will of the Venezuelan people. I mean, ultimately the responsibility for this kind of dialogue rests with Venezuela’s leaders, but it was a productive couple of days, and we’re going to continue to engage.

QUESTION: Okay. But --

QUESTION: How was it productive?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, he – I mean, this is something, obviously, Secretary Kerry as well as Ambassador Shannon have pursued over the last few months. It’s productive in the sense that we’re trying to establish, maintain, strengthen this dialogue between the Venezuelan Government and the opposition, because there’s a very urgent economic crisis facing the country and political crisis. And we believe it’s, obviously, in our national security interest and the region’s interest to engage.


QUESTION: What – sorry, if I may follow up.


QUESTION: What outcome – I understand that you believe in the dialogue.


QUESTION: But what outcome was produced by his productive visit --

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean --

QUESTION: -- in terms of furthering that dialogue.

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, Arshad – so first of all, as you well know, diplomacy can sometimes take a while to produce concrete outcomes. What was beneficial from his visit was that he was able to meet with opposition leaders, able to meet with civil society leaders, able to meet with senior government officials, and make clear to all of them that the United States wants to help Venezuela work through its current political and economic crises as a friend and as someone who’s concerned about some of the challenges that are facing the people of Venezuela.

Now, we’re going to continue – this is a step in the process. We’re going to continue to engage. We’re going to work towards trying to strengthen that dialogue. But ultimately – and I said this – it’s up to the government and the opposition to work together to come up with a plan.

QUESTION: Critics of the Administration’s policy in Venezuela and more broadly, which I think is a somewhat larger universe, critics of President Maduro himself have said that – or argue that this dialogue is essentially a waste of time, and that you shouldn’t be encouraging the opposition to take part in what they say is kind of a sham process. Obviously, based on what you’ve just said, you don’t believe that it is a sham process. But – so why is it that you have hope for this? Is it just if you keep them talking there is less likely to be tumult and unrest? Is that the idea here?

MR TONER: Well, I --

QUESTION: Or do you actually expect and think that it is possible for these two sides, which appear to be irreconcilable, to come together for the good of the country?

MR TONER: Well, we’re always going to, obviously, promote and advocate for a peaceful political process to resolve any political crisis. And a necessary part of that is an effective dialogue between or among Venezuelans on how to, from across the political spectrum, on how to resolve those – the crises facing the country.

QUESTION: Well, the question is then --


QUESTION: -- do you believe that the dialogue, as it exists right now, is effective, is an effective one?

MR TONER: So I think our assessment is that it’s worth pursuing.

QUESTION: All right. Last thing. Just my standard email question: Still no contact with the FBI?

MR TONER: Still no contact with the FBI.

QUESTION: And you’re going to release some this afternoon? I believe the court has a November 3rd deadline for you.

MR TONER: Yes. So, that I – yes, I can say that today at approximately 3:30, we are going to make publicly available online approximately 350 documents, totaling approximately 12 – rather, 1,250 additional pages of emails that were sent or received by Secretary Clinton in her official capacity during her tenure as Secretary of State. And these documents, as you all know, were the ones provided to the State Department by the FBI this past summer, and we’ve been reviewing them using FOIA standards for public release.

QUESTION: Did the court order you – I’m just checking right now --


QUESTION: -- but from memory, I thought the court had ordered you to produce 1,400 pages by today.

MR TONER: We were ordered by the court to process 1,850 pages of material received from the FBI by today.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep. Right.

MR TONER: And we’ve met that requirement. We’re releasing approximately 1,250 pages of that 1,850 pages we processed.

QUESTION: And when will the --

MR TONER: And why is that?


MR TONER: Because – I’m anticipating your question.


MR TONER: Yeah, that’s okay. So in processing these documents for release, the Department identified a number that were exact duplicates of those released in our previous productions. And so those documents were processed but won’t be – we won’t re-release them. We also processed a number of exact duplicates within the number – within the material that was provided by the FBI; that is to say, in that tranche, there were actually duplicates of emails within that same tranche. So not duplicates of what we’d already released, but within that – the tranche that the FBI --

QUESTION: Multiple copies --

MR TONER: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: -- of the same document within the same tranche.

MR TONER: Thank you. Yeah, within the same tranche, right.


MR TONER: So we’re not going to really re-release any of those that are duplicates.

QUESTION: So, but you have met the 1,850.

MR TONER: We have.

QUESTION: And is the number that you’re – the 1,250 that you’re releasing today, don’t you have to release some more tomorrow?

MR TONER: We do.

QUESTION: And can you walk us through that, and whether you’ve met the courts requirements on that?

MR TONER: We have, we will. I mean, we haven’t yet, but we expect to with regard to releasing the additional – I’m trying to think of what the number is. I don’t have that in front of me, but we expect to meet that deadline for tomorrow, as well.

QUESTION: And then one last question.

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: Just so I’m clear, vis-a-vis today’s release, the number that you are releasing today reflects all 1,850 pages that you processed excluding duplicates, correct?

MR TONER: Yes. And so – sorry, I actually do have – so today, we were required to meet, as you noticed, or required to process, rather, 1,850 pages of emails. And we are going to meet that requirement. And as you noted, we’re – but we’re actually going to release only 1,250, because of the duplicates.

QUESTION: So the other 600 were all duplicates and previously released?

MR TONER: Yes. Yes.


MR TONER: Tomorrow we’re required to process 350 pages of emails, and we expect to meet that requirement, as well. Sorry --

QUESTION: And do you have any idea how many pages you’ll actually be releasing tomorrow?

MR TONER: No idea yet. We’re still finalizing that.

QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

QUESTION: Do you have --

MR TONER: Please, of course.

QUESTION: -- anything on Baghdadi’s latest message, any comment on that, or any concern about him calling for terrorist attacks in new countries around the world?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look – so I don’t think we have any reason to doubt the authenticity of it. We still haven’t made a final determination on whether it’s an authentic tape. But as I said, we don’t have any reason to doubt that it isn’t. He made a lot of comments or statements about the state of things, or how he’d like to see them. But look, I’d just say no audiotape can change the reality of what’s happening on the ground in Mosul currently, and also can change our determination to continue with the operations that are currently underway to destroy and degrade Daesh in both Iraq and Syria. We’ve made tremendous gains over the past year. We’re on the verge of liberating Mosul. That’s not to say we’re there yet, but we’re making progress. We’re talking about Raqqa next, and that’s the – what ISIL purports to be the seat of its caliphate. We’re going to keep the pressure on them, and no audiotape’s going to change that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 2, 2016

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 17:19

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 2, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:15 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a quick topper here on – if I might, to take advantage of the day, to --

QUESTION: Wednesday?

MR KIRBY: Yes, it’s Wednesday. Thank you. Are you sure?



QUESTION: Pretty sure.

MR KIRBY: Wednesday. Just take advantage of the day here to talk a little bit about Austin Tice. I think you probably saw the Newseum put up a banner today outside the museum to serve as a public reminder of his situation and the – frankly, the very real risks that journalists face all around the world. As a matter of fact, that’s a topic of – that the Secretary raised with the Edward R. Murrow fellows that were here today, international journalists that were here. And he talked about that.

But it’s noteworthy, and I think given what the Secretary said this morning and given that the banner’s up at the Newseum, I felt it incumbent upon me to also note that we continue to remain deeply concerned about Austin’s well-being. And that’s across our government. And across our government, I can assure you that people are working very hard every day to try to bring him home to his family.

So even though we don’t have a lot of information right now, we’re going to continue to work with our Czech protecting power in Syria to continue to gain and to glean as much information as we can. And we’re obviously going to continue publicly and privately to urge all sides to ensure the safety of journalists that are operating in Syria, and obviously to call on Austin’s captors to release him now and return him safely to his loved ones, which is where he belongs.

So with that, we’ll start.

QUESTION: Just briefly on that, and then I’m sure we’ll return to Syria again – but on Austin Tice: Does that – your statement suggest that there isn’t any – there’s no new information here? It’s still – we’re still in the same kind of holding pattern?

MR KIRBY: No, I do not have any additional information.

QUESTION: Okay. Before we go back to Syria, can I just ask, the – my daily email question update?

MR KIRBY: Your daily email --

QUESTION: Well, just, has the FBI gotten in touch with the State Department?

MR KIRBY: Oh, no. No. No.

QUESTION: So to the best of your knowledge, then, this has – this part of whatever is going on with the FBI doesn’t have anything to do with the State Department as a building?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, aside from the fact that --

QUESTION: That she worked here and that the --

MR KIRBY: -- the email traffic in question could be email traffic that was --


MR KIRBY: -- sent and received while they were working at the State Department, no, I’m not aware of any other connection, and we’re not – this is really just an FBI issue to deal with. We – we’re not in close communication with the FBI on this latest effort, and it’s really for them to speak to.



QUESTION: Philippines?


QUESTION: So I don’t know if you will have seen Philippine President Duterte’s response to our story about the United States not proceeding with a planned or a possible – a planned sale of 26,000 rifles to the Philippines. Among other things, he has called the people behind the decision not to proceed with the sale fools and, quote, “monkeys.”

I know you addressed this to some degree yesterday, and I know that there are limitations on what you can say about --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- such a pending or potential sale. But it’s the last in a long series now of angry statements, critical statements, harsh statements from the Philippine president toward the United States. Do you have any response to his comments on this matter, even if you can’t discuss the underlying sale?

MR KIRBY: No, actually, I don’t, Arshad. I have seen those comments through press reporting, and again, I would say what we’ve said so many times before, that that kind of rhetoric is really at odds, and I think the word that I’ve used before is inexplicably at odds, with the close relationship that we continue to have with not just the Filipino people but the Filipino Government. But I can’t account for the sentiments expressed in those comments. All I can do is – and as you rightly noted, I can’t comment about potential commercial licenses in advance either – the decisions that affect them. But I – all I can do is reaffirm again how dedicated we are to our bilateral relationship with the Philippines, to our people-to-people ties with the Filipino people, and in fact how seriously we take our commitments from a security perspective through the defense treaty that we share.

QUESTION: And you said that you – you talked about how his remarks were inexplicably at odds with the close relationship that you have, not just --


QUESTION: -- people-to-people, but also with the government. Do you mean the government excluding Mr. Duterte, or would you say that you have --

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s the head of state. He’s the head of the government, but --

QUESTION: Do you feel like you have a close relationship with him?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. Well, we have a close relationship with the Government of the Philippines.

QUESTION: Including him, the head of --

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s newly elected, and I don’t know the depth to which we’ve had opportunities to engage on a personal level with him. I know Secretary Kerry met with him and came away from that meeting, as he said he did, feeling positive about where things were going to be going with the Philippines. I don’t know about our ambassador and the personal relationship that he might have been able to develop in this short period of time, but he is the head of state, and our government-to-government relations are very strong.

QUESTION: But how can you say that you have a close relationship with the government when you can’t say that you have a close relationship with the head of state?

MR KIRBY: Well, because the government isn’t – doesn’t rest – especially in a democracy, it doesn’t rest on the shoulders of just one individual. Yes, he’s the head of state, but there are many agencies in his government, there are many cabinet officials, there are longstanding relationships that we have nurtured over the years with figures in his government, and those relationships are still there and they’re still vibrant.

QUESTION: And last one on this: Do you remain open to – well, two things. One, by saying that the government doesn’t rest on the shoulders of one individual, you’re – are you trying to suggest that you would try to circumvent him or deal with others or --

MR KIRBY: Not at all.


MR KIRBY: No, no, no.

QUESTION: And then second --

MR KIRBY: No, I was simply referring to the fact that in a democratic government such as the Philippines, that tasks are delegated to various agencies and that we have relationships with these institutions and agencies. Those are solid. They remain. Obviously, you also need to develop a good working relationship with the head of state. And I can tell you, as I’ve said before from this podium, we’re committed to doing that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I want to very – sure, I get that what you’re – are you trying to suggest something here?


QUESTION: I mean, the head of state determines the foreign policy of the government, much in – in the Philippines as in the United States.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct. Right. What’s your point?

QUESTION: Well – so – but you’re saying that the U.S. – that you’ve built up relationships with other parts of the government, so it doesn’t matter what the president thinks?

MR KIRBY: That’s not at all what I said, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. I thought --

MR KIRBY: And it wasn’t at all what I implied. I mean, look, he’s the head of state. We recognize he’s the duly elected leader of the Philippine Government and we respect that. And we respect the fact that as the head of state, he determines foreign policy. We totally understand. What I was – the point I was trying to make is that there are institutions in the government that we have good relationships with and we’re going to try to continue those relationships, as well as try to develop a good working relationship with him himself. That’s all I meant.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: That’s all I meant. Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue? Can I fill you in on a couple (inaudible?)

