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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 7, 2015

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 17:14

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 7, 2015

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2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Welcome back.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. Just something short at the top here.

I want to note that yesterday the Congress passed legislation exempting families who have legally completed adoptions from having to pay a second or in some cases a third immigrant visa application fee if their adopted child is unable to leave the country before the visa expires, as a result of adverse actions of a foreign government. And we welcome this news, of course. The proposed bill will help alleviate the financial burden placed on families awaiting exit permits for children adopted most especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And you might recall a couple weeks ago we talked about this phenomenon.

While this does not reunite the children and their families, we do hope that this measure will bring some relief to adoptive parents, as this means now that a family only has to pay the processing fee one time for adoption cases. So, again our concern about the adoption process remains in place. We certainly want to see these kids get to the families who have legally adopted them, but we do appreciate Congress’s action here in at least alleviating this financial burden from them on top of everything else that they’re dealing with – the stress and the anxiety of having their children home with them. So we’re grateful for that.


QUESTION: I just want to start hopefully very briefly with the whole Kunduz bombing. Your colleague at the White House has already spoken at great length about this, and I think still is speaking at great length about it. So – but I just want to know, given now that the President has called MSF and apologized, as well as President Ghani, is there any sympathy at all in this building for the argument that MSF makes for this Geneva Convention fact-finding commission to go ahead, to have one? Because if it is only investigated internally, i.e. by the people who did it in the first place, that it sets a bad precedent. Is there any inside this building or inside the Administration at all, is there any credence given to that argument?

MR KIRBY: So I’d say a couple of things on that. First of all, I mean, we’re certainly aware of Doctors Without Borders and their call for this UN independent inquiry into this. The State Department’s not taking a position on that.

The Secretary obviously extends his condolences to all those affected by this tragic incident and is confident that the Defense Department will conduct a thorough, complete, and transparent investigation on what happened. And as you know, Matt, there’s actually three investigations going on. There’s one NATO; there’s an Army/DOD investigation; and then, of course, there’s a joint investigation with Afghan authorities. And the Secretary is confident that those investigations will be – will, again, be thorough and objective, and we’ll find out what happened.

And so I think he’s going to, obviously, be following it as closely as he can, but again, his confidence is in that process.

QUESTION: Well, when you mean – when at the very top you said you don’t take a position on it, surely the Administration still supports the Geneva Conventions?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I though you meant --

QUESTION: Right. I want --

MR KIRBY: -- taking a position on the call for this separate --

QUESTION: The call for this, but under that framework is what they’re calling for – what MSF is calling for.

MR KIRBY: We certainly support the UN framework. But the Secretary defers to the Defense Department to investigate this appropriately.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not aware that there’s anyone – in other words, the short answer to my question is no, there is no sympathy for the MSF argument and the argument advanced by others who say that a purely internal U.S. or NATO, or however you want to call it, but investigation, just isn’t going to be enough or could set a bad precedent.

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t characterize it as no sympathy, Matt. Again, the Secretary is well aware of the anguish that Doctors Without Borders is going through right now. But no, no --

QUESTION: Sympathy is maybe the wrong word.

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: I mean, there’s no sense in this building that there is any credence to that argument?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has the utmost trust and confidence in the Defense Department to properly investigate this incident and to get to the bottom of it, and to – once learned, to take the steps necessary to prevent it from happening again.

QUESTION: And you don’t believe it will set a bad precedent for potential future – other incidents like this that take place that the U.S. might not even be involved in?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, look, the precedent for this kind of investigation into this kind of incident is well set and well established, certainly, over the last 14 years of war. The Defense Department is eminently capable of investigating mishaps and accidents and has done a superb job over the last decade or more doing that. And I can assure you that nobody is tougher on themselves than members of the U.S. military and the Pentagon and the Defense Department when it comes to taking a hard look at mistakes that were made and putting remedies in place to keep them from happening again, and holding people accountable as needed.

QUESTION: So should there be a move to convene some kind of whatever – what MSF is asking for, the United States would oppose it. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about a hypothetical situation that hasn’t happened yet. As I said --

QUESTION: Well, they have. They’ve – I mean, they’ve called for it. So --

MR KIRBY: As I said, the Secretary has not taken a position on that, on that call. He is confident that the Defense Department will be able to investigate this thoroughly.

QUESTION: John, just a quick follow-up. What happens with the investigation? I mean, once the finding are released, are arrived at, what happens then? I mean, from past experiences --

MR KIRBY: Well, again – I mean, I want to be careful here, folks, in getting too much into this, because it is a military matter.

QUESTION: We understand.

MR KIRBY: So please, you’ve got to respect that my position here is different. That said, this investigation will take some time to work through, and I think, as I said, there’s three of them. They will all proceed at whatever pace is deemed appropriate. And when they’re complete, the chain of command will get a chance to look at them.

What happens is oftentimes in an investigation like this, there are sort of two things: There are findings, this is what happened; and then there’s recommendations, this is what we think should happen going forward to prevent it from happening again; and/or to, if there’s need for accountability, to hold people accountable. The chain of command looks at those and makes a judgement about the findings – agree or disagree with the findings, or agree or disagree with some of them and not all of them – and then it makes a judgment about the recommendations and whether they should be accepted and moved forward.

Then that is given to whoever is the ultimate authority. It depends on – each investigation happens at a different level. But at some point in the chain of command, there will be an ultimate authority who will make a decision about those findings and those recommendations and then implement whatever recommendations, and, quite frankly, the high authorities can make additional recommendations on their own separate and distinct from those found by investigators. And then you move forward.

But again, let’s – we’re quite a bit of time away from that right now.

QUESTION: Seeing how there are so many conflict zones and so many warring factions and so on, so this is happening with more frequency, is it your feeling – or how should, let’s say, humanitarian groups and like Doctors Without Borders, or even other UN agencies and so on, operate in these areas? I mean, should they be giving some sort of immunity of some sort? I don’t know what you would call it.

MR KIRBY: Immunity?

QUESTION: Safe area, safe haven and so on, where they can operate among, let’s say, populations that are suffering from these things?

MR KIRBY: Well, we --

QUESTION: I mean, what kind of protocol should there be?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we would dictate to nongovernmental organizations where or – where they can operate or what they can do on the ground. They have important work to do; and when they’re working in places like in Iraq and Syria, I think they’re well aware of the risks in doing that. What we can assure them of is that we’re going to take all the precautions we can to avoid these kinds of mistakes and these kinds of casualties which are devastating to everybody. And nobody works harder than the United States military at preventing civilian casualties and preventing the deaths or the injuries to innocent men, women, and children.

And I would also say that no other agency in the world – military or otherwise – investigates itself so thoroughly and so publicly, and holds itself accountable to such high standards, than the United States military.


QUESTION: On the – what has Secretary Kerry’s role been in this? I mean, there must be some kind of dent in the credibility of the United States in the eyes of many Afghan – Afghanis and groups like these. Is there any role that he’s been playing or made any calls on this?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, he fully respects that this is – this was a military operation, that this is a military investigation. Obviously, he extends his thoughts and prayers, as I said, to all those affected. But he’s mindful that this is primarily a Defense Department issue, and he respects that. He, as I said at the outset, has full trust and confidence that the Defense Department will fully investigate this.

QUESTION: Why would the U.S. not be willing to open this up to an independent investigation?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, that’s not a judgment for me to make or for the State Department to make. The – my colleague at the White House addressed this a little earlier. Secretary Carter has addressed this. There are no less than three investigations ongoing, and I think it’s important to let those investigations run their course. And they will each run a different course, and we’ve seen this happen before, sadly. And each will run their own course, and I think it’s safe to say that each may come to different conclusions. And so we need to let that work proceed.

And then when we get there, when it’s – when they’re complete and when they’ve been briefed, there’ll be a time and a place to talk about what they found and what actions need to take place further.

QUESTION: Is it – this is a general standing policy for the U.S. Government, is not to allow or not to support independent investigations into incidents?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any standing policy not to allow or not to support. And as I said, we’re not taking a position one way or the other on this. I think it’s important – I think we all believe it’s important to let the three investigations that are currently ongoing run their course.

QUESTION: Right. But you know, when there are incidents that happen, even inside the United States, the Justice Department often moves in and takes over because it is not a involved party. Can you see how people might have an issue with the involved party here doing its own investigation? Or is that just not – is that just beyond the scope of --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Again, you’re getting me into military matters, and I – but just --

QUESTION: I’ll have our Pentagon people ask.

MR KIRBY: Just – but – so I want to be – yeah, I want to be careful not to get into this. But I’m not unmindful of my own experience. So what I would tell you is that, again, nobody investigates itself more thoroughly and more aggressively than the U.S. military. And to think of the military as this – a monolith would be false. The reason why the military is so good at investigating itself is because it does pull into investigations agencies or units outside the one involved. That’s what gives it the independence.

QUESTION: No one is – I don’t think the issue is not that people are questioning whether the military is capable or whether they’re able to do a complete and thorough investigation.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: It’s just the standard that’s set. Why not allow – and I realize this is not a question for you, so I will drop it and move on unless --

MR KIRBY: Okay. Fair enough. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Syria?


QUESTION: I know the Administration hasn’t been enthusiastic about a no-fly zone in Syria, but have the Russian airstrikes now completely ruled out that option as far as internal discussions go?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this before. I mean – as I’ve said before, we continue to have discussions about how to best go after ISIL, and particularly there in Syria, in northern Syria in particular. And we’ve talked about the concerns that the Turks have expressed about the movement of ISIL there in northern Syria. And to date, there’s been no decision to move forward with a no-fly zone. There are a lot of challenges, as we’ve noted, with doing a no-fly zone, and not least of which is an issue of resources. But as Secretary Kerry said just last week in New York, we’re going to continue to look at ways to intensify our efforts against ISIL.

What Russian military activity has done or has the potential to do – as I think I’d rather say – is to exacerbate the conflict already ongoing inside Syria along sectarian lines. And as we’ve said before, that if there’s a constructive role to be had by Russia against ISIL, then that’s a conversation we’re willing to have. We’re not – obviously, I don’t think we’re at that point right now given what they’re hitting and what they’re choosing to do with their military forces.

But if what they’re doing – and certainly if you look just intrinsically at where they’re striking and who they’re going after certainly would lead one to conclude that what they’re trying to do is to prop up the Assad regime. All that’s going to do is prolong the conflict – in fact, make it worse. And that is not something that we’re interested in furthering and having a dialogue with in terms of Russian future activity.

QUESTION: But in terms of the air activity and the assets deployed – anti-aircraft assets, for example – has that strengthened those who would argue against any possibility of a no-fly zone? I mean, how has it impacted the discussion?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get into internal deliberations here about the operations inside Syria. I wouldn’t do that. As the Secretary made clear, we’re looking for options, we’re looking for ways to intensify activity against ISIL. I’m not going to get ahead of any of that. As we’ve said, there are challenges with a no-fly zone. As we’ve also said, we – and I’ve made this very clear in the past – we understand certainly the concerns the Turks have expressed in desiring one, and we’ve also said that we’re going to continue to have conversations with them about that and those conversations continue. But I’m not going to get ahead of or get into internal deliberations.

QUESTION: John, on this very point --

QUESTION: John, a follow-up to --

QUESTION: CNN Arabic reporting that Secretary of State Kerry submitted a proposal for a no-fly zone to the National Security Council meeting last week. Can you confirm that? I mean, it’s --

MR KIRBY: No. As I said, I’m not going to get into internal deliberations and I’m certainly not going to discuss any advice and counsel that the Secretary of State may or may not be offering to the President or to the National Security Council. I would just simply say that he’s being clear, the President’s being clear that we’re going to continue to go after degrading and destroying ISIL inside Syria and in Iraq, obviously, and that we’re going to continue to look for options to intensify those efforts.

QUESTION: I understand, but the President seems to be opposed to a no-fly zone. Is the Secretary of State for a no-fly zone? Is there disagreement there?

MR KIRBY: I’m simply not going to – I think you can understand why I would not talk about internal deliberations and any advice and counsel the Secretary of State may or may not be providing.

Everybody – this is – but this is important to remember, Said. Everybody shares a sense of urgency about what’s going on inside Syria particularly but also in Iraq, and everybody understands the same sense of urgency about ISIL inside the 60-plus-member coalition. And everybody recognizes, as we’ve said, that this remains a lethal and determined enemy. And while this enemy has suffered losses and has suffered setbacks, it’s still viable and has – is the root cause for so much of the violence and bloodshed there in the region, and we’re going to remain committed to going after them.


QUESTION: Russia appears to be expanding its strategies for strikes in Syria. The defense ministry released video showing it launching strikes from the Caspian Sea. Two questions – first of all, what is State’s initial reaction to this tactic? And then secondly, has anyone in this building expressed concern to Iraq about this type of missile launch in that it appears to be going over Iraqi territory?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen the video that the Russian ministry of defense has put out. I’m not in a position one way or the other to confirm the veracity of it. I’d point you to our colleagues at the Defense Department. But separate and distinct from that, nothing’s changed about our message with respect to Russian military activity in Syria. If it’s designed to go after ISIL and if there’s an opportunity there to talk about that, then we’re willing to have that discussion. But if, and as we have seen by what they’re hitting so far, it’s really about going after opposition groups and bolstering the Assad regime, well, that’s a different discussion altogether and is only going to make the conflict worse, it’s only going to increase the violence, and it’s going to do nothing but prolong what is already a very long, very bloody civil war.

QUESTION: Is it – do you believe the Russian Government when it says that it is – it wants – it supports a political transition under the terms of the Geneva communique, which is political transition by mutual consent? Do you --

MR KIRBY: Well, we note that that’s what they have said that they would support. Their actions to date militarily seem to contradict that statement, because the way to a political transition in Syria is not to prop up the Assad regime and not make it easier for him to stay in power.

QUESTION: Does the – does the United – does the Administration believe that you can have the mutual consent that’s called for in the Geneva communique without there being an Assad regime? In other words, if the Assad regime was to fall, could there be a mutual – could there be political transition through mutual consent, or would it just be nothing?

MR KIRBY: Well, we obviously signed up to Geneva on this and as have the Russians. I’m not going to get into a hypothetical here about the longevity of Assad and what that would do to mutual consent, but that is the proposition upon which we have all set out here with respect to --

QUESTION: Right. But mutual consent – and I was at Geneva when this thing was done, and the mutual consent that was envisioned by that was the regime on one side and an amalgamation of opposition groups on the other side. If one of those sides isn’t there, can’t you see an argument from the Russians that if their side – if the Assad regime is no longer there and viable, you can’t have mutual consent?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t – I haven’t heard that that’s their argument. But if that’s their argument, then it simply supports what we’ve been saying in the past that what we’re seeing out of Russia is, first, reactive – they’re reacting to pressure that they’ve seen Assad come under, for whatever justification. Maybe it’s they don’t want to see a vacuum, maybe they just want to keep him in power; that’s up to them. But (a) it’s reactive, it’s not some part of a grand strategy on their part; and (b) it’s a failing – it’s a failing tactic to take because keeping him in power, even if it’s because you want to get to mutual consent, propping him up only prolongs the conflict. And Secretary Kerry I think said this very well last week, that Assad himself can do what’s right for Syria by simply signing up to a ceasefire right now and starting that – and starting to have that discussion. It has to start with him.

QUESTION: John, could you maybe – on to Pam’s question on what your comment is on whether you support or – or how you feel about Russia’s new tactic of firing from warships?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to – I’m not in a position to confirm that they actually have done that. It --

QUESTION: But Moscow said that.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen the video of it, and I’ll let Moscow speak to what they’re doing militarily. What our concern is is more about the impact that the military activity is having inside Syria in terms of going after groups that are not ISIL and not al-Qaida affiliate terrorists. And greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against ISIL or al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists. They’ve been largely against opposition groups, groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.

So whether they’re hit by a cruise missile from sea or a bomb from a Russian military aircraft, the result is the same: that Assad continues to get support from Russia. Assad continues to be able to have at his hands the capability of striking his own people, including those who are opposed to his regime. And that’s not a good future for Syria.

It’s also – as we’ve said before – we believe, a mistake for Russia, because not only are they going to be exacerbating sectarian tensions there in Syria, but they’re potentially exacerbating sectarian tensions in Russia itself. They’re putting themselves at greater risk.

QUESTION: But from what I can gather, there’s no discussions going on right now, are there? I mean, there’s not a de-confliction discussion. Is there a follow-up on that discussion? Is – Secretary Kerry, how is he taking forward the diplomatic track? Because it looks like a stalemate right now until you seem to get some clarity from Moscow on what they’re trying to do.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for the Defense Department and the status of de-confliction discussions. I know that the – as we all know, they had one recently, and I don’t know what the plans are to have another round of discussions about tactical de-confliction. The Secretary continues to obviously support the diplomatic track here because he believes and he said that – and, frankly, the Russians have said they’re interested in this, although, again, actions speak louder than words – that there has to be a parallel political track to any military discussions about what’s going on inside Syria.

For his part, the Secretary continues to have a dialogue with Foreign Minister Lavrov. As you well know, they spoke and met frequently during the UN General Assembly last week. Now, they haven’t spoken since then, but they certainly had a lot of time together last week and I suspect he’ll continue to have conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov going forward. But it has to be in parallel.

And as we’ve long said, there’s not going to be a military solution to the civil war in Syria. Obviously, there are military operations being conducted against ISIL by the coalition. That’s going to continue. That’s going to continue unabated, by the way. But what really needs to happen inside Russia is a political transition to a government away from Assad --

QUESTION: Inside what? Woah, woah, woah.

MR KIRBY: What’d I say?

QUESTION: You just said --

QUESTION: “In Russia.”

QUESTION: -- “what really needs to happen inside Russia” --

QUESTION: Inside Syria. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- “is a political transition.” Happy birthday, President Putin. (Laughter.) Inside Syria. I’ll let you go ahead --

MR KIRBY: Inside Syria. Please, for the folks transcribing this, it was a misstatement.

QUESTION: Can I just – you seem to be saying that you still don’t know a week – almost a week into the strikes and weeks into the movement of all this materiel into Syria by Russia, that you don’t know what their strategy really is. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I think there’s a – there’s not a level of transparency about it that would lead one to certainty.


MR KIRBY: That said, Matt, you take actions which speak pretty loudly. And if you look at what they’re doing, what they’re hitting, who they’re hitting, where they’re hitting them – largely inside Syrian Government-controlled areas, largely against opposition groups, largely in support of the Assad regime – it’s difficult to get from that to a point where you can say with certainty that they’re interested in going after ISIL and al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist groups.

QUESTION: But isn’t it also if you don’t know for certain what the strategy is, how is it that you can be so sure that it’s a failing strategy? Because to a lot of people outside – and including, I’d suspect, people in Russia and people around there – it’s not – it’s the United States that doesn’t really have a strategy.

MR KIRBY: There’s a lot there. First of all, I wouldn’t call what they’re doing a strategy. As I said, it’s largely reactive because of the pressure that they’ve seen Assad face. So let’s take it off the table of calling it a strategy.

Number two, it’s failing and we continue to believe that it’s failing and will fail, because in propping up Assad, all that does is inflame sectarian tensions further, makes the conflict worse, forces out more refugees, and does nothing to get at the threat in the region, which is ISIL, and does nothing – by propping Assad up, does nothing to get us closer to a political transition where Assad is no longer in charge of that country and there’s a government that is responsive to the Syrian people that can provide a whole, unified, pluralistic, stable, and secure Syria, so that these millions of refugees can go back home and go back to their lives. That’s why it’s failing.

QUESTION: But John --

MR KIRBY: And then – wait a minute, there was another point you said – that ours is failing. So let’s talk about that for a second, because there’s two tracks here. There is a campaign against ISIL, which, I would argue, while still ongoing and still deadly, is not failing. It has had some success and will continue to make progress.

And where we really want to put the effort – and this came out of the UN General Assembly last month – was towards this political transition. And the Secretary, as you know, met numerous times with our European and Arab allies to try to work out how we can define what that looks like, how it’s going to be. Was there a final resolution? No, but there were very productive, fruitful discussions during that week that he’s going to continue to have to try to define what this political transition can look like.

QUESTION: How is it not failing when, according to the Pentagon, twice as many ISIL entered Syria last year since the bombing began on September 13th, 2014, than the year before? How is that --

MR KIRBY: Twice as many what?

QUESTION: Twice as many ISIL fighters have entered into Syria, according to Pentagon estimates.

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen those – I haven’t seen those figures, Said. But as I recall, the estimate now of ISIL fighters is --

QUESTION: 20,000.

MR KIRBY: -- yeah, between 23 and 33, and it was 20 to 31 or something before. So let’s keep it in perspective, okay? So they’re roughly – they’re roughly about where they were, which means they’re losing a hell of a lot of people, and they’re going to continue to lose a hell of a lot of people. Now, that doesn’t mean that they can’t recruit. We know they can continue to recruit. That’s why I said at the outset nobody is underestimating the resilience of this particular enemy, but let’s not paint them as 10 feet tall, ’cause they’re not. They have considerably less territory than they once had, and territory for these guys is like oxygen. And if you want to govern, you got to have – you got to have territory, you got to have land, you got to have some dirt to grab. And the dirt that they’re grabbing isn’t as much as it used to be, and their finances are under more pressure.

So I mean, we got to – you’ve got to keep this in perspective. Nobody’s doing touchdown dances here. Nobody’s declaring victory. We know that this is going to be a multiyear effort against an enemy that continues to be viable. But I think it’s important that you have to take this last year – now we’ve been operating against them kinetically – “kinetically” is a Pentagon word, but actively for a year now, a year-plus. And this is not the same group that they were when they started out. You don’t see footage of them doing wheelies and – with MRAPs and tracked vehicles. You don’t see them storming into towns with their flags waving. You know why? Because they know if they do, they’re going to get hit, and they’re going to get hit hard. So they’re operating differently and they’re under a lot more pressure than they were before.

QUESTION: Could I just – a quick follow-up on the Russian strategy. Is it conceivable that Russia is trying to convince those who support the opposition – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries – that Assad is not going anywhere anytime soon, and therefore there is no military solution, so you better come to the table? Is that conceivable, in your view?

MR KIRBY: That --

QUESTION: That maybe Russia is – Russia’s strategy is to convince those who are supporting the opposition that there is no military solution, that we will keep propping Assad till – for a very long time?

MR KIRBY: It’s a funny way to convince somebody there’s not a military solution when you’re dropping bombs on their head.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the others are dropping bombs (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Who’s the others?

QUESTION: The opponent, the opposition, supported by Turkey, the GCC countries, and others. I’m not taking a side. I’m just saying this is the situation on the ground.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I refute the notion that Russia has some kind of grand strategy here. I think they’re doing what they feel like they have to do to keep Assad propped up and in power. And as we’ve said before, if that’s what they’re – if that’s what they’re up to, it’s not going to succeed, because it’s only going to make things worse, and it’s only going to create more of a refugee problem, and it’s only going to give more breathing space and oxygen to ISIL, who certainly isn’t getting a whole lot of pressure from Russian aircraft.



QUESTION: The Russians are saying today that 40 percent of ISIS infrastructure destroyed since Russian operation launched a week ago. What do you think about their statement?

MR KIRBY: I have no ability to judge the battle damage assessment of Russian aircraft. I don’t even want to get into battle damage assessment here in any great detail about coalition operations. I can’t independently verify that. What I can tell you is based on where we’ve seen them hit, and we have many sources of information to gather this, certainly the great majority – greater than 90 percent – is not in ISIL territory and not against ISIL groups or units or activities.

QUESTION: And one on them – cruise missiles. Were you aware of the launching these missiles from --

MR KIRBY: No. As I said, I’m not in a position to independently verify whether they actually did launch cruise missiles or not. I can’t confirm that.

QUESTION: And to what extent do you think they posed a threat on the coalition assets in the region?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s one of the reasons why, quite frankly, that we want to have a mechanism where the Defense Department and the ministry of defense can have some sort of understandings so that there isn’t a risk posed to coalition pilots or coalition assets that are in action against ISIL. We have to do what we need to do to protect our people and our pilots and our aircraft.



QUESTION: Syria – the airstrikes. Regarding where they’re hitting – Russia – you’re saying they’re hitting the wrong areas --


QUESTION: -- where moderate opposition are located generally? The U.S., you think – what you’re seeing --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, if you just take a look --

QUESTION: What you’re seeing – yeah.

MR KIRBY: If you just take a look at where we know they’re hitting, and again, we don’t have perfect visibility into every building that’s struck, but we have a general sense, a pretty good understanding, and we have many ways of knowing that.

QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t dispute that. Has Moscow officially requested that information – the location information?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of. But again, you’d have to – I’d have to go to the Defense Department on that.

QUESTION: How do you – and number two is: How do you distinguish between moderate forces and ISIL? How does the U.S. do that?

MR KIRBY: We know where ISIL is and that’s what our focus is militarily, is against ISIL. And we have, again, various means of information to know where they are. And as you know well, we have and we’ll continue to support different moderate opposition groups inside Syria. So we have a good sense, and I’m not going to get into intelligence matters, but we have a good sense.

QUESTION: One more. President Putin today said he supports the notion of combining the Free Syrian Army with Syrian-government controlled troops. Do you support this notion – to fight the Islamic State. So combining the moderate opposition with Syrian Government forces would be formidable – to attack a common enemy?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, but I can’t imagine how that could be a feasible solution. It’s also made all the more difficult when you’re dropping bombs on them, the Free Syrian Army.


QUESTION: You just said you know where ISIL is. Well, Russian defense say the U.S. refuses to share intelligence on ISIL targets. The defense minister spokesperson said that others who are in this fight against ISIL are actively helping with intelligence about targets. Why does the U.S. refuse to share intelligence about ISIL positons?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know how you can share intelligence when you don’t share a basic, common objective inside Syria. We’re not at that – we’re nowhere near that point. There’s no shared, common objective here about going after ISIL. There’s their stated objective to go after ISIL, and then there’s what they’re doing on the ground which doesn’t back that up.



QUESTION: Excuse me. So the --

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.

QUESTION: But on Iraq, the head of parliament defense panel has said today that Iraq wants Russia to have a bigger role in fighting Islamic State in Iraq than the U.S. How do you view this statement, and what’s your reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I understand it, this is a member of parliament that is not speaking for the Abadi government. And I have not – Prime Minister Abadi said himself, I think a few days ago, that while he would be willing to have a discussion with Russia about support against ISIL, that it can’t be independent and it has to be part of an integrated coalition effort against ISIL. But as far as I know, we’ve seen no reaction by the Iraqi Government to this particular claim. And so until we do, I’m simply not going to entertain hypotheticals about it.

QUESTION: The Iraqi prime minister used, actually, in the interview with France 24, he used the word “welcome.” He would welcome Russian airstrikes. No decision has been made, as we understand. But he also in that interview complained that the Obama Administration lacks quote/unquote, “the will to provide major support to Iraq in this fight.” And the interviews – the quote that my colleague was referring to in Reuters’ interviews – yes, that political leader said that Iraq would like to see Russia have a bigger role in Iraq. So what are you – why do you think, if the strategy – the U.S. strategy works as you say it does, why do you think Iraq feels increasingly compelled to turn to Russia in this fight?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen an indication that Iraq is turning to Russia in this fight. You have one individual saying that he wants this. And you’re right, but you only read half of what Abadi said: He would welcome it, but it had to be integrated inside the larger coalition. And what coalition is he talking about? The 63-member coalition that the United States is leading.

Now, I’m not going to get into military matters from this podium about what or what is not happening operationally on the ground inside Iraq, but I think, if you look at the last year – let me finish, please. If you look at the last year, we have been very supportive of Prime Minister Abadi’s government, both his efforts against ISIL and his leadership efforts, which have been notable in terms of forging ahead to form a government that is inclusive and participatory and representative of all Iraqis. And he’s made some important decisions, and again, we continue to want to support and to see him succeed.

So our support to the Iraqi Government is unshakable and it will remain unshakable as we continue to go after this very deadly enemy.



QUESTION: You just suggested that it’s – it’s one person --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: John, it’s on a different issue. It’s on Latin America.


QUESTION: Just I would like to --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I have one question.

QUESTION: I have even more on this.

QUESTION: You said – you said it’s one person in Iraq saying that. It’s definitely more than one person. But what about the Iraqi prime minister saying that the U.S. lacks the will to provide major support?

MR KIRBY: I think if I – again, I haven’t seen those comments. But all you have to do is look at what’s been done against ISIL inside Iraq and inside Syria to know that not only does the U.S. not lack the will, but that no member of the coalition lacks the will – and oh by the way, Iraq is a member of that coalition, and Iraqis are fighting ISIL bravely inside their country. And they’re suffering and they’re dying and they’re getting wounded in the fight against ISIL. Nobody lacks the will. And I think any assertion that the United States lacks the will is completely false and erroneous.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not going to continue to support Prime Minister Abadi in the great work that he’s doing both politically and militarily against ISIL. That support will continue and it will continue energetically. And as Secretary Kerry said as recently as last week, we’re going to look for ways to possibly intensify that effort against ISIL.


QUESTION: Can I just go – I want to give you a chance to go back to the slip of the tongue there. The United States does not see and does not believe there is a need for a political transition in Russia; is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I thought I cleaned that up.

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to make – just wanted to make sure.

MR KIRBY: Let me state it for the record that when I was talking about political transition, I was talking about a political transition in Syria. Apparently, I said Russia. That was a mistake and I’d like that corrected in the transcript.

QUESTION: Quite apart from that – my response to that, I’m just wondering, do you have any birthday wishes for President Putin?

MR KIRBY: I think we say Happy Birthday to everybody who shares today as his birthday or her birthday.

Can we go to another issue?

QUESTION: Another issue.

QUESTION: Another one.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. How about you? I’ll come back to you, ma’am.


QUESTION: Real briefly, I’m sure you’ve seen this AP report this morning about the efforts – FBI-Moldovan Police efforts to disrupt trade in nuclear materials to extremist groups in the Middle East or to, in this case, police posing as extremist groups in the Middle East. It’s clear in the story that this is not still an active investigation, that this has concluded. Given, I guess, the fact that there are still many groups that express a desire to attack Western interests and U.S. interests, is – I guess what discussions are happening in this building to ensure that everything is being done to keep these nuclear materials out of the hands of extremists?

MR KIRBY: Well, the State Department works across the interagency. It’s not just the State Department. There are obviously other federal agencies involved in this. And we’re committed to countering the threat of nuclear smuggling and ensuring that terrorist groups who may seek to acquire them, these materials are never able to do so. So seizures of nuclear and radioactive materials such as that in Moldova demonstrate certainly that government’s commitment to countering these activities, and we applaud the Moldovan Government’s good police and investigative work which led to the recovering – led to recovering smuggling – smuggled materials and placing them back under regulatory control.

So it’s something we take very, very seriously here at the State Department, I’d say broadly here in the United States Government, obviously. The proliferation, the smuggling, the movement of this material around, obviously has grave consequences if not stopped and if not hindered, and we’re going to continue to work, again, across not just the U.S. Government but internationally, as this demonstrated, to try to stem that.

QUESTION: Are there conversations ongoing currently with Russian officials about this topic? Because one of the things that the AP article says is that police say a, quote, “breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it’s much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials.” Is that something that you work with your Russian counterparts on as well as former Soviet state governments?

MR KIRBY: We certainly work as hard as we can with Russian authorities on this issue. And obviously, look, there’s issues where we can and do cooperate with Russia. The Iran deal is a terrific example of that, where Russia was, as the Secretary said, enormously helpful in getting us to that deal. This is certainly an issue, a concern that both our governments share because Russian authorities don’t want to see this kind of material falling into the hands of terrorists any more than we do. So it’s certainly an issue where we believe there can be cooperative efforts; there has been, and we hope that there will continue to be.

QUESTION: Are there currently cooperative efforts?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I couldn’t speak to anything specifically right now. I mean, it’s an ongoing – I mean, I’m not going to – I can’t speak to a specific operation or investigation going on, but it is an issue that we routinely talk to Russian authorities about, and as I said, I think we believe is a shared concern between our two governments.

Yes, ma’am. You’ve been very patient.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Mr. Kerry – it’s on Venezuela. Secretary Kerry made some comments on Venezuela last weekend saying that Venezuela is an imperfect democracy. The Venezuelan foreign minister replied by saying the U.S. should stay out of Venezuelan issues. Then the ombudsman – the Venezuelan ombudsman was detained in Mexico and he blames the U.S. has something to do with that. And last but not least, the U.S. ambassador to Guyana said something that upset the Venezuelan Government, saying the U.S. is going to support Guyana in this dispute with Venezuela. So I would like to know where are – where are we? Where are the relations between the U.S. and Venezuela? Are you still trying to improve? Are you looking for dialogue? Where are the – what is the situation? What is going on?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary – the Secretary spoke to this last week in an interview, and I think that’s what you’re referring to. And I’m – I think he stated it very well that this is a – Venezuela has made some progress. There’s more progress that they need to make and we’d like to see them make, that our relationship is difficult and strained in many ways but it’s a relationship that we want to see improve, and we hope the Venezuelans want to see it improve as well. So there has been dialogue with Venezuela and I fully expect that that dialogue will continue. That’s certainly our hope.

QUESTION: When you say “progress,” you mean democratic progress?

MR KIRBY: I just mean progress in terms of certain aspects of Venezuelan governance, but I’m not going to detail it all here. It’s a complicated relationship. And as he said, it’s an imperfect democracy, and obviously, we want to help see this relationship improve but there’s a lot of work that we think needs to be done.

QUESTION: And what about the accusations made by the Venezuelan Government that the U.S. is behind all these things that happening against some government officials?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those allegations, but we’re not up to conspiracy here. We wouldn’t be willing to have a dialogue and a discussion if we weren’t genuinely interested in advancing the relationship and getting it to a better place, and we’re very open and transparent about that.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about the situation on the West Bank and East Jerusalem?


QUESTION: Okay. First of all, has – aside from calling for calm, has the Secretary been in touch directly with either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or PA President Mahmoud Abbas on this situation?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week when we were in New York.

QUESTION: Yeah, but things have gone completely out of hand. There’s a --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have any --

QUESTION: They are expanding the violence --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional discussions to read out since last week’s. They both spoke to the media right before that meeting. I would point you to what the Secretary said on Monday in Chile when he was asked about this, where he said very clearly that we want to see the violence stop, we want to see calm restored, and we want to see the status quo – now, we’re specifically talking about Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount – we want to see the status quo restored, that it’s in nobody’s interest for this violence to continue.

QUESTION: Today a member of Abbas’s political party, Fatah, a member of the central committee, claimed that they informed the United States that they are no longer coordinating security arrangements with the Israelis. Is that true?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Now, the – my last question is the Israelis have been using sniper rifles – .22 caliber sniper rifles to go after stone throwers. Are you aware of that policy?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those particular reports, Said. But again, I would point you back to what the Secretary said about restoring calm and ceasing the violence.

QUESTION: Would you discourage the Israelis from using sniper rifles against stone throwers?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen those reports, Said. What I would say and what the Secretary, again, has made very clear is we want to see the violence stop, calm restored, and the status quo observed. None of what we’re seeing here in terms of the increased violence and tensions are getting us any closer to the possibility or the potential of a two-state solution. And that’s ultimately what we’d like to see progress made towards.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thanks very much, John. My question is that global leaders come around the whole year long in the U.S., including in the United Nations, and also as a official guest of the U.S. Government. But in recent days, it has become common for some groups to file lawsuits against those leaders, and it’s embarrassment for the host country and for the UN and for the countries where they come from. Including in the past, there were lawsuits against Sonia Gandhi of India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Prime Minister Modi of India.

And now recently a lawsuit has been filed in New York court by the same groups against the president of Burma. And what these groups are saying – but they are not the Muslims, but they are filing lawsuits about that Muslims are being harassed in these countries. So don’t you think that – and also the judge in New York has issued even a summons for the president of Burma, including he did for the Prime Minister Modi and Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in California and New York.

So don’t you think that this should be some kind of – that it doesn’t become embarrassment for those? And they have to pay the price when they go back home, and also to – this doesn’t make any sense for those people.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, Goyal, the way I’d approach this is to just remind that federal court actions occur independently of the executive branch. This lawsuit that you’re specifically referring to is unrelated to U.S. policy toward Burma. And also as a matter of policy, we’re not going to comment on the specifics of legal cases. So I would direct you to the organization that filed the lawsuit for specifics on that.

All that said, we still remain deeply concerned about the situation in Rakhine State. We continue to stress the need for Burma to take measures to end racially and religiously motivated discrimination and violence against members of the Rohingya population.

QUESTION: What I’m asking, actually – I follow what you said. There is a problem, of course, human rights in Burma. And it used to be supposed to be because Aung San Suu Kyi, she has been working on for democracy rules, and of course, the democracy and against – under the rules of Burmese, of course, the military rule, and there should be democracy.

My question is here, that you talk all these people and those global leaders about the changes, democratic changes in those countries. But how come then these lawsuits also comes in the middle and then these judges also got into, and those organizations are not even related to those what’s – alleged crimes committed in those countries against these – by these leaders?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the motivation of organizations that file lawsuits. And as I said, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation. It wouldn’t be appropriate. But we will, as we have certainly in the case of Burma and elsewhere around the world, we’ll speak up when we see human rights being violated and we see discrimination against populations simply because of their race or their religion. I mean, we have an obligation to make our voice and our concerns known, and we’re going to continue to do that. But I simply couldn’t speak for the motivation of independent organizations that choose to file lawsuits. That’s for them to speak to.

QUESTION: Just a final word. Since the election is coming in Burma, what is the final situation of – what are – if the U.S. is following, and also if they have spoken with the Burmese president stop all these human rights violations and also have a free and fair elections in Burma?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve – I mean, as we said, we’ve – obviously, we want to see free, fair, credible elections. And we have on many occasions have expressed our concerns about what’s going on with respect to discrimination inside Burma, and I suspect that we’ll continue to make that argument as clear and as plain as we can.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: I’ve just got time for one more. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: A quick one about Japan. The Japanese Government recently reshuffled its cabinet, and at the press conference afterwards, Prime Minister Abe mentioned how he wants the Japan – Japanese Government to be more involved in regional security and peace. Did you see those comments? Do you have any reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I would just say we welcome the announcement regarding the new Japanese cabinet. We expect our close cooperation with the Government of Japan across a range of regional and global issues will continue to deepen. Our relations and our alliance are stronger than ever, and we look forward to strengthening our cooperative efforts to ensure peace and prosperity in Asia and around the world.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: I’ve got one very brief one. It’s just because of your mention at the top on the adoption issue in Congress – it jogged my memory about a question I was going to ask Mark on Monday or yesterday and I forgot both times, and that is Senator Cotton and one of his colleagues – I can’t remember who it is now – have holds – have put holds on about two dozen State Department nominees. Senator Cotton’s holds are because he’s demanding an investigation into the Secret Service allegations about Congressman Chaffetz, and I’m just wondering what – do you think this – the Department think that it’s appropriate for a senator to put hold on a State Department nominee for something that has nothing to do with this agency?

MR KIRBY: We’re obviously very concerned by the holds, Matt. They’re impacting the – not just the careers of these individuals – most of them are Foreign Service officers and not political appointees – but also impacting the very important work of diplomacy that we have to do around the world. We obviously would like to see these holds lifted and in particular because they’re being held against members of the State Department and diplomats over concerns that have nothing to do with the State Department. So yes, we have a position on this. The Secretary would like to see these diplomats be able to get to work around the world.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

DPB #165

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 6, 2015

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 16:39

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 6, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t know, it’s very loud in here. (Laughter.) We have a rowdy bunch today. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Tuesday.

Just a couple of things briefly at the top: First, on Ukraine, the United States welcomes reports that Russia-backed separatists postponed another round of illegal elections in eastern Ukraine. People living in the separatist-controlled areas deserve to pick their local officials in elections that meet international standards, are compliant with Ukrainian law, and monitored by the OSCE as called for in the Minsk agreements.

We also note OSCE reports that Ukraine, Russia, and the separatists have begun to withdraw additional heavy weaponry – weapons, rather, from the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, as they agreed by – as agreed by the trilateral contact group of Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. This will further support the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons and fighters from Ukraine as stipulated in the Minsk agreements. Much work clearly remains, but it is – and it is crucial that the OSCE be granted full access, including at the international border.

I also want to note that tomorrow, on October 7th, Secretary Kerry is going to host the president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, at a ceremony to celebrate the arrival of a segment of the Berlin Wall that will be displayed in the U.S. Diplomacy Center – which is currently under construction – painted with depictions of the 1988-89 Peaceful Revolution protests. This unique segment of the wall features the signatures of the three “fathers of German unity” – that’s former President George W.H – H.W. Bush, rather – former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and 24 other diplomats, statesmen, and activists who played key roles in ending the Cold War and solidifying the transatlantic relationship.

And with that, Matt, any --

QUESTION: When and where is that?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. It’s tomorrow, October 7th, and --

QUESTION: All day or is there an hour attached to it?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) You’ve already stumped me, Matt.

QUESTION: And is it here?

MR TONER: Yeah, we’ll put out a media note on it.

QUESTION: Here in this building?

MR TONER: Yes, it is. It’s over – it’s going to be over at the unfinished diplomacy center, but I’m sure there’ll be some way to cover it in that building. It’s going to actually be a part of that display in the --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- in the diplomacy center, which is happening over – it’s that area of construction over there.

QUESTION: On 23rd Street – 1st Street?

MR TONER: Twenty – where am I? I’m turned around. Yes, you’re right.

QUESTION: It’s in this compound, all right.

MR TONER: In this building, correct, and I’ll get a time for you.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Fair enough.

QUESTION: Is the actual segment of the wall going – you said the center is still under construction, so is the --

MR TONER: Right. My understanding is that yes, it’s the actual --


MR TONER: -- the arrival of a segment of the Berlin Wall.


MR TONER: So I think they’re going to – now, I could be totally wrong, but I think they’re actually going to put it in the building, so --


MR TONER: I’ll go out on a limb on that one. Please go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I just want to begin on Afghanistan --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Sure thing.

QUESTION: -- given what was said up on the Hill this morning by the commander in Afghanistan and our exchange yesterday. I just wanted to give you the chance, the opportunity if you had one, to expand on your answers to me yesterday if you have anything to say, or if you want to stand pat where you were yesterday.

MR TONER: In terms of the investigation?

QUESTION: Well, no --

MR TONER: In terms of --

QUESTION: Well, in terms of – in terms of before and --


QUESTION: In terms of the comparison or – not – “comparison” is not the right word, but in terms of the idea that a somewhat similar incident of a nonmilitary target or a humanitarian target being struck by a military that you guys, before an investigation was completed, called it appalling and disgraceful. And yet in this case, you’re not prepared to say the same thing.

MR TONER: I think I am right where I was last – yesterday, which is that there’s several investigations underway. Let’s wait and see the conclusion of those investigations before we reach any determination, but obviously recognizing that this was a terrible tragedy.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I mean, in retrospect, does it make – do you think that it would make sense to wait until investigations are completed before making definitive statements about “disgraceful and appalling” or no?

MR TONER: Point taken.


QUESTION: Or to even issue an apology. I mean, one of the things that I noticed in watching General Campbell, who Matt references, it just seems sort of terse and unapologetic. And you’re hanging it on these investigations, but I mean, the fact is the hospital was bombed. I mean, doesn’t that warrant sort of an outward apology and – yeah, we’ll figure out the facts later, but I mean, the facts are pretty indisputable at this point.

MR TONER: Again, having – and you know this better than I do, but there is the expression “fog of war,” and until we actually determine what happened and where, to whom and how that unrolled – the events unrolled and took place. I don’t want to make any pronouncements and certainly not my place to do so, but I think we all need to wait for the conclusions of this investigation. That said, in response to the first part of your question, I think U.S. officials have been pretty forthcoming in offering their condolences, clearly saying that this was a tragic accident, reaching out to, in fact, Medecins Sans Frontieres – I know Department of Defense officials did so, I know others did – to express their condolences, so --

QUESTION: An apology is --

MR TONER: Again, we’re looking at this incident --

QUESTION: But your leading opening – the option to say this was the right thing to do, you’re leaving open the possibility that this was, in fact, what was intended to be done.

MR TONER: I don’t think so. I think what we’re saying is an incident took place on Friday night that resulted in the deaths of civilians. Obviously, nobody, as I said yesterday, takes greater care, frankly, to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military. And also I don’t think any other country or military in the world goes to such great pains to investigate its actions and events that may cause and result in civilian casualties. The Secretary of Defense has called for a full, transparent investigation. That’s what we expect; we expect it to be quick and to get us the answers that everyone, frankly, is seeking, and then we’ll respond accordingly.

QUESTION: You mentioned the phrase “fog of war.” Would you agree that that applies equal to every – to all militaries or all combatants in situations – there are circumstances in which case fog of war is a real thing?

MR TONER: I mean, again, never having been in combat, yes --

QUESTION: It’s not just a U.S. – it’s not just a U.S. military problem or issue.

MR TONER: Yes, it is a – it is a --

QUESTION: It is a issue for all militaries.

MR TONER: No, it is a phenomenon that often happens, yes; I agree.

QUESTION: All right. Yesterday when you were asked about the investigation part of this or at least the independent investigation part of this, you said that you were pretty sure that the U.S. would oppose an attempt to refer this incident to the ICC. Is that --

MR TONER: I’ve actually not gotten any firmer response to you on – I’m pretty sure.

QUESTION: Okay, but it still – okay, but I think --

MR TONER: But I mean, I guess what my response would be is we’re investigating this. We’re going to own this however it turns out, whoever is at fault. We don’t think it needs to be referred to the ICC.

QUESTION: Okay. Your colleague at your – you don’t think it needs to be referred?

MR TONER: No. I – yeah.

QUESTION: Your colleague at the White House said the people would be held accountable if there is a need to hold people accountable. I mean, is it really still an open question that someone needs to be held accountable for this?

MR TONER: Again, I think what we’re talking – we just don’t have all the facts yet, so you’re asking me to respond to hypotheticals, and as we know, that’s always a difficult thing.


QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, it’s not so hypothetical now that – because the commander has testified before Congress --

MR TONER: Absolutely. No, I mean --

QUESTION: -- that this was done entirely within the chain of command of the United States, so --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- I mean, that’s not a hypothetical anymore.

MR TONER: No, but I’m saying in terms of – what I’m trying to convey here is we need all the answers and need to know what, where – if mistakes were made, where they were made, who should be held accountable. I don’t want to pronounce on anything before we have that kind of thorough information.

QUESTION: Well, except that I don’t think it’s a question anymore if mistakes were made. He said it was a mistake.

QUESTION: Right, but there’s a separate question of whether mistakes are actionable or prosecutable or deserving of --

MR TONER: Exactly, thank you. I mean, thank you. That’s exactly a valid point.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one – it’s just the same question I asked yesterday about whether there’s been State Department involvement and contact with the Afghans or MSF or --

MR TONER: There has been, obviously, between our embassy and the Afghan Government. Not higher than that is my understanding.

QUESTION: Not higher than the embassy?

MR TONER: I’m not sure about – our bureau, certainly. I don’t believe the Secretary’s actually reached out.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. offered sort of any financial compensation to the family’s victims, which can often precede an investigation?

MR TONER: Again, not that I’m aware of. I’m not sure that’s under consideration, but – aware of previous instances, but not in this case.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Georgia. I was wondering if you have any reaction about the latest developments in Georgia. It looks like government is openly attacking the largest private TV station, Rustavi 2, which assets and properties were frozen by court. There are clear evidences that government involved in that case. Thank you.

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I can say that we’re closely following the developments that you mentioned. I think we urge that any legal proceedings involving a media outlet, regardless of where but certainly in Georgia, be conducted at the highest standards of judicial due process and with respect for freedom of expression.

More broadly, over the past several years, the United States Government and the international community have praised Georgia’s free and pluralistic media environment which has been recognized internationally as a model for the region. So actions that give the appearance of constricting that environment, constricting media freedoms or compromising that media pluralism, are, frankly, disturbing, and especially in the lead-up to parliamentary elections. So we therefore, we do take it seriously and we’re watching it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you regard this incident as disturbing?



MR TONER: I said actions that give – and I – we would – that’s yes. I would equate the two.


QUESTION: On Turkey and Russia and Syria, actually, altogether.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) The whole region.

QUESTION: The whole region. It seems like there are new incursions right now to Turkish airspace. Incirlik was reported – one happened 3rd of October and it seems like there is, after Russians said this won’t happen again, apparently, October 5th there was another incursion by the Syrian Air Force. It seems like the tension is escalating. What’s your view on Russian – whole Russian-Turkish – and that whole situation right now?

MR TONER: Well, so so far you said “incursions.” I’m aware of one and then possibly a second incursion that I’m aware of. I don’t know if there’s been additional ones. Clearly, we spoke to this a little bit yesterday. It is concerning. This kind of behavior, intentional or un-intentional, is very risky. It puts lives at risk. And these kinds of actions are dangerous, provocative, and they can cause accidents and miscalculation. So we need to, again, follow up on these efforts to de-conflict, but certainly we would call on Russia to avoid any more incursions, any additional incursions, into Turkey’s airspace.

QUESTION: Have you had the chance to talk to Russians directly on these specific breaches?

MR TONER: I believe we have raised this incident directly with the Russian Government. I’ll check on that, but I think that’s the case.

QUESTION: Today, Turkish President Erdogan in Brussels, I believe, stated that the attack on Turkey means attack on NATO, and he was also telling Russians that they may lose Turkey. When you look it from the NATO perspective as a ally of Turkey, what would be the implication, possible implications of this Russians’ aggressive moves in Turkish border?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we always look at Turkey through the perspective – I mean, obviously Turkey is a close ally and friend and partner. But we always look at it through the lens, and especially in security matters, of NATO. There were consultations. There was a NAC yesterday in Brussels to discuss these incursions. We take it very seriously, as does NATO, as do all NATO allies, and we’ll be watching it closely. And again, it’s why we’ve conveyed to Russia that these types of incursions need to stop.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Speaking about de-confliction, are you --


QUESTION: Are you aware of upcoming talks between the U.S. and Russia? The Russians have been saying, had said this morning that they have offered informal talks with the U.S. military.

MR TONER: I’ve seen those comments. And I don’t know if you’ve seen comments, but – from the Department of Defense, but they commented earlier today that they stand ready to meet again as soon as possible with Russia, but we just haven’t had that follow-up yet. So we’re certainly ready and prepared. I think we’ve seen over the last couple of days the danger that exists on the ground of accidents, of accident incursions, whatever you want to call them. So we need to absolutely engage with Russia on de-conflicting.

QUESTION: About the --

QUESTION: The danger? What – the dangers of accidents? I mean, there has not been any real fallout.

MR TONER: No, but I mean, the fact that they went into Turkish airspaces.

QUESTION: You’re – but you’re – right. But you’re not aware of any actual --

MR TONER: Not yet, no.

QUESTION: -- conflict?

QUESTION: Is it safe to say that they appear unwilling at this point to talk or --

MR TONER: I’m not sure. There was an initial round of conversations last week. Obviously, this is run out of the Department of Defense, so I would refer you to them. But --


MR TONER: But we did see comments out of the Department of Defense earlier today that they stand ready to have these follow-up conversations, they just haven’t --

QUESTION: Well, not that they stand ready. That they’re asking to --

MR TONER: That they’re welcome --

QUESTION: -- to talk --

MR TONER: Exactly, yes.

QUESTION: -- and they’re being ignored, right?

MR TONER: I don’t know – I wouldn’t – that’s something for the Russians to answer.


QUESTION: A follow-up, Mark.


QUESTION: There was another media conference today between DOD and their Russian counterpart, I assume, between (inaudible) and his – or counterparts.

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: So it’s a planned videoconference or --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.

QUESTION: If there will be another video conference to discuss --

MR TONER: There was one last week, but there hasn’t been a follow-up.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there was – the first one was last week, and the follow-up?

MR TONER: There hasn’t been one. I said that’s – the Department of Defense stands ready; the Pentagon stands ready to have an – have additional follow-ups to that.

QUESTION: So U.S. is doing this video conference representing whole coalition, or by yourself only?

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I think by ourselves, but also as a member of the coalition as well, de-conflicting airstrikes on the ground. We’re obviously the – one of the primary movers or actors in that, but we do that – we do so in consultation with all of our coalition partners.

QUESTION: So will you discuss also, for example, this Turkey and Russian escalation in this video conference as well?

MR TONER: Again, this is at a very practical level. In that kind of practical sense, the danger that such incursions present to Turkey might be raised. I can’t promise that. I’d have to really refer you to the Department of Defense on that. But these are very, very in the weeds kind of practical discussions about who’s flying where when so that we can avoid any tragic mistakes or accidents.

QUESTION: So in which platform – on which platform Russia and Turkey should solve this problem, you think? I mean, through this, for example, mechanism, or through NATO-Russian dialogue or through another mechanism, maybe bilateral relations? Which is the best way to solve this conflict --

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I certainly can’t speak for Turkey. Obviously – again, I can’t speak for what the Department of Defense, what the Pentagon is raising in these – well, they’ve only had one so far, but these video conferences, these calls, these de-confliction calls. So it’s hard for me to say that this would be the proper venue for them, but the idea behind these calls, idea behind this mechanism, is to do exactly that, is to avoid mistakes – whatever you want to call them – or intentional incursions, but just to make sure that we’re clear on who’s flying where when so that we can avoid accidents.

That may be one possible platform to do that in. I’m not discounting it. There may be a bilateral platform for Turkey to pursue with Russia as well.

QUESTION: So Turkey may be represented in the next phone call --

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

QUESTION: You think the incursions are intentional?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve – Russia has called them an accident. We don’t have – I mean, we’re not sure.

QUESTION: Are you still thinking to withdraw Patriots from Turkey in light of these new incursions?

MR TONER: I don’t have anything new for that – for you on that.

Please, Pam.

QUESTION: The Russian speaker of parliament has said that Russia would be willing to consider expanding airstrikes into Iraq. Has there been any diplomatic expressions of concern to Iraq about this possible expansion?

MR TONER: I mean, we’re always in conversations with Iraq about the security situation. What I can say is that Iraq certainly hasn’t asked for Russian airstrikes in its territory, so it’s kind of a moot point at this point. But I mean, we always are having conversations about the security situation within Iraq. That it came up in that framework, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. consider this move from Russia destabilizing?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to speak to hypotheticals. What we have said generally is that we would see a constructive role in Syria or against ISIL in Syria on the part of Russia, if they actually hit ISIL targets. To a large extent, we’ve not seen that thus far, so we feel like they’ve only ratcheted up the tension and the conflict so far with their airstrikes against moderate opposition forces. We don’t want to see that same formula certainly transferred to Iraq.