QUESTION: Well, can you – could I just go back to emails for one sec?

MR KIRBY: I’m – hang on a second. I’m sure we’re not ready to jump into that just yet, Said.

QUESTION: Sure, well, it was – well, okay.

QUESTION: Just before we start on the other – can I just go back to the emails for one second? I’m sorry, because I know Matt asked you a question. Some of the emails of John Podesta’s emails that were released today suggest that some people at the – well, they don’t suggest, they show that some people at the State Department were communicating with the Clinton campaign about certain statements and taking their cues on certain things that should be in the statements, particularly in relation to some press stories that were about to come out. That the State Department was sending the guidance that was going to go out for your briefings or Jen Psaki’s briefings, and also kind of massaging – taking the Clinton campaign’s cues for massaging the statements. Can you talk about that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about leaked documents and emails that were allegedly stolen.

QUESTION: Well, can you talk about the general idea that people in this building have been --

MR KIRBY: But what I will say is that it’s – that there are times and – when in trying to make sure that we’re accurate, it’s appropriate to reach outside this agency to talk to former officials. That is not unusual, particularly when we’re trying to be accurate about something regarding that individual. That is not – that’s not uncommon practice. And frankly, Elise, I’d say to a degree, shame on us if we don’t do that when it’s required, so that we’re not getting up here – I’m not getting up here and putting something out that’s inaccurate. So – but I’m not going to talk about --

QUESTION: Accuracy is one thing, and making sure that you have all the facts, but working with the Clinton campaign to craft your press guidance does – or quotes that you’re sending out to members of the media does seem that that goes beyond trying to determine whether you’re accurate.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I am --

QUESTION: Do you --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to discuss the specifics of this exchange.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to, I’m asking you to discuss as a general practice. When dealing with the email issue, is this building coordinating with the Clinton campaign on the messaging quotes, guidance that’s coming out of this building?


Yes. Actually, Said was first. I promised him.

QUESTION: Okay, can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Monday, there was a group of senior Israeli Government officials, notably the Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, and they were pushing for the total annexation of Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank – a large part of the West Bank. Do you have any comment on that? Have you seen the report?

MR KIRBY: This is a – you’re talking about the deputy prime minister?


MR KIRBY: And his remarks? So --

QUESTION: Right, because it’s the prime minister himself who is assuming the – not deputy foreign minister, because Mr. Netanyahu is also the foreign minister, so she’s the deputy – as deputy foreign minister.

MR KIRBY: Okay, but I just want to make sure I had --


MR KIRBY: -- the comments right from the right individuals. So I can tell you we’re aware of the remarks. I’m not going to, as I said, react to every comment. What I will say is that – and you know this, Said – our policy on settlements is extremely clear. We strongly oppose any unilateral efforts that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations. And as we’ve also said, this is part of a number of trends highlighted in the Quartet Report that are threatening the two-state solution. These trends also include Palestinian incitement as well. And along those lines, I would just tell you we were deeply concerned by reports yesterday about a Fatah Facebook page praising the Palestinian who shot three Israeli soldiers day before yesterday. And we’ve raised this issue directly to the Palestinians as well.

QUESTION: I understand, but you are not – I mean, these are really separate issues. The settlements are not connected to the violence. You don’t say this is tit for tat --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make – I’m not going to get into making connections and what --

QUESTION: You’re not --

MR KIRBY: -- what spurs --

QUESTION: No, I just want to understand you properly there.

MR KIRBY: But I wanted to – the reason I put it in there is because, again, we’re looking for ways towards a two-state solution.

QUESTION: I understand. You always --

MR KIRBY: These kinds of things, when they happen, pull us farther away from that.

QUESTION: You always make your position very clear on violence and so on and incitement.


QUESTION: I am talking about the settlements. This is really independent. I don’t think this – the violence is related to this statement or this statement is related to the violence. Do you agree?

MR KIRBY: I’m --

QUESTION: I mean by them.

MR KIRBY: I mentioned it today because these are the kinds of things, whether it’s rhetoric or actions, that are leading us farther away from a two-state solution. What connects one to the other is for the individuals involved to speak to; I’m not making some broad characterization about that.

QUESTION: I have a couple more if you indulge me – and my colleagues as well. Okay. The Palestinian Authority – no, that’s okay. I was just --

MR KIRBY: No, that’s – I’m --

QUESTION: -- taken aback a little bit.

MR KIRBY: I’m waiting.

QUESTION: The Palestinian Authority is basically bankrupt because it’s not getting any aid from the Saudis; it’s not getting any aid from the United Arab Emirates. They’re – they claim that they have not received much aid from you guys. Could you shed some light on what kind of aid you’re sending them, what – how strapped they are, how they are likely to continue to function?

MR KIRBY: I actually don’t --


MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to answer that question, Said. I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: And finally, I want to ask you, today marked the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. I am sure you’re aware of the Balfour Declaration.

MR KIRBY: I am. I studied history in college.

QUESTION: Which basically launched this thing into – began this whole process and so on.


QUESTION: And I wonder, the Palestinians are going to sort of demand that Britain apologizes for the Balfour Declaration. Will you support them in that effort? Will you support the Palestinians if they go to the UN to say that Britain must apologize for that and must do everything that it can to rectify the wrongs that have been inflicted on the Palestinians as a result?

MR KIRBY: This is the first I’ve heard that there’s an interest in doing that at the UN, Said, so I’m not going to get ahead of proclamations or announcements or proposals that haven’t been made yet at the UN. Look, I’ll tell you, not that I’m saying history is not important. Believe me, as a history major and still a lover of history, I get the importance of history. But I’ll tell you where we’re focused is on the future here. And this gets back to your first question about settlement activity. We want to see a path forward to a two-state solution, and the Secretary still believes that that path can be found. But it requires leadership and it requires a forward vision in the leadership there.

So we are very much wanting to look forward here to a meaningful two-state solution, and I think we’re a little less interested in proclamations about the past. Not that I’m saying the past isn’t important or that we’re not a product of history. I am not at all suggesting that. I’m just saying that we are more focused on moving forward.

QUESTION: So okay, recognizing that --

MR KIRBY: I knew something was coming.

QUESTION: -- does the Administration have a position on the Balfour Declaration – good, bad, indifferent?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: They sent a declaration --

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if we’ve taken a position on the Balfour Declaration or the Treaty of Westphalia or --

QUESTION: I think you think that was good because that established the concept of sovereign immunity.

MR KIRBY: Sovereign states, yeah. I – yes, actually.

QUESTION: How about the Treaty of Worms? That one?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know.


MR KIRBY: Now, see, if I had actually said that we did have a position on Balfour, then I would expect you to list every other treaty and ask me. But I’m saying we don’t have a position on this right now.

QUESTION: How about Versailles? Do you think that was a good thing?

MR KIRBY: Which one? Which one? 1783? We actually like that one a lot. In fact --

QUESTION: All right. I actually have a relevant – a question that’s relevant to the previous –

MR KIRBY: Really?

QUESTION: -- the previous question. Earlier --

MR KIRBY: That would be very interesting.

QUESTION: Apparently, earlier today the Jerusalem local planning committee authorized or gave the green light to the construction of 181 new housing units in East Jerusalem.


QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts about that.

MR KIRBY: We do. We’re deeply concerned by those reports that the local planning and construction committee in Jerusalem approved permits for, as you said, 181 housing units and five community center infrastructure projects in Gilo, which is in East Jerusalem. Our policy on settlements, as I said before, is very clear. We strongly oppose settlement activity, which we believe is corrosive to the cause of peace.

These decisions by Israeli authorities are just the latest examples of what appear to be a steady and systemic acceleration of Israeli settlement activity. In just the past few weeks, we have seen reports of an entirely new settlement near Shiloh, a potentially new settlement outpost in the North Jordan Valley, and over 80 Palestinian structures demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As the Quartet report highlighted, these actions risk entrenching a one-state reality and raise serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: So does that – well, is there any practical impact of the – of your opposition to these plans?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Is there any practical impact? Is there any consequence?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think --

QUESTION: I mean, the suggestion has been or the fear in Israel has been that the Administration in its final months is preparing to take some kind of --


QUESTION: -- action or make some kind of statement to kind of – I don’t know – for lack of a better word, draw a line in the sand where it comes to actions that you say or you believe hurt the environment for negotiations for a two-state solution. Does this bring you any closer to making – not you personally. Does this bring the Administration any closer to making a decision on how to proceed?

MR KIRBY: I think – I mean, I don’t think it would be useful to talk about internal discussions that we’re having or get ahead of – get ahead of ourselves. What I would just say is right now we are focused on encouraging all sides to demonstrate with policies and actions a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Are you confirming --

QUESTION: Do you have any comment --

QUESTION: -- that you are actually having – forgive me, Said – actually having internal conversations on whether you might take the --

MR KIRBY: We – I think you – shouldn’t surprise anybody that, as an administration, that we routinely talk about the situation in the Middle East and in Israel, and that, obviously, is something I think you know Secretary Kerry’s very focused on, so of course we have discussions about this. But I don’t want to get ahead of those discussions.

QUESTION: I meant specifically on what Matt was raising, which is the idea of parameters or a speech or --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I just don’t find it useful right now to speculate or talk about hypothetics right now.

QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal claims that the President requested the Secretary of State to prepare something. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: I really – I’ve answered the question as much as I’m going to today.


QUESTION: On Monday, The Washington Post called on you to deal with issues like human rights and freedom of expression in Turkey in the same way that you deal with those principles elsewhere, like Russia and China. And yesterday the deputy secretary gave a speech that seemed to do just that. Does that speech mark some sort of shift in the U.S. approach toward Turkey along the lines that the Post suggested?


QUESTION: Afghanistan?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Can I get a follow-up question? Does it mark any change at all that --

MR KIRBY: No. I’m not trying to be glib, but we have been nothing but consistent and clear privately and publicly about our concerns over human rights in Turkey, and I think the deputy secretary’s speech last night – which, if you haven’t looked at it, I recommend; it was quite good – laid all that out.

QUESTION: I have it right here.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sure you looked at it. I was actually speaking to everybody else.

QUESTION: I was there.

MR KIRBY: Were you? Oh, good. All right.

QUESTION: I was actually physically in the room.


MR KIRBY: There’s the man right there.

QUESTION: Well done, Arshad. (Laughter.) Good for you.


QUESTION: I read it this morning.

MR KIRBY: Did you?


MR KIRBY: All right, good. Hands. Hands. Who’s read the speech?

QUESTION: I will read it.

MR KIRBY: Doesn’t count. All right. So look, we’ve got three people here that got --

QUESTION: Have you read it?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Were you there?

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t there, but I read it.



MR KIRBY: I knew what he was going to say before he said it, though. (Laughter.) But anyway, look, I’m not trying to be glib.


MR KIRBY: I’m not trying to be glib when my – with my answer, but the – I couldn’t be more emphatic. No, this isn’t a shift; no, we’re not reacting to editorials that are written in the media. Everything the deputy secretary conferred last night – I’m sorry – conveyed last night is exactly where we have been as an administration and as a government on what’s going on in Turkey.

QUESTION: Well, both The Washington Post and New York Times on successive days – and I’m not suggesting that you were reacting to it, but maybe perhaps there was a reaction within the U.S. establishment to the same sort of events in Turkey and it was just becoming too much. And there was a perception that you were turning a blind eye to egregious human rights abuses in Turkey, because of the need to fight ISIS --

MR KIRBY: Perception by whom?

QUESTION: -- and the need for Incirlik.

MR KIRBY: By whom?

QUESTION: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Kurdistan 24.

MR KIRBY: Look --

QUESTION: The three pillars of (inaudible). (Laughter.) I’m being serious. I’m not trying to be --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Look, our concerns over human rights in Turkey and elsewhere are longstanding, and we have been nothing but clear about that privately and publicly, as I’ve said. It doesn’t mean that we don’t pay attention to what’s being written about or articulated in the media space; of course we do. I mean, I wouldn’t be up here every day if we didn’t take seriously what all of you do for a living, as well as those who write opinions and editorials. We obviously take that seriously. And we take it seriously when major outlets convey their concerns.

But I will tell you in this case, these are concerns that we have long held ourselves and that have been a – have been pillars of the policy that we have developed with respect to our relationship with Turkey. And nothing that the deputy secretary said last night is a change from how we’ve been trying to approach this relationship. Okay?


QUESTION: Afghanistan, please.