We’ve been pretty consistent about this. Where we want to see pressure applied is on ISIL, on I-S-I-L. That needs to be consistent. It needs – everybody needs to do more in that respect. We’re part of a 60-odd-member coalition doing exactly that, supporting these groups in northern Syria. If Russia wants to play in that sphere, again, we could see a role for it there. But we’ve not seen that thus far, and similarly in Iraq.


MR TONER: Please, yes sir.

QUESTION: Yeah. There is a press report saying that the U.S. Government stopped its intelligence cooperation with the Iraqi military on al-Anbar in Iraq because after the Iraqi Government is coordinating security issues with the Russians in Syria. Is there any --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, where did you cite that report from? I didn’t hear the first part of it, sorry.

QUESTION: It’s a press report in the Al-Hayat newspaper, Arabic?

MR TONER: No, I don’t have anything for you on that. Sorry.


QUESTION: On Syria. Russian foreign minister has considered the FSA in Syria as an illusion. And he said that the Russians asked the U.S. to provide them with their positions, with FSA positions in Syria. What’s your comment, and will you be able to provide them these positions?

MR TONER: Well, I’m aware of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments. I would just say we continue to convey to Russia our deep concern about any Russian actions taken against moderate Syrian elements. These kinds of actions only risk, frankly, exacerbating the current situation, raising tensions in the conflict, and, frankly, radicalizing some of these moderate elements that we seek to support, and ultimately push any political transition further away. And it draws Russia further into a sectarian conflict. So all of these do not help us get to what we all at least profess to want to – the place where we want to get to, which is a peaceful political transition to a transitional government according to the Geneva communique.

We continue to talk to the Russians. I’m not aware of any recent phone calls between the Secretary and Lavrov, but we – there were multiple meetings last week to try to find a political way forward, a political path forward, and we continue to pursue those efforts.

QUESTION: And what about his statement that there is no FSA in Syria?

MR TONER: We disagree with that. I mean, we’ve been working with – I mean, the Free Syrian Army is – contains many moderate armed opposition forces throughout Syria. And these moderate armed opposition groups were initially formed to defend local governments – local communities, rather, from Assad’s brutal crackdown on civilians and peaceful protests. This was over four years ago. So the armed opposition, the moderate opposition, part of this rose up against that. So they do exist. I mean, it’s – we would reject that characterization.

QUESTION: May I ask – on Syria?

MR TONER: Please, in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So yesterday, you said, “We’ve seen no indication that they’re” – they, meaning the Russians – are “actually hitting ISIL targets.” One of the cities that Russia has targeted is Raqqa. Would you say that Raqqa is ISIL-free?

MR TONER: No. And in fact, I said – I think I said the preponderance of targets that they’ve hit --

QUESTION: Okay, let’s look at other cities. I heard that. What about Idlib? Is it ISIL-free? That’s another city that Russia has targeted.

MR TONER: Okay. Catch your breath. So what we’ve seen in the initial airstrikes that Russia carried out beginning last week were primarily targeting places where ISIL wasn’t ensconced, didn’t exist, didn’t have a presence – and frankly, it was where moderate Syrian opposition forces are generally located. So we were very clear, and we’ve been clear in our public comments as well as our private conveyances to the Russian Government – and I’ve said this multiple times; in fact, some of you are probably sick of hearing me say it: Russia can play a constructive role in this effort, but that doesn’t mean hitting moderate Syrian forces that are in opposition to Assad, who has carried out a brutal, brutal crackdown on his own people. And in fact, as I’ve said before, that so many people are probably tired of hearing me say it, he has killed more Syrian civilians than ISIL has, and believe me, that’s an achievement.

QUESTION: Do you know where exactly those moderate Syrian opposition forces are?

MR TONER: Without revealing intelligence sources, we have a pretty good sense of it, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you share that information --


QUESTION: -- with Russia?


QUESTION: Not with us. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: (Inaudible.) Again, we’ve been – we’ve had frank exchanges with Russia about all of these factors. And we’ll continue to discuss those with Russia.

QUESTION: Are – will you give their locations in order for them not to target them?

MR TONER: We’re confident that Russia knows what’s happening on the ground there.

QUESTION: What is – one more thing.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure thing. Please.

QUESTION: What sounds strange is that a month ago, the U.S. couldn’t find enough adequate moderate opposition forces to train and equip. And after the Russian airstrikes, all of a sudden we hear that there are so many of them, that we hear about the Free Syrian Army. We haven’t heard the words “Free Syrian Army” for months, and all of a sudden, they’re back. Why couldn’t you find them before?

MR TONER: That’s a mischaracterization. So we’re talking about, rather, two separate entities. The Free Syrian Army is a group of moderate Syrian opposition forces in combat with the Syrian regime, with Assad’s army, with Assad’s military. What we were trying to – our train and equip program in northern Syria where ISIL is ensconced was to try to find moderate elements in that area and train them up, give them the tools, the equipment they need. I think we’ve been very candid. It hasn’t panned out very well, but it’s a different element and we’re actually looking at that program and seeing how we can basically reinvigorate it, do it better.

But as we’ve also been clear, that train and equip program was only one small part of a much larger effort, which was providing air support and supplies and other support for those groups in northern Syria – Syrian Kurds, Syrian Arabs, Syrian Turkmen – who had been fighting pretty effectively against ISIL.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: Mark, as far as the U.S.-Indian relations are concerned, so much has happened in the last few weeks, or last month. Prime Minister Modi was in Silicon Valley, and of course, there’s U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue here at the State Department, and then, of course, all the leaders were at the United Nations, including Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, and of course, Secretary Kerry. There were two messages between the two largest democracies – or oldest or largest democracy, U.S. and India, one: Moving forward, U.S.-India relations as far as commerce and trade and defense and political and social and all kinds of things. But other side – there was another side of the two relations that where President Obama, including Secretary Kerry joint statement and Prime Minister Modi spoke about the terrorism against India, and including the Prime Minister Modi was talking very clearly to the businesses and Indian American community in the Silicon Valley that terrorism is terrorism. There’s no definition of terrorism good or bad. It’s all terrorism. And he was, of course, pointing out same thing at the United Nations and the joint statement here at the State Department that it must be stopped against India from the cloth bottom. Of course, he was pointing about Pakistan.


QUESTION: But he said the conflict is not the message or conflict is not the solution. But it must stop. So where do we go from here, as far as the relations between two countries?

And finally, yesterday also at the George Washington University Sigur International Center, the CEOs were there from India and America. They were talking about the same thing moving forward with the relations.



MR TONER: You’re talking about where we go in terms of terrorism. Well, obviously, it’s a shared concern not just between our country and India, rather. But obviously, for many countries in that region – President Obama’s stated – the Mumbai perpetrators financiers, sponsors must be held accountable for their crimes. We continue to follow the criminal proceedings closely and urge additional action to prevent such an attack from ever happening again and recognize that this was a terrible tragedy for India.

In general, we want to see better, stronger, closer counterterrorism cooperation not only between the U.S. and India but of all the countries in the region, including Pakistan. We all need to be on our guard. We all need to be vigilant. We all need to cooperate and share information and intelligence where we can do that in order to prevent future attacks. It’s not something we can let our guard down on.

QUESTION: And one more finally.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: In the last many years, I have met many prime ministers and presidents --


QUESTION: -- of course, from different countries, including from India and Pakistan. This time at the United Nations the problem was that India only was talking about 60 years forward, moving forward.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was talking 60 years backward – backward. And it was also questioning the Pakistani press where he was criticized that why do you – why are you in the U.S. year after year after year and talking only about 60 years back. Let’s move forward like India is moving.


QUESTION: So where are we talking – where are we on these issues of moving forward and not going backward?

MR TONER: I’d just say we share your concern about the India-Pakistan relationship. It’s absolutely critical to achieving peace and stability in South Asia. Our relationship with India is strong, growing. As you said, we’re two of the world’s oldest democracies. As Obama – President Obama said, India has the potential to be one of the great global powers in the 21st century, so we want to see our cooperation deepen both economically, politically, and security – on security issues as well.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR TONER: Yeah. Please, sir.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Afghanistan for one second --

MR TONER: Yes, no worries.

QUESTION: -- and then on to a different subject. Just on Kunduz, do you know if the – anyone in the State Department’s legal office or anything has been asked by the Pentagon to be involved, to play any role in the investigation into what happened?

MR TONER: No, but I can check on that.

QUESTION: And then the other thing is – on that is I just wonder if anyone in this building has noted the irony of the 1999 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize accusing the army commanded by the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize of war crimes.

MR TONER: I’m not sure what to do with that.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if it has been --

MR TONER: Noted?

QUESTION: If people have noted the irony of that. No? You don’t know?

MR TONER: I have not myself noted it, no.

QUESTION: All right. And then I wanted to go on to Israel.

MR TONER: Yes sir.

QUESTION: There are a flurry of reports there that said that your policy regarding settlements has changed or been altered in such a way so that – in that you have delivered some kind of an ultimatum to the Israeli Government that if they make any major announcements, that you will not veto a resolution – a UN resolution that would call – a Security Council resolution that would call them illegal. Is that correct?

MR TONER: I’m aware of those press reports, Matt. That report, I can say, is false. Our position on settlements is well known, hasn’t changed. We convey it regularly to the Israeli Government. And I know we don’t generally comment on private conversations, but I’d like to nip that story in the bud. We haven’t issued any kind of ultimatum on this.

QUESTION: Okay. And – so the position of the Administration remains that settlements are illegitimate. You think they’re unhelpful --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- and not constructive to whatever is left of the peace process, but also --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- you will still – or there has not been any kind of a decision made not to veto a resolution that would – a UN resolution on this – on this --

MR TONER: No, and I mean, there’s not even a resolution out there right now. So I mean, I don’t want to speak about something in the abstract.


QUESTION: Related to that, would you welcome the Israeli announcement of the lifting of the restriction from Muslim worship at al-Aqsa compound? Is it – I mean, does it fit into the return of the status quo you were calling for?

MR TONER: Without knowing all the details, it sounds in keeping with what we’ve been calling for, which is for both sides – all sides, frankly – to find a way to – back to full restoration of the status quo at the Temple Mount, al-Sharif – Haram al-Sharif. That’s – that sounds like a step in the right direction or in that direction.

Oh sure, Michel.

QUESTION: On Iran and Russia, Iran’s defense ministry has announced that Russia is going to deliver the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran under an agreement between the two countries. Are you aware of that, and what’s your comment?

MR TONER: I’m not. We’ve been – I’d have to get an update and see what – where we are with this. I can take the question. I mean, we’ve talked about this delivery system before and our concerns about it, but I’ll see if we have any additional comment on that.

QUESTION: Please, thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, Pam.

QUESTION: An Islamic State-affiliated group has claimed responsibility for this attack in Yemen on the resort. Has there been any collaboration since the attack occurred between the U.S. and Saudi officials since then. And --

MR TONER: Sorry. I hit my mike.

QUESTION: And if so, is there consideration of perhaps a change in strategy to address this kind of threat?

MR TONER: Well, we are – and you’re speaking about the attack this morning in Aden. We are aware of reports of these attacks on several locations, including the Al Qasr Hotel, where members of the Yemeni Government are staying. Obviously, we strongly condemn this attack. We understand the Yemeni Government has indicated that no senior government officials were injured or killed in the attack. We have seen various reports of numbers of individuals wounded or killed, and we continue to gather information on that.

You said that ISIL has claimed responsibility. We’ve seen different claims of responsibility, so it’s too early. We can’t confirm who may have been the author of that attack.

I think our solution or our, rather, policy towards Yemen is the same, which is that we believe any solution must be a political solution and that there’s an urgent need to return to the negotiating table. We continue to support the United Nations-led political transition and the UN special envoy, and, I think, underscore – we would underscore the urgency of seeking a durable solution to the crisis through a peaceful political process. We’ve – our support for Saudis has been limited, I think, to logistical and intelligence support. But beyond that, we are very concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis on the ground in Yemen, which is why, as – again, we need this political solution; we need an end to the fighting so we can get that system – or that assistance, rather, to where it’s urgently needed.


QUESTION: Mark, Turkish Cypriot foreign minister is in town. Will you have any meeting with her, or --

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, but I can check on that.


QUESTION: Mark, one --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- quick question on Egypt and Syria. Egypt has supported the Russian airstrikes on Syria. Are you aware of that, and what’s your comment?

MR TONER: I haven’t seen those remarks by Egyptian officials, so I’d have to look at them. I mean, it’s unclear to me whether they’re, again, supporting the idea of Russian airstrikes against ISIL, which we said we would also support that in some fashion, whether – if it could be done in a collaborative manner. But so far we’ve seen mixed reports. We’ve seen attacks on moderate Syrian opposition. So I – just out of context, I don’t know. I can’t speak to that, but --

QUESTION: I just want to go --

QUESTION: Can you take the question, please?


QUESTION: I have a brief one on your opening on Ukraine.


QUESTION: On the local elections, you’re not opposed – I just want to make sure I understand this. You’re not opposed to them having the elections in general, are you?

MR TONER: No, they just have to be done – it’s spelled out in the Minsk agreements, but they have to be done compliant with Ukrainian law and then also monitored so it can be free and fair.

QUESTION: And then it was – and it was your position that there was no way that that could happen in the timespan that they were – had originally envisaged?

MR TONER: That’s correct.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Going back to your statement where you said, “We’ve seen no indication that they’re actually hitting ISIL targets” – that – there’s so much certainty in that statement. How do you know that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I was just frankly echoing what our military colleagues have said. And I have no doubt that they have a very clear perspective on what’s being hit and what’s not being hit in terms of northern Syria and in the areas where these Russian air attacks are taking place.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Refrain, Matt. Please.

QUESTION: Do they present evidence to what they’re saying?

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Do they present evidence? Have you heard them – can you give us --

MR TONER: No. I think that we’ve – we were concerned from the outset that these airstrikes are being carried out against moderate Syrian opposition – the very opposition that we’ve been supporting, who have been waging now a four-year valiant fight against Assad. And again, let’s widen the lens here. Let’s get back to where we find agreement with Russia on several areas when it comes to Syria. We agree ISIL needs to be defeated, needs to be destroyed; it’s a threat to the region, it’s a threat to Russia, it’s a threat to the United States, it’s a threat to the West.

Second, there needs to be a political solution – a political resolution, rather – to the conflict in Syria. And in that regard we have found Russia’s actions thus far in carrying out airstrikes – I don’t know if exclusively they’ve hit moderate Syrian opposition, but certainly a good number of them have struck moderate opposition forces. And we find that is counterproductive to where – to our ultimate end goal here, or end state, which is a political process according to the Geneva communique.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)

DPB #164


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - October 5, 2015

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 18:16

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 5, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:14 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody, happy Monday. To those who were – spent last week in New York, welcome back. I hope you all had a good and restful weekend after all the fun of UNGA.

QUESTION: Well, that’s certainly one way of --

MR TONER: FUNGA, as we call it internally. (Laughter.) Sorry, it’s not mine.

QUESTION: Well, that could mean more than just fun. You actually imply that there’s a word that begins with F that begins --

MR TONER: Please, don’t bring it – (laughter) – don’t bring it in that direction, please, Matt.

Anyway, welcome to the State Department. I did want to note, as many of you saw, after a pretty grueling week, actually, in New York at the UN General Assembly, Secretary of State Kerry is in Valparaiso, Chile to participate in the second Our Ocean conference. As you know, we hosted the inaugural Our Ocean conference here in Washington, D.C., last year in June 2014, and this morning the Secretary highlighted the progress made on commitments from last year’s Our Ocean conference and will very soon announce a new series – a series of new initiatives as well as build on his call to action regarding a healthy and sustainable ocean.

Before I take your questions, I also wanted to note that on behalf of the U.S. Government, we’d like to extend our deepest condolences to the people of Guatemala for the devastation and loss of life caused by the landslide that struck Guatemala City on October 1st. The United States is coordinating closely with the Guatemalan Government to see what assistance might be required. We certainly commend the Guatemalan rescuers on their diligent efforts to respond to this terrible tragedy. The U.S. has a longstanding partnership with the Guatemalan Government on emergency response, and in fact, most – the hundreds of rescuers involved in the emergency response have been trained by our USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in search-and-rescue. And so it’s good to see those – that training now paying off in helping to save lives.

And with that, I’ll take your questions. Matt.

QUESTION: Right. I want to start in Afghanistan.


QUESTION: I realize that the Pentagon has already spoken to this --


QUESTION: -- as has your colleague at the White House. And I do understand I’m coming at this with understanding that the State Department is probably somewhat limited and – well, first of all didn’t really have – play any role in what happened in Kunduz. But also because of the investigation that’s underway, I understand you’re going to – you’re not going to have much to say beyond what has already been said.


QUESTION: But what I want to ask about is just Administration policy in general. So not that long ago – in fact, just a little over a year ago, in August of 2014 – Israel, during the Gaza conflict, was accused of and, in fact, did bomb a – an UNRWA school in Gaza that killed about 10 people – or did kill 10 people. At the time, this building – in fact, the spokeswoman – issued a statement that was very, very strong, saying, “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced people. The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces. We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected and must not be used by bases from which to launch attacks.”

And then the sentence that’s key here, and this is what I want to ask about, it says, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.” And then it goes on to call for an investigation. So I just want to – let me see – is it Administration – still Administration policy that the suspicion that militants are operating nearby a site like this, which is a school, that that suspicion does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of innocent civilians? Is that still the Administration’s position?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I just would like to add the State Department’s voice to what the President and Department of Defense have already said. We mourn, obviously, the loss of life at the Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz which occurred on October 3rd. It goes without saying these doctors perform heroic work throughout the world including in Afghanistan, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and colleagues of those affected by this tragic incident.

You’re asking about whether our policy has changed. We always take great care and we are very adamant about stating when we see elsewhere attacks in areas where there could be civilian casualties to avoid civilian casualties. That obviously stands. That’s – there’s no other, frankly, country or government that takes greater care to investigate incidents like this, to hold folks accountable, and to try to take every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties.

What we’re looking at right now in terms of what happened in Kunduz, the facts are still emerging. There’s, I think, now three investigations underway: one by the Department of Defense, one by Resolute Support, and I think one joint Afghan and U.S. investigation. So we’ll let those investigations run their course.

But generally, these are difficult situations. It was, I think – General Campbell spoke to this as well, saying that it was an active combat zone and just trying to put that in the framework that they were called into – that air strikes were called in, without necessarily even saying that these were the airstrikes that hit that hospital, because we don’t know yet. We’re still collecting the facts.


MR TONER: But in speaking to your – sorry, your specific question – I mean, of course, we take every measure possible and would encourage any government in the world to take any measure possible – every measure possible – every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties, even when that involves close-quarter combat.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that and I understood --


QUESTION: But my question was not about the idea – and I’m not challenging the idea that you take – that the military makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. What I’m most curious about is that this statement said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes, which – and the military has said that it was called in because the Afghans asked for it. But MSF says that they had been given the coordinates much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah.

So the question is – and I realize this is under investigation. But the question is if – the question is: If the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes on a humanitarian facility for which the coordinates had been given, that it seems to have changed.

MR TONER: It’s just – look, Matt. I think it’s safe to say that this attack, this bombing, was not intentional. I can’t get into what may or may not have happened on the ground, whether the coordinates were known, whether they were acknowledged. It’s just too much speculation at this point.


MR TONER: So you’ll hopefully give me a pass if we wait for the investigation to run its course.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s – and that’s fine. I understand it. But in the case of this – the Rafah situation, you called for a full and prompt investigation of this incident, as well as others like it.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But that statement began by saying that the U.S. is appalled by the disgraceful shelling. That’s before an investigation even happened. So can you say now, knowing what you did, that you – that this shelling of this hospital was disgraceful and appalling?

MR TONER: Again, I would only just reiterate our sincere condolences to the victims of this attack and just again underscore the fact that we’re going to investigate this thoroughly. And as I said, once those investigations are complete, we’re going to take steps to – either to hold any responsible parties accountable or to take measures that avoid any kind of accident like this in the future.

QUESTION: All right. Last one

MR TONER: Yes, please.

QUESTION: This has nothing to do with that statement.


QUESTION: And on the diplomatic front, has there been any contact between you guys and the Afghans about this? Or is it being handled entirely military-to-military?

MR TONER: Unclear to me, but imagine on the – simply from our embassy to the Afghan Government, I would imagine there has been contact – not from the Secretary.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Staying on Afghanistan. Does State have any comment on the Washington Post report that the Administration is considering whether to leave 3- to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan past the end of this year, the point at which President Obama had originally said that the United States would revert to a normal embassy presence in Afghanistan?

MR TONER: No, I just would say that no decision’s been made and I won’t go into internal deliberations before we have made that decision. Obviously, it’s something the President is looking at very closely, and he’ll determine the trajectory of our drawdown, obviously in consultation with his national security team and the commanders on the ground, of course.


QUESTION: Can we go to another topic?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t know --

QUESTION: Can we go to another topic?

MR TONER: Of – well, I don’t know what we’d --

QUESTION: Can we go to the Arabs – Palestinian-Israeli situation?

MR TONER: Of course, sure. Absolutely.

QUESTION: I wonder if you have any comment on the rising tensions and violence that we have witnessed in the last few days. Do you have any general comment on that?

MR TONER: Well, you saw we – as we put out a statement I think yesterday, we strongly condemn all acts of violence. We’re very concerned about mounting tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area, and call on all sides to take affirmative steps to restore calm and avoid escalating the situation.

QUESTION: Well, today the Israelis killed a 13-year-old boy. There has been a number – the number of casualties – Palestinian casualties is close to 500 in the last couple days, and I wanted to ask you: The Israelis announced today that they arrested five Palestinians for the killing of two settlers. Now, that came within 24 hours of the incident itself. Now, on the other hand, we have – we had 66 days elapse since the Dawabsheh attack, since the Duma attack, when the settlers attacked the Dawabsheh family and burned to death three members of the family – and the Israelis have done nothing really to bring those to justice. Now, all along you have stated that you have confidence in Israel, the ability to bring those responsible to justice. Do you still have that confidence although looking at this discrepancy?

MR TONER: First of all, to your broader question, look, we – as I just said, we remain deeply concerned about escalating tensions. We want to see all sides take affirmative steps to restore calm, absolutely. That’s our overall viewpoint on it.

And speaking in terms of the arrests that took place today, in terms of previous investigation, I’d have to refer you to the Israeli justice system and to the Israeli authorities to speak to the progress on that initial investigation. But we have confidence, as we’ve said before, in Israel’s judicial system, in its legal processes, to conduct a thorough and complete and accountable investigation – and transparent investigation. But I mean, clearly, as I said, we want to see a – just reduction in tensions on all sides.

QUESTION: Although it was – it has – the Israeli authorities have been able to swiftly arrest the Palestinians responsible, but no such thing on the settlers who have committed that crime 66 days ago on (inaudible).

MR TONER: I’m aware of the time lapse. Both crimes were reprehensible. I can only point you in the direction of the Israeli authorities to speak to that discrepancy.

QUESTION: Now, let me stay on the Palestinian topic.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the speech given by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the other day, where he said that they will – basically sort of he’s frozen the agreements with Israel. First of all, do you take him seriously? Do you take him at his word that he will do that? And second, if he does so, what – how will that impact what other relations you have with him in terms of aid and others and so on?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate about his – the language that he used. I think I would just say that it’s critical going forward that both Israelis and Palestinians abide by their commitments and take concrete actions to reverse current trends and demonstrate meaningful progress toward a two-state solution and creating a two-state reality on the ground, which is something that we all want to see happen.


QUESTION: While we’re in this neighborhood, can I ask --


QUESTION: I understand that the attack last week in which the two Israeli – the couple were killed, the shooting incident that --

MR TONER: In the – right. Right, yeah.

QUESTION: -- in the West Bank – yeah. I understand that the husband is – was in fact an American citizen. Is that correct?

MR TONER: That is correct. We can confirm – his name was Eitam – Eitam – forgive me if I’m mispronouncing that name – Simon Henkin, who was killed in the West Bank on October 2nd, and he was a U.S. citizen. We obviously express our condolences to his family.

QUESTION: Can you – well, given the fact that you now – that this gives you more than just a passing interest in this person as someone whose protection as a – falls under a class of people, an American citizen, whose protection or safety abroad is the State Department’s primary responsibility --


QUESTION: -- what have you heard back in terms from – either the Palestinians or the Israelis about the investigation into his murder?

MR TONER: Well, we’re – sure. I don’t have much updated information to offer. I can only say that we’re obviously in close contact with the Israeli authorities about the investigation into the murder, and obviously we’re going to – for the sake of his family and loved ones, we’re going to continue to follow this case very closely.


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: You’re in touch with the Israelis, but are you in touch with the Palestinians?

MR TONER: I would assume so. I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: Within the same context or on the same issue, Mark --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Said. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the defense – the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said sometime back, maybe 10 days ago or so, that they do know who the perpetrators of the Dawabsheh crime may – who they are, but they don’t want to compromise any intelligence assets or issues in the settlements and so on. First of all, are you aware of that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of those comments and I wouldn’t attempt to parse them or explain them.

QUESTION: Okay. And in fact, there are also suggestions that these settlers may have been also American citizens as well. Can you find out about that? Could you --

MR TONER: The settlers? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The settlers that have committed these – the attack on Duma.

MR TONER: I’ve seen no such speculation.

QUESTION: Well, the Israeli reports have said that they were – they’re just saying --

MR TONER: Again, I would – again, that just – I would just have to refer you to the Israeli authorities on that.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR TONER: We don’t – yeah, please.

QUESTION: All right. Can you confirm the number of American settlers in the West Bank – something like 60,000? Could you confirm that?

MR TONER: Yeah, we – we’re not often forthcoming with – because we don’t ask, obviously, American citizens who live abroad to register. So it’s often hard for us to come up with the exact figures, if we can get that.

QUESTION: But you do ask for --

MR TONER: We ask – I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: You don’t require them to register.

MR TONER: Sorry, yeah, I apologize. Thank you for that. We encourage them to register so we can contact them, but we don’t require them. And so – sorry, I lost my train of thought. So I don’t know that we have an exact figure. I can try to look into that and see if I can get that for you.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Just two questions on Syria and Iraq.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The first one: The Kurdish groups in Syria and both in Iraq – the Iraqi Kurdish president has issued a statement. They both welcome the presence of the airstrikes by Russian – by Russia in Syria. Aren’t you concerned that some of your very best partners are now welcoming the Russian airstrikes?

MR TONER: Well, again, we have great respect for the Iraqi Kurds in the fight that they’re waging against ISIL in Iraq. Our position on Russian airstrikes, I think, has been made painfully clear over the last four or five days since the very first airstrikes were carried out. We said many times that we would welcome a constructive role for Russia if it takes the fight to ISIL. Thus far, we’ve not seen that that’s the case. We’ve seen no indication that they’re actually hitting ISIL targets – ISIL targets.

QUESTION: Is it constructive if --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: Is it constructive if Russia supports the Kurds in Syria or the Kurds in Iraq?

MR TONER: Is it constructive if – it’s constructive if --

QUESTION: Militarily?