QUESTION: There is report from Foreign Policy that the ICC, international court of justice, have a plan or will be starting investigating about war crimes in Afghanistan, including the American service personnel. Do you have any comment about it? Although there is a peace process, so many people would like to participate at the peace process.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I’ve – I mean, I’ve seen reports about that. And I’ll let the ICC speak for itself. What I will tell you is that, speaking for the United States – and again, I don’t – I’m not comfortable talking military things, but I will in this case, because the question’s, I think, broader than just a military issue. But no government, no military on Earth takes its responsibilities in the way it conducts war more seriously than we do. And there is an extraordinarily robust judicial system, national judicial system – not even just talking about the military judicial system, but a U.S. national judicial system, which is robust, and energetic, and vibrant, and fair, and open. And we will, going forward, as we have in the past, rely heavily on that system. Okay?

QUESTION: So again, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar also would like to participate at the peace process. Do you know any effected or effort to the peace process --

MR KIRBY: In – who? I’m sorry, I can’t --

QUESTION: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar --

QUESTION: Hekmatyar, Hekmatyar.

QUESTION: -- the Islamic leader in Afghan --

MR KIRBY: In the peace process --

QUESTION: -- peace process.

MR KIRBY: -- for Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yeah. Based off the situation, do you think that peace process is still going to be successful?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, this isn’t – this needs to be an Afghan-led process, as we’ve always said it must be. And that means it’s up to Afghan leaders to make key decisions about what that peace process is going to look like going forward. So I – I think I’d leave it there. I’d leave it there.



QUESTION: This is about Haitians in the border. Do you have any information about the U.S. Government requesting from Brazil to take back the Haitians that are in the border with U.S. and Mexico? Do you have any knowledge that if the Government of the United States requested to the Brazilian Government officially to take them back in Brazil?

MR KIRBY: What I’ll tell you is this: That we routinely discuss a wide range of complex and complicated issues with Brazil, because we are committed partners. Irregular migration is one of those issues that we obviously discuss with Brazil on an ongoing basis. We believe it’s essential that we work with all of our partners in the hemisphere, including Brazil, to address regional challenges. In fact, back in September, Vice President Biden and President Temer pledged to work together to promote legal and orderly migration, and to advance good governance, security, and prosperity throughout the hemisphere.

And so what I can say is we’re going to continue to collaborate with Brazil going forward to help find humane solutions to this very regional challenge. But beyond that, I’m not going to comment on the specifics of our discussions with Brazil.

QUESTION: So when you said you don’t want to comment anything at this specific case of these thousand of Haitians that are trying to get into the United States, that are coming from Brazil, are you in any way in contact with the Government of Brazil to take them back?

MR KIRBY: We are in – we are, as I said, in ongoing conversations with Brazil about the challenge of irregular migration in the hemisphere regionally. And we know that it affects Brazil. So we are in regular contact with them about this issue. But I’m just not going to go into the details of that discussion right now.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the --?

QUESTION: What about – is the government, the U.S. Government in any way considering giving them asylum, or receiving them in the United States?

MR KIRBY: Again, sir, you’re asking me for a level of detail that I’m simply not going to go into today. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Venezuela and Tom Shannon’s visit there. One, is he back, or is he still there?

MR KIRBY: I think he’s still there today. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. But he met with President Maduro yesterday?

MR KIRBY: He did.

QUESTION: Do you know if he raised the case of Josh Holt, the American who’s been in prison down there for a while?

MR KIRBY: Yes, he did. He did.


MR KIRBY: And as before, we call on the Venezuelan Government to respect due process and human rights. He and our embassy have --

QUESTION: “He” meaning?

MR KIRBY: Tom Shannon, I’m sorry, and our embassy have repeatedly raised our concerns about Mr. Holt’s health, the conditions of his detention, and his treatment with Venezuelan authorities. So yes, it came up.

QUESTION: And you’re still – you’re just asking for a speedy trial? You’re not calling for his release? What exactly are you asking or demanding from the Venezuelan authorities?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, as I said, we call on the government to respect due process and human rights. We’ve requested that he be seen by a medical professional, and --

QUESTION: Are they denying medical care?

MR KIRBY: -- according to Mr. Holt, he was treated at a hospital on the 17th and the 24th of October. We do plan to send officers to attend his hearing, which is, as I understand it, scheduled for November 8th.

QUESTION: So then they are according due process.

QUESTION: November 8th?

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.

QUESTION: I’m not done yet. Go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: No, but, I mean, it sounds from what you’re saying that he asked for medical care and he got it. You’re asking for a consular officer to be present at the hearing or trial or whatever, and that’s --

MR KIRBY: We’re planning to send a consular officer.

QUESTION: And there’s no indication that they’re not allowed to. I mean --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- I understand that you’re saying that you’d like to see due process be afforded in this case, but is there any indication that it’s not?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m just – I think I’m going to leave it where I put it --


MR KIRBY: -- which is that we’re going to – we obviously continue to raise his case and we continue to call for respect for due process and human rights.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there are hundreds of Americans being held in prisons around the world for whatever crimes they’re accused of, whatever. The fact that you are raising this case at this high level with such a senior State Department official on --

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry raised it in his meeting with President Maduro.

QUESTION: Okay, so what is the problem with this case that demands such high-level attention?

MR KIRBY: I have – I’ve given you as much information about this as I’m able to do today, but I can assure you that we obviously continue to raise it with Venezuelan authorities, now twice with President Maduro himself.

QUESTION: Well, but again, to suggest – for Secretary Kerry to raise it with the president of a country suggests that there – that you’re concerned about either due process being afforded, but from what you just said --

MR KIRBY: Well, we wouldn’t – we wouldn’t raise our concerns about due process if we didn’t feel they were warranted. I --

QUESTION: So what are the concerns about lack of due process?

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered the question as far as I can go today, okay?

QUESTION: My – and I know you won’t be able to answer this right now, but perhaps you could take the question. I mean, would you like to see him released? Forget about due – I mean, don’t forget about due process. Obviously, that’s – wouldn’t you like to see – obviously, due process is important, but wouldn’t you rather see him just released and returned to his family, sent home?

MR KIRBY: We want to see the Venezuelan authorities exercise due process and observe human rights in this case.

Yeah (inaudible).

QUESTION: All right. Wait a minute. But that does not mean immediately release him?

MR KIRBY: I’ve responded.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Okay. First of all, are you – the Russians I think said today that the ceasefire or the cessation of hostilities continues for another 13 hours or something like this. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen reports on this. I mean --


MR KIRBY: -- we’ll have to see what happens here. We’ve seen examples of this in the past, but these humanitarian pauses, which are really nothing more than what – that the Russians want to provide an opportunity for people to get out rather than – before they resume the bombing. So we’ll see where this goes.

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s my next question: Do you expect them to resume the bombing, maybe big-time --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: -- during the elections? I mean, there are a lot of speculations that the Kuznetsov, whatever, the aircraft carrier, getting close to the --


QUESTION: -- Syrian shores, and so on. Do you expect that we might at least see something like Grozny in ’99 or anything like this in Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t know. I couldn’t possibly predict the future here. I don’t do a good job predicting future U.S. operations.


MR KIRBY: I certainly am not going to be able to predict future Russian operations. All I can tell you is what we’ve seen in the past. They do these humanitarian pauses, no aid gets in, the pauses end, and people get bombed again. So we’ll see what happens with this one. I don’t know.


MR KIRBY: What I – but I – and also, with the naval deployment, again, we’re aware of it. But I’d point you back to what the Secretary said a week or so ago, that if their intention is to just reduce Aleppo to ruins so that they can sort of gain an upper hand in what they perceive might be negotiations in the future, or to bolster the Assad regime, or whatever the reason is, all they’re doing is prolonging the war. All they’re doing is attracting more extremists. All they’re doing is making the opposition want to fight that much harder. All they’re doing is delaying for who knows how much longer a peaceful solution and resolution to this civil war. But --

QUESTION: But are you having --

MR KIRBY: -- I don’t know that – what their intentions are.

QUESTION: I understand. Are you having conversations with them on this very issue, that – or are you warning them or are you telling them not to do this? I mean, could they take opportunity with the – let’s say, with the election happening next week, could they take an opportunity to go ahead and maybe attack Aleppo? Do you feel that way?

MR KIRBY: Well, I couldn’t possibly predict the future on that, Said. And as for discussions, they are a party to the multilateral discussions which are still going on in Geneva, and no, I don’t have an update today. But those discussions are ongoing and the Russians are a part of that. And I can assure you that the main topic in those discussions is a cessation of hostilities. It’s trying to get the violence to stop, which, in no small measure, depends on the Syrian regime and the Russian military from stopping the bombing of Aleppo.

QUESTION: Do they --

QUESTION: Can I have the last question on Austin. I mean, when was the last time that you knew what happened to him or his whereabouts and so on?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t – I don’t know and --

QUESTION: But you suspect that he’s in government hands?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t have information to share with you about his whereabouts or his condition. Obviously, we continue to try to gain as much information as possible – information, I don’t think it should come as a surprise to you, that it’s hard to get on this case – but we’re still very, very focused on it.

QUESTION: Can you – you said that the multilateral talks in Geneva are ongoing. Do the multilateral teams there meet every working day?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know what their battle rhythm is, so I can’t say definitely that it’s every day or twice a day or three times a day. But the talks are still in play.

QUESTION: Okay. I just – because --

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: -- if one says they’re ongoing, it implies that they’re meeting on a regular, pretty much daily basis, right?

MR KIRBY: I – I mean, they’re ongoing. I can’t rule out the possibility that they might not take a break every now and then, maybe even for a day. I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean that the process has ended or stopped or been truncated.

QUESTION: And any recent conversations between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: No, nothing to read out.


MR KIRBY: Abbie.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the seeming eviction of Amnesty International from their building in Moscow by the Russian Government?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, this just happened. I – we’ve only just seen press reports of this. I don’t really know a lot about it, Abbie. So I think we’re going to have to see how this develops over time before we can react to that. I mean, obviously, we’re concerned about it, monitoring it as best we can. But I just don’t think we’re in a position right now, since this is so fresh, to be able to have an official reaction to that. Okay?

QUESTION: It seems that they sealed off their office so that they couldn’t get in. They have all their computers, everything that is inside and so on.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, look, again, we’re concerned and we’re monitoring as best we can. I think it’s just too soon for us to know exactly what’s going on there.


QUESTION: It’s one other, unrelated. This is – I’m just wondering if the Saudi Government has reached out at all about the death of a Saudi student in Wisconsin on Monday during a --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s – I know about the story, and I know local law enforcement is looking into this. I certainly wouldn't say anything to get involved or ahead of that. I do not know of any direct communication that we’ve had from the Saudi Government about this. So let me check on that, though, and see.


QUESTION: No. I’ve got two wildly different ones, but they’re both – they’ll both be brief. First, we have a story today about disagreements between the U.S. and the EU over Mahan Air – this Iranian airline that’s linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Are you familiar with this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: What exactly is the State Department doing to try to dissuade European countries from allowing it to fly? And are --

MR KIRBY: To lift their restrictions and sanctions. Is that what you mean?

QUESTION: To prevent them from --

MR KIRBY: Well, these are --

QUESTION: This is a company that still who you could secondary sanctions – sanctions can still apply in this case.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I’m aware of this issue and this apparent decision by the EU. It’s really for the EU to articulate and to characterize the rationale for doing this. I can – that’s one. Two, I’ll just reassert that our sanctions on Mahan Air remain in place, and I know of no intention to change that. And then the third point I’d say is that obviously whatever discussions that we might have with our European colleagues over this, I think we’ll keep those private.

QUESTION: Well, and that’s fine. Does it not bother you – well, it’s not fine, but I’ll accept it. Does it not bother you that an airline that’s linked to the IRGC and has been linked to supplying President Assad’s regime with weapons and equipment is flying freely into major European cities with the EU’s --

MR KIRBY: Yes, we are concerned about that, of course.

QUESTION: So what are you doing about it?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’d leave our diplomatic discussions with the EU and members of the EU in diplomatic channels and not talk about that publicly. But obviously we’re concerned. If we weren’t concerned about this, we wouldn't keep in place our sanctions on Mahan Air.

QUESTION: Well, forget about what exactly it is that you’re doing. Are you doing anything?

MR KIRBY: I – I think I’m going to leave our diplomatic discussions in diplomatic channels.

QUESTION: If you’re concerned, that would suggest that you would actually try to take some action to address your concerns. Are you – without getting into the details --

MR KIRBY: I’ll pass your – I’ll pass your tip up --

QUESTION: Without getting into the details of what specifically it is you’re doing, are you doing anything?

MR KIRBY: We remain engaged with our European partners about all matters related to Iran’s provocative activities in support for terrorism. I think those are conversations we obviously routinely have and will continue to have. But beyond that, I don’t have anything more to say.