MR TONER: It’s constructive if Russia wants to, as I said, live up to what it’s saying, live up to its words with action, which is – it says it wants to take the fight to ISIL. We’ve not seen that thus far. Frankly, what we’ve seen thus far is that Russia’s decision to undertake military action in Syria and intervene in that civil war that’s taking place between Assad and the moderate Syrian opposition – frankly, we consider it a strategic mistake. If they are serious about taking the fight to ISIL, then, as I said, we can find a role – or we can see a role for them to play constructively, certainly within the context of de-conflicting any action that they may be taking against some of the targets that we’re also hitting.

Our primary purpose here is to support those groups in northern Syria – Kurds, Arabs, others – who are waging successful attacks against ISIL, dislodging them from some key strongholds and frankly clearing ISIL out of that territory. That remains our focus. We’re part of a 60-some-odd member coalition doing that. If Russia wants to play in that sphere, then we would see a role for them, but we don’t see that yet.


QUESTION: Could you comment on a report in The New York Times that the United States is coordinating with Turkey to open another front in northwestern Syria, and perhaps even get closer to where the Russians are bombing? Could you comment on that?

MR TONER: No, I’m not going to get into – I’m not going to confirm those reports. I mean, obviously, we’ve been working with some of these groups in northern Syria for some time, continuing to provide them support – both the Department of State, nonlethal assistance, DOD, train and equip. We’re going to continue those efforts, but I’m not in a position to really speak to those reports in The New York Times.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you said – you’re going to continue that? I thought there was a pause or some kind of a hiatus in the train and equip program because it was so – it was not --

MR TONER: I think that they’ve – they’re looking at --

QUESTION: Is that over? This is probably better asked to the Pentagon.

MR TONER: No, I’m not clear on that, actually, but I would refer you to the Department of Defense. My understanding was that they’re looking at how to rejigger it, improve it, but --

QUESTION: All right. And then I hesitate to ask this here, but – rather than have a colleague ask at the Pentagon, but you just said that, in response to an earlier question with – about Russia about de-confliction on targets that we may also be hitting. Are you aware of any shared targets that --

MR TONER: No, that’s – sorry if I was unclear about that point.


MR TONER: We’re trying to hit ISIL targets. We’ve not see that Russia is doing that yet.

QUESTION: So then what is de-confliction?

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: You just don’t want planes running into each other? Is that – is that what it is?

MR TONER: I mean, we want to avoid those kinds of tragic incidents, yes. And certainly, that’s – on a really tactical level, yes, that’s one of the concerns.


MR TONER: But also there’s other concerns as well in this battle space. I don’t really want to speak to it in my capacity, but – yeah.

QUESTION: But would it also involve Russian airstrikes against targets that you do not believe are ISIL or al-Qaida affiliates? Does that also fall under the de-confliction idea, or is this something that’s kind of not – better to ask the Pentagon?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I would say – I mean, that’s – look, that’s been made abundantly clear both in the political sphere as well as in the tactical level. We don’t want to see Russia hitting some of the Syrian opposition forces that we believe they’ve struck.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, does de-confliction also go to Russian planes flying into Turkish airspace, something like that?

MR TONER: Yes, that certainly involves that.

QUESTION: So in terms of that specific incident, again realizing that this might be better directed at the Pentagon, has there been any diplomatic activity other than just what the NATO statement, which I think we’ve all seen, with the Russians – between the U.S. and the Russians about this incident or these – this – these incidents?

MR TONER: So I did try to check on this before. There’s been no follow-up to the de-confliction – I hate that word, but to the efforts at – to de-conflict that started – began last week, I think on Thursday. There’s been no follow-up to that, but obviously we made clear our concerns about this --

QUESTION: No, I’m not talking --

MR TONER: -- in the NAC – right, in the NATO --

QUESTION: Right. No, I’m talking about aside from NATO and aside from --

MR TONER: Right. Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: -- the de-confliction talks, you don’t know if there’s been any contact, direct contact, between you and the Russians?

MR TONER: Direct contact, no. I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: Because the Secretary spoke about how the Turkish foreign minister called him on Saturday, I think he said, after the first incident.

MR TONER: That’s right, that’s right.

QUESTION: So you’re not aware of anything since then?


QUESTION: So Mark, are you saying to the best of your knowledge they have not spoken about the Russian flights into Turkish airspace?

MR TONER: To my knowledge, no. Now again, I don’t know if our embassy in Moscow has approached the Russian Government. To my knowledge, that has not happened between DOD, but again, to my knowledge. I’m not aware of any --

QUESTION: I mean between Kerry and Lavrov.

MR TONER: Not to my knowledge, no; they haven’t spoken.


QUESTION: Mark, on the same topic. Do you have the same concerns of Russian cooperation with the Iraqi, like Russia targeting ISIS in Iraq like you have in Syria, or it is different story? Because they have a cooperation in Baghdad. That’s what the Prime Minister Abadi said, like for sharing intelligence.

MR TONER: Yeah, sharing intelligence. But I frankly haven’t seen them actually voice any kind of willingness to actually hit ISIL targets in Iraq. Frankly, that’s a question better asked of the Iraqi Government and how they would feel about actually active Russian attacks in that space.

QUESTION: Right, but they authorized, they welcomed – actually both regional government of – Kurdish Regional Government, also Baghdad. But what is your concern? Do you have the same thing, or you think if Iraqis is not concerned so you’re fine with that?

MR TONER: Well, it’s a sovereign country. They can certainly make those kinds of decisions. Our concern, again, is we’re active in that same space. We’re obviously working, closely advising the Iraqi military we believe with some success over the past year, certainly, to take the fight to ISIL in Iraq. So I can’t really speak to any hypothetical role that Russia may play in that struggle.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, one more on that last one.

MR TONER: Please go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: You have many forces in Iraq that you are cooperating with – I think the Iraqi Government, Sunnis, and the Kurds. And the recent month is the Kurdish officials, they were concerned about the amount of ammunitions and also the weapons they have received from the United States, it’s really decreased to not – they have not received the share that they – was provided by Pentagon to them.

MR TONER: You’re speaking about --

QUESTION: The train and equip program.

MR TONER: No, no, no, but which group in particular?

QUESTION: The Kurdish group in Iraq, not in Syria. So one of the Kurdish official – I think the chancellor of the council of – security council of Kurdistan – he said that we have not received anything from United States since May. So --

MR TONER: I’m not aware of any lapse in our efforts to supply them. I’d have to check on that. And frankly, it might be a better – question better directed to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: So I asked the Department of Defense the same issue.

MR TONER: There you go. What did they say? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, they said that’s – that we have sent everything to Baghdad, but that’s for the diplomatic mission.

MR TONER: Well, that is – I mean, that is a critical element of our effort there. We’ve said – we’ve been pretty adamant about the fact that command and control rests with the Iraqi Government. That said, we’ve seen a real effort on the – part of the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi military, and frankly, no lapse in getting that equipment, ammunition, whatever, supplies out to those who need it. So I honestly can’t speak to this particular case. I just don’t have the --

QUESTION: What do you – do you mean, like, those who needs – that they are fighting? You mean maybe they are sending more to Sunnis because they are fighting extensive – in Peshmerga front lines --

MR TONER: We have – again, I – we’ve made that very clear. And frankly, we believe that it is indeed the case where the Iraqi Government is doing a good job at disseminating those supplies to those who are actually fighting the fight against ISIL – Kurds, Sunnis, whoever. Some of these local forces on the ground that are quite effective. I’ve just seen nothing; I don’t know. I can’t speak to any lapse in supply or equipping the Kurdish forces. I just don’t --

QUESTION: Right. Will you take it that seriously, that – these concerns by the Kurdish official, that they are not getting anything from Baghdad?

MR TONER: I mean, obviously, we would – we would obviously take something like that – a comment like that with concern. I just said I don’t have any information about it. I can look into it, but I don’t have anything to – I don’t have any facts or any figures here to refute that.

Please go ahead, Michael. Michael, and then back to you.


MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia’s willing to work with the Free Syrian Army, and he asked Secretary Kerry for information on FSA contacts. Is the Secretary working – is the State Department going to give that information? And – again, is the U.S. willing – welcoming Russia to work with these, the Free Syrian Army – communicate with them directly, work with them directly?

MR TONER: Well, I’m unclear – I mean, if we’re talking about – look, widening the lens here or taking a step back, I don’t know particularly what – if they discussed that or whether contacts have been shared. As you know from last week, they met many times up in New York, all – almost all of it on Syria; certainly other issues, but primarily on Syria, and trying to work through what our primary goal on the diplomatic front is, which is trying to move towards a political process that leads to an inclusive representative government. Because, as we’ve often stated, our strong belief – as is, frankly, Russia’s and the rest of the international community’s stated belief – that there’s no military solution to what’s happening now in Syria. We need to move towards a political process according to the Geneva communique.

Now, where we differ on this, as you all know, is that we believe ultimately that can’t – the end result of that can’t be with Assad still in power. We disagree with the Russian Government on that, but we’re talking about it and we’re trying to come to a solution on that. Because really that’s – we talked a lot about this, the Secretary did last week, about there’s an opportunity here, people are seized with this issue, people see that this fighting has gone on long enough. Certainly, we have areas of agreement with Russia. We recognize the threat that ISIL poses for the region. We recognize the need for a secular, unified Syria moving forward. We recognize the need for a political process. We disagree on the end result of that or what that looks like at the end result.

But – sorry, just to answer your question, I just don’t have any specific details on the contacts with the FSA, as you said. But go ahead.

QUESTION: But more specifically --


QUESTION: -- FSA leader told us from the Euphrates Volcano that they would welcome Russian assistance, Russian weaponry. They’re a combination of YPG fighters and Free Syrian Army fighters. Have you heard --

MR TONER: I haven’t heard those comments. Again, we’ve been very clear about the fact that if Russia’s serious about taking the fight to ISIL, we would view that as a constructive role. I can’t speak to any specific actions they might take in terms of supply and equipping. Certainly, we’ve been trying to do that for some months now, continue to do that as well.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Move to Iraq for a second. Yesterday, the Iraqi Government decided to open a green zone, the international zone, where the embassy is. Are you – do you have any security concerns that – now it is open for the first time in 12 years?

MR TONER: Well, as you noted, we are – we have been aware for some time that the Government of Iraq intended to ease, I think is how we put it – not lift entirely – restrictions for public traffic transiting the international zone, the so-called Green Zone, in Baghdad. Clearly, we work closely with the Government of Iraq on security issues, and they’ve kept us up to date on their plans regarding the international zone and easing the restrictions there. We have repeatedly voiced our concerns over the easing of these restrictions. We’re obviously monitoring the security conditions very closely as this easing takes places, these actions take place, and are going to continue to adjust our security posture as needed.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Can I – the Kunduz strike real quickly?

MR TONER: Sure thing, yeah.

QUESTION: The Syrian --

MR TONER: Oh, let’s stay on Syria, then we’ll – I promise I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Sure, sure.


QUESTION: You said you support YPG. I mean, they have a separatist idea for Syria. Are you not concerned about this?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve been through this multiple times. We delineate between the YPG and the PKK that we view as a foreign terrorist organization; we designate it as such. The YPG has effectively waged war on ISIL. We’ve seen nothing to date that suggests that they’re looking to gain or hold territory. Obviously, we’re in consultation with them, as well as other groups on the ground in northern Syria, as they conduct operations against ISIL.

Please go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: But the coalition said – the National Coalition of Syria said that they are kicking Arab out of their – the area they dominated. I mean, they protested that to you.

MR TONER: I’ve not seen those comments, sir. I would have to see them, look at them, read them. What we have always urged – sorry – urged on the ground is that as areas of northern Syria are liberated by these forces, that we see stability return, that we see an inclusive government in place – and by “inclusive” I mean all ethnicities and all religions.


QUESTION: Same topic?

MR TONER: Okay. Let’s stay on Syria, and then I promise I’ll get back to Kunduz.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One is that – just to follow up on the YPG question, are you aware of the – many of the PKK militants joining the YPG? If you are, do you think this kind of makes more blurry about the separation between the YPG and PKK?

MR TONER: Sure. I’m – sorry, just to make sure I – am I aware of elements of the PKK joining with the YPG?


MR TONER: I’m not, so it’s hard for me to answer that question. We’ve always seen a clear separation between the two – excuse me. It’s unclear whether these individuals, if that were to happen – whether they renounced their affiliation. I just don’t know. I don’t have enough information about it. We obviously view, as I just said, the PKK as a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Let’s let him finish, and then I’ll --

QUESTION: In light of today’s Russian incursion into Syrian airspace --


MR TONER: In Turkish airspace.

QUESTION: Russian incursion into Turkish, yes. Do you think the ISIL-free zone in the – in north of Syria by the Turkey border – now the plans to create that territory is more – or harder than before?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, as Matt and I just touched on or I touched on with Matt, is this incursion into Turkish airspace has demonstrated the importance of consultation and restraint in shaping an international response. Frankly, we view this incursion as reckless, and it’s dangerous, provocative, and it can cause accidents and miscalculation and risks the safety of airmen and airwomen in Turkey and elsewhere. So we would have serious concerns about that.

As to the creation of – sorry – a zone or a no-fly zone or whatever we call it, we’ve been pretty clear about the fact that we don’t think it’s necessary and we don’t think it’s feasible on the ground. It involves a lot of logistical support that we don’t have in place right now to maintain such a venture.

QUESTION: But you agreed with Turkey to remove ISIL elements from that area by the Turkish border. Is that still the understanding?

MR TONER: Well, of course. That absolutely has not changed at all. I mean, we are in close consultations with Turkey. We just differ on the need for a no-fly zone. And as I said, they entail a set of logistical questions – how to enforce it, what it needs in terms of equipment, support, et cetera. DOD would be much more able to answer some of those details and what it involves, but we just don’t support it. That said, we have been very clear about the need to work with Turkey on securing its border. That’s absolutely one of our priorities.

Please, sir, yeah.

QUESTION: Mark, sorry, I wasn’t going to – but again, something you said --


QUESTION: -- makes this question occur to me, which is the fact that you say that the incursion illustrates the need or underscores the need for there to be some conversation between Russia and others who are active in that area.

MR TONER: Correct, operating in that airspace, yeah.

QUESTION: Does that mean – can you – does that mean the Administration would be willing to reopen the NATO-Russia dialogue that was suspended because of Crimea and the situation in Ukraine with those issues – i.e. Ukraine and Crimea – still being unresolved?

MR TONER: No, what I think we’re – sorry. What I think we’re talking about here in this case is what we’ve talked about all the time when we’ve been talking – when we’ve been speaking of de-conflicting. This is really --

QUESTION: So it’s just the de-confliction?

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s at a very tactical level, not this high-level – more high-level military talks.

Oh, I’m sorry. Kunduz, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, if I may.

MR TONER: Yeah, no worries. Sorry.

QUESTION: The – so MSF is calling for an independent investigation of this incident by a neutral international body. Is that something the Administration would support?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve got three investigations underway. Certainly, we’ve got our own DOD-led investigation. We obviously strongly believe that can be a very transparent and accountable investigation. Let’s let these three investigations run their course and see what the results are.

I would say – and I know the White House spoke about this earlier – we have reached out to some of the leadership in Medecins Sans Frontieres to express our condolences over this tragic incident. But as to whether there needs to be an independent fourth investigation, we’re satisfied, I think, at this point that enough investigations are underway that we’ll get to the truth.

QUESTION: You don’t think that with the U.S., which is – which has an interest in how this investigation proceeds and what the outcome is, and being involved in all three investigations somehow affects the legitimacy of it?

MR TONER: I mean, frankly, I think we’ve proven over time that we can investigate incidents like these – like this, and as I said, hold anyone accountable who needs to be held accountable, and do it in such a way that’s transparent and, I think, credible.

QUESTION: Just along those lines --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- MSF has said that this is a clear presumption of a war crime that’s been committed here. Some have suggested that the ICC take it up. Is it a safe bet that the U.S. would vote against/veto any attempt in the Security Council to bring this incident for – up for an ICC investigation?

MR TONER: I don’t want to answer a hypothetical. On the war crime question itself, we’re just not there yet, and I don’t want to prejudge any outcome of any investigation.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: What do you mean, “We’re just not there yet”?

MR TONER: I mean we’re conducting investigations, we’re looking at this very closely, and we’re going to, as multiple folks have said including the President over the weekend – that we’re going to hold those accountable and it’s going to be a credible investigation.

QUESTION: Does that mean --

QUESTION: So it’s conceivable to you that this could have been a war crime?

MR TONER: I said we’re not – we’re letting the investigations run their course.

QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether or not you --

MR TONER: I’m not going to – I’m not even – yeah, please, Matt.

QUESTION: No, but I want to --

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Is it not – I mean, it’s always been assumed, I think – and I just want to know if this assumption is still safe – that the U.S. would oppose an attempt to refer an incident involving U.S. troops to the International Criminal Court.

MR TONER: That’s --

QUESTION: I mean, as it’s – as it was being formed, you guys ran around signing these Article 98 --

MR TONER: That’s a perfectly sound assumption.


MR TONER: I just didn’t want to --

QUESTION: So – right. So regardless or not whether it was or whether it might be a war crime, you would oppose an ICC investigation?

MR TONER: I think that’s a safe bet, yes.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Turkey. Mark, have you seen the pictures and the reports on the Turkish police that were dragging the body of a Kurdish man in one of the Kurdish cities? The Turkish police vehicle was dragging the body of one of the men. It has been circulated in the social media.

MR TONER: No, I apologize. I’ve not seen – I apologize. I’ve not seen those pictures or photos.

QUESTION: But do you have any updates on the conflict and the militarization of some of the Kurdish cities in Turkey, or you are not paying attention to what’s going on there?

MR TONER: I don’t – I wouldn’t say we’re not paying attention. I’m certainly --

QUESTION: It’s all over.

MR TONER: I’ve been in New York the last week, have been focused on other things. I personally am not aware of this. I am sure our folks in the Bureau of European Affairs are very much aware of this, and if we have any response I’ll get that for you. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.


MR TONER: Go ahead, sir, and then you.

QUESTION: It’s a different topic.

MR TONER: Oh. Do you want to just do a quick Turkey, and then I’ll come back to you?


MR TONER: Please, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mark, since you have briefing here last time for about 10 days ago, there is a – one of the most well-known journalists in Turkey got beaten up in front of his house in Turkey, and many human rights organizations are protesting. So far Mr. President Erdogan has not condemned the incident. Today, there is another major newspaper’s head resigned in Turkey, citing some of the pressure on the newspaper. I was wondering if you have anything more on the press freedom issues in Turkey.

MR TONER: Sure. You’re talking, I think, about the attack on Ahmet Hakan.


MR TONER: Yeah, Turkish journalist. We’re obviously deeply disturbed by this brutal attack. We urge Turkish authorities to investigate thoroughly and to prosecute the perpetrators in accordance with Turkish law. And more broadly, we call on Turkey to respect the media freedoms and the due process protections that are enshrined in the Turkish constitution as well as in its OSCE commitments.

QUESTION: That’s pretty much what the embassy said at the time of the attack, is it not? Or did – does what you just said go --

MR TONER: The – our embassy?

QUESTION: Yes, your embassy.

MR TONER: I hope it’s – I hope it is. I hope we’re consistent.

QUESTION: Well, they put out some kind of a comment.


QUESTION: I just wanted to know – you’re not aware of that – what you just said – is changed?

MR TONER: I don’t think so. I think our – no, I think our reactions are the same.

QUESTION: The president and prime minister condemned attack. How do you see these comments?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. The --

QUESTION: Turkish president and prime minister condemned the attack.

MR TONER: They condemned the attack.

QUESTION: Yeah, they condemned it.

MR TONER: I mean, we obviously condemn it as well. We are – as I said, we’re deeply disturbed by any attack on any journalist around the world, Turkey or elsewhere.


QUESTION: Yeah. So this morning there was, as you know, an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Obviously, USTR has the lead --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But do you have anything to tell us about what Secretary Kerry or others in the building will be doing going forward to get it through the domestic review process?

MR TONER: Well, obviously, this is something the Secretary has enthusiastically supported and worked very hard to see realized. You saw the statement that he --

QUESTION: He was tweeting about it earlier.

MR TONER: Yes, he was indeed. And so – and fitting that he’s in Chile when this announcement came. Obviously, USTR has the lead on this, but we’re in a stage now once the – once we get the text and can make it public, that we’re going to make the case to Congress to review and consider the document and to support this document. We’ve said multiple times, many times, that this is really a breakthrough agreement. It’s going to make standards across the board in terms of trade, global trade. It’s going to set a new standard, rather, and also take up many next-generation issues.

So no specific timeline. We’re going to work effectively – the Secretary is going to work effectively to make the case to Congress now to pass it.

QUESTION: Does it give you pause, though, that many people in Congress have already issued statements, including prominent Republicans who supported TPA, that they’re – that they have reservations about the agreement?

MR TONER: Well, as we saw with the JCPOA, that’s no reason to – not to keep pushing and to meet the challenge head on. We strongly believe this is the right agreement going forward, and we’re going to make that case.

Is that it? Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

DPB # 163

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 24, 2015

Thu, 09/24/2015 - 17:20

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 24, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:16 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay, I got a couple things at the top and then we’ll get right after it. You may have seen my statement a little bit earlier, but I want to take this opportunity to again express our condolences for all those touched by the tragedy that took place in Mina, Saudi Arabia today during the Holy Hajj Pilgrimage, resulting in the death of, looks like, more than 700 people. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased and the injured as well as to the people of Saudi Arabia and other countries whose citizens died or were wounded. At this time, during the blessed holiday of Eid al-Adha, the United States stands in support of Muslims around the world in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

To news coming out of Egypt yesterday, we welcome the pardons in Egypt, including for Sana Seif, Yara Sallam, Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohammed, as well as others. These pardons are a positive step for the freedoms of press and expression, which, as we have long maintained, are essential for a stable, prosperous, and democratic Egypt.

I also want to note that tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the suspension of exit permits for children adopted by foreign nationals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the DRC. Several hundred U.S. families have been affected by this exit permit ban. The welfare of children is among the department’s top priorities. The DRC initially imposed the exit permit ban because of concerns with its own adoption process. We have repeatedly offered to work with DRC officials to address concerns with this process. It is time to allow these children who have legally completed adoptions under Congolese law to immediately join their families in the United States. They are living now in institutional conditions which potentially causes irreparable harm for them and their well-being.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I’ll pass.


QUESTION: What happens if the DRC doesn’t lift its exit ban on the visas? What remedies can the U.S. Government impose against the DRC because of this interference in the adoption process?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get into speculating on what next steps may be, Ros. We’re going to continue to actively encourage and to engage the DRC to lift the suspension so that these children can join their families. And I think that’s the big thing we got to keep in mind. I mean, these kids, many of them, as I have come to understand it today, are between the ages of one and three; they’re toddlers. And they’re living in institutions, institutions which may not be providing the kind of nurturing and love and attention that they deserve, certainly since they now have legally adoptive families waiting for them. And so we’re going to continue to engage and encourage the DRC to do the right thing here and let these children go home – go home to the families that they belong to.

QUESTION: Do you know whether Congolese officials are allowing these adoptive families to have any contact with the children at all? Are they allowed to go to the DRC to at least see them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what kind of contact there is. I’d have to check on that. I’m not sure. But again, I don’t want to water down our essential call here, which is for them to be allowed to leave the country and to go home with the families who have legally adopted them.

Yes, Said.



QUESTION: Okay. The Secretary the other day said that he’s confident that the mission – the Russian mission in Syria is really to fight ISIS. How did he conclude that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe he said that, Said. He didn’t say that he’s confident that they’re --

QUESTION: Well, he said that the mission – he understands that the mission – the Russian mission is to fight ISIS in Syria.

MR KIRBY: No, he didn’t say that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, then correct me.

MR KIRBY: He said he – obviously, this is what the Russians are saying their intent is. What he said was that if that’s their intent, if their sole purpose is to fight ISIL, well, that’s one thing, and that’s a conversation that we’d be willing to have in terms of how they could perform a constructive role. But he also said that if the function is as it appears to be, to prop up the Assad regime, well, that’s a whole different matter altogether, and we’ve talked about that.

QUESTION: So how will that impact whatever arrangements you might have with the Russians in Syria, if they are there only to prop up the regime?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t have an arrangement with the Russians in Syria. They are not a member of the coalition, they are not conducting operations against ISIL, and there’s no arrangement. I mean, this is a – they have had – hang on a second, guys. I see the hands going up. Just let me get through this.

So they have had a long security relationship with Syria. He noted that. And what we’re seeing – so that’s not new. What’s new is the expansion of it and what appears to be an effort to continue to prop up the Assad regime, which we believe is completely at odds with actually trying to go after the extremist threat, particularly against ISIL, inside Syria.

QUESTION: So how is the de-conflicting – whatever de-conflicting protocol that you might have in place, how does that work out on this situation?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve said we’re open to having what we describe as tactical, practical discussions on de-confliction with the Russians. And as I think you saw last week, the Secretary of Defense called his counterpart. I’d refer you to DOD to speak to any follow-on conversations that may or may not have happened. This is much more in the military lane than it is in our lane here at the State Department. But we are – but the Secretary continues to support having those discussions for de-confliction purposes.


QUESTION: But you make a distinction between attacking ISIL and defending the Assad regime. Would attacking Jabhat al-Nusrah, an extremist group part of al-Qaida and recognized as such by the United States – would that be a problem for you?

MR KIRBY: If – you’re asking if Russia were --

QUESTION: I mean, you’ve said you’re prepared to have talks with them about attacking ISIL. What about attacking Jabhat al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to get into hypothetical conversations that we could have with the Russians going forward. What we’ve said is if – that we would welcome a constructive role against ISIL, which is how they --

QUESTION: But that’s hypothetical.

MR KIRBY: -- which is while they have couched what they’re doing. And if that’s the role they want to play – ISIL – we’re – we would welcome a constructive role by them in that regard. But I’m not going to get into hypothesizing what if they were to strike al-Nusrah. Obviously --

QUESTION: But sometimes you use the language “ISIL and the extremist threat.” I just want to know whether when you say “the extremist threat” that goes beyond ISIL.

MR KIRBY: All I can speak for is the coalition that we’re a member of, and that coalition is designed principally to go after ISIL. Now, there have been – as you probably remember, there’s been some activity against al-Nusrah in Syria but that is separate and distinct from the counter-ISIL campaign because there were – there was reliable information that there were attacks being plotted against Western targets, and we’ve been nothing but clear about the fact that we’re going to go after terrorist networks wherever they are and whatever plotting they’re doing. So that’s separate and distinct from the counter-ISIL campaign.

Yeah, James.

QUESTION: Is the constellation of assets that we have observed the Russian Federation moving into place in Syria consistent with a Russian mission to combat ISIS?

MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. One, obviously, that’s a question probably better put to Moscow, but let me just put it this way. I mean, we continue to see a flow of military equipment and personnel, housing prefabricated, fighter and attack aircraft, helicopters, anti-aircraft missile systems, tanks, armored personnel carriers, support equipment for airfield operations. All of this has been out there and we’ve been seeing this continue to flow in.

Some of that I think you could reasonably argue could be effective against terrorists. Some of that is a little less clear. So I think we continue to have legitimate concerns and questions about Russia’s overall intent here. It – not everything that we’re seeing them bring in would one – would lead one to believe that it is solely designed to go after terrorist networks.

QUESTION: What do you have in mind?