QUESTION: Does that include Mahan Air?

MR KIRBY: As it relates to their support by, through and from the IRGC, of course. But I’m not going to talk about the details of diplomatic discussions.

QUESTION: All right, last one. I understand that your Ambassador Scot Marciel did in fact get to Rakhine state, I guess with the UN mission.

MR KIRBY: He did.

QUESTION: Do you have anything you can share about that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. As a matter of fact, I do. I just have to find it here.


MR KIRBY: Yep, you’re right, and then B for Burma.

So the ambassador did conduct a two-day visit with an international delegation, including the United Nations resident coordinator and other chiefs of mission, to the – to Rakhine State, excuse me. Visited several villages in the northern part of the state where attacks occurred against police on the 9th of October, and subsequent abuses have been widely reported to have taken place against communities and residents, including the Rohingya.

He and other delegation members met with representatives from local communities in order to learn more about the situation on the ground in those affected areas. The visit was an initial step in what we hope will be a continued assessment of the situation in the area by the government and by the international community.

The ambassador took the opportunity to stress to government officials accompanying the delegation that a thorough investigation into allegations of abuse, protection of all residents, restoration of full humanitarian access are necessary. As I understand it – well, this note says the visit is still underway, but I think it actually might have concluded by now. I have to check on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yes, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - November 1, 2016

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 15:43

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
November 1, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:37 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, guys.


MR KIRBY: I have no opening statement today, so we’ll get right to it. Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t have a lot either, but I do need to ask again, just to check to make sure it’s still the same, that still, as far as you know, there hasn’t been any contact, or you haven’t gotten any contact from the FBI regarding --

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: -- these emails. Okay.

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

MR KIRBY: On that?

QUESTION: Not with that.

MR KIRBY: How can you follow up on that one?

QUESTION: I’m not. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: All right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up question to something else. Today on the public schedule the Secretary is in New York --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- meeting on Asia Pacific issues. Can you expand on that? What is he doing? Who is he meeting?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ll have – there’ll be a readout of the discussion later today. So I don’t have a lot of detail right now for you, but he is up in New York meeting with some counterparts on Asia Pacific issues, as I think we outlined in the public schedule. And I think we’ll just wait till later when we have a readout to provide you to --

QUESTION: Is he meeting people from the UN?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think I’d – I’d let the counterparts he’s meeting with speak for themselves and their attendance. I just don’t have much more detail than that right now.

QUESTION: Is it this afternoon?

MR KIRBY: The meeting – actually, meetings – started this morning. They’ll stretch into the afternoon. And again, I think when everything’s complete, there’ll be a readout of it. Okay?


QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?


QUESTION: Okay. Can you update us on Mosul? It seems that the Iraqi army has made its first foray into Mosul proper, the city.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that for a fact, Said. I have seen some press reporting to that effect. I am leery, as you know, to get into battlefield updates here. But what I can tell you from what I have learned outside of press reporting is that they are making progress, that their campaign is actually ahead of schedule, and they continue to prosecute the fight against Daesh in and outside Aleppo. But exactly where they are, as you and I speak, I truly don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Now, it’s a little blurry in terms of, let’s say, coalition and aerial bombardment, as far it is concerned. Can you tell us anything – is the U.S. involved in – at least in the battle in terms of, let’s say, fighter jets and so on? Is there participation?

MR KIRBY: That is a better question put to my Defense Department colleagues. I don’t have the order of battle in front of me or what specific air support the Iraqis are getting. It is – I mean, it is a fact that coalition air support has assisted the Iraqi Security Forces on the ground for many, many months, and that the coalition air power was always intended to be part and parcel of the Mosul operation. But exactly what that entails on a day-to-day basis, I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Because I just want to follow up on our thing yesterday, as far as air support and the civilian population and so on.


QUESTION: And you indicated that it is very precise and so on. But how do you – what kind of reports are you getting in terms of civilian casualties, whether by coalition air power or whether by the Iraqi army, or in – or by Daesh, for instance? So what kind of reports on civilian casualties are you having?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we’ve received any reports or credible allegations of civilian casualties caused by Iraqi Security Forces or the coalition thus far in the campaign. Again, I would encourage you to speak to my colleagues at the Pentagon. They track those things, as they should, more closely than we do here at the State Department. I’m not aware of any allegations of civilian casualties.

And I would say, as I said yesterday, we – we, the United States military in particular – takes extreme care and precautions against trying to – against causing damage to civilian infrastructure or civilians in general. And when we think we’ve done it, we investigate it. And when we know we’ve done it, we own up to that. We put a press release out after the investigation is over. And if people need to be held to account for that, well, we hold them to account. And that makes – that – we hold ourselves to a pretty high standard – and a higher standard, I might add, than virtually any other military in the world. So I guess I just don’t know if there’s been any reports.

QUESTION: John, if I may, can we go back to Asia Pacific issues?


QUESTION: Malaysia and China have signed today a kind of defense pact. What’s your take on this? Is it bad news for the rebalance and pivot policy of the U.S. toward the Asia Pacific?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d let those countries talk to their arrangements. Those are sovereign decisions that nations enter into. But as I said yesterday, we’ve long maintained that we believe it’s in our interest to have our – to have other nations in the Asia Pacific region have productive, meaningful, bilateral relationships. This is not a zero-sum game for us. So again, as I said yesterday, for Malaysia and China to enter into some kind of agreement, whether it’s on paper or not, whether it’s just better bilateral relations, that’s all to the good in terms of regional security and stability, in our view.

QUESTION: But Thailand used to be a very close ally to the U.S., Malaysia also, the Philippines also is one of your closest --

MR KIRBY: The Philippines still are.

QUESTION: Yeah, it still – it still is one of your closest ally. Don’t you see any tilt from those countries toward China and drifting away from the U.S. in Southeast Asia?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d let each nation speak for themselves and the diplomatic relations that they’re pursuing. We have long said two things that I think are important. One, the Asia Pacific rebalance is not about China; it’s about the region – a region that will, for the next certainly at least two decades if not longer, have an extraordinary impact on the economic life blood of globalization itself.

And so we – the whole balance, the whole rebalance, is not about posturing about – over China. It’s about more resources, more talent, more time, more energy focused on a region that is and will remain vital to our own foreign policy objectives and, frankly, to the safety and security and prosperity of so many allies and partners that we have in the region.

So other nations making sovereign decisions to have better relationships with China or any other nation, all that, if those relationships can lead to productive and peaceful resolutions of some of the tensions in the South – not the South China Sea but in the region, to include perhaps the South China Sea, again, we would welcome that. We’ve been saying that from the very beginning, that we want these tensions resolved peacefully and diplomatically. So that’s all welcome.

And this idea that people are turning away from the United States and turning to China I think is just not borne out by the facts. Everywhere we go in the Asia Pacific region it’s reiterated time and time and time again how important foreign leaders there view American presence, American economic assistance and participation and trade, as well as American leadership. So we don’t view it, again, as a binary sort of equation, and we don’t view it as a zero-sum game. The whole idea of the rebalance is to foster the kind of dialogue that you’re starting to see happening. And so again, we welcome this.

QUESTION: And I don’t want to get too conceptual here, but what do you mean it’s not borne out by the facts that countries in greater numbers in Southeast Asia are becoming friendlier with China? I mean, it is completely borne out by the facts.

MR KIRBY: Name ‘em.

QUESTION: Well, the Philippines, for one.

MR KIRBY: Okay, there’s one.

QUESTION: Well, then you just said that it wasn’t true. Thailand, perhaps. Cambodia.

MR KIRBY: Perhaps, perhaps. So – but you got one. You got one so far.


MR KIRBY: You got one.


MR KIRBY: You got one. Laos?

QUESTION: Laos. Cambodia. Malaysia, as we’ve just seen.

MR KIRBY: Okay. So we have two or three, four, whatever. There’s a lot of nations in the Asia Pacific region. My point is that you’re --

QUESTION: There’s only 10.

MR KIRBY: This idea that there’s some sort of --

QUESTION: There’s only 10 in ASEAN.

MR KIRBY: This idea that there’s some sort of landslide movement towards China and away from the United States is simply not borne out by the facts, especially in so many of those countries where we too have strong and improving bilateral relationships. So again, this is not – it’s not – they don’t have to be binary choices. And we don’t – we have nothing to fear from the peaceful, productive rise of China, and we have nothing to fear from nations establishing better and warmer and more productive relationships with China.

QUESTION: Okay. But that’s – that wasn’t the – that wasn’t what you were saying was not true, was not borne out by the facts. The facts are that there are a number of countries in Southeast Asia that are developing better, closer ties with China.

MR KIRBY: I don’t really – I don’t want to get into a debate over semantics.

QUESTION: Anyway, the other – okay. The --

MR KIRBY: The point is – the point I’m trying to make is that the – this idea that by – that there are several nations who are reaching out and to develop warmer relations with China – I’m not disputing that. But the notion behind that, that that is something to be feared, that that is some sort of worrisome trend, that that is something that is not in keeping with the whole idea of the rebalance, that is an inaccurate reading of it.

QUESTION: But wasn’t the rebalance though designed to keep the United States relevant in an area with tremendous potential, economic growth, which is, as you say, a huge transit spot or an area where lots of the world’s commercial trade goes through?

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t – the United States has been and will remain relevant in the Asia Pacific region.

QUESTION: Right. But wasn’t the --

MR KIRBY: The rebalance wasn’t about trying to shore up relevance. It was about recognizing where the economic future of the globe is going to reside --


MR KIRBY: -- or where it’s going to be deeply affected and to make sure that we were maintaining our focus on that part of the world.


MR KIRBY: It wasn’t about --

QUESTION: And at the --

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t about some fear that we’re losing relevance.

QUESTION: But it’s – but it was happening at the same time as China was becoming increasingly assertive, looking outward, growing. So if you – if the rebalance was to maintain, keep relevance in the region, it was happening at the same time as the Chinese were expanding their relevance, their influence in the region. I think that’s just an obvious statement of fact. It’s not a --

MR KIRBY: I’m not disputing the fact --


MR KIRBY: -- that China is also --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Wait a second. I want to finish my debate here. (Laughter.) I’m not taking issue with the fact that China is also – is not also growing or developing their own set of interests and – or frankly, advancing their military capabilities, not at all. We’re not blind to that. But the rebalance wasn’t ever about one country in the region. I mean, the other thing that was --


MR KIRBY: The other thing that’s been going on – wait. The other thing that’s been going on over the last two, three, four years is the growing provocative nature and behavior and conduct and development of nuclear weapons capabilities by North Korea. That’s been a trend as well. And the deepening of our own relationships, particularly with ASEAN nations, that has been a growing trend. I mean, I could go on and on.


MR KIRBY: There’s lots of trends happening in the Pacific region.

QUESTION: The point is is that when the rebalance began, back in the first term, the whole idea that Secretary Clinton was expressing at the time was that she – was that the United States, under the Bush Administration, had kind of ignored Southeast Asia. And so therefore it was the job of the Obama Administration, when it first came in, to come back and make – and show the Southeast Asian nations that the United States was still relevant, was still an important Pacific power. And all of that was happening at the same time as the Chinese were expanding. So I just don’t – I think it’s hard to make an argument that this has – that the rebalance had nothing to do with China. That’s all I’m saying.

MR KIRBY: But we’ve been making that argument since the rebalance was announced and was talked about from the very beginning, that it’s not about China. And we maintain that today.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: You know four years ago there was a great deal of talk about the pivot to China and a great deal of --

MR KIRBY: The pivot to China?

QUESTION: I’m sorry, to Asia. The pivot to Asia. I take it back. The pivot to Asia.


QUESTION: And would you say that this route had been steady or you have been steady in this course in the pivot to Asia, I mean, in light of, let’s say, the PPT and other things that brought in so many countries together to your side, at least as far as trade is concerned. So would you say that it has been successful or you have been successful --

MR KIRBY: I would --

QUESTION: -- in exerting an influence on that part of the world?

MR KIRBY: I would certainly argue that we have remained committed to the rebalance in very real, tangible, practical ways.


QUESTION: John, my question is not regarding the policy debate, just a matter of fact. Did the Secretary’s meeting this morning in New York with his counterparts or the meeting going to be in the afternoon with counterparts including those countries that were mentioned?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m going to let, as I said – while the meetings are still ongoing anyway, I’m going to let the counterparts that he’s meeting with speak for themselves. As I noted, we expect that there’ll be a readout this afternoon. And when it’s done, we’ll make sure that we alert you to it.


QUESTION: Can I stay in Asia? A separate – sorry.