MR KIRBY: Well, last time I looked ISIL is not flying any aircraft. So the fact that you have fighter aircraft, air-to-air capabilities, brings up a legitimate question. Because they don’t have aircraft, the need to have surface-to-air missile capability is a little bit quizzical. So I mean, there’s – I think there are legitimate questions that we continue to have about the kinds of capabilities we see flowing in there. And we’re going to – as I’m sure won’t surprise you, Secretary Kerry will continue to have the conversations he needs to have on the diplomatic side to try to get better clarity and better understanding.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: John, the Pentagon insists that the talks with – on – the mil-to-mil talks and the diplomatic talks have to go together. Is that how you see it?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those comments. What do you mean by “together”?

QUESTION: Yeah, so that when you have the mil-to-mil talks – I mean, I can show you the quote if you --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not – I’m not --

QUESTION: But is that how you see it, or how do you see the diplomatic track working with the military track, or is it completely separate?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think anything with respect to what’s going on in Syria can we – can you view that in a vacuum. The Secretary has a very close working relationship with Secretary Carter, obviously, and DOD and the State Department routinely work together in this coalition effort against ISIL and routinely converse and communicate when it comes to what’s going on in Syria. So nobody’s looking at this sort of in isolation. The Secretary will continue to have conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov and I fully expect that you’ll see him sitting down with the foreign minister while we’re up in New York this coming week on this issue – no doubt in my mind about that.

But what we’ve also said is for purposes of de-confliction, we would support – the Secretary would support – tactical, practical-level discussions about de-confliction, which are probably best done by members of the military or in the Defense Department because we’re talking about a limited discussion here of de-confliction. So when you get to that level – tactical – like we said, tactical discussions about de-confliction, that’s obviously – those kinds of things are better done by the military. But it doesn’t mean that the Secretary is simply going to cede all concern or interest in this from a diplomatic level. He’s going to continue to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov. He’s going to continue to coordinate with Secretary Carter. I mean, it’s all of one thing.

QUESTION: The way Pentagon officials characterized the two tracks of communication yesterday was that basically they would do it with the assent, as it were, of the State Department, that they weren’t going to take the lead, that they would be taking this building’s lead, taking the policy-makers’ direction before having that kind of practical discussion. Is that a fair way of actually describing how these two tracks of communication are being carried out?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously – obviously, Secretary Kerry supports these discussions for de-confliction purposes.

QUESTION: But they made it sound as if they would not have these discussions without basically clearing it with State first.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d rather not get into --

QUESTION: I’m oversimplifying it, but that was – basically, they weren’t going to act without your blessing.

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s no blessing to give. I mean, it is – it’s a position of the U.S. Government, not just of Secretary Kerry, that having these tactical discussions for de-confliction purposes is a good thing. So there’s no blessing to give here. And without getting into the details of how interagency discussions or decisions are made, I can assure you that this is a – this idea of having these de-confliction discussions is something supported by the entire interagency – obviously by Secretary Kerry as well.

QUESTION: So are the de-confliction discussions not immediately more urgent given the situation on the ground? I mean, fine; as the Secretary works out – as the official said just before you that he wants to advance these talks, is the military situation just a little bit more pressing right now?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d put that, Lesley, is the entire situation in Syria is pressing right now. It is obviously made more complicated by the additional presence of these military capabilities by Russia. There’s no doubt about it. But I don’t know that I would characterize it in a – to say that, well, military de-confliction has to take a priority. It is a priority, but so too is – and we have to remember this is the larger issue inside Syria, the overall conflict, which the Secretary continues to believe is best solved with a political transition. And that’s what he’s going to be spending a lot of time on this week up in New York.

So it’s not either/or. It’s of – it’s all of a part of the larger issue. So yes, the addition of these capabilities, the continued flow of them into Syria certainly bring that issue into relief for us and make it all the more important that de-confliction discussions happen. But I wouldn’t characterize that as more pressing specifically than the tragedy that continues to unfold inside Syria.



QUESTION: Today, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that in order to deal with the crisis in Syria they’re going to have to talk to many actors, including Assad. And I’m just wondering if the U.S. would be willing to engage with him diplomatically in order to facilitate a transition. I know you’ve said he’s got to go, maybe not necessarily on day one. Are you willing to speak with him, engage with him in order to make that happen?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – let me put it this way: Our position on Assad hasn’t changed. And we’ve been very clear, very consistent – the Secretary was just the other day. He needs to go, he needs to step aside. Nothing has changed about that. And what we want is a political transition away from him and towards a government that is responsive to the Syrian people.

How that process of transition unfolds, we don’t know right now. And in fact, that’s one of the things that the Secretary really wants to explore when he goes to the General Assembly this week. As Assistant Secretary Crocker mentioned, that’s going to be a topic of discussions. What that looks like, who’s talking to whom, and what kind of negotiations are possible or even probable – I couldn’t answer that right now. But I do want to underscore nothing’s changed about our view that he’s lost legitimacy and we need a transition to a government that doesn’t include Bashar al-Assad.


QUESTION: John, two questions on Syria – sorry. Given that the Assad regime’s barrel bombs is one of the primary reasons many Syrians fled and made this huge number of refugees, some experts argue that this expected increased Russian airstrikes will even add more numbers of refugees. Are you worried about these kind of results?

MR KIRBY: Without hypothesizing about Russian military operations, we will always be and have always been concerned about the kind of violence that produces these floods of refugees, which is why the $4.5 billion in financial contributions that were given to this effort are to support refugees that are there still in the region, because we know eventually they’d like to go home and they can’t go home right now. The country’s not secure, not stable. We understand that.

Russia’s not a part of the coalition, so I can’t speak to how they would or wouldn’t conduct operations. That’s for them to speak to. What I can tell you is that as part of our coalition operations inside Syria, which obviously exist in the form of airstrikes only, that we are as precise and as careful as we can be, so that we avoid civilian casualties and any collateral damage, so that we don’t do any more damage to the country of Syria than needs to be done and certainly not as much as ISIL is doing inside the country. But I wouldn’t speculate as to how the Russians – should they begin kinetic operations against ISIL, how they would conduct them.

QUESTION: Turkish president today stated – on the way back from Moscow, meeting after President Putin – that Assad can be part of the transition, which is very new approach of the – coming from Turkey. Is it something you see in line with the U.S. position?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’d answer it the same way I just did. I mean, we want to see a political transition to a government that doesn’t include Bashar al-Assad. How we get there, what that looks like, whether he goes on day one or, as the Secretary said, month one, we don’t know. And that’s why these – that’s why moving forward with these discussions, particularly next week in New York City, is so important.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up. How do you explain the Russian role to impact the balance of forces on the ground? I mean, how do you see, let’s say, two weeks from now or a month from now, how is it likely to, let’s say, either diminish the ISIS or this – or the other groups and so on and prop up Assad? I mean, is it going to shift, hydraulic effect kind of a thing?

MR KIRBY: Difficult to know because two weeks from now who knows how much more they will have flown in. More critically, Said, it’s not just what you have on the ground, it’s what you’re doing with it. And so it’s impossible for me to predict what it’s going to look like two weeks from now.

Footprint is one thing, whether it’s a light footprint or a heavy footprint in the military – in military lexicon. But more critical than footprint is what you’re doing, exactly what kind of operations you’re conducting. And again, we have legitimate questions and concerns about the capabilities that they have added to their presence there in Syria, and we’re going to continue to press those concerns.


QUESTION: Two questions. Thanks. Is it still the governing belief of the Secretary and his team, as he said here at the State Department earlier this week, that the assets configured by the Russian Federation in Syria today are consistent with a mission of force protection?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary was referring to an early assessment of capabilities as they float in, and certainly that – those assertions were made by the Russians themselves. I think the way I would put it to you, James, is we continue to see capabilities flow in and they add to our concerns and our questions about intent.

QUESTION: Did this fairly sizable commitment and movement of resources and assets by the Russians Federation into Syria take the United States Government by surprise?

MR KIRBY: Well, two things. We’ve – they have a long relationship with Syria, a security and a military presence. So not a surprise to us that they have continued to reinforce themselves there. I mean, we’ve talked about this for the last couple of years even in my previous job about reinforcements and resupply and that kind of thing that they’ve been doing for their military assets there.

And we don’t – the second thought – the second point is you know we don’t talk about intelligence issues here from the podium, and sort of what we know and how we know it. But I could tell you that we’ve been watching this very, very closely, monitoring it very closely, and we have not been ignorant of what the Russians have been doing.

QUESTION: I’ll take a different stab at it simply so that you’re spared any pressure from this side of the podium to try to talk about intelligence matters from that side of the podium.

MR KIRBY: I greatly appreciate it.

QUESTION: But – although I also welcome you to do so. There are certain kinds of events which, on their face, indicate themselves as intelligence failures – the attacks of September 11 would be one such obvious instance, and we can work backwards from there. Was this an intelligence failure on the part of the United States Government with respect to failing to anticipate this rather sizable build up in Syria by the Russian Federation?

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t describe it that way at all. Look, it’s not like they picked up the phone and said, “Hey, we’re doing to do this.” So there was no advance notification, if that’s what you’re asking. And I don’t think there was any expectation that there would have been that kind of thing.

QUESTION: That’s why we have intelligence services.

MR KIRBY: But I can tell you that we’d been – all I can say is we’ve been monitoring the situation very closely, not ignorant of what has been added to the presence and how it has been added to the presence. So --

QUESTION: So this was not an intelligence failure?

MR KIRBY: I would not describe it that way, no. What does remain – remains unclear, is the overall intent, and I think we still have legitimate questions about that.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Is the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Sunday coming ahead of the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin during UNGA?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to refer you to the White House for meetings that the President is having. You’re going to get, if you haven’t gotten it already --

QUESTION: We have.

QUESTION: Yeah, we have.

MR KIRBY: -- his schedule.


MR KIRBY: So I can’t – won’t speak to the President’s schedule. You’ve got the Secretary’s, so you know what he’s doing and when he’s doing it.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask the more precise question: Is the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov intended to lay the groundwork for the discussion between the two presidents?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov is just another in a continuation of the kind of dialogue and communication that they have, and I suspect they’ll talk about a lot of issues, and foremost among them will be what’s going on in Syria. But I’m not – again, I’m not going to preview what the President may or may not be doing and when he’s doing it.

QUESTION: What would it take to – for the U.S. to feel comfortable that it knows exactly what it is the Russians are doing with their military inside Syria? What proof is the U.S. looking for?

MR KIRBY: It’s not like we’re laying out a laundry list of proof that we’re looking for, Ros. I mean, we see what they’re doing, you guys see what they’re doing. I mean, you don’t have to look any further than the web to see the imagery that’s out there.

QUESTION: Right, but the question of intent hasn’t been answered. So how would the U.S. feel comfortable knowing that that’s been answered?

MR KIRBY: That’s why the Secretary is going to continue to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov and we’re going to continue to try to have those conversations, to get at those answers. I also think, and the Secretary said this, actions speak louder than words. And so he’s not taking at face value the words either. And as I answered to James, when you look at some of the capabilities that’s going in there, it doesn’t exactly meet or match the words. And so what we’re going to be looking at and trying to do is close that gap as much as possible.


QUESTION: Just – you said first and foremost they’re going to be talking about Syria. So where on the list of agenda topics does Ukraine/Crimea fit?

MR KIRBY: Very high. Very high. I mean --

QUESTION: Above --

MR KIRBY: Matt, I’m not going to prioritize them.

QUESTION: Well, just --

MR KIRBY: But obviously, Syria is a – is very much on the Secretary’s mind, as is Ukraine. And there’s – in fact, I don’t know of a conversation that he’s had with Foreign Minister Lavrov where they don’t address what’s going on in Ukraine. It will absolutely be on the agenda and it’ll be high up there.


QUESTION: John, back to Merkel’s comments really quick. The U.S. position is obviously pretty – you stated it pretty clearly. Local media called it an about-face. Are you concerned about a shift in attitude or policy among the leaders in Europe or – including Germany?

MR KIRBY: About-face on what?

QUESTION: On talking to Assad. I’m sorry. The Merkel’s comments about talking to Assad.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry. I missed that part.

QUESTION: Some onlookers called it an about-face for Germany to consider this now. And are you worried that you’re --

MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly won’t speak for another foreign leader in what they would assert or say. That’s not my place. The way I think I’d put this to you is we were just in Germany over the weekend, where he had very – a very productive discussion with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Steinmeier. And that’s where he met with the refugees, obviously. And then we preceded that with a stop in London, where he met with the foreign secretary – Foreign Secretary Hammond. Obviously, Syria was a major topic of discussion, and I think it’s safe to say the Secretary came away from those two meetings in particular with a strong sense of unity by our European allies and partners about the need for a political transition in Syria to a government that is responsive to the Syrian people and does not include Bashar al-Assad. So just based on what happened last weekend and the discussions he had, I can tell you he’s very comfortable that our European allies and our friends there share the same ultimate goal here.

So no – the short answer is no. I know this is a long answer, but the short answer to it is --

QUESTION: Were you surprised by her comments today that – Chancellor Merkel – that she wants to talk to Assad, or she thinks it’s a good idea?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to characterize what a foreign leader said. I mean, I can just tell you that we’re comfortable – confident, even – that our European allies and partners share the same ultimate goal here in terms of what needs to happen inside Syria.


QUESTION: But I thought you didn’t know what happens. You’ve been saying over and over again there’s got to be a transition, but you don’t know how that’s going to go.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So if you don’t know how it’s going to go, how can you agree with your friends about it? All of you --

MR KIRBY: I said we are comfortable and confident that they share the ultimate – the same ultimate goal in Syria. What that transition looks like --


MR KIRBY: -- is still a matter of discussion. I’ve said that repeatedly.

QUESTION: So the – a bunch of top European foreign ministers are getting together, I believe in Paris this afternoon or later today, to try and plot some kind of strategy forward. Is this – presumably, you would welcome this and the Europeans would come up with some idea that they could present to you. Is that correct? Are you aware of this meeting that’s going on?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I’m aware of the meeting, and certainly, we welcome discussions amongst our European allies.

QUESTION: And do you expect that they will be bringing to New York with them some kind of a strategy?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let them speak for whatever outcome that they’re driving for in this meeting. But obviously, again, coming off the last weekend, the Secretary is comfortable that our allies and partners share the same ultimate goal in Syria.

QUESTION: Which is a new --

MR KIRBY: Which is a political solution driven by a transition to a government that’s responsive to the Syrian people.

QUESTION: That doesn’t have Assad in it?

MR KIRBY: That --

QUESTION: That part of it, the no-Assad part, is still your understanding of where your European allies are?

MR KIRBY: Yes, yes. Now again, how that transition is executed and implemented, Matt, that’s all the kinds of – that’s – I think that’s really the grist, and that’s what they want to talk about.

QUESTION: I guess the reason why there’s so many questions about this is that that has been your ultimate goal for almost five years now, and it strikes many as a bit unusual that you haven’t had a strategy for five years to get to the goal.

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: Or that the strategy that was adopted initially didn’t work.

MR KIRBY: That it’s been a goal for a long time doesn’t mean it’s not still a worthy goal. That it’s been a goal for a long time and hard to reach I think speaks to the complicated nature of the conflict in Syria and the pragmatic sense that we have here of how difficult this is. Just because – we talk about strategy as if it’s – sometimes we talk about it as if it’s like playing a game of chess, and a game of chess can be over in 10 minutes or it can be over in 10 hours. And it’s hard stuff. It’s hard stuff to do. And it’s really hard to do in a place like Syria, and it’s really hard to do in a place like Syria when you have such an international – an interest internationally by so many other nations.

So I take the point that it hasn’t been easily arrived at, but I know of very few strategies in the real sense of what the word “strategy” means that are quickly won and easily won.

QUESTION: You say that Mr. Hammond and Steinmeier are still on the same page. Was the purpose of the visit to make sure they’re still on the same page? Was there some concern that they were shifting?

MR KIRBY: No. No, no, no. We went to Germany predominantly to address the refugee issue. And as you know, the Secretary, while he was there, announced new goals for refugee resettlement here in the United States. But he was also very keen to speak to refugees themselves from Syria, so that was obviously the highlight of the stop in Berlin. But you don’t go visit a partner without sitting down and talking to them, as he routinely does with Foreign Minister Steinmeier. So they had a wide-ranging discussion over the course of about an hour, and it wasn’t all just about Syria, but obviously, that was a key topic on the agenda. This wasn’t about reassuring them or us, because he speaks to Foreign Minister Steinmeier quite a bit. This was really predominantly about trying to get at the refugee crisis in particular.


QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. Can we?

QUESTION: Can I just --

QUESTION: One last question on Syria?


QUESTION: Just to follow --

MR KIRBY: Sorry. You asked, though. You did ask. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: To follow up Matt’s question, over the last four years you stated that the situation in Syria is complicated. Do you think that U.S. policy on Syria made it many times even more complicated, whether it’s different approaches, change in policies, or some of the shortcomings in your policies?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I don’t accept that premise at all. I mean, it is a very difficult situation. What’s making it – what makes Syria difficult is Bashar al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad has created the conditions where refugees are fleeing his country by the millions. He’s created the conditions for a group like ISIL to fester and to grow inside his own territory – and other extremist groups, for that matter. He’s the one wrecking his country. And when you have a country that is in the dire straits that Syria is because of him, it automatically makes for a complex policy approach and one that cannot be pursued lightly or in a cavalier fashion. And we haven’t.

Everybody recognizes that the situation in Syria remains dire. Everybody is focused, certainly here in the United States in the U.S. Government is focused on trying to get to this political transition. And everybody realizes that that’s going to be tough to do, because it’s not just the United States who has interests in seeing a stable, secure, whole, pluralistic Syria. Syria’s neighbors want to see that, and even, frankly, the Russians, who have said that they want to see that. Now, it’s how you get at that. It’s how you go about producing that outcome. As I said to Matt, we’re comfortable that our allies and partners and even those who aren’t our allies and partners – many of them have that shared same goal. But how do you get there? And recognizing that it – it is going to take a multilateral approach to get there.

Frankly, that’s one of the reasons why the Secretary in Doha met with both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir from Saudi Arabia in Doha, to have sort of a trilateral approach at this. I mean, he recognizes the difficulty here. But what’s made it complicated is not U.S. policy. What’s made it complicated – and hard – and dangerous – is Bashar al-Assad.

QUESTION: I’ve got one follow-up on that.


QUESTION: You just told us that it was Bashar al-Assad who created the conditions that have enabled an organization like ISIS to occupy the space that it now does. And by making that assertion, it seems to me you have placed yourself at odds with President Obama, who has suggested that ISIS’s current prominence is a byproduct of the Iraq War. And so I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify what you’re saying – (laughter) – and whether you believe it is Bashar al-Assad that has nurtured the growth of ISIS, or whether it was George Bush and Dick Cheney.

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said that ISIL’s growth is a function – at least in Syria; and I’ve said this many, many times; Secretary Kerry’s said this many times – is a function of the conditions that Bashar al-Assad has established inside his country. And I’m not going to get into a political debate about the war in Iraq and what led to this.

What I have said before – and I think you challenged me in my prior job on this, but – is that one thing that did not help the situation in Iraq was the degree to which Prime Minister Maliki let his military go – not properly resourced, not properly led. And so when ISIL stormed across that border into Mosul, the door was partially open because Iraq had not invested in the capabilities that they were left with in 2011 when we walked – when we left Iraq. We left an Iraqi Security Force that was competent and capable to the threat at the time.

Now, the threat changed. ISIL is not al-Qaida in Iraq. They are a different animal. And as we noted over a year ago, they behaved almost like a quasi – in a quasi-military fashion. But so, too, did the Iraqi Security Forces change in their capabilities and competence.


QUESTION: Yeah. On North --

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I’m getting the hook here.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. On North Korea, special envoy for the North Korea nuclear policy, Ambassador Sung Kim, said that the United States willing to talk to the North Korea in anywhere and anytime. Is there any preconditions for the direct talk with North Korea or Six-Party Talk --

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed, Janne, about our view here. The onus is on North Korea to return to the Six-Party process, and they haven’t done that.

QUESTION: Real quick follow-up on that? And that is actually what I came to talk about, believe it or not, today. Whatever became of the pivot to Asia? Is that still happening, the pivot? Is the pivot complete?

MR KIRBY: We don’t call it “the pivot.” We call it “the rebalance.” And the rebalance to the Asia Pacific region is very much alive and it exists on many levels. And I think you’re going to see that reflected in the discussions with President Xi here tomorrow. The military continues to add resources and capabilities and deepen partnerships in the Asia Pacific region. There are economic – we had the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the Chinese here a month or so ago, and a wide-ranging discussion on economic progress that can be made in that bilateral relationship. The Secretary was out in the Asia Pacific just recently, meeting in Kuala Lumpur with ASEAN nations, very productive discussions. So absolutely we are committed to this rebalance to the Asia Pacific.

QUESTION: You can understand that – just in this briefing alone it’s been dominated by discussion of Syria and ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and so you could understand, perhaps, how Americans looking at our government and where its focus seems to be would not identify that as Asia – that we are still primarily focused on the Middle East.

MR KIRBY: I was just answering the questions you guys threw at me. You guys are the ones who wanted to talk about Syria.

QUESTION: That’s a function of current events, though.

MR KIRBY: Well – look, I mean, I recognize that Syria is a newsworthy item, and I fully expected when I got up here today to be talking about Syria. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t eager to also talk about the rebalance. But the daily --

QUESTION: India is in Asia, too.

MR KIRBY: -- the – (laughter) – and we had a meeting this week with the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue with India. Look, my job is to answer your questions, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do today, and the predominance of your interest today has been on Syria. And I think if the American people look at this press briefing today and see that I’m talking a lot about Syria and where we’re trying to go, that’s also a healthy thing, though, James, because the situation in Syria is dire; it is dangerous. But it doesn’t mean that the United States is turning away from our other security commitments elsewhere in the world. And we have significant – five of our seven treaty alliances, five of seven, are in the Pacific region, and we take those alliance commitments very, very seriously.

That’s why this visit of President Xi is so important and why Secretary Kerry, the entire U.S. Government, want – is eager for this and wants to make it successful. This is an important relationship, the one between – bilateral between the U.S. and China, but we have so many other significant relationships and commitments in the Pacific region. Nothing has changed about that at all. One shouldn’t take away the amount of time I’ve devoted to Syria today to indicate any recalcitrance on our part with respect to rebalance. It really has been more about what’s on your minds.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Middle East --

QUESTION: Can we stay with this topic for a minute?


QUESTION: Can we stay with this topic for a minute?


QUESTION: You mentioned President Xi’s visit. This, of course, is coming at a time when the OPM has revealed that the data breach is more extensive than originally thought, at least in terms of the number of fingerprint records that were stolen. China, of course, has been suspected of being behind some of this. How does this revelation complicate U.S. relations with China? And then secondly, where is the U.S. consideration of possible punitive measures, such as sanctions against China, at this point?

MR KIRBY: Well, Pam, I’m – I’ve seen the press reporting on this about additional theft of government employees’ fingerprints. I’m going to have to refer you to OPM for that. That’s not something that I can talk to you here.

Just two other points, though, to try to address your follow-ons: One is cyber security is – and I suspect will remain – top on the list of agenda items that we’re going to continue to talk about with the Chinese, and I have every expectation that it’ll come up in the context of President Xi’s visit. We continue to have serious concerns about Chinese practices in the cyber realm, and that’s not – that’s probably not going to be abated anytime soon. I’m not going to speak to, again, the specifics with respect to the OPM breach. As I understand it, it’s still under investigation.

But the relationship with China is important, and we want to see the peaceful rise of a productive, constructive China. Nothing’s changed about that. Obviously, there’s areas where we don’t agree and we don’t see eye to eye on, and we’re going to continue to be just as forthright and candid about those as we have been. Likewise, there are areas where we already are cooperating with China – on climate change, on maritime security in some aspects, on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. There are plenty of areas where we can cooperate too.

QUESTION: Where does the South China Sea issue play into that? You mentioned maritime security.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’ve been very clear about our position with respect to these claims in the South China Sea. We don’t take a position on claims. We do take a position on any unilateral attempts of changing the status quo. We want to see these claims resolved in accordance with international norms. And we’ve also said that it’s unhelpful, we think, to the security and stability of the region for that status quo to be changed again in an overt manner, whether it’s through reclamation or militarization of reclaimed land.

So again, I think you’re going to – what’s happening in the South China Sea will also be on the topic of agenda items – so it will be on the agenda items for this meeting, as it always is when we talk to our Chinese counterparts.

Listen, guys, I’ve got to go unfortunately, but I appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: And we’ll see you probably in New York City because I don’t think we’re briefing tomorrow. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 22, 2015

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 16:05

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 22, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:10 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Matt, I came in the traditional route. I didn’t want to throw you off today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) None of this walking back from – walking in through the regular entrance. Anyway, welcome everybody to the State Department. Happy Tuesday.

Very quickly, just one thing I wanted to mention at the top and then I’ll move to your questions. I did want to note that today marks the start of the trial of Nadiya Savchenko, who is the Ukrainian solider, and now member of Ukraine’s parliament, who was kidnapped by Russian-backed separatists in June 2014, spirited across the border to Russia against her will, and then charged with murder. The United States remains deeply disturbed by the Russian Federation’s decision to move forward with this baseless case. We believe the only true justice would be to dismiss the charges immediately and return Nadiya Savchenko to her Ukrainian home, which is a commitment that Russia made when it signed the Minsk agreements.

With that, I’ll turn it over to your questions.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. Just very briefly on that --


QUESTION: -- is that really – I didn’t realize the Minsk commitments spoke of people by name.

MR TONER: It’s the release of all Ukrainian hostages it is holding.


MR TONER: So Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Koichenko --

QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong, though. Does Russia regard her as a hostage or a prisoner who’s on trial?

QUESTION: Prisoner of war.

MR TONER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Prisoner of war.

QUESTION: Russia regards her as a prisoner of war? What do --

MR TONER: I’m not sure what the Russians term her as. But I think it’s considered that she’s --

QUESTION: Well, is it your understanding that – is it your understanding that the Russians agree that she is covered under that part of the Minsk agreement?

MR TONER: So we’ve repeatedly called upon it, obviously, to treat her as --

QUESTION: I know you do.

MR TONER: -- treat her humanely and call for her release. I’m not sure what the Russians term her as, but I believe she’s considered as one of these detainees caught up in the conflict.

QUESTION: By them?

MR TONER: By them, yeah.


MR TONER: My understanding.


MR TONER: If that’s wrong, I’ll --

QUESTION: All right. I want to go to something else.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Last week – I believe it was Wednesday the 16th, but it may have been Tuesday or Thursday – but anyway, last week, Al- Hayat reported that General Allen was going to be stepping down. And at the time, officials around town were saying that he has not told anyone that formally or even informally, for that matter – I guess maybe informally, but that he hadn’t informed people. Well, there’s another report today, same thing, saying he’s stepping down. So I’m just wondering, has something changed? Has he now informed people in this building, to whom he directly reports, that he is going to be leaving?

MR TONER: I can say that General Allen remains focused on his duties at the State Department, which is coordinating the coalition efforts against ISIL, and we don’t have any personnel announcements to make regarding his future. He remains at work.

QUESTION: Okay. But the answer to my question – has he told people that he’s going to be leaving?

MR TONER: Again, he’s still in the job; he’s focused on anti-ISIL coalition efforts. I’m just – I mean, you’re asking me to confirm --

QUESTION: It’s a simple yes-or-no question. I don’t think it’s --

MR TONER: And I think it is in the sense that you’re asking me to say what internally may be going on. And I’m not going to speak to that. I’m just going to say that we have no personnel announcements to make.