QUESTION: No, no. Go ahead.

QUESTION: A separate question on the Philippines. Do you have anything on the congressional opposition of the planned 26,000 assault rifle sales to police national – to the Philippines national police?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I would say a couple things on that, Nike. The United States remains strongly committed to our alliance with the Philippines. The president personally attested to that commitment to that alliance when he traveled to the Philippines a year ago to meet with President Duterte’s predecessor and to discuss strengthening and deepening that alliance.

And another note here I would throw out, while we were still on the rebalance, or while I’m at least still mentally on the rebalance, is that five of seven of our treaty alliances are in the Pacific, and that’s – those are enduring commitments that we have. This is one of them.

U.S. forces, as I think you know, have been providing support and assistance in the Philippines for many years at the request of several different Filipino administrations. At the same time, we continue to be deeply concerned by reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines. We encourage thorough and transparent investigations into all credible reports and allegations of extrajudicial killings and we strongly urge the Philippines to ensure that its law enforcement efforts are consistent with its international human rights obligations.

Our assistance programs are designed to address human rights concerns by expanding Philippine capacity to conduct effective, lawful investigations, and professionalizing the criminal justice system so that it’s more accountable, transparent, effective, and just.

Now, to your specific question, the department is restricted under federal regulations from commenting on the status of commercial export license approvals of proposed commercial defense sales. So we’re going to stay also committed to working closely with members of Congress to deliver security assistance to our allies and partners worldwide, including the Philippines.

QUESTION: So those rifles are commercial sales? They are not government-to-government transfer?

MR KIRBY: These are governed by commercial export license approvals. They’re U.S. commercial sales. They’re not --

QUESTION: Are they --

MR KIRBY: I am prohibited by federal regulation from commenting any further on that.


QUESTION: You said five of seven treaty alliances are in the Asia Pacific?

MR KIRBY: Yes. I’ve been saying that for a long time.


QUESTION: John, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Is it wrong? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Wait a second. So NATO is – so NATO counts as one?


QUESTION: Okay. So of those five that are in the Asia-Pacific, how many are in Southeast Asia?

MR KIRBY: Probably the Philippines, yeah. What’s your point?

QUESTION: Okay. Just that --

MR KIRBY: The Asia Pacific --

QUESTION: -- your only treaty ally in Southeast Asia is aligning itself with the Chinese.

MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve talked about this one now for --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Wait, no, no. No, don’t waive your hand and tell me not to talk.

QUESTION: I’m going to let you go. I’m --

MR KIRBY: There’s --

QUESTION: No, no, no, I’m not saying that.

MR KIRBY: There’s – Matt, we’ve talked about this one for weeks now. I mean, the security alliance that we have with the Philippines is still in effect. It’s 70 years old and it’s still in effect.

QUESTION: I’m not saying it’s not.

MR KIRBY: And while we’ve seen comments and rhetoric from President Duterte and other leaders in the Philippines, what we haven’t seen is any tangible move to break those bonds --


MR KIRBY: -- or sever that relationship, and nor do we want to see that happen.


QUESTION: Press reports on Lebanon said that – saying that the Secretary called the new president of Lebanon and congratulated him.

MR KIRBY: He did call President Aoun this morning to congratulate him and to reaffirm our commitment to the future of a bilateral relationship with Lebanon and our desire to see – now that the Lebanese people have a chief executive – to see that Lebanon can move forward.

QUESTION: And he also called the former Prime Minister Hariri?

MR KIRBY: He did also call the former Prime Minister Hariri. But he did call President Aoun to congratulate him, yes.


QUESTION: Do you support the Hariri premiership?

MR KIRBY: We don’t – again, we’re not going to comment or --

QUESTION: Would you like to see --

MR KIRBY: What we --

QUESTION: Because he (inaudible) with the United States.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re not going to involve ourselves in internal politics in Lebanon.


QUESTION: Just if I could add to the Philippines. This argument that the relations between the U.S. and the Philippines remains strong, it’s just getting harder and harder to believe when it’s not just the president of the Philippines publicly expressing doubt about that relationship; it’s now members of Congress seemingly expressing doubt about the relationship. So I’m just struggling to understand how you can continue to insist this same line that relations remain strong.

MR KIRBY: I can continue to insist it because we continue to believe it’s true. That doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be critics out there that have a different view in our government or their government. And it’s not going to mean that there aren’t people below President Duterte’s level that are also making comments that are of concern to us. I’m not going to whitewash the fact that some of these comments are concerning. And as I’ve said many times, they’re, in our view, strangely at odds with the relationship – relationships that we continue to have in a very tangible, practical, daily way with the Filipino people as well as Filipino institutions, including their security forces.

So we’ve seen in times where things are said and then walked back either by the individual that said them or by officials that work for those individuals. And so we’re not going to get all – to use a military term, we’re not going to get all wrapped around the axle here about every single thing that’s said. We’re focused on the long view. We’re focused on a relationship that, at least from an alliance perspective, is 70 years old and we’re looking for the next 70. And that’s where our focus is going to remain.

So I understand people have a different view, and they’re allowed to have those different views. And we certainly are not immune to the fact that there’s going to be critics of where the relationship is right now or where it may be going. I can only speak for Secretary Kerry and our view here in the Administration, and that’s that we believe strongly in this bilateral relationship. We believe very strongly in our security commitments to the Philippines, and we’re going to continue to meet them.

QUESTION: How important are those bases to the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t have permanent basing in the Philippines. These are – whatever use there is – and there’s only a small number of American troops that rotate in and out of the Philippines. We don’t have permanent basing there, and it’s in small numbers. So obviously, if you’re going to have a rotational presence, you need some infrastructure to support that presence. So it’s important, clearly, but we don’t have U.S. bases in the Philippines.

QUESTION: So if you left them, it wouldn’t really change anything, really.

MR KIRBY: If we left what?

QUESTION: The bases.

MR KIRBY: Well, it would certainly --


QUESTION: You already did that once.

MR KIRBY: I mean --

QUESTION: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I mean, I’m not sure I follow the --

QUESTION: Twice if you count World War II.

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I follow the --

QUESTION: I’m just asking how important are these bases to hang onto and --

MR KIRBY: They’re not our bases that we’re hanging on to. As Matt rightly said, we don’t have military bases there anymore. We have a rotational presence of a small number of forces that are helping primarily with the counterterrorism efforts in the Philippines. We think those efforts are important not just for our own national security but for the national security of the Filipino people, and we’d like to see that presence and that CT capability persist.

But obviously, look, we’re – they’re there, as they are anywhere around the world, whether it’s permanent basing or not permanent basing, they’re there at the invitation of the host government, and we respect that. So if you’re asking me if their rotational presence were to go away, would there be an – of course there would be an impact. But we’re not there. I mean, again, as I said numerous times, there’s – for all the rhetoric, there’s been no change – no tangible, practical change – in the relationship on a day-to-day basis, to include from a security perspective.



MR KIRBY: Samir’s been very patient. Yeah. And he got interrupted by Nike.


MR KIRBY: So go ahead.

QUESTION: No, that’s okay. Any update on --

MR KIRBY: It’s not okay with me.

QUESTION: Any update on the Geneva talks?


QUESTION: The Russians are saying they going to postpone them because they are not happy.

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen Russian comments about postponing them, but I’m not sure I understand exactly what that means. The way I read it was they were speaking about political talks between the regime and the opposition. The multilateral discussions in Geneva continue. I don’t have an update to give you or any readout from today, but the teams are still at it. The discussions are still ongoing. And I think the Secretary when he was overseas over the weekend talked a little bit about the fact that there are proposals being considered. So that work continues.

Again, I think there’s been a garble in those comments, at least from my reading of it. Maybe I’m wrong, but the impression I got was that the Russian official was talking more about the regime and the opposition talks, which have obviously not resumed. We’re all mindful of that. In fact, one of the reasons why we’ve got teams in Geneva trying to get to a cessation of hostilities is so that we can – if you get that, you can get hopefully to political talks.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on President Assad saying in an interview that he will remain in power until at least 2021?

MR KIRBY: I saw the comments, and all I can tell you is that we’re committed, the ISSG is committed, the UN is committed to trying to get political talks back on track so that we can get a transitional process in place. And from our view in the United States, nothing’s changed about our view that he cannot be part of the long-term future of Syria.

QUESTION: But if your understanding of what the Russian official’s comments were that basically there’s an indefinite postponement in the talk – in the political transition talks, I mean, why is it – why is it hard or impossible to accept that he’s going to be in power for another five years at least?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I don’t know that that’s exactly what they meant. That’s how I took it. But if I’m right and that’s what they were referring to, again, we wouldn’t – we don’t share the same view that there’s an indefinite postponement, and we don’t want to see Bashar al-Assad be part of the long-term future of Syria.

QUESTION: What about for the battle of Raqqa? I mean, that is imminent or looming in weeks, as was suggested by the Pentagon a week or so ago.


QUESTION: What if the battle of Raqqa – would you coordinate or work with the Syrian army, Syrian forces? Because after all, that is a Syrian town. That is a Syrian city.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not going to get ahead of military operations one way or another. I mean, one of the cardinal rules is you don’t talk about future operations. So I’m not going to go there, Said, and I’m not going to speculate about campaign plans one way or the other. And I’m certainly not going to get into timelines or anything like that. Defense officials have spoken to their views of where things are going. What I will say is simply that we recognize that Raqqa is considered, at least by Daesh, as their --

QUESTION: Their capital.

MR KIRBY: -- capital in Syria, if you will. And we know that because Raqqa holds such importance to them and because the citizens there, those that remain, are in – every day in great danger, we know that something’s going to have to be done about their presence in Raqqa, and that there are discussions inside the coalition about what that’s going to be, what that has to look like. But I just won’t get ahead of that.

QUESTION: But it is prudent to have – to marshal --

MR KIRBY: I will --

QUESTION: To marshal all forces available --

MR KIRBY: I will put a – let me – but --

QUESTION: -- to defeat Daesh, right?

MR KIRBY: Let me – but let me be clear, because I don’t want to leave any doubt that there’s no intention, there’s no plan, there’s no focus on working with the regime in any way, shape, or form with respect to the fight against Daesh in Syria. That has been the case in the past; that will be the case going forward. I want to make sure that I put a pin in that right away.


QUESTION: Can we go to Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Go to what?


MR KIRBY: Yemen, okay.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday, the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould al-Haj, during a closed meeting of the Security Council talked about that both sides need to submit good concessions and so on to have some sort of a resolution. But this peace map that he submitted was immediately rejected by the president of the country, Hadi – President Hadi. And in fact, his chief of staff said that a military solution was close or at hand, something akin to that. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those specific comments, Said, but I’m very comfortable restating again what U.S. policy is here. And that’s that we want to see a ceasefire put in place across the country so that humanitarian aid can get – and this is something we don’t talk about much in Yemen, in terms of humanitarian assistance, but there’s desperate needs throughout the country. So we want to see a ceasefire in place, humanitarian aid delivered, and we want to see a resumption of political dialogue and talks.

And that’s what the Secretary has been very keenly focused on now for many months – working with the special envoy, as well as with the Saudi-led coalition. So I can’t really address those comments except to say – the one thing I will say about that, again having not seen those comments, is that we don’t believe that a military solution is the right solution to what’s going on in Yemen. We believe a political solution is the best approach and that’s what we want to see all parties get back to.

QUESTION: But the United States is – directly or indirectly has taken sides in this fight. I mean, they’re aiding the Saudi-led coalition and so on, providing info and satellite imagery or whatever you are providing. Could you lean on them, because they are the biggest influence or power in that war? I mean, they could influence Hadi.

MR KIRBY: First of all, I’d say we’re on the side of the Yemeni people.


MR KIRBY: That’s the side that we’re on and that’s why the Secretary is working so hard to get a diplomatic solution to this; to get a ceasefire in place so that there isn’t violence and people aren’t living in fear and we can get them the aid they want and we can get this solved politically and through diplomatic approaches. So we’re on the side squarely of the Yemeni people. That said, and the Secretary said this himself, the – the Saudi Government has a right to defend itself and they are under attack almost every day from across that border. They have a right to defend themselves.

Now, the third thing I would say is we have been nothing but clear and candid with Saudi Arabia, since they’re leading the coalition efforts, about the manner in which military operations are prosecuted and implemented inside Yemen. And we’ve been very open with them about our concerns over certain strikes and reports of civilian casualties. I would note that they have investigated in the past. We’ve talked about the initial results of the October 8th strike already, that they’re continuing to look at that. So I think they recognize the importance of taking a hard look at how they’re prosecuting the war effort.