QUESTION: Well, when does his term end?

MR TONER: Well, he’s – he took the job originally for six months, and he’s been continuing in his efforts. But I don’t know when his exact tenure is over. I think it’s ongoing.

QUESTION: Well, as of the 13th --

MR TONER: I mean, in other words, there’s not a deadline to it, is what – my understanding.

QUESTION: He’s been on the job for one year on the 13th of this month.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: But so --

MR TONER: That’s correct. Yeah. You’re absolutely right.

QUESTION: Okay. So that would be like a year, right?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we move on to something else?

MR TONER: We sure can. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask a couple questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: Tensions are rising. The Israelis, today, killed a woman under the pretext she was wielding a knife, but apparently there was no knife. There was a lot of videos that showed otherwise and so on. They also closed all doors and they closed the West Bank and Gaza completely because of Yom Kippur. Do you have any comments on that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware – you referred to the video; I’m not aware of that, I haven’t seen that report so I can’t really speak to that particular incident. But obviously, we remain, Said, deeply concerned by the ongoing violence and the escalating tensions, as you just said, surrounding – certainly surrounding Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif. We obviously condemn all acts of violence. We want to see tensions reduced. We want to see both sides – all sides, frankly – exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve unchanged the historic status quo.

QUESTION: Does that include – the non-changing of the status quo, does that include the names of the streets? Because the Israelis today gave Hebrew names to all the Arabic names in East Jerusalem. Do you have – are you aware of that or do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of that. I’d have to look into that.

QUESTION: But that would also be included in the non-change, right?

MR TONER: Again, that’s where we’ve stood on this policy-wise. I don’t know about specific name-changing that you mention, so I’d have to look into that.

QUESTION: Okay. I have just a couple more on the Palestinian issue.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: It’s also reported that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, is going to – next Wednesday, when he speaks to the General Assembly, is going to absolve the PA from any commitments to the Oslo Accords or to any kind of security arrangements with Israel. Are you aware of that, or would you advise him against doing such a thing?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of that. Certainly, I don’t want to – not for me to predict what he may or may not say when he speaks at the UN. Overall, we want to see, as I said, both sides show restraint, a calming in tensions, and both sides pursue actions that we, frankly, feel create a climate that can lead back towards some kind of negotiated settlement.

QUESTION: And finally, the Israelis also said that if they – if he does that, if he considers all agreements null and void, then they may not allow him back into Ramallah. Are you aware of that, or would you advise the Israelis against such a step?

MR TONER: Also not aware of that, but we’ll look into all of these. But frankly, Said, speaking generally, our position hasn’t changed on any of this. As I said, we want to see a reduction in tensions. We want to see actions by all sides to – that create the kind of confidence, create the kind of atmosphere where we can see a return to settlement talks.

QUESTION: Can we stay on roughly the same topic?

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on a question that I asked and was answered in a TQ on UNRWA.

MR TONER: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Have you heard back from UNRWA yet? Because there is more allegations today.

MR TONER: I don’t; I’ll look into it, Matt. I’ll take the question. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay. Because I’m curious to know if they have let you know – since you are such a major donor to them – if they have let you know at least what the status of the --

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s --

QUESTION: -- ongoing investigation is, if there is one.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s a legitimate question. I’ll find out.

QUESTION: And then there’s another – and then another one, which is about comments that President Abbas made, apparently a day or so ago, about welcoming blood spilled in Jerusalem. Have you seen those? Do you know anything about that?

MR TONER: No, and again, I would just chalk that up to what I just said, which is those kinds of comments, in general, are not what we feel are conducive to creating the kind of climate we believe is – we want to see for a return to a negotiated settlement.

QUESTION: Okay. And in terms of this specific issue --


QUESTION: -- do you know yet what Secretary Kerry has planned for in terms of meetings next week, if – or is that just not set yet?

MR TONER: Not set yet. I mean, his schedule is still in flux. Certainly, broadly speaking, he’ll talk about the Middle East and obviously seek to have as many meetings as he can on this issue as well as others. But I don’t have anything to confirm at this point. We’ll get into that as we get closer to the weekend.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry just – when he made his remarks after --


QUESTION: -- the Indian summit said that his understanding is that the Russian forces at Latakia, the new aircraft there appear to be postured for force protection for that base itself, but we’ve been hearing from independent experts that the nature of the planes that Pentagon officials say are there seem to be ground attack aircraft in large numbers. It would seem the – other experts are saying that they could be postured for offensive operations. I was wondering if you could talk just to the difference between the – or what Secretary Kerry seemed to be implying and what we’re hearing from elsewhere.

Also, Jane’s Intelligence Review says that Russians appear to be preparing to occupy two more bases just to the north of Latakia, the Istamo weapons storage complex and the Al-Sanobar military complex.

MR TONER: Right. I --

QUESTION: Any other military analysis that you can offer would be helpful.

MR TONER: That’s right. Bring up the maps shortly. No, obviously I’m not going to parse the Secretary’s words. I think what he was speaking to was that the level and type of materiel or equipment, including aircraft, that we’ve seen is talking about protection for their deployment at an air base. But certainly, what’s in that air base and what their function is or what their goal is remains to be determined. So in a way, what we’ve seen – what the Secretary was saying is that we’ve seen a level that’s commensurate with the type we’d see for force protection.

But that said, we have seen a considerable build up, and the Secretary spoke to that just shortly ago. And that is certainly of concern to us.


MR TONER: But as to the other – I’m sorry, just to finish – but as to the other areas or air bases that you cited, I don’t have any more information to provide on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So he was just talking about the one at Latakia?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yes.


QUESTION: So are you confirming or you don’t know on the number of aircraft. Is it 28?

MR TONER: I don’t, and I wouldn’t necessarily confirm that. I’d refer you to the Pentagon on that.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Libya, the UN finalized the agreement and they presented it to the Libyan parties to form a unity government. Do you have any reaction to this development?

MR TONER: Well, I do. Obviously, it was a late – almost a last-minute development. But certainly, we welcome the completion of the final text of the proposed Libyan political agreement. And this comes after months of intensive negotiations that were brokered by UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon. This final document, we believe, represents, obviously, very intense efforts of all Libyan parties to reach a solution that’s inclusive, durable, representative.

Now it’s up to all these parties to approve the agreement so that a government of national unity can actually be formed and begin the hard work of restoring peace and security in Libya. So promising, certainly; still much – still a lot of hard work to be done. But this is something we’ve been calling for over many months. We want to see that – as I said, the government of national – accord to be formed. We believe it’s in the – obviously, the long-term interests, rather, of Libyan people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Change topic? Saudi Arabia.

MR TONER: Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of the trial that you – or the verdict – death sentence.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when was 17-years-old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he’s been scheduled to be executed.

MR TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.

QUESTION: So you --

QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s – we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we --

QUESTION: Do you think that they’re an appropriate choice given – I mean, how many pages is – does Saudi Arabia get in the Human Rights Report annually?

MR TONER: I can’t give that off the top of my head, Matt.

QUESTION: I can’t either, but let’s just say that there’s a lot to write about Saudi Arabia and human rights in that report. I’m just wondering if you that it’s appropriate for them to have a leadership position.

MR TONER: We have a strong dialogue, obviously a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans, obviously, many issues. We talk about human rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it’s an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.

QUESTION: But you said that you welcome them in this position. Is it based on improved record? I mean, can you show or point to anything where there is a sort of stark improvement in their human rights record?

MR TONER: I mean, we have an ongoing discussion with them about all these human rights issues, like we do with every country. We make our concerns clear when we do have concerns, but that dialogue continues. But I don’t have anything to point to in terms of progress.

QUESTION: Would you welcome as a – would you welcome a decision to commute the sentence of this young man?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not aware of the case, so it’s hard for me to comment on it other than that we believe that any kind of verdict like that should come at the end of a legal process that is just and in accordance with international legal standards.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this American woman from Texas who’s been suspected – is being investigated in China of spying?

MR TONER: I do. You’re talking about --

QUESTION: Sandy Phan-Gillis.

MR TONER: -- Sandy Phan-Gillis. Yes. Well, she’s currently, as you noted, being detained by the ministry of state security in Nanning, Guangxi in southern China. The U.S. consulate in Guangzhou has been providing consular assistance to her since her arrest on March 20th. We, obviously, are monitoring this case very closely. We’ve been to visit her six times since her arrest, and we’ve raised her case with Chinese Government officials on multiple occasions at a very senior level. And in fact, my colleague at the White House just said that the White House had also raised it with the Chinese foreign ministry and have not received what we believe to be an adequate response about the charges against her.

So we’re closely monitoring her situation. We’re obviously closely monitoring her health in particular. We’ve raised issues regarding her health with Chinese authorities when appropriate to make sure she’s receiving necessary care.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reports that she was moved from house arrest into a detention center just a few days before President Xi’s visit to the United States?

MR TONER: No, actually. I’d actually asked the same question. My understanding is that she was always held in that center, but it was – it’s called house arrest, but she’s with Chinese officials. But I wasn’t aware that that was a recent move. So obviously, we have concerns about really the case in general and the fact that she’s being held, and we’re looking for, frankly, the reasons why.


QUESTION: A couple on Japan, please?


QUESTION: Japan – their new security bill. Is that going to change your relationship with Japan, and if so, can you talk about how and how it might impact your interactions with the Japanese Government?

MR TONER: Well, first of all – I mean, let’s start with the obvious. I mean, Japan has demonstrated over the last 70 years that it has an abiding commitment to peace, democracy, and the rule of law. We would welcome or we do welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and play a more active role in regional security as well as international security issues and activities. So we believe this new security legislation and the recently revised guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation certainly support that.

QUESTION: Slightly different topic.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The foreign minister recently visited Moscow, and there’s talk – or reports, at least – of President Putin visiting Japan sometime early next year. Do you – is that consistent with what you said before about this – now not being the time for business as usual with Russia?

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t – I’m not aware of those reports, so I don’t know what this visit or travel is about. I don’t know the reasons behind it. Yeah – I mean, we’ve been very clear in saying that we don’t believe that it’s time for business as usual with Russia given their behavior in eastern Ukraine, where they still have not met all of their Minsk agreement commitments. That said, as we’ve said before too, there are issues on which we need to cooperate and work with Russia on, and we do so. So it’s about certain – to a certain extent compartmentalizing: obviously disagreeing strongly where we disagree strongly and maintaining that posture; but also, where we do have to seek their cooperation, we do so and discuss things.

Is that it?

QUESTION: Can I back to Syria for a minute?

MR TONER: Please, Said. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Today, I think, the envoy – the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, announced the formation of four working groups and so on. Is the United States going to be involved at any level with these things – at the technical level or any --

MR TONER: In the working groups?

QUESTION: Working groups, yeah. The working groups that were announced like a month and a half ago.

MR TONER: Sure, sure, and I remember the – right, when he spoke to, I guess, the UN Security Council about that. We’ve supported this process going forward. I don’t know what our particular role is within these working groups. Obviously, as you just saw from the Secretary’s remarks, we are very seized with pursuing a political resolution to the conflict in Syria, and I think we’re pursuing that goal through a variety of methods. But certainly, we support de Mistura’s work in that regard.

QUESTION: Seeing how these working groups must include all Syrians and including all the different opposition groups and so on, is Ambassador Ratney working with the opposition to sort of maybe convince them, cajole them into joining these working groups? Is it safe to assume that you are trying to make a case for that?

MR TONER: Sure. Certainly, Michael Ratney is – has been on the road quite a bit, obviously, working with or talking to many of the parties who are involved in Syria, but certainly working with de Mistura closely. We’re supportive of de Mistura’s plan. We obviously – I don’t – I can’t speak to what our exact role is in terms of the working groups, in answer to your question – response to your question. But we’re obviously seeking and will seek in New York next week to pursue the potential for moving the peace process forward. And we’re open to, frankly, creative ways to do that.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 21, 2015

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:46

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 21, 2015

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2:06 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Wait a second. Where did you just come from?

MR KIRBY: My office.


MR KIRBY: Would you like me to come from somewhere else?

QUESTION: Well, out of the floor, obviously.

MR KIRBY: Well, I can do that too.

QUESTION: I mean, what is this, a new trend you’re starting?

QUESTION: You’re breaking the fourth wall.

MR KIRBY: No. Nobody’s ever --

QUESTION: You go to London and Berlin for the weekend, you come back, and you come in the back door.

MR KIRBY: Nobody has ever accused me of being trendy, Matt.

Just a couple of things at the top. I think you all heard Secretary Kerry yesterday announce that the United States is going to admit 85,000 refugees from around the world in Fiscal Year ’16, and then a hundred thousand for Fiscal Year ’17. In consultation with Congress, we’re going to continue to explore ways to increase those figures. This is, obviously, as the Secretary said, a step in keeping with America’s best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope.

In accordance with these same traditions, this step will be accompanied by continued financial contributions to the humanitarian effort, not only from our government, but from the American people. The need is enormous, but we are determined to answer the call while maintaining robust security, and it is a balance that we know we need to strike. Our priority has long been to provide assistance that helps people in the places to which they have fled, communities and neighboring countries that have so generously hosted those refugees.

As you also probably saw just a little bit ago, my colleague at the White House announced that the United States will provide nearly $419 million in additional lifesaving assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. That brings the total of our contributions to some $4.5 billion since the start of the crisis.

Obviously, the United States remains committed to assisting those affected by this conflict, and we strongly urge all governments, organizations, individuals concerned about the situation to support the lifesaving aid efforts of the UN and other partners.

Turning now to Indonesia, Secretary Kerry welcomed Indonesian Foreign Minister Marsudi to the State Department earlier today. In that session the Secretary announced President Jokowi’s upcoming trip to Washington to meet with President Obama on the 26th of October. In their meeting, the Secretary and the foreign minister discussed regional and global issues such as climate change and the centrality of ASEAN. The Secretary also discussed bilateral trade and investment opportunities as well as ways that we can cooperate to support Indonesia’s economic development and maritime goals. Our relations with Indonesia are strong and they’re expanding. As the world’s third largest democracy, Indonesia’s example as a pluralistic democracy with a tradition of tolerance is hugely important, as are its leadership on regional global issues.

Turning to Nepal, the United States congratulates the people of Nepal on their steadfast commitment to democracy. The promulgation of the constitution is an important milestone in Nepal’s democratic journey. The government must continue efforts to accommodate the views of all Nepalis and ensure that the constitution embraces measures consistent with globally accepted norms and principles, including gender equality, religious freedom, and the right to citizenship. We encourage all Nepalis to continue to engage in the democratic process through peaceful, nonviolent means. And we call on Nepali security forces to exercise restraint as people express those democratic rights. The United States stands ready to assist the people and the Government of Nepal as they continue along this democratic path and to rebuild from the April earthquake.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. The two main areas of what I wanted to ask you about have already been asked at the White House and answered – well, kind of answered – but I’m going to give it a whirl anyway. Let’s start with Iran.

MR KIRBY: With what?



QUESTION: -- and the inspections of Parchin. And your colleague at the White House was asked whether the Administration is satisfied with the process that we saw unfold over the past couple of days. I just wanted to make sure that you’re on board with his answer; he said yes.

MR KIRBY: Yes, we are.

QUESTION: You are. And you don’t have any issue with fact that the inspectors were not allowed in, or that they were not there?

MR KIRBY: I would point you, Matt, to what the director general himself noted, which was that the verification activities at Parchin were conducted in the manner consistent with their standard safeguards practices. So the director general himself made it clear that he was comfortable with the verification process and that it was in keeping with the arrangement that they had made with Iran.

QUESTION: That’s great, but you – so you don’t have a problem with them not being physically present?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of the process itself. That resides inside this confidential arrangement between Iran and the IAEA, so I’m not going to confirm or deny whether inspectors were present here or there. What I am going to say is we’re comfortable that the process was conducted in accordance with the normal procedures and the agreement that the IAEA had already made with Iran.

QUESTION: And so it remains your position that the confidential agreement and whatever it contains is sufficient to investigate? Okay.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. And again, I’d point you to the fact that Director General Amano made it clear before and I think certainly made the implication today that there’s no self-inspection by Iran in this process.

QUESTION: There – okay. The other thing, at the – that your colleague at the White House seemed to suggest was that the courtesy call that Director General Amano made to Parchin was somehow evidence that – or was evidence that the Iranian military facilities are open and available for IAEA access. Is that really – is that the position of the State Department?

MR KIRBY: Well, in a short answer: yes. I mean, it’s not insignificant that the IAEA and the director general himself – I mean, I don’t know that we would characterize it as a courtesy call –but the fact that he and his team had access to Parchin is not insignificant.

QUESTION: His team, meaning the one person that went with him.

MR KIRBY: Look, I don’t – I’m not going to --

QUESTION: A brief – a brief visit to an empty room at Parchin, you think counts – qualifies as an inspection? That – was that the –

MR KIRBY: It’s not insignificant that they had access to Parchin. The director general himself – and I’m not going to get into the details of his visit or what that – that’s for the IAEA to speak to. But it’s not insignificant that they got – that they were granted access to this.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the director general of the IAEA conducts inspections? Or would that normally be done by --

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on their --

QUESTION: -- lower-level people?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on their protocols. I don’t think it’s our expectation that he has to personally inspect everything.

QUESTION: Do you think he got down on his hands and knees and --

MR KIRBY: I’d point you to the director general to speak to his personal involvement. I don’t know that that’s our expectation, that he has to, as you said, get down on his hands and knees. But certainly he had access to Parchin, and that’s not insignificant – the first time that that’s been done. If we had this --

QUESTION: Well, do you recall how big a site Parchin is?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’m not an expert on the site itself.

QUESTION: It’s rather large.

QUESTION: It’s pretty huge.


QUESTION: So do you think that two people from the IAEA going into an empty room briefly --


QUESTION: -- counts – I’m trying to find out whether you guys think or are trying to say that Amano’s courtesy call, his very brief visit – he even said that it was very brief – counts as some kind of an inspection. That’s all.

MR KIRBY: I would point you to what the IAEA has said about their --

QUESTION: Not even the IAEA said this was an inspection, but your colleague at the White House suggested that the fact that Director General Amano was able to briefly visit one room or one part of the site was evidence that the Iranians have opened up their military sites to IAEA access. And I just want to know if the State Department thinks that it’s – thinks the same.

MR KIRBY: We believe it’s significant that Iran granted access to this facility at Parchin for the first time in the history of this issue, both in his visit and the technical verification activities. What’s more important is we look forward to Iran’s fulling implementing its commitments under the roadmap. That’s what matters here.

QUESTION: Would you be confident in this being the standard of inspection going forward?

MR KIRBY: It’s not that that is – this is an issue between Iran and the IAEA, and as we said at the very outset, Brad, that having been briefed on the details of that confidential arrangement, the Secretary remains comfortable that it will allow for the IAEA to get the proper access it needs and the ability, through various techniques, of effectively monitoring.

QUESTION: But you don’t think there needs to be – you’re not saying that whatever the confidential arrangements are of future inspections going forward, that they will have necessarily more access than this?

MR KIRBY: That is between the IAEA and Iran to work out. What matters to us, we’re not going to micromanage the inspection activities of the IAEA. It’s an independent, international agency that can speak for itself about what it will or will not do. And as you know, many of those arrangements are confidential and they won’t speak to them. What matters to us, having been briefed on the protocols, is that we remain comfortable, should this – should Iran continue to meet its commitments in keeping with that arrangement, we believe they will get the access and will get the information they need.

But look, this is the first visit, so – at least to Parchin anyway. So we have a ways to go here. As I said, there’s a roadmap that has to be implemented, and we expect Iran to meet its commitments.

QUESTION: Wait, are you saying that – are you saying this is the first visit? You’re expecting there will be more?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m saying it is a fact that it’s first visit. I’m not making prognostications about the future.

QUESTION: My last one and I’ll defer to anyone else that wants to ask. Are you – do you know if members of Congress in their confidential briefings with Administration officials, which would have included people from this building, including the Secretary, were told that IAEA inspectors would have direct access and be able to take their own samples at Parchin?

MR KIRBY: I do not know what specifics of the confidential arrangement were briefed to members of Congress.


MR KIRBY: What we’ve said all along is that – and the director general himself had said – that reports that Iran would be self-inspecting were not accurate, and that he himself was comfortable in the protocols laid out in the arrangement.

QUESTION: That’s not my question. Were they --

MR KIRBY: Well, your question is do I know what Congress were briefed.

QUESTION: Do you know – several members of Congress came out and said that they had been told by the Administration that there would be inspections by IAEA personnel. Do you know if they were told that by the Administration or is that outside --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to comment on specific communications about a confidential arrangement with members of Congress. What I will go back to say, though, is having been briefed on this arrangement, the Secretary remains comfortable that if Iran meets its side of it, that the IAEA will get the access and the information it needs to properly verify compliance.

QUESTION: Can I change subject?



QUESTION: Could I just follow very quickly on this issue? Are you aware of similar inspections that were conducted by the IAEA on other countries, other facilities other than Iran?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not. I’m not. I would point you to the IAEA to speak to --

QUESTION: I mean, what would their normal teams be – one, two, four, ten?

MR KIRBY: Said, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on their protocols.


QUESTION: John, do you have any comment on the Russians sending drone aircraft on surveillance missions in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen those reports, Lesley. I’m not in a position to independently verify them. I mean, that’s for the Russian military to speak to, as we’ve said. What we – what does remain the same is that we continue to see military activities by Russia in Syria, and as the Secretary said over the weekend, the intent of which is not – still not completely clear. What he has also said is if Russia looks to play a constructive role against ISIL, that’s one thing, but if what they’re doing is, in fact, propping up the Assad regime, then that’s an entirely different issue altogether, because it is the Assad regime that has been a magnet for extremists inside Syria. But again, I’d have the Russians speak for themselves.

QUESTION: And then on the Israelis and Russians coordinating, it also looks like it’s about making sure that they don’t – that they avoid accidentally trading fire. Do you have any comment on that deal, and does it complicate your efforts with what you’re doing with the Russians?

MR KIRBY: With the Israelis and the Russians?


MR KIRBY: No, I think I’d let both those countries speak for that. But separate and distinct from that, that’s – the idea of de-confliction is certainly one that matters to us. That’s why the President was supportive of a level of military-to-military communication for de-confliction purposes. You heard the Secretary speak to that over the weekend, but I won’t speak for the Israeli Government and to what degree they’ve had like communications with Russia on this.

QUESTION: Is the Israeli-Russian de-confliction mechanism a bilateral thing, or is it a kind of triangle now?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Israeli Government to speak to --

QUESTION: No, but – and the U.S. is now involved in de-confliction talks with Russia --

MR KIRBY: I would not characterize this as trilateral de-confliction talks.

QUESTION: Have you seen, John, the Russians actually flying sorties and the airstrike missions with these now 28 aircraft that they have in country?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to Russian military operations, Justin. You should talk to the folks in Moscow about what they’re doing.

QUESTION: So – well, okay. Do you think, then, that there are enough legitimate and easily discernible IS targets for the Russians to strike with all these aircrafts that they have with the reasonable expectation that they could avoid massive civilian casualties, as the Assad regime has been known to conduct themselves? I mean, do you think that there are enough targets that warrant all these aircraft?

MR KIRBY: That there remain ISIL targets in Syria I think is a given. That’s why we continue the coalition – the coalition, the international coalition that exists, more than 60 nations – not all of them, obviously, flying strikes, but certainly there exist military targets inside Syria. I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize about what, if any, targets the Russians may decide to go after. You should talk to them about that. The fact that they are building up or have additional military capabilities in Syria continues to give us concern, and that’s why we’re in favor of some level of military-to-military communication for the purpose of de-confliction. But what they’re doing and what they intend to do, you should ask them.

QUESTION: But – my last one on this. Do you have the confidence that – a lot of the U.S. and coalition missions are coming back having not opened any of the bomb bay doors. They’re not dropping bombs. Do you have confidence that the Russians will use and execute the same amount of restraint?

MR KIRBY: Your question implies that that’s exactly what they’re going to do, that they’re going to just start flying anti-ISIL missions, and I can’t say that with certainty. I don’t know. As I said, if there’s a constructive role that they want to play against ISIL, well, that’s a conversation we can have. And that’s why a mil-to-mil de-confliction communication link would be valuable. But I can’t get ahead of what they might do operationally. I won’t even get ahead of what we’re going to do operationally.

QUESTION: Well, can I try – I mean, without talking specifically about operations, it seems as if the way they’re setting themselves up is not really in ISIL areas, but rather to protect Assad against the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusrah and those type of things. I mean, to what extent are they there to kind of make sure that he stays in place? They say on one hand that they’re there to – they’re with you on talking about a political transition, but their actions on the ground say that they’re making every effort to make sure that he stays in power.

MR KIRBY: There are significant questions that we still have about their intent, Elise, which is, again, why we think some level of communication at a military level is appropriate. As I said, if this is about ISIL and there’s a constructive role that they want to play, then as the Secretary said over the weekend, we’re willing to have that conversation. But if it’s because they’re trying to prop up Assad – and that’s certainly a possibility here – that’s a whole different matter.

QUESTION: Well, shouldn’t – okay, so if you --

QUESTION: If you want to --

QUESTION: Let me – can I – so if you’re talking to them about – I know you’re talking about de-conflicting on the military side in terms of – like, when you say de-conflict, it means that you’re not kind of flying sorties at the same time or at the same – but don’t you think kind of there should be more larger, higher-level political discussions about what their actual intentions are? Because even though Secretary Kerry said the other day that he got a straight answer, he then went on to kind of suggest that he didn’t trust the answer. So – and you keep saying that you don’t really know what their intentions are.

So without talking about specific military targets, don’t you think there should be a higher-level discussion between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov, or even with President Putin to talk about really what Russia’s objection – intentions are for their presence in Syria?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has spoken to Lavrov three times now on just this issue, and I fully --

QUESTION: It doesn’t sound as if you have any more clue about what their larger intentions are.

MR KIRBY: We – I think that there will be additional conversations between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov about this. Our concerns are – remain in place about what they’re doing and the possibilities that what they’re doing is in fact potentially propping up Assad or continuing to prop up Assad. I mean, we know they’ve supported the Assad regime for many years now. So I suspect there will continue to be a focus by Secretary Kerry on this and continued conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov about it. Again, it’s – as he said himself last week, they have stated what they’re doing.

QUESTION: But then Secretary Kerry went on to say that --

MR KIRBY: He also he doesn’t take it at face --

QUESTION: -- he kind of doesn’t believe them.

MR KIRBY: -- doesn’t take it at face value, and that’s why we’re going to continue to have these discussions, and why the Secretary was in favor of some sort of military communication as well.

QUESTION: But, I mean, military communication is just about kind of specific military operations. But what they’re doing on the ground and the presence that they’re building there, it seems as if they’re making plans for a permanent – if not long-term – military base in Syria, which would suggest that President Assad is not going anywhere anytime soon.

MR KIRBY: Well, two parts to that. One, they have had a long-term military presence there in Syria.

QUESTION: Well, an expanded, more permanent one.

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about expanded, and the purposes – we are seeing additional capabilities come in, which continues to give us concern about the ultimate goals here --

QUESTION: But the types of – right.

MR KIRBY: -- as well as the type of capabilities, you’re right. They invite the types of capabilities – and I’m not going to get into a blow-by-blow of that from the podium – but the types of capabilities that we see continue to flow in certainly add question to the intent about – to the degree to which this is about ISIL and extremists or the degree to which that it’s about continuing to prop up the Assad regime. So we continue to have serious concerns and questions about this, and again, I think you’re going to continue to see those kinds of conversations continue.