We’re – we – Saudi Arabia is an ally in the region and they have a huge responsibility to their own people, they have a huge interest in combating terrorism in the region, and they are a member of the ISSG, so there is much to discuss with them. We are not bashful about expressing our concerns where and when they need to be expressed.

But again, I’d just follow back by saying the side we’re on is the side of the Yemeni people. Okay?

Okay, thanks, everybody. Goyal – I tell you, Goyal, I’ll give you the last one today. You were – I didn’t get you yesterday. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions, South Asia. One: What is going on in Pakistan now? Two things are going on. One, protest against the civilian government, and backed by the – some member of the military; and second, they are – military is killing innocent people in Karachi, among other things. So what – as far as U.S. security is concerned, is U.S. worried about these massive protests going on? Because now time has also come for the Mr. Sharif. The military chief must or should be resigning or – I mean, he will be replaced by a new military chief. Some believe maybe he may not leave and military may take over.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, the specific decisions about who leads the military in Pakistan are for – that’s for the Pakistani Government to decide as – those are sovereign decisions that I’m not going to comment on. Obviously, we’re aware of the reports about protest activity, bans on protest activity, decisions to protest or not to protest. Again, those are questions that are better answered by Pakistani authorities.

More broadly – and I’ve said this many times – the United States will continue to support freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. It’s well documented that we do that. We talk about it every day, including the right of peaceful protest. So we want these rights to be exercised responsibly, and all parties should refrain from violence and exercise restraint and respect the rule of law.

Okay, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Then can I just --

MR KIRBY: Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 31, 2016

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 07:18

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 31, 2016

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2:09 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: All right, happy Halloween, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Couple things at the top and then we’ll get right after it.

On Spain: The United States Government welcomes the formation of a new government in Spain and congratulates President Mariano Rajoy. The United States and Spain have, as I think you all know, a very longstanding and productive, multifaceted bilateral relationship. We work together to secure peace and stability around the world, we’re strong economic partners with $25 billion in two-way trade, we have a close and mutually beneficial military-to-military relationship, and we cooperate intensively to fight international terrorism and organized crime. We look forward to advancing our bilateral agenda to the benefit of both countries.

On Turkey: The United States is deeply concerned by what appears to be an increase in official pressure on opposition media outlets in Turkey, including through the detention earlier today of Murat Sabuncu, the editor-in-chief of Turkey’s most – one of Turkey’s most respected newspapers, Cumhuriyet; by the shuttering of more news outlets over the weekend; and the continued detention of a number of journalists and columnists. The United States supports the Government of Turkey’s efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the 15 July coup attempt, of course. We stand by our friend and NATO ally Turkey in the fight against terror in all its forms, including against the PKK. However, as Turkey’s ally and friend, we encourage the Government of Turkey to ensure that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are protected. Democracies become stronger by allowing diverse expressions of views, particularly in difficult times. Suppressing speech and opinion and the press does not support the fight against terrorism and only encroaches on the fundamental freedoms that help ensure democracies remain strong.

And with that, we’ll go to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. I’m sure we’ll get back to Turkey, but I just want to start with the email – Secretary Clinton’s email issue. On Friday after Director Comey’s letter was sent to Congress, Mark told us that you had guys had no idea about it, you hadn’t been contacted as far as he had – as far as he knew, but you would be – you’re ready to cooperate however you can. Over the weekend, Secretary said essentially the same thing, that he hadn’t heard – or he hadn’t – that the FBI hadn’t been in touch with him, as far as he knew, and I just want to check with you now today that it’s Monday that – whether or not the State Department has heard from the FBI about this. And if you have, what have they said?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t – I’m not aware of nor has anybody that I’ve spoken to here today aware of any contact with the FBI on this. And obviously we’re not going to get ahead of their work, so --

QUESTION: No, I wasn’t suggesting that you were, I just wanted to know if there had been – as far as you know, then, there --

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- there has been no request from the FBI or nothing --

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: No communication at all. All right.

MR KIRBY: No communication, no request.


QUESTION: Is there likely to be anything on this particular letter that Mr. Comey announced on Friday or is it a Department of Justice issue, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: Anything – you mean from here at the State --

QUESTION: Is there anything likely to happen in the department, in the State Department, on this particular letter that he talked about?

MR KIRBY: No, this is an FBI matter and it’s really for the FBI to address and discuss.

QUESTION: So it’s (inaudible) Department of Justice --

MR KIRBY: And it’s for the FBI specifically --


MR KIRBY: -- to address, I mean, since it was the director’s communication with Congress. I know of no tasking or impact on the State Department as a result of that.

QUESTION: Go to Syria?


QUESTION: Okay. Over the weekend, there were attacks by the opposition on western Aleppo. About 84 people were killed, many of them children and so on, so – allegedly. And so do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of it?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ve seen those reports, Said. And I mean, obviously, if it’s true, these kinds of attacks on civilians in Aleppo are always reprehensible. And so if these particular reports are true, they would likewise be reprehensible and completely non-defensible. We’ve made clear that what we want to see is the violence stop there in Aleppo so that we can create the conditions for a peaceful political transition. And we will, as we have, continue to condemn the targeting of innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure, for that matter, as a result of what’s going on in Aleppo.

QUESTION: Now I have just a couple of follow-ups on this. The Russians are saying that this makes – or I mean this makes the militant groups, including Nusrah, a fair target in eastern Aleppo. Do you concur? Do you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: Al-Nusrah has always been outside the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: But it is located in eastern Aleppo. I mean, it is proudly in neighborhoods where civilian population is concentrated and so on.

MR KIRBY: And what you’re asking, that we think it’s okay to target eastern Aleppo and not western Aleppo?

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

MR KIRBY: No, we don’t – al-Nusrah has always been outside the cessation and so, as I’ve said before, remain fair targets as a UN-designated terrorist group. But in the pursuit of Nusrah, or Daesh, for that matter, there’s no excuse for targeting innocent civilians or damaging civilian infrastructure in the effort to go after them. I mean, look at how the coalition works in Iraq and the care and the attention that we give to --

QUESTION: How is – I’m sorry to interrupt, but how is that different from what is happening in Mosul? How is in Aleppo --

MR KIRBY: It’s radically different.

QUESTION: -- targeting militant groups in Aleppo is different --

MR KIRBY: It’s radically different, and I’ve seen comments by the Russian foreign ministry, in fact, I think Foreign Minister Lavrov in particular about how it’s the same. And it’s absolutely not the same, and to compare the two is frankly insulting. I mean, in Aleppo you’ve got the regime laying siege to a city with the support of their biggest backer, Russia. In Mosul you have an entire coalition of some 66 nations who have planned for months, so with the vast support and legitimacy of the international community, to retake a city from Daesh over a period of months in support of Iraqi Security Forces.

In Aleppo you’ve got – yes, al-Nusrah is in Aleppo and al-Nusrah has been resisting the regime. They are in relatively small numbers. But the bulk of the resistance in Aleppo is coming from opposition groups, moderate opposition groups, and civilians. And they are becoming the victims of the attacks by Russia and the regime. In Mosul you have Daesh, which have basically taken over the city more than two years ago, and the civilians obviously have been persecuted, punished, tortured, and rendered basically slaves in their own city to Daesh.

In Aleppo, as I think we’ve just talked in the last few minutes, you have the specific targeting of innocent civilians, first responders, and infrastructure – hospitals – that are specifically being targeted and destroyed, whereas in Mosul the air power that’s being used by the coalition is very precise, very discriminate. Great care is taken to avoid civilian casualties, and certainly there is going to be no concerted effort, as there is in Aleppo, to destroy civilian infrastructure. In fact, quite the opposite; we’re going to try to preserve as much as we can after so much has been laid waste by Daesh over the last two years.

As a matter of fact – and this is another big difference – unlike in Aleppo, the coalition and the Iraqi Government are working towards post-campaign stabilization. We’re actually working on building contracts so that people can go in and clean up what rubble there is from the campaign and repaint buildings, and restore electricity and water services, and get people back to work. You don’t hear anything like that coming from Assad and from the Russians with respect to Aleppo.

Another big difference – humanitarian assistance. So civilians are being told or ordered by the regime to leave Aleppo. To go where? To what?

QUESTION: Go to western Aleppo.

MR KIRBY: To go where?

QUESTION: They can go – couldn’t they conceivably leave to western Aleppo?

MR KIRBY: In Mosul, actually, while civilians who believe they are in harm’s way and are unsafe certainly will be – their departure will be facilitated as much as possible by the Iraqi Security Forces, there are camps that are being set up all around northern Iraq to receive them in the tens of thousands, and there is lots of effort by the international community and by the Iraqi Government to provide a place of refuge for them while the fighting goes on.

And oh by the way, the military operations that are being conducted in Mosul are being done in such a way that if they don’t feel threatened, civilians can stay. They can stay because there’s going to be – there’s going to be procedures put in place to try to protect them if they decide to stay. Now, obviously, if they feel threatened and they want to leave, they can leave, but there’s a place to go to. There’ll be some camps that will be prepared to receive them and their families with food, water, medicine.

So look, I mean, I could go on and on. The differences are vast and great. And any suggestion by the Russian Government that there are – that they’re one and the same is ludicrous. And I can tell you the Secretary feels exactly the same way.

QUESTION: My last point on this: But is it true that at the end of the day, in both areas, you have a civilian population that is holding a civilian – that is being held under the gun by militant groups that need to be dislodged from there?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think in Mosul, certainly, the population of Mosul has been under the jackboot of Daesh now for about two years or a little bit more. There’s no question about that. In Aleppo, Nusrah’s present but in relatively small numbers, we believe. And the opposition groups there are actually working on behalf of – the moderate opposition groups are working on behalf of the Syrian people, the Syrian citizens of Aleppo, to try to free them from the assault that’s coming by their own government.

You still have – Said, you mean, in Aleppo you still have barrel bombs being dropped on people and hospitals. And that’s not happening by any stretch in Mosul. So again, radically different situations, and again, any comparison is absolutely insulting.

QUESTION: John, on this issue, on Syria, is there any update on the talks in Geneva?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything new to add there. The talks are ongoing.

QUESTION: They are still ongoing?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: They are still ongoing?

MR KIRBY: Yes, they are.

QUESTION: Any recent calls between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any recent calls to speak to. No.




QUESTION: Thank you. So the United States has said that all the forces in – all the liberating forces for Mosul are under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. But that increasingly seems to be true more in theory than in practice. For example, if you look at what the Shia militias have been doing and have been publicly saying is a support for what I just said. Today they announced that they have liberated singlehandedly 17 villages, including predominantly Sunni villages. That’s what the Shia militias are saying. And there are a few kilometers from the Mosul airport. How can you assure the Sunni residents of Mosul and – that this is actually happening in practice, not just on paper?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to give tactical battlefield updates. You know darn well I’m not going to do that. I can’t confirm the veracity of comments by Shia militia members and whether they’ve done all the things you claim or you say that they claim they did. What I can tell you is our position remains the same that all the forces arrayed against Daesh inside Iraq – whether it’s in Mosul or anywhere else – need to come under the chain of command of the Iraqi Government, of Prime Minister Abadi. That has been our position from the beginning, and it remains our position now. And anybody in this fight needs to be part of that task organization. That’s what we want to see.

I can’t confirm that – which Shia groups are doing that and which ones aren’t. I’m not blind to the fact that there’s probably some groups that are holding themselves outside that architecture, but that is not in the end going to be a productive way to succeed against Daesh in the long term in Iraq.

Now, as for convincing Sunnis in Iraq that the liberation of Mosul will not see atrocities or human rights violations against them, I can tell you that we are working very closely with Prime Minister Abadi to that very end. And so is he, by the way. And he’s mindful and is watching very closely the conduct of his own troops and the – in fact, the conduct of all troops involved in the Mosul campaign. And we’re all going to be watching that very, very closely.

Again, back to my answer to Said, that’s one of the big differences here is that we’re actually – all of us, not just the Iraqi Security Forces, but every member of the coalition – as we prosecute the campaign on Mosul will be mindful of doing this in a way that is in accordance with international law and observes the basic human rights of the innocent people of Mosul – something that else is not happening in and around Aleppo.




QUESTION: Did you confirm reports that the Iraqi army entered Mosul today?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reporting on that, Samir. I can’t confirm it as, again, I’m really going to stay away from tactical updates here. That’s really a question more for the Iraqi Government and for our coalition partners in the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Lebanon?

MR KIRBY: No. I think we’re going to stay on Iraq, right?


MR KIRBY: Turkey. All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: I know my Turkish friends will very much welcome your expression of deep concern about freedom of press in Turkey as well as your --

MR KIRBY: I hope they note that it’s not anywhere near the first time we’ve done this and said those things.