QUESTION: Just one more: Do you have – know anything or are you in touch with the Russians on the attack or the shelling of their embassy today?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything on that. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: So John, just one more on Syria.

QUESTION: So can I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: You just mentioned something. On the priority, on the latter priority, which is more – a more formidable enemy or someone that you want to sort of get rid of right away, ISIL or Assad? Which is – where should the target or the center of gravity should be?

MR KIRBY: The – from a military perspective, Said, our focus is on --

QUESTION: I mean from military and political.

MR KIRBY: Okay, well, let me work through this. From a military perspective, our focus is on ISIL. That’s what the coalition that we are leading is designed and built to do, is to go after ISIL, to degrade and destroy them and their capabilities in Iraq and in Syria. And the military line of effort is only one, as you know and we’ve talked about that, against ISIL.

Now, one of the things we’ve always said is what the real way to sustain – to sustain a defeat of this ideology in a group like this is good governance. So we’ve also been trying to continue to pursue a political solution inside – to the larger conflict inside Syria – this gets at the Assad regime – a transition, a political transition in there to a government, as the Secretary said last week, that is responsive to the desperate needs of the Syrian people. If – we believe that a political transition towards a government like that could also be helpful in – obviously in the ultimate defeat of ISIL because it would lead to good governance and take away the breathing space that a group like ISIL has been allowed to have inside Syria because of Assad’s brutality.

So militarily speaking, the United States and our coalition partners are aimed solely at ISIL. That hasn’t changed. And the continued activity that you’re going to see on the ground and in the air with partners that we have on the ground will continue against ISIL. Likewise, at the same time, it’s just as important – and again, the Secretary talked about this over the weekend – it’s just as important that we continue to engage countries like Russia, countries like Saudi Arabia, and others of our partners in the region to work towards a political transition in Syria to a responsive government.


QUESTION: I just want a quick follow-up on this. Now, your position all along has been that you want to maintain a semblance of state in Syria – maintaining the armed forces if possible, the security forces, the state institutions and so on. Is it conceivable to go into any kind of political transition without having regime elements being part and involved in this process?

MR KIRBY: Well, as the Secretary talked about again over the weekend, is that the guts of what this transition looks like is still something we need to work out. And I just – I couldn’t answer that question right now. What we ultimately, though – what we want, and I’m not prophesizing anything about specific institutions inside Syria, but obviously, what we want is a Syria that’s whole and pluralistic and secure and stable. And how you get there from where we are now, after what this guy’s done to his own country, that’s a tougher question. That’s a tougher question to answer and the Secretary looks forward to continuing to work on that. And I think you’re going to see him very engaged on this particular issue going forward into the UN General Assembly.


QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence of Russia changing its plans or cutting back on some of its either deliveries or planned operations as a result of the talks thus far?

MR KIRBY: I’m not privy to talk about intelligence matters, Brad. What I would just tell you is we, as I said to Elise’s question, we continue to see capabilities flow in. We continue to see activity of a military context there, and again, I think it just makes the questions we’ve raised all the more serious now days later.

QUESTION: But since – given that you haven’t – or maybe if – you’re not pointing to anything you’ve seen in terms of them changing behavior as a result of the discussions, why do you put so much stock in these conversations that you’re having outside of not crossing planes? Why does it matter that you’re going to continue having these discussions if they’re not asking for your permission and they don’t by law or by any semblance of reason require your permission? Why are these conversations – why do they matter?

MR KIRBY: Again, the Secretary addressed this. It’s important to try to gain as much understanding and clarity as possible and he believes the way to do that is through dialogue and conversation. I mean, the flipside of the argument is if you just turn a blind eye and ignore it and don’t engage and don’t confront diplomatically when you need to, then that is just --

QUESTION: Well, the flipside could also be actively trying to combat this or make it harder for them to do these things.

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s --

QUESTION: There are many flipsides possible.

MR KIRBY: There’s a lot of – there’s a lot of things we still don’t fully understand, and the Secretary wants to have a better understanding. And I think that’s the approach he’s been taking with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: Could the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: And I wouldn’t – and the other thing is, let me just – I want to challenge one thing: “Why are you putting so much stock in it?” I wouldn’t characterize it as putting so much stock in it. It is a way forward. It is how the Secretary wants to gain better clarity, which I think is the right approach and commendable.


MR KIRBY: But it doesn’t – hang on a second. But it doesn’t mean that that’s the end-all of it. So I mean, you have to take this step by step and as it comes, and that’s what the Secretary’s approach is. He’s got a – he’s very – very pragmatic approach to this. And as he said himself, he’s not taking anything at face value.

QUESTION: All right. Is there a policy option that would involve the United States actively trying to disrupt this buildup, actively trying to prevent it, either by putting assets or by somehow mobilizing partners, countries to prevent this buildup of forces?

MR KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made. I can just tell you that the Secretary as well as the interagency remains laser focused on this issue and will continue to pursue options appropriately, but I won’t get ahead.


QUESTION: John, have you --

QUESTION: So listen – may I? Sorry, Michel.

QUESTION: No problem.

QUESTION: So when you talk about – we’ve been talking about this political transition, and I know it’s always been your position that Assad didn’t need to go on day one but he needs to go ultimately and that would be part of the transition, but it does seem in kind of recent weeks or something that you’re emphasizing the “not go on day one” part, and that does seem to be what Russia wants to see, as you do, a more kind of planned transition. When you say that he doesn’t need to go on day one, I mean, how long do you foresee a political transition in which he’d be phased out?

MR KIRBY: I think the, again, the details of what the transition would look like is impossible to discern at this point, Elise. I mean, it is precisely that kind of question that the Secretary wants to answer. And that’s why he’s engaged diplomatically with Saudi Arabia and with Russia and with other partners in the region. It was a – obviously a key topic of conversation over the weekend with his British and German counterparts. I can’t answer that – we can’t answer that question right now.

QUESTION: So it does seem – it does seem as if the way that this is playing out, the kind of planned transition and the way the Russians are setting themselves up on the ground there, is more in terms of years than, like, in terms of months. I mean, it doesn’t seem like Assad is being – it sounds like it’s – when you talk transition, you’re talking generational.

MR KIRBY: Again, I wouldn’t speculate right now about how long this is going to take. I think the Secretary is keenly aware that it would – it’s going to be a complicated process, that there’s a lot of detail that still needs to be worked out, but the ultimate goal isn’t going to change. And nobody’s under the impression here at the State Department that a political transition in Syria, given the conditions on the ground, given Assad’s brutality, is going to be an easy or quick fix – easy or quick solution. It is ultimately the solution; it’s just how you get there. We just don’t know. And I think everybody understands how hard this is going to be. But that doesn’t make it a goal not worth striving for.

QUESTION: And why the U.S. has changed its position towards Assad? First, you were saying that he should go and he’s not legal anymore. Now you’re saying that he will part of the transition and he won’t be leaving in day one or month one.

MR KIRBY: I think – again, the Secretary addressed this over the weekend. I haven’t changed our position. Assad still – Assad doesn’t have the legitimacy to run his country. We still want to see a transition to a government that’s responsive to the Syrian people and away from Assad. Nothing’s changed about that. And the Secretary’s been consistent that how this transition – what it looks like, how long it takes, and what role the regime or other partners have in it – all things that we need to discuss and to determine. There’s been no change in position.

QUESTION: I have two more on Syria, too. Have you started the conversation with Russia on military-military --

MR KIRBY: I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon. I believe that they acknowledged a call between Secretary Carter and the minister of defense last week. But beyond that, I’d point you to my colleagues.

QUESTION: And one more, please. Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker has said today that the image of the U.S. cooperating with one of Assad’s biggest backers – meaning Russia – would be the best recruiting tool to the jihadist – or that jihadists could imagine. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see Ambassador Crocker’s comments. I would just tell you that our relationship with Russia exists on many levels. Russia was very cooperative in achieving the Iran deal. There are issues where we agree and issues where we can work together, and obviously, there are issues of concern and disagreement, not to mention what’s going on in Ukraine, which the Secretary hasn’t clearly lost focus on.

So it’s a complicated relationship. There are areas where we can cooperate; areas where, obviously, we have to express our differences.


QUESTION: Can I ask a question on --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. The Secretary said that Assad departure will – should come as a result of the negotiations. Is this position came as a result from the talks with the Russians, or did the Secretary believe in this position from before?

MR KIRBY: He’s – no, it’s not something that resulted from recent discussions with Lavrov. What he said was we’re prepared to negotiate. The question is, are – is Assad, and are the Russians, and are the Iranians? And those are, again, discussions that haven’t been had yet.

QUESTION: So always he thought that Assad – Assad’s departure should come as a result of negotiations?

MR KIRBY: There’s been no change in the Secretary’s position in terms of a transition away from Assad and how that has to happen. It has to happen – it’s got to be a political transition, right? Political solution. You’re not going to get at a political transition or solution without talk, without conversation, without dialogue, without negotiation.

QUESTION: Well, when he came here in February, 2013, I think it was his first kind of talk, was about changing Assad’s calculus by supporting a more active and stronger opposition against him. And that’s different from working with the Russians and the Iranians on some sort of transition strategy. Do you see --

MR KIRBY: Not necessarily.

QUESTION: Not necessarily?

MR KIRBY: No, Brad. It can be inclusive. It can be inclusive of also working to strengthen and bolster the opposition. I’ve said many times, and certainly since Doha, that one of the things that Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States have already discussed is: How do you continue to work with the opposition? How do you bolster them in their position? How do you help unify them? All of that’s a part of this discussion. I mean – don’t – but --

QUESTION: Right, but --

QUESTION: Two and a half years later, the opposition’s a lot weaker than it was even when he first came in. So that --

QUESTION: And it was about changing his calculus – it was about changing the battlefield situation on the ground so then in turn that would change his calculus, that he had to go. So now you have the Russians – are changing his calculus; they are changing the battlefield situation, because they’re expanding their military presence on the ground. So that does change his calculus, just in the opposite direction.

MR KIRBY: Well, the worry, the concern, the reason why we want to continue to have these conversations is because of the potential for this activity to be designed more about propping up Assad than about going after extremists.

But back to your point that you – we want to change his calculus is still true. There’s many ways to do that, and nobody’s lost sight of the need to continue to work with and for a moderate opposition that could work towards helping bring about this political transition. So just that – just the fact that we’re talking with the Russians and the Saudis about this doesn’t mean that we’ve given up any desire to continue to work with and for a moderate opposition.

QUESTION: Just with respect – on Syria?


QUESTION: Okay. First of all, is still the level of communication and your relationship with the opposition is the same, or it’s changed? Syrian opposition, I mean.

MR KIRBY: We continue to engage the Syrian opposition on many levels. One of the challenges is that it’s not a homogenous organization and not all of them have the same exact goals.

QUESTION: Are there – are they – are – they are part of this process that you are taking place – is taking place --

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, coming out of Doha, one of the things that the Secretary wanted to see was a way to move forward in such a way that the opposition could be a part of this process.

QUESTION: And the last one. You are mentioning Russia and Saudi Arabia are part of this process. Do you see any – foresee any role for Iran or Turkey to play in this process?

MR KIRBY: Both the President and the Secretary have talked about the fact that at some point, Iran would have to be a part of this. And I – we’re just not there yet, but I think he’s acknowledged – he acknowledged it again over the weekend, that Iran would have to be a part of the process. And if there’s room for that and – then he’s willing to work towards that and consider it.

Turkey obviously is an important partner in this effort, and I won’t speculate about every country that may or may not be part of this. There are probably – there are many other countries in the region that obviously have a voice and a concern, and Turkey is certainly prime among them. But exactly how it would flesh out in the discussion phases and who’d be at what table at what point I couldn’t say right now. But obviously, we continue to talk to the Turkish Government about their concerns inside Syria and with Assad, and we take those concerns seriously.

QUESTION: Refugees?


QUESTION: With the increase expected over the next couple of fiscal years, presumably we’ll see a significant increase in Syrians coming to the U.S. Will the increase also be reflected among other nations, especially with Iraqis, for example, or Afghans who have also been making their way into Europe?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we have a firm answer on that right now. Overall, the topline number will go up in ’16 and then up again in ’17. How it’s apportioned out – as you know, we do this by region, not necessarily by country, with the exception, obviously, that President Obama said at least 10,000 next year from Syria. Typically, though, it’s done by region, and it’s also done by need. So it’s difficult right now here in September of ’15 to tell you exactly how many from any one country will come in under the higher-level numbers next year. We are going to, as we try to, prioritize those who are most in need, coming from those areas where obviously the persecution and the violence and the deprivation are the worst. But I couldn’t begin to tell you right now exactly how many from each country or even each region right now.

QUESTION: How would you rank those needs? What would come first, what would come second? ISIS versus – you don’t know?

MR KIRBY: Again, it’s hard for me to predict that now. You’re asking me to predict what are the highest needs going to be next year and the year after that. Obviously, our focus right now – clearly – is on refugees that are coming out of the conflict in Syria, and Iraq too. Many of these European refugees are from Iraq as well; most from Syria. So that’s clearly the focus right now, which is why the President said at least 10,000 from Syria next year. And we’re going to – and that’s at least. That’s not a – that’s a floor, not a ceiling. It very well likely could go higher than that. That’s our focus right now and that’s why the Secretary met with refugees from Syria when he was in Berlin yesterday: to get a sense of their perspective.

So clearly, we’re very much focused on this particular refugee crisis now. Another reason why my colleague at the White House announced another – more than $400 million to the contributions we’ve already made to that – to refugees, humanitarian issues in that particular crisis.



QUESTION: John, under what condition will you accept aspiration of the Syrian Kurds for the self-autonomous regions – within Syria, not a separation?

MR KIRBY: We – I just said it a little bit ago, that what – we believe in a whole Syria whose sovereignty is continually maintained and established, and there’s been no change in that position.

QUESTION: But that’s also part of the Syria. The aspiration is not to separate from Syria. The aspiration is just to have the self-governance within Syria’s border.

MR KIRBY: Our position on the – our position on sovereignty of Syria has not changed and will not change.

QUESTION: So that’s part of the governors – on – one more on Syria. Have you seen the reports on the PYD’s accusation of the Syrian man refugee who was – that he was being tripped by this Hungarian camerawoman and Osama Abdul Mohsen that he has ties with – he had – he previously had ties with the al-Nusrah Front. So the guy, he’s now in Spain. He was received by Real Madrid team. So PYD, they had some proofs and they accused him of being part of – a member of al-Nusrah Front.


QUESTION: You haven’t seen any report of that.



QUESTION: Just your colleagues at the Pentagon said that the Syrian Kurds are now part of the train and equip program. Is this something new? And what has made you upgrade your assistance to the Kurds?

MR KIRBY: I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to speak to their train and equip program. That’s for them to speak to, not for me.

QUESTION: Isn’t that a State Department question, that you’ve upgraded – it seems that you’ve upgraded your support for the Syrian Kurds.

MR KIRBY: We – again, I’m not going to speak for a Pentagon program and decisions that they’ve made in terms of assistance. You know very well that we have continued to supply support primarily through airstrikes on some fighters inside Syria against ISIL – and they’re not all Kurds, by the way. Those who have proven effective partners on the ground and are taking the fight to ISIL, when and where we can we have supported with airstrikes. But as for the train and equip program, that is a DOD equity and I’m going to point you to them.


QUESTION: John, back to the refugee question real quick. I’m wondering if there’s any – and based on what the Secretary announced the other day, is there any plans to increase the number of LGBT refugees that are allowed to resettle in the United States?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anything specific like that. I mean, as you know, these are – it’s done by region --


MR KIRBY: And obviously, our – as you know, our stance on the persecution of people who are or who are alleged to be LGBT hasn’t changed. We obviously continue to support all human rights in that regard. But I’m not – but there’s no – it’s not broken down by that. It’s broken down by region and by need and it changes from year to year. Obviously, the focus right now is Iraq and Syria. I don’t know what it’s going to look like next year or the year after that.


QUESTION: Let me make sure on this point. The refugees, they’re not broken down – just to follow what you said – according to religion or sect or minorities or – there are no quotas, in other words, on how many refugees from each community can apply.

MR KIRBY: It’s by region, Said, and by need. And we try to --

QUESTION: I’m talking about Syrian refugees.

MR KIRBY: I understand.


MR KIRBY: We try to be flexible, obviously, based on what’s going on on the ground anywhere around the world. But no, we don’t break it out by religion or gender. It’s about who needs the help the most and coming from what situation.

And that’s – that will continue.

QUESTION: John, really – on that.


QUESTION: You said the Secretary is very focused on this and there’s just a need to support the opposition. Were there any Syrian opposition figures in the group that he met yesterday from Syria, or were these just --

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: Do you know off the top of your head even roughly when the last time the Secretary either met with or spoke with someone who is – would be considered a leader of the moderate Syrian opposition?

MR KIRBY: I’ll have to get back to you, Matt.



QUESTION: United Nations today has said that the YPG in Syria had looted and destroyed some certain areas in the country. Do you have anything about their reports, findings, or as the USA, are you worried about YPG’s activities in that region?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific on what you’re pointing to here. But obviously, we take seriously any concerns, be it humanitarian rights or just wanton destruction of facilities, infrastructure that’s not in keeping with the overall effort against ISIL. I just haven’t seen this, so I really can’t comment specifically on it.

QUESTION: Have you conveyed – have you conveyed your concern or inconvenience specifically to the YPG?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Have you conveyed your concerns or inconvenience to the YPG about that?

MR KIRBY: Again, I haven’t seen this report, so I’m not aware that anything specific has been conveyed. How – that’s on this. That said, we have – we make our concerns widely and clearly known privately and publicly about how we expect people to behave themselves when it comes to human rights and the prosecution of efforts against ISIL.


MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, you’ve had your hand up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Topic of – about Futenma relocation issues.


QUESTION: Today the Okinawa Governor Onaga has made a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today. That speech is – was the opportunity for governor to (inaudible) to the crisis in Okinawa where local human rights is – have been violated by the presence of the U.S. military base and oppressive treatment by the U.S. Government and the Japanese Government. And then also the governor asked the international community to support Okinawa as it try to correct it and observe situation in which Japan and U.S. leader has trying to force through a new military base despite intense public oppositions. How do – does the U.S. Government think about the Onaga speech in the UN?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see the governor’s speech, but I can tell you that we continue to express our sincere gratitude to Okinawa for its vital contributions to the U.S.-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of peace and stability in Asia. Our troop presence in Okinawa is fundamental to those treaty commitments to the defense of Japan. We continue to embrace a commitment to maintain good relations with local communities on Okinawa and we continue to be cognizant of the impact of our military presence.

I would say, look, as a former military officer myself, I mean, the military takes its local obligations seriously everywhere it is no matter where – overseas or here domestically. We know that our presence is inside some other community and we take our obligations to the community very seriously, and that is no less true there on Okinawa.

Recent measures to lessen our impact on Okinawa include the relocation of KC-130s from Futenma to Iwakuni and the return of the West Futenma Housing Area. The U.S. and Japanese governments remain committed to the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa, including by upgrading the existing base at Camp Schwab with the Futenma Replacement Facility. The United States and Japan agree as well that the FRF, the Futenma Replacement Facility, is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns, and avoids the continued use of the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma.

QUESTION: But still --

MR KIRBY: I have time for just a couple more.




MR KIRBY: What? I’m sorry? Go ahead. China? Go ahead.

QUESTION: There have been reports that the U.S. is discussing a agreement with China on cyber space. Can you confirm this?

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about in terms of the – President Xi’s visit? I won’t get ahead of the agenda of the visit, but obviously, as I said before, I can assure you that cyber security will be among the topics discussed, as it always is with China. There are lots of things that we need to continue to try to improve in terms of our cooperation in the cyber realm.



MR KIRBY: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on the YPG issue. As you know, the Turkish Government is considering the YPG as a terrorist organization, but right now the U.S. Government ramp up the support for the YPG. How do you manage this cooperation with ISIL – with the anti – in terms of the anti-ISIL coalition with Turkey while there is a fundamental difference between the two?

MR KIRBY: Tolga, we’ve talked about this a lot. We don’t consider the YPG a terrorist organization, and they have proven successful against ISIL inside Syria. And as I said, we’re going to continue to work with counter-ISIL fighters who are and can be successful against this group, and they’re not all Kurds. They are not all Kurds. We understand that the Turkish Government has concerns about the YPG. We continue to talk to them and engage them. We continue to be appreciative of the support that Turkey is making to the coalition and to direct kinetic activity against ISIL.

That’s what a coalition of the willing is all about. You come together for a common goal; you don’t have to agree on every issue; and you bring to the fight what you can, where you can, and when you can. And that’s how we’re managing this very important struggle.

I’ll take the last one; it’s Pam. Sorry, Brad. I’ll --

QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering a shift in its position regarding Cuba at the United Nations? In particular, what will be the U.S. response to a resolution of condemnation against the U.S. trade embargo? And then I have quick second question also.

MR KIRBY: As we do with all resolutions, Pam, we’re going to carefully review the proposed resolution once it has been tabled. It would be inappropriate for me to prejudge this resolution before it’s been tabled.


MR KIRBY: Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I had more, but that’s fine. We’ll --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Finish, please. Please, sorry.

MR KIRBY: Are you sure?

QUESTION: As you were.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: As you were – very military term. The Government of Cuba has annually presented a resolution in the UN General Assembly condemning the embargo against Cuba. Last December, President Obama announced that the United States would begin to normalize our relationship, launch negotiations that led to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, and called for Congress to take steps to lift the embargo on Cuba. And as the President has said, American engagement is the best way to advance our interests and support for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Cuba.

QUESTION: Well, but given the fact that you just said that, and given the fact that the President said publicly that he thinks the embargo should be lifted, why is it a no-brainer to – that he’s going to actively try to overturn the embargo – why is it a no-brainer to support a resolution that calls for an end to the embargo and criticizes the embargo?

MR KIRBY: I think you mean why isn’t it a no-brainer, and I’m just not going to prejudge --

QUESTION: Why isn’t it a no-brainer? Did I say why is it?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s fine. I was correcting your English.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not – which is highly --

QUESTION: Without spell and grammar check, I’m nobody. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: -- which is highly – again, I think it would – it’s inappropriate for me to prejudge this resolution before it’s --

QUESTION: But I mean, just the premise of it is what you’ve been saying at this podium and the President has said for months.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to prejudge a resolution that hasn’t – before it’s been tabled. Obviously, we want to restore and normalize – we’ve restored; we want to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the President and Secretary Kerry have been very open and honest about the fact that they want to see the embargo lifted. And in fact, you saw just last week – I think Friday – where more restrictions were lifted by the Administration. But I’m not going to get ahead of this resolution before it’s been tabled.


MR KIRBY: Listen, I’ve got to go.

QUESTION: Can I just ask: Does the – is the Administration concerned at all, or is it – would it be comfortable with taking a position at the UN that is directly contradictory to U.S. law that’s sitting on the books right now?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, Matt, I’m not going to get ahead of a resolution that’s been --

QUESTION: Not – just --

MR KIRBY: -- tabled.

QUESTION: No, no, the part – not – if any – would – take it away from the Cuba embargo. The Administration, does it think that – is it concerned at all about either not opposing or supporting resolutions at the UN that are critical of U.S. policy?

MR KIRBY: Say it again.

QUESTION: Is the Administration – does the Administration have any qualms about voting either in favor of or abstaining at the UN from a resolution that would be critical or that is critical of U.S. law?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’ve ever been bashful about – obviously, we have to obey the law. But that’s why you have hearings every year to talk about what you want legislated versus what members of Congress want legislated, and there’s frequently disagreements over what should be or should not be legislated. Now, I’m not going to get ahead of this resolution that hasn’t been tabled, but we’ve been very clear and the Secretary has been very clear about wanting to lift the embargo, which is law, and we recognize that, and you can’t disobey the law. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t take a position that you want the law changed, and --


MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to – again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how that position may be taken, but the Secretary has been very clear that he would like to see the embargo lifted.

Guys, I’ve got to go. Thanks, I’ve got to go.

QUESTION: I want to take up the hostages. You don’t have anything to say about the two Americans who were released from Yemen and what role the U.S. may have played in that?

MR KIRBY: You saw the Secretary’s statement. We’re grateful for the Government of Oman, who helped in this release, as well as our interagency partners, our embassy teams in Oman and in Yemen. We’re glad to see that these two individuals are on their way home and will be reunited with their families.

QUESTION: And you haven’t named the two individuals? You’re not confirming their names, is that correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to do that.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)

DPB # 160

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 18, 2015

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:42

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 18, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


12:35 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Friday. I know, it’s always a good feeling to say that.

QUESTION: Very happy.

MR TONER: And I will do my best to answer your questions in the next 30 minutes or so, and then I’m – I apologize. Again, I have to run to something that I cannot miss. So several things at the top and then I’ll get to your questions.

Today, as you all know, Secretary Kerry was in London – or is in London, where he met with former Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this morning as well as UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed this afternoon. The Secretary and the UAE foreign minister discussed bilateral and regional issues of mutual concern, and the Secretary and foreign minister agreed on the need to continue working together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region as we begin to implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. They also discussed recent – excuse me – recent tensions in Jerusalem and spoke about the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, stressing the need for political solutions to those conflicts and continued international focus on humanitarian and refugee assistance.

Just moving along, and then I’ll get to your questions, I did want to note at the top – we’re obviously following reports of the armed attack at the air force base in Badaber this morning in Pakistan. The fact that this attack was apparently directed against people who were worshipping at a mosque and specifically targeting those families who – the families, rather, of Pakistani military is particularly reprehensible. We strongly condemn this attack and extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims. Pakistan has suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists and violent extremists, and the United States stands in solidarity with the people of Pakistan and all who fight terrorism.

I did also want to note – many of you may have seen on B-Net this morning – this morning the Department of State’s Bureau for Diplomatic Security dedicated the Diplomatic Security Memorial in a ceremony at the DS, Diplomatic Security Headquarters in Rosslyn, Virginia, and Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken spoke at that ceremony. This memorial, while located in the lobby of DS’s headquarters, honors 137 employees, U.S. military personnel, and contractors, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals as well, who lost their lives in the line of duty while in service to the Department of State, to the U.S. Government, and certainly to the Department[1] of Diplomatic Security.

And moving abruptly but happily to a last remark, I just wanted to say we’re pleased to welcome a delegation of Algerian journalism students. Raise your hands. Are you back there? Yeah, you don’t have to raise your hands, that’s okay. That’s kind of a dweeby thing to ask. But pleased to welcome all of you to – students and reporters in the back of the – I know the transcribers are going to have a difficult time --

QUESTION: I didn’t realize that was in the diplomatic lexicon.

MR TONER: It is. We’re up to date. We’re hip and cool. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t know if --

MR TONER: Is dweeby actually up to date? Sorry.

QUESTION: I don’t think so. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I’m blowing this topper, I apologize. I start again. (Laughter.) I’m pleased to welcome the delegation of Algerian journalists and students who are in the back of the room visiting us today as part of their trip to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and that is a great institution, well respected. We hope you enjoyed your trip to Washington and have a good stay at the State Department.

And with that, I will answer – or attempt to answer – your questions.

QUESTION: Right. So let’s start with Syria and Russia and the Secretary’s comments this morning in London and also the Defense Secretary’s call to the Russian defense minister. I don’t expect you to talk about that call because it’s not for you to talk about the Pentagon, but I’m wondering: Does the mere fact that the Administration decided to – or does the fact that the Administration decided to accept the Russian offer for military-to-military talks on the situation in Syria and what they’re doing there, does that mean that the Administration has now essentially resigned itself to the fact that the Russians are going to do what the Russians are going to do in Syria?

MR TONER: Well, as you noted in your question, obviously, there was a lot activity this morning. You referred to Secretary Kerry’s remarks in London. Obviously, you also saw and probably got the readout that was issued – Secretary of Defense Carter spoke to his counterpoint – counterpart in the Russian Ministry of Defense.

I think what we’re talking about here is clearly building off of what the Secretary – what Secretary Kerry spoke about the other day – I think it was Tuesday – when he spoke about this dialogue, operational de-confliction, practical conversation or dialogue that we could have with the Russians to further the goals of our counter-ISIL operations – coalition, rather – and ensure the safe conduct of coalition operations. That’s what we’re talking about here. So we are moving forward, as you said in your question.

I don’t think it – I don’t know what the word you used – resigned ourselves to anything. I think we’re trying to seek out more information about what the Russians are doing, what their intentions are – and again, with the emphasis on at an operational level trying to de-conflict what may be happening on the ground to avoid any incidents.



QUESTION: But to the layperson, I suspect that this looks like you have basically admitted that there’s nothing you can do to prevent the Russians from sending all this military stuff and potentially troops in for whatever reason it is, whether it is to fight ISIL or whether it’s to prop up Assad, and that the opening of this dialogue, I think, suggests to people that even if you’re not okay with it, there’s – you realize that there’s nothing you can do about it and so you’re going to therefore accept it and try to minimize any damage – or eliminate or minimize any damage it might cause.

MR TONER: Well, I do think you’re right in saying that we do see value in a dialogue to de-conflict. We’ve been very clear about that. If the Russians are going to be operating in that space – which is still unclear; we’re still trying to get more information about what their intentions are – then we need to know about it and we need to have a mechanism in place where we can discuss that. And as you rightly said, that would rest with the Pentagon.

More broadly, what’s frankly almost as urgent is the need for a political resolution. We’ve been very clear that we don’t by any stretch of the imagination accept Russia’s premise that somehow Assad can be a credible partner in fighting ISIL. We reject that, in fact. We’ve said that – many occasions from this podium. And so – but recognizing that we still need to talk about a process moving forward that reaches a political resolution to the situation in Syria, but one that ultimately doesn’t include Assad.

QUESTION: Right. But the fact that you’re talking to them about what they’re doing there suggests that – a capitulation to what they’re doing there, that even though you think it would be bad for them to prop up Assad, you’re going to live with it.

MR TONER: Well – yeah, but look – I mean, first of all, this is – what we’re talking about – Russian support for Assad, like Iran’s support for Assad – has been going on for years. We all know that. We’ve seen what we believe might be an uptick in that support --

QUESTION: Right, and that could threaten your very own operations there, and yet you’re --

MR TONER: Absolutely, and that’s why we need to --

QUESTION: And yet you’re willing to allow it to happen or you’re not going to do anything to stop it. You’re –

MR TONER: No, I hear you.

QUESTION: I’m not so much interested in what you would refer me to the Pentagon on in terms of operational de-confliction or whatever the – your term is here.

MR TONER: You’re speaking more --

QUESTION: I’m just thinking of the broader policy idea before the --

MR TONER: Have we accepted a de facto – I understand what you’re asking.


MR TONER: And I would say we’re trying to get more information. We’re trying to get more clarity on what Russia’s intentions are, what they intend to do. And through this, we’re going to make clear our opposition to any idea or any effort to prop up Assad’s regime and to – because we believe that’s actually counterproductive to any peace process. That’s not going to go away, that side of it. If this does move forward, then we do need some kind of mechanism in place to de-conflict. I think that’s what we’re talking about here.

QUESTION: Did you learn anything new about what they intend to do based on Secretary Carter’s conversation this morning with the Russians?

MR TONER: I’d refer you to the Department of Defense. I don’t want to read out his conversation. I think they put out something, actually.

QUESTION: Right. Does that conversation mark the beginning, in your mind, of the mil-to-mil talks? I mean, have they now begun based on that conversation?

MR TONER: No, I wouldn’t say that. I – and again, I’d hesitate to try to characterize the Secretary of Defense’s conversations. As I said, they issued a readout of that conversation. I think what we’re talking about, though, is frankly at a much more operational level, Justin --


MR TONER: -- which is something – mechanism for de-confliction is one way to put it, whereby, as we say, we can avoid any mishaps or any kind of – any unintended consequences. But again, we’re trying to get greater clarity on what Russia’s role will look like in Syria, or what they’re looking to do.

Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, in April last year, the NATO foreign ministers broke off military-to-military conversations with Russia and protested their intervention in Ukraine. Now you’re putting it back on again after they intervened in Syria. Isn’t there a – does this abrogate that former NATO statement?

MR TONER: No, and thank you, actually. I appreciate you bringing that point up. So you’re right; the high-level military-to-military contact and cooperations with Russia that you note that we suspended in response to Russia’s illegal occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea still remains in effect, still remains on hold given Russia’s continued destabilizing actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. That’s not what we’re talking about here, because that’s high-level military-to-military contact. What we’re --

QUESTION: But what do you call it when the Secretary of Defense calls the Russian defense minister? That’s not high-level? That’s about as high as it goes in the military --

MR TONER: This is a mechanism that I’m referring to, not a conversation – a one-off conversation that he’s had with his Russian counterpart. Anyway --

QUESTION: So he hung up and he’s never going to call again. Is that what you’re saying?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Look --

QUESTION: Never ever?

MR TONER: (Laughter.) But just to finish my response, we want to see, as I said, a de-confliction mechanism put in place if Russia intends to move forward with some kind of new effort on the ground in Syria, again, at a much more operational level to de-conflict in that space.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Yeah, a follow-up on that: Would you say that the conversation, this dialogue would be limited to what you call operational de-confliction, or it will be – it will be a broader conversation?

MR TONER: I can’t get – I think I’d be speaking way out ahead of where we are in this process right now to even conjecture that far. I think I’ll stay where we were, which is a mechanism for de-confliction. But obviously, as I said – and the Secretary’s spoken to Lavrov a number of times over the past couple weeks – those conversations are going to continue as we move forward.

Please. You want to stay on Syria, Russia?

QUESTION: Yeah, on Syria. Mark, since you’ve seen that Russia is helping Assad – and I just confirmed clear – and then the other program that you were, like, hoping to do something for you in Syria was the train and equip program and basically, General Austin said that’s, like, almost failing. But the only force that you have – the YPG, the Turkoman, and the other Arabs that are fighting alongside YPG in Syria --

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: Are you also thinking of a broader sense of cooperation with these forces on the ground, not just the air campaign, supplying them with weapons and helping them with other means that – because Assad will be more powerful than it might have in some – maybe in the future have conflict with them also.

MR TONER: Right. Well, again, I think our support through air – mostly airstrikes is going to continue. We haven’t abandoned in any way our efforts to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces. That’s going to continue. Admittedly, it has not lived up to expectations. We need to do better, I think. The Pentagon’s been very frank in its own self-assessment that it needs to do a better job, that we need to do a better job collectively in vetting these forces and getting them out with the kind of support that they need to carry out anti-ISIL attacks and efforts.

Speaking more broadly, we’re going to continue to support those groups. I don’t want to attempt to conjecture about how that support may change in the coming months. Right now, we’re providing them with, as I said, better air support for any operations that carry out against ISIL via our base in Incirlik or the use of the base in Incirlik thanks to the Turkish Government. Turks are – and including the Turks, are flying these airstrikes. We’re going to continue those efforts and we’re going to look to strengthen overall our efforts going forward, but I don’t want to speak to any specific initiatives.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but a couple weeks ago, I asked you about the other ways of supporting these forces, not just militarily, also humanitarian, and you said it is underway, like options underway to help those --

MR TONER: Well, we’re --

QUESTION: -- and also General Allen with NBC, he also mentioned the same, they’re underway. What does that mean? That – does that mean any other – because I talked to some of the people on the ground in Kobani and they said it is almost impossible to get any support from Turkish side; it might be possible to get it from the Iraqi-Kurdistan border with them. Is there anything, any idea like --

MR TONER: No, it’s okay. I mean, it’s a fair question. I really think it’s a question that’s better suited to Department of Defense, the Pentagon, to answer some of those operational questions. I would just say largely – or globally that we’re looking at the whole situation, how we can improve our efforts. We obviously want to support these groups that are – have been very effective in taking the fight to ISIL, but I don’t want to speak to any specific details at this point.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Again on – going back to the --


QUESTION: -- diplomatic strategy with Russia and Syria --


QUESTION: -- kind of touching upon Matt’s question again. Senator Kerry said that --

QUESTION: Secretary.

QUESTION: -- a solution cannot be achieved --

MR TONER: I think he’s referring to – are you referring to as a senator he said, or no?

QUESTION: No, Secretary Kerry.

MR TONER: Oh, Secretary Kerry. Okay. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, he said a political settlement cannot be achieved with the long-term presence of Assad. Now, does that indicate from a diplomatic and I guess a military strategy that the urgency of ISIS – is the U.S. willing operationally to cooperate with Russia to defeat the immediate threat of ISIS regardless of Assad’s status? Not that you’d tolerate it; that it’s just --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- not tied, and – but you’re not compromising the principle of long term, he has to go. But in the near term, the military dialogue, would it focus on defeating ISIL immediately?

MR TONER: I don’t think there’s anything necessarily new in that comment. I mean, we’ve been clear all along what we want to see is a political process that leads to or results in an inclusive and representative government for the people of Syria. And we’ve always said that ultimately that cannot include Assad. So at the end of that process, we believe Assad can no longer – he’s no longer legitimate as a leader of Syria.

So that’s not – it’s not a departure from what we’ve long said about this. A political resolution is absolutely critical to one piece of this puzzle that is Syria or conflict that is Syria. The other really important goal here, though, is defeating ISIL. And obviously, we’ve said we would welcome a constructive Russian role in that. But we’ve also said we believe firmly that any effort to strengthen Assad will only prolong the conflict. And so we don’t want to see him get any more support, any beefing up of his forces that have carried out strikes on civilians, barrel bombings, et cetera. We believe that’s counterproductive to our overall aims there.

QUESTION: Mark, are you --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- welcoming calling Russia to join the coalition to fight ISIS, the international coalition?

MR TONER: I’ll leave it where I said, was we would welcome a constructive role for Russia.


QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of an idea about what a constructive role might be?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, first of all, they could end their support for Assad and his regime, but --

QUESTION: Well, that ain’t happening. (Laughter.) And you’ve basically just said that you’re prepared to allow it to continue as long as it doesn’t mess up anything that the coalition --

MR TONER: No, I think – again, I think I’ll just stay where I’ve been, which is that this is a very complex situation on the ground in Syria, but ultimately if Russia’s intention is to bolster Assad’s presence, that’s not --

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR TONER: -- productive to the long-term solution of the process. Sorry, just let me finish. But we – but again, we just are clear about that if Russia does want to somehow involve itself in counter-ISIL efforts, that’s something we could look at. I can’t specify what those may look like because we haven’t had those conversations with them.

QUESTION: Right. But you say that we would welcome a constructive Russian role, and the only example of a constructive role that you have offered is for them to do nothing and to stay out.

MR TONER: Well, no. I – again, we haven’t --

QUESTION: That’s --

MR TONER: -- had those conversations with Russia specifically about what they --

QUESTION: So that’s what this – so your understanding of the conversations now that are going to happen going forward are that they’re going to be looking at a constructive Russian role?

MR TONER: That’s – again, I’m not going to characterize what those --


MR TONER: -- (inaudible). That’s okay.

Michel, please.

QUESTION: The Russians have made clear, Mark, that the Syrian regime is the only force on the ground able to fight ISIS. That means they will support the regime to fight ISIS. And how do you see this statement?

MR TONER: I mean, Michel, you’ve been in this room a long time. You’ve been here since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. This is a regime that’s – and I quoted the statistic, last month a Syrian human rights group came out and said of the thousands of Syrian civilians that were killed last month alone, the vast majority were killed by the Syrian regime, by Assad’s forces. He barrel-bombs his own civilians. He has created the climate that exists in Syria today where we find groups like ISIL and other terrorist groups able to operate freely.

So I mean, there cannot be a role for him to play in this – in a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

QUESTION: And last question for me on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: News reports said today that the Administration is considering stopping the train and equip program and considering at the same time creating buffer zones or safe zones in Syria.

MR TONER: I don’t have any announcements or any, frankly, any inkling on that. That’s nothing I’ve heard.

QUESTION: Mark, can we change the subject, please, because there’s little time here?

MR TONER: Yeah, please, because we’re getting – please.

QUESTION: Yeah. Because we do a lot on Syria.

MR TONER: One more on Syria and then we’ll switch. Okay, I promise. Yeah, quick. Quickly. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The same story --

QUESTION: You said the purpose of the military-to-military talks is to establish mechanism to de-conflict any incidents. Is this to conflict any incident while the Russians are supporting Assad?

MR TONER: Well, again, part of it is understanding what the Russians’ intentions are on very operational terms, what may be going on on the ground, and understanding those and having communications between so we can de-conflict. What they may look like, what their intentions are, what kind of operations, I mean, we just don’t – we’re still seeking clarity on all that stuff, so I don’t want to – yeah.

QUESTION: But they said publicly that they want to support the Assad regime.


QUESTION: Did they imply any new position that they --

MR TONER: I don’t have more to add to that, sorry.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask you to comment on the case of Hamid Ghassemi, the American-Iranian citizen from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who is now being detained in Iran? Do you have any idea why he’s being detained and have you had any conversations on his behalf?

QUESTION: Let’s see if you can answer that without using the words, “privacy” and “act.”

MR TONER: Well, that’s a hard thing to do.

QUESTION: What a surprise.

MR TONER: Let me see what I do have on that. I’m afraid it’s going to be insufficient. Yeah. It’s Matt’s favorite line – due to privacy considerations, we can’t comment on this case. But we’ll see what we can get for you. I just don’t have anything more than that at this point. I apologize.

QUESTION: A quick one on Pakistan, the terrorist attack.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: In view of this, what happened today --


QUESTION: -- do you think things are getting out of control in Pakistan as far as terrorism is concerned?

MR TONER: I mean, as I was remarking earlier, no country suffers more at the hands of terrorists and extremists than Pakistan. I mean, sadly, today’s attack is horrible, reprehensible, but it’s not new. So we support Pakistan’s continued struggle against these extremist forces, but I don’t know that this is a particularly uptick in those kinds of activities. I think it’s just an ongoing struggle for the Pakistani people.

Please. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Mark, since last time I asked this question about eight or nine days ago, the Turkish press, press freedom in Turkey, we have seen some further crackdowns on Turkey. There’s a journalist yesterday sentenced to six-year jail time for insulting president. The biggest newspaper of Turkey or most influential newspaper of Turkey now under investigation for terror propaganda. There are – every day there are new journalist, without exaggeration, being investigated and sued. My questions is to you that – do you think the Turkish press is going too far criticizing the Turkish Government and this may be – what’s your sense, assessment? Is this the Turkish press should be careful about their editorial?

MR TONER: Look, you’re never going to hear from this government or this podium any attempt to stifle or to suggest censorship on the part of any media anywhere. Obviously, we promote a free and independent media, as you can see from all the many people and different voices and perspectives in this room right now. That’s what we espouse as a pillar of any good, functioning, vibrant democracy. And so we are concerned by the increasing number of investigations into media outlets regarding – or for criticism of the government and for accusations of disseminating terrorist propaganda. And frankly, we’re also concerned about, I would say, the aggressive use of judiciary inquiries to curb free speech in Turkey.

I would note that our ambassador there, John Bass, was actually – recently visited Hurriyet, the offices, and made some of these very same points about the need for a free and vibrant media and to protect that media. As you’ve heard before from myself and from others, the quality of Turkey’s democracy matters to us, and we expect the Turkish authorities to uphold Turkey’s core values, democratic foundations, and universally recognized fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: Final one. When you talk to Turkish Government on these issues, which is increasing every single day, what kind of – can you tell us what the --

MR TONER: What kind of response?


MR TONER: I just can’t give that. I mean, we convey our concerns, but it’s – we often – or not often. We rarely every characterize what we hear back in response. That’s not our place to do so.

Did you --

QUESTION: I was going to say “thank you.”

MR TONER: Oh. Thank you. Thank you for trying. Very quickly, the last couple of questions, guys.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the U.S. diplomatic staff in Burkina Faso, and are you prepared to say what happened there this week was indeed a coup?

MR TONER: No update on any of the – on the situation that we – from where it was yesterday. I believe it was relatively calm overnight. We’re obviously still looking at this. We haven’t changed our assessment from yesterday. I don’t want to speak to the security posture of the embassy – we don’t like to do that – but obviously, we’re watching the situation very closely and taking all steps to ensure that all Americans in Burkina Faso are aware of the changing situation and kept abreast of that and taking appropriate security measures.

QUESTION: Can you say if they’re being asked to move out, or --

MR TONER: I don’t have an update at this point from yesterday. I’ll check on that.


MR TONER: Yeah, please, one last.

QUESTION: Yeah. Will you welcome the PKK’s call for bilateral ceasefire ahead of the elections? They called for bilateral ceasefire and having a third party, including --

MR TONER: You’re asking --

QUESTION: The PKK asked --

MR TONER: Has called for a bilateral ceasefire?

QUESTION: Yeah, with Turkish Government, with both sides committed to the ceasefire, not only the PKK, which in the past that happened.

MR TONER: Our stance on that – PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. That’s how we view it. We want to see them cease their violent attacks on Turkish authorities, Turkish people. When we get past that, when – we urge restraint on all sides, obviously, but we obviously want to see ultimately a place – get to a place where a credible peace or reconciliation process can take place.

Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 17, 2015

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:26

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 17, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:07 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Your coming-back party. Nice of you to come join us.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: You come back from (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I’ve got to keep you on your toes. Okay. I have quite a few announcements today to get through, so bear with me please.

A couple of travel announcements. The first one – and I think you may have seen this – but the Secretary has added a stop onto his trip to Europe this weekend. He will go to Berlin on the 20th – that’s Sunday – to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. They will discuss a range of bilateral and global issues including, of course, refugee and migration issues in Europe.

General Allen traveled from Copenhagen to Brussels on the 16th, yesterday, where yesterday and today he and Ambassador McGurk briefed NATO and European Union representatives on coalition progress and had bilateral meetings with Belgian officials to review our cooperative efforts to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. Following his meetings in Belgium, the general will return to Washington.

I’m sure you all followed the news last night about the earthquake in Chile. Our thoughts are with the Chilean people, especially those in the region of Coquimbo as they recover from yesterday’s 8.3 Richter scale earthquake. We send our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones. The strength of Chile’s disaster response and planning has been evident in the hours following the earthquake. And we send our best wishes to Chile, our partner and friend, as they celebrate this, their independence day. Actually, I think it’s tomorrow.

Our Embassy in Santiago issued an emergency message on the 16th, yesterday, to inform all U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Chile of the potential for a tsunami following yesterday’s earthquake. That – and now we haven’t seen evidence that that has occurred, but obviously we wanted people to be aware of it. And our embassy is continuing to work with the Chilean authorities to determine if U.S. citizens were affected by the earthquake. We’re not aware of any cases at this time. Of course, we stand ready to provide assistance to the Government of Chile if requested, and we greatly appreciate the close cooperation of the Chilean authorities.

Moving to Haiti and to Cuba. Today, representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince hosted a Cuban medical delegation at a USAID-supported medical facility in Haiti. Doctors and staff from the U.S. Agency for Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort collaborated with Cuban doctors at the USAID-supported St. Luke’s Hospital in Haiti. U.S. and Cuban medical personnel worked alongside one another to provide medical and dental consultations for Haitian patients. Earlier this week, U.S. doctors and staff similarly joined Cuban personnel for a tour of La Renaissance, a Cuban medical facility. The visits are an opportunity to discuss possible future collaboration on these kinds of issues in Haiti.

And then just an announcement for next week’s U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. We will host here at the State Department the inaugural U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue from the 21st of September through the 22nd. Secretary Kerry as well as Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will be joined by their respective Indian co-chairs, along with members of the U.S. delegation and their Indian counterparts.

The U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue has been the primary form to advance shared objectives in regional security, economic cooperation, defense, trade, and climate challenges since 2009. But as some of you may remember, in January of this year President Obama and Prime Minister Modi elevated the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue to the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, reflecting the United States and India’s shared priorities of generating economic growth, creating jobs, improving the investment climate, and strengthening the middle class in both countries.

So this inaugural S&CD, as we call it, will be an opportunity for the United States and India to further strengthen their partnership to meet the challenges of the coming decades, from climate change to regional security, and of course, to deepen the economic and commercial ties between our two countries. So we’re very much looking forward to that dialogue next week, and I’m sure we’ll have much more to say about it once we get through the weekend and into Monday.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Really? You don’t think that China and the Pope are going to take up – suck up most of the oxygen? Or the – I’m sure the S&CD will be fascinating, but --

MR KIRBY: One thing that I’ve learned about being in Washington as long as I have is that there’s plenty of oxygen to be sucked up.

QUESTION: Gotcha. (Laughter.) I’m sorry that I missed the top of the briefing. Did you talk about Burkina Faso at the top at all?

MR KIRBY: I did not.

QUESTION: Okay. Just --

MR KIRBY: No. But I, as you know, Matt, did issue a statement about it last night, so --

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just wondering if, very briefly before we go onto other things, if you guys have made a determination about whether this was a coup. Maybe it wasn’t a coup because the government that was toppled – or the president – was not a constitutionally formed one in the first place. But I’m just wondering if you have made such a determination, and if you have, whether it has any implications for any assistance that the Burkinabe Government might get.

MR KIRBY: What I’d tell you, Matt, is that it’s evolving rapidly. It’s a very fluid situation. We’re continuing to evaluate our information about the situation and whatever response might be appropriate as events unfold, which could include and may include foreign assistance implications. We’re not ruling that out. But calling it a coup has legal implications for the United States and it’s not a term that we use lightly. And so again, we’re just continuing to evaluate it.

QUESTION: It’s not a term that you use at all sometimes, even when it’s appropriate, correct?

MR KIRBY: It’s not a term that we use lightly. We’re continuing to evaluate the situation.

QUESTION: Gotcha. I don't have anything else on that, but I wanted to go to something else.


QUESTION: Do you have anything more – is there anything more to say about the Russian offer for military-to-military talks on the situation in Syria? And the reason I ask this is because Foreign Minister Lavrov basically came out and said the same thing that Secretary Kerry had said yesterday, that they are – would like to have such discussions with you guys.

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything to add to what Secretary Kerry said yesterday. I mean, it – the Russian proposal stands, and as the Secretary indicated yesterday, we’re evaluating that and talking to our colleagues at the Defense Department.

QUESTION: Follow --

QUESTION: This wouldn’t be part of the discussion when the Secretary meets with Ash Carter this afternoon?

MR KIRBY: I can’t rule out that it wouldn’t come up, I mean, especially in light of the – how recent the Russian proposal is. But the purpose for the meeting today is another continuation in a series of meetings that Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter have continued to have and will continue to have about counter-ISIL efforts. That’s the focus. I certainly would expect that this could come up in the discussion, but the specific goal is really about counter-ISIL efforts.

QUESTION: Some analysts have said that if the U.S. were to resume military-to-military contacts with the Russians, that while it might be advisable in order to try to get some sort of handle on the situation with ISIL, that it would also perhaps let Russia off the hook for what it’s been doing inside Ukraine. Has that concern been raised, as far as you know, within this building?

MR KIRBY: There’s no intention to, as you put it, let Russia off the hook with respect to what they’re doing in Ukraine, nor is there any concern about slackening off what we’ve indicated our position is about ongoing support to the Assad regime. The Russian proposal was for some level – and I repeat, some level. That doesn’t – I don’t know at what level that would occur, even if were to happen – but some level of military-to-military communications in terms of de-conflicting issues inside Syria. And that’s the limit of it; that’s what the proposal was and that’s what’s being explored. But there’s not going to be any slackening of our concern about ongoing support to Assad, and certainly no change in our policy position or firmness with respect to the continued violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Well, of course, as you recall, the reason why that contact was suspended was because of what was going on inside Ukraine. And so what analysts have been saying to us is that we – the U.S. should not want to do anything that would inadvertently allow Russia to feel as if, all right, it’s achieving what it wants within its regional sphere of influence.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s important to remember the suspension that you – it was high-level contacts and communication exercise – not exercises, we don’t exercise with the Russians – but just in terms of more formal contacts between the militaries. We have diplomatic relations with Russia. Secretary Kerry routinely talks to his counterpart. There’s certainly no prohibition for there to be discussions with – at a high level at DOD, for them to have discussions with their counterparts. The suspension was really more institutional when it was put into place. And again, those – as far as I know, those remain in place. I’d refer you to my Defense Department colleagues.


QUESTION: But they have – just a final point, and this is really getting into the weeds, but they have said over at the Pentagon that they’re more than happy to let the State Department take the lead on the high-level communications, that they don’t see any reason why Secretary Carter should be engaged in anything with his Russian counterpart at this point.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t characterize what my colleagues at the Pentagon have said. Again, this is a Russian proposal Secretary Kerry talked about yesterday that we are exploring and considering. As far as I know, as you and I speak here, Ros, there’s been no final decision made about how or if or when to move forward on it. It’s a proposal that’s being explored, and I would let – should it go forward, it would obviously be under the auspices of the Defense Department, and I would allow them to speak to how – again, if it goes forward – how they would endeavor to pursue it.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? There are reports – I’m sure you’re well aware of them – of Syrian air force aircraft striking Raqqa, which has been a target for U.S. aircraft. Does the U.S. Government think there’s any utility in seeking to de-conflict to ensure that there are no crossed wires if there are aircraft from the two countries in the same area?

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about Syrian aircraft?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this before, and I want to be – as I – I will respond to your question, but I do have to put the caveat out there that I am not going to talk about military matters or operational issues.

That said, it’s a point that we have discussed before. There is no communication or coordination with the Syrian regime or their military forces in our counter-ISIL efforts inside Syria. That said – and again, I’d point you to the Defense Department – but I know that we have, through various channels, made clear to the regime to not interfere with coalition air efforts inside the country. And as far as I know, you and I speaking here today, there’s been no conflict in that regard, that there’s been no interference. There’s been no activity by the Syrian regime with respect to our air operations over the country. Again, I’d point you to DOD for any more on that, but there’s been no issue.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, has there been any recent effort to communicate to the Syrians through whatever channels to reinforce that message?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anything fresh, but it has – it’s been a message that has been delivered. And as far as I know and that we know, it has been observed.

QUESTION: One other one on this. We have a report out of the region saying that the Syrians have now begun to use unspecified Russian weaponry, which has improved their targeting. Do you have any reason to believe that that’s true, and do you have any sense of what kinds of weapons those might be?

MR KIRBY: I’m afraid I don’t, Arshad. I’ve not seen those reports. But again, we’ve long made our concerns known about military assistance and materiel from Russia to the Assad regime that would help them in any way perpetuate violence against their own people, but I’m not familiar with that particular report.

QUESTION: I still have a question that’s --

QUESTION: Haven’t they always used Russian