QUESTION: Well, when you speak, it gets tweeted all over when – I’m sure this is going to be tweeted all over. Your praise of the YPG was tweeted all over, so I’m sure this is going to be the same thing. And I’m – also think that they’re going to appreciate your statement that suppressing freedom hurts the fight against terrorism rather than helps it. My question: Do these concerns extend to the 15 Kurdish media companies that were shut down over the weekend as well?

MR KIRBY: It – our concerns about freedom of the press applies to all legitimate media outlets that are trying to report on this struggle, and certainly all those in Turkey. It applies to everybody. Now, I chose this particular case to highlight in Cumhuriyet’s case, but sadly, over these last many months, I have had to stand up here and talk about our concerns over press freedom in Turkey in many other different cases. And I can assure you that the United States Government writ large supports press freedom around the world and certainly that applies to Turkey.

QUESTION: And the Kurds – Kurdish media?

MR KIRBY: To all legitimate media outlets.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Blinken will be addressing the American Turkish Council tomorrow. Do you expect that he will use that as an occasion to convey these concerns to others?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get ahead of the deputy secretary’s engagement, but I can tell you that this is something we routinely raise and I can’t – certainly wouldn’t rule it out that it would come up.

QUESTION: Finally, Secretary Kerry and the Turkish foreign minister spoke over the weekend. Do you have a readout of the telephone call they had?

MR KIRBY: They did speak over the weekend. I think they spoke about, obviously, a range of issues of mutual concern to us: the fight against Daesh, the situation on the ground in Syria. Certainly Turkey has been at the table in the multilateral format when we – as we continue to try to get a cessation of hostilities in place. And they also talked about the Travel Warning that we issued over the weekend. I think the Secretary afforded himself the opportunity to walk through the logic behind that, and we don’t issue these Travel Warning updates, especially ones that are not just pegged to the calendar – we don’t issue them lightly. We take them very, very seriously and I think he appreciated the opportunity to update the foreign minister on the thinking that went behind that.

QUESTION: And that call was when?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, was it before or after the Travel Warning? Because I believe the Turks said that they wanted some clarification. Did that happen --

MR KIRBY: It was on Saturday --


MR KIRBY: -- and I believe the phone call came after the Travel Warning was issued.

QUESTION: And John, why do you think U.S. citizens in Istanbul were more vulnerable --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait – hold on, what was on Saturday?

MR KIRBY: The phone call.

QUESTION: So he told him in advance.

MR KIRBY: The phone call was on Saturday.

QUESTION: Saturday? Didn’t the Travel Warning come out yesterday?

QUESTION: No, on Saturday.

MR KIRBY: No, it came out Saturday.

QUESTION: It came out Saturday? All right, so it was before --

MR KIRBY: It came out – the phone call came – no, I’m pretty sure the phone call came after the Travel Warning.

QUESTION: Why do you think the families of consulate employees in Istanbul are more vulnerable than those elsewhere in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, that gets into intelligence concerns and I can’t talk about that publicly. Again, we wouldn’t issue that kind of an order departure if we didn’t have good reason to believe it was prudent and the right thing to do.


QUESTION: Lebanon?

QUESTION: A Turkish justice minister --

MR KIRBY: Can we stay on Turkey here?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you.

MR KIRBY: And then we’ll get to Lebanon. I promise we’ll get to Lebanon.

QUESTION: John, a Turkish justice minister was here in Washington last weekend. He met with his U.S. counterpart to discuss Turkey’s official request for the provisional arrest of Fethullah Gulen over the July 15 coup attempt, and I was wondering if you have any update on that.

MR KIRBY: I don’t; you’d have to talk to the Justice Department on – we didn’t participate in that meeting.

Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Turkey? Can I finish Turkey?


QUESTION: Thank you. And thank you for the statement of concern – deep concern. Many people are wondering whether – have you tried to get any more from the Turkish Government officials regarding this recent crackdown? Basically, 170 media organizations are shut down and over 2,500 journalists lost their jobs, and 15 of Kurdish media. Basically, there is no Kurdish media left in Turkey right now. What’s your understanding? Is this still coup related or what is this increased crackdown on Turkish media?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s a better question for the Turkish officials. We – I’ve been talking about press freedoms in Turkey well before the coup happened in July. And since the coup, we have certainly seen an increasing trend of restriction on press freedoms in Turkey that one must only conclude is at least partially related to efforts to deal with the coup plotters. And as I said in my statement, we recognize that Turkey has a legitimate right to investigate this and to protect itself against the possibility of future coup attempts and to get to the bottom of this and to figure out what happened and who was responsible. We recognize that, but we want them to do this in a way that is in keeping with international law and their obligations – actually to their own constitution in which freedom of expression is enshrined.

So I can’t speak to the motivation of each and every act that they take; I can only say what I’ve said before: That we’re obviously concerned about this and we’re going to continue to have conversations with Turkish leaders about that.

QUESTION: Just one more: Last week, Diyarbakir’s co-mayors’ detainment, I think Mark Toner was talk about that. Now that they are arrested – Mark said that U.S. is closely monitoring the situation. Now that they are arrested and their accusations, what is your understanding? Do you --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to what Mark put out on Friday. We’re obviously, as he said, concerned about this and closely monitoring it, but I don’t have an update for you on the arrest.

QUESTION: Mark didn’t say they are concerned, they said U.S. is closely monitoring now that you are concerned about detain – about arrest?

MR KIRBY: We wouldn’t closely monitor it if we weren’t concerned, so I don’t really see the big difference there. But I don’t have anything up – to update for you. Lebanon?

QUESTION: John, on Lebanon. John, you issued a statement on the elections and you said – you congratulated the Lebanese people on the election of President Aoun and you asked the parties to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations, especially UN Security Council 2259 --

MR KIRBY: Yes, I remember what I said, yeah.

QUESTION: -- and 1701. Good. You didn’t mention, or you didn’t talk about President Aoun. How do you view President Aoun? Do you have any good relation with him?

MR KIRBY: I mentioned him in the first sentence.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you didn’t talk about him. Will – how will you cooperate with him? How do you view him? Do you have a good relation with President Aoun?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we look to the Lebanese – to Lebanese leaders to form their new government in accordance with the constitution, and we expect all parties to comply with Lebanon’s international commitments and obligations. It’s not the first time that we’ve confronted a challenging political environment, shall we say, in Lebanon. And yet, still been able to protect our shared interests in Lebanon’s stability and security, independence, and sovereignty. So the Lebanese people spoke, this is their new president, and we’re going to move forward and look for ways to continue to do exactly that – to protect our interests in Lebanon’s future success.

QUESTION: The Lebanese Parliament spoke through – the Lebanese people, through their Parliament, spoke.

MR KIRBY: Isn’t that the same thing?

QUESTION: Well, I suppose it is.


QUESTION: But usually when a president, a new president of any country is elected, isn’t protocol for the White House to put out a statement?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’d have to defer to White House protocol; I don’t know what the practice is.

QUESTION: But you didn’t answer my question, John, too. Do you have a good relation with President Aoun based on the past allegation or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what the status of our relationship is specifically with President Aoun. I don’t have that level of depth of knowledge, but what matters is moving forward and seeing him make the decisions that he now has to make, watching him and his actions, and where he wants to take the country, a country which has been needing a chief executive for what, more than two years now. So we’ll see where this goes.

QUESTION: So there’s no concern about his connections or ties or the support for him from Hizballah?

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, we’re mindful of the endorsement that he got from Hizballah, which is a foreign terrorist organization. I mean, it’s not like we’re not blind to that. And obviously, we’re still – we’re deeply concerned about what Hizballah is doing in the region.

QUESTION: Well, are you --

MR KIRBY: But we’re going to judge the new president on the decisions he makes going forward and the actions he takes in leading this government – forming this government and then leading it. So we’ll see. We’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: So at the moment, at least, you don’t have any particular concerns about Hizballah playing a larger or a greater role in the Lebanese Government than they have in the past under his presidency?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, that’s not an outcome that we would prefer to see. But we’re going to judge him based on the decisions he makes and the actions he takes.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t his very election kind of a manifestation of Hizballah’s power?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that you can say that. I – we’re not – they endorsed him. As far as I know, he’s not a member of Hizballah. And the degree to which Hizballah will or will not try to curry favor with him or use – influence him I couldn’t predict. But again, really it comes down to the new president and the decisions that he makes, and where he wants – where he intends to take his government and the future of Lebanon.

As I said at the outset, we have proven in the past even under difficult, challenging political times in Lebanon to be able to protect our shared interests – our shared interests; not just U.S. interests, but Lebanese interests in a more – or in a – to improve or to have some – to make better security and prosperity there.

So we have every intention of moving forward with that goal in mind. And we’ll see what the new president decides to do.

QUESTION: John, did the U.S. ambassador attend the ceremony today?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that. I have no idea who was in attendance or not.

QUESTION: Okay. Did the U.S. play any role in these elections, especially in coordinating between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

MR KIRBY: We don’t get involved in affecting or manipulating elections overseas.

QUESTION: And Ali Akbar Velayati --

QUESTION: Uh, okay.

QUESTION: -- a senior --


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m just not going back to 1776 here, guys. I’m just trying to talk about this question.

QUESTION: Well, let’s go back to, like --


QUESTION: -- 1970s. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Oh, come on, guys. Come on now. Come on.

QUESTION: 1949 in Syria.

MR KIRBY: We’re not --


MR KIRBY: We didn’t involve ourselves --

QUESTION: Italy, 1970s.

MR KIRBY: -- in the election in Lebanon. Can we just stay on today’s news, please?


MR KIRBY: Not the news from the Eisenhower administration. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Ali Khamenei, has said today that the election of Mr. Aoun as Lebanon’s president is a “great triumph for the Islamic Resistance movement in Lebanon and for Iran’s allies and friends.” Do you agree on that?

MR KIRBY: What we hope is that this election is a win for the Lebanese people. And as I said – I’ll say it again – that the direction that he takes, the leadership he decides to show, the government he forms – that’ll be the real test here. I mean, this just happened, and you want a referendum from the United States on it. Let’s see where he goes. Let’s see the decisions he makes. Let’s see what kind of leadership he intends to exude and to demonstrate, and then we can have that discussion.

We are committed to seeing the Lebanese people, now that they have a chief executive, prosper, be more secure, and to have a stable future for their children, and that’s where our focus is going to be.

QUESTION: But isn’t the election of Aoun a testament that the fact any logjam in Lebanon cannot be broken without the consent of Hizballah, a – representing a major portion of the population?

MR KIRBY: Said, I think I addressed this with Arshad. I’m not going to – what we believe – what we hope is that this is a win for the Lebanese people. And that’s where we want our focus to be.

QUESTION: And my last question on this --

MR KIRBY: You have another one?

QUESTION: The last one. Will the election of President Aoun affect the U.S. aid to Lebanon, especially to the Lebanese army?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, on aid, as we do with any other country, we regularly assess our assistance programs to ensure that they comply with U.S. law, and we’re going to do the same with Lebanon going forward.


QUESTION: Was Lebanon a topic of discussion between the Secretary and the Saudi foreign minister last Monday?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of that conversation, Samir. I don’t know. I don’t know.


QUESTION: Can I go to the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one thing. You said that you will assess the U.S. aid to Lebanon. After the elections, do you mean --

MR KIRBY: We routinely and regularly assess our assistance programs. It’s not about pre-election, post-election – we do it all the time. We talked about this with respect to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the October 8th airstrike, and I told you that yes, we’re conducting a review, but we always review aid and assistance. That’s no different for Lebanon. No different for Lebanon.


QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: Very quickly. It seems that last October 9, the Israeli foreign minister – foreign ministry suggested in a meeting that relocating the Dimona settlers into another place on the West Bank is contrary to international law. Do you believe that your statement had something to do with influencing the Israeli decision on this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I couldn’t say, Said.

QUESTION: Could you look into it? Because that would be a first for the Israelis to sort of say, okay, this is against international law, and it coincided with your statement.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I couldn’t speak for the motivations. All I can do is reassert our position on settlements has not changed.

QUESTION: It would prove that you actually – when you take – do take a strong stand against settlements and so on, the Israelis might take --

MR KIRBY: I think – I mean, I don’t know if I’m – I mean, I take your point. I certainly couldn’t speak to the decision making of Israeli policymakers. We’ve been very clear and consistent about our position on settlements, and that’s not going to change going forward. I don’t know that I can take that question because I really think that that’s a question better answered by Israeli authorities.

QUESTION: A couple more things. The Israeli Government or the Israeli ruling coalition said that they will boycott the Arab parties in the Knesset. Do you have any comment on that? Because that is really like boycotting the smaller parties and other coalitions, especially the Arab minority in Israel.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think the only thing I would say is I’m not going to speak about internal politics. It’s really out of my lane.

QUESTION: And then my last one is Israel for the second time this month demolished a Bedouin village in the Negev, displacing the same families over and over again. You have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: We are following this issue closely, but – so I don’t have additional comment to make today except to refer you to our own Human Rights Report, which talks about this kind of thing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Before we move to Asia, as I’m sure we’re going to, can I just ask you about --

MR KIRBY: Man, this guy’s got eyes in the back of his head. (Laughter.)


MR KIRBY: He nailed you.

QUESTION: I don’t have eyes in the back of my head – I just saw these guys and I know that they --

MR KIRBY: He nailed you. You – not so fast, buddy.

QUESTION: It’s not a pejorative. I just --

MR KIRBY: Not so fast.

QUESTION: I just wanted to get a regional question in before we move to another part of the world.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. No --

QUESTION: Bahrain.

MR KIRBY: Are you sure you don’t want some chocolate? (Laughter.) It might just improve your mood.

QUESTION: Maybe after I have my lunch. Bahrain.

MR KIRBY: Bahrain.

QUESTION: You guys – Mark said on Friday you guys would be sending someone to observe Nabeel Rajab’s trial. The hearing happened today and then they postponed the case until December. His supporters have just about had it with this. I guess – think this is the fourth postponement of this case, and they say his health is deteriorating rapidly in prison, so I’m wondering if you have any comment on the postponement of the case.

And then also, there was another case which I don’t know has been – if it’s been resolved or not, but of an American child, a boy – a young boy – who along with his mother were prevented from leaving. They are the wife and son of a opposition activist who was in London, and I’m just – because the child is an American citizen, I’m just wondering if you have any update on that case.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, let me take the Rajab first. And you didn’t ask this, but just to let you know that we did have the representatives from the embassy at today’s hearing. We understand that as I think you rightly noted in your question, that his next court date has been now scheduled for the 15th of December. At today’s hearing, it became clear that the government lacks evidence to support its case, and so once again we reject the charges against Rajab and call for the government to release him. We have repeatedly expressed our concern about this case. We strongly urge the Government of Bahrain, as we have in the past, to abide by its international obligations to respect and protect freedom of expression.

On your other question, we are aware of reports that Duaa Alwadaei and her U.S. citizen child were detained by Bahraini authorities for questioning. Our embassy there in Bahrain has met with the family. The State Department takes seriously its responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and stands ready to provide all possible consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, I can’t comment more.

QUESTION: But as far as you know, that has – the situation has not yet been resolved?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, it has not yet been resolved.

QUESTION: All right. And then on the first thing, I mean, is there – so you guys have raised concerns with – directly to the Bahrainis today after the postponement?

MR KIRBY: I do not know if those concerns were raised today after the hearing. I do know we were there. I don’t know if we actually physically relayed those concerns.

QUESTION: Okay, then I won’t – all right, thanks.

MR KIRBY: But I can check on that. I mean, that’s a fair question.

QUESTION: Sure. Or I can ask – I’ll ask again tomorrow. Whatever you would prefer.

MR KIRBY: Well, anything to forestall this coming up again tomorrow, so I’ll see if – I’ll see if --

QUESTION: It’s not going away until the --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t --

QUESTION: -- until your concerns are expressed.

MR KIRBY: No, and I wouldn’t expect that it would. We’re following this closely. Believe me, we want the – we want the appropriate outcome here for Mr. Rijab. But I’ll see if I can find out if anybody raised it privately today.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Can we go back to Turkey, because --

MR KIRBY: I thought we were done with that.

QUESTION: Yeah, you --

MR KIRBY: I mean, we were on Turkey for a long time.

QUESTION: You – no, you were done with a statement that you are follow – or observing, following, keeping track of the developments. But is that what you want to say to the journalists on the ground there, who are being arrested, harassed? Like, is there – and still when you’re observing, is there something that – what exactly is – you want to say to the journalists who are suffering there? Because the European Union is actually formulating something about issuing something on – and taking some concrete measures that members of European Parliament are discussing that. So just observing, so you are --

MR KIRBY: Look, it’s not just observing. And I kind of reject the notion in your question that that’s all we’re doing is we’re just observing. And I get up here and say things from the podium, which I recognize that you might not think is significant. We believe it’s very significant that we stand up here publicly on camera and on the record and are not afraid to talk about our concerns about press freedoms in Turkey or anywhere else for that matter. But it’s not just that. I mean, our diplomats there, Ambassador Bass, routinely raises our concerns over press freedoms in Turkey, and he will continue to do that. And we work very hard to try to secure and enhance and improve freedom of the press in all places around the globe, because we believe that what you guys do is important. In fact, we believe what you do is vital, particularly in a democracy, and Turkey is a democracy. They have a constitution, a constitution which enshrines the freedom of expression and the press. And all we want to see is Turkey succeed, and we believe that one path to success is to observe the very principles that are enshrined in its own constitution.

So I’m sorry, I take a little issue with the tone of the question that all we’re doing is talking. We are very focused on this. And I don’t see --

QUESTION: No, it’s not that – it’s not your (inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Wait a sec. I just – I don’t see another government out there that’s doing more or making more of an issue or more concerned about press freedoms in Turkey – no other nation that I’ve seen or I’m aware of. So I haven’t seen what the EU is doing, and I’ll leave it to them to describe how they’re going to approach this. But the United States has been out in front in terms of speaking to and trying to improve press freedom there and in many places around the world. And I stand very, very solidly behind the work that we’re doing on behalf of your ability to do your job.

QUESTION: And the other one is do we have any updates on the investigation that Saudis are supposed to do on their collateral damage in Yemen?

MR KIRBY: This is the October --


MR KIRBY: Yeah. So as I said I think last week to Matt, they have put out some initial results which we welcomed, because they acknowledged that mistakes had been made. But they are still working through that, and we look forward to hearing from them as they learn more and uncover more lessons learned about what happened there. So I don’t have an update. And again, that wouldn’t – even if I did, it wouldn’t be for me to speak to it. It would be for the Saudi Government to speak to.

Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Can I move to Asia?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. Matt, is it okay?


QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

MR KIRBY: Okay, we can move to Asia. We’re moving to Asia. Let’s go.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s about the cross-strait peace and development forum, actually it’s holding in Beijing at moment. And Taiwan’s KMT chairman is there and then she is going to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow, actually. So anyway, this KMT and CPC’s forum is drawing much attention in current downturned in cross-relation. So I just wonder how you make it and will you encourage the ruling Taiwanese DPP government to have similar contacts with CPC?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific with respect to that exact question. The only thing I would say is it is important for us to repeat that we maintain a “one China” policy based on the three U.S.-PRC joint communiques and on the Taiwan Relations Act, which we believe has helped maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and in the region. We have a deep and abiding interest in cross-strait peace and stability, and it’s important for both sides of the Taiwan Strait understand – to understand the importance of these benefits and to work to establish a basis for continued peace and stability. But I don’t have anything more additionally to speak to with respect to this, this gathering you’re talking about.


QUESTION: Yes, the Malaysian prime minister is in China and there is – well, first, the Malaysian Government is purchasing naval patrol ships from the Chinese, and so it’s an indication of warming relations between Malaysia and China. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I would say the same thing we’ve said when we had discussions of President Duterte’s visit to Beijing. I mean, we don’t view relationships in that region or any other as zero sum or binary, and we would welcome better relations between Malaysia and China. These are decisions – sovereign decisions that they have to make, bilateral relationships that they have to form and to nurture and to grow. And we certainly would welcome better bilateral relations between Malaysia and China, but ultimately these are decisions that those governments have to make.


QUESTION: The speculation that, I mean, these are indicative of these nations pivoting away from the United States, would you reject that?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen speculation about that. I – we wouldn’t share that assessment at all. Look, we have put a lot of effort, energy, resources, time, and attention, and talent into the rebalance. We remain committed to it. It is not just about military matters or defense relationships. It’s much bigger and broader than that, and we’re going to stay committed to it for as long as the Administration is in office.

But part of the rebalance – and I think this is getting a little bit lost in the discussions of it – it’s not – when you asked that question it’s like you – it’s like you’re buying in the notion that the rebalance is anti-China. And it’s not. It’s not aimed at any one nation. It’s aimed at making sure that we are securing our national interests in a vital region of the world. And we do that bilaterally and we do that multilaterally. And to the degree that other nations in the region are forming likewise close, productive, peaceful relationships with one another – be it bilateral or multilateral, whether the United States is involved or it’s not involved – all that’s to the good.

This is a region of the world which is literally the lifeblood of the global economy, and it’s going to grow more so in the next 20 to 30 years. And so the rebalance, the whole logic behind it, is to help fashion the kinds of relationships and interconnectivity that can allow that prosperity to continue unabated. And that’s what we’re after, so you pick the country. Today you’re asking me about Malaysia with a better relationship with China. We welcome that. And we would – likewise, we would welcome any improvement of bilateral relations between nations. Obviously, there’s a significant issue with North Korea, and I understand that. And that’s – North Korea has isolated itself from the international community, and we want the international community to continue to put pressure on North Korea. So I’m not talking about the warming of relations with the North here, but I am speaking in general about that particular region of the Pacific – of the Pacific realm.

Okay? So nothing – no concerns here. Actually, quite the opposite; we saw those reports and we welcome.

QUESTION: Can we go to Burma?

MR KIRBY: Burma.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m wondering – you guys have been seeking for some time to get people into Rakhine State and – without success.

MR KIRBY: Working to?

QUESTION: Working to get people into – where the – to take a look at conditions there, the situation with the Rohingya, and you’ve been repeatedly denied. And I’m just wondering if there’s been any – if you have any update on that and also whether you have anything new to say about your concerns there.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have anything new with respect to access. But we have seen some very recent reports of alleged abuses there, and we obviously take those very, very seriously. We are urging the government to be transparent, to implement the rule of law, to respect human rights – the human rights of all Burmese people in responding to the original attacks on security officials and subsequent reports of abuses. We note that the government’s decision to restore humanitarian access in some areas of northern Rakhine State. We would request that the Government of Burma restore full humanitarian access to all areas and to ensure that those who need the assistance are able to get it.


QUESTION: I got one more.

QUESTION: A quick one on that. Are the reports you’re referring to the reports of the army raping --


QUESTION: -- women there?


QUESTION: Yes. Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: I just have one more really brief – and that’s about Tom Shannon in Venezuela. He’s there now --

MR KIRBY: He is.

QUESTION: -- or he’s on his way?

MR KIRBY: No, he’s there. I spoke to him, actually, just before coming out to the podium. He’s in Caracas. He is meeting – intends to meet with President Maduro. I don’t have a time for that. He’s going to meet with the members of the opposition. He’s going to meet with members of civil society. The whole purpose of his trip – and it’s short; I think he’ll be coming back middle of the week – is to encourage this dialogue process, which is just beginning to continue.

QUESTION: Right. In a nearby country – Brazil, when it was going through a political crisis or impeachment – has been threatened in Venezuela. You guys from the podium, and I think the White House too, said repeatedly that you had confidence and faith in the Brazilians to uphold their constitution and that you had confidence that that would be respected. There were no urgent missions or special missions taken by U.S. officials to go to Brazil during that time. I’m just curious, does – in the case of Venezuela, which is, of course, different than that of Brazil --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- but do you not have the similar confidence with the Venezuelans to abide by and respect their constitution?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not about whether we do or don’t have that level of confidence. It’s about recognizing the unique challenges that Venezuela is going through right now. And you’re right; they are different circumstances. It’s hard to compare one to the other.

We are focused on trying to see an effective dialogue between – and a – between and among Venezuelans across the political spectrum. We believe that’s a necessary step to finding remedies to the political and economic challenges that they’re going through. And so since dialogue is our desired outcome and we believe that that’s the best way forward, Ambassador Shannon is making these trips, he’s having these discussions to do just that – to try to affect that dialogue. That’s the approach we’re taking here in Venezuela.

Obviously, it remains to be seen how successful he’ll be, but his visit is a direct result – the one he’s on right now is a direct result of a healthy discussion that the Secretary had on the margins of the peace ceremony in Colombia with President Maduro. So – and it was a good discussion, almost 30 minutes long, during which the president welcomed a visit by Tom in the midst of this dialogue. So he’s down there, and we’ll see where it goes. But, I mean, I think we’re – we – you take one nation at a time here, and this is how we believe the best approach is to get to a better outcome.

Okay, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Happy Halloween.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

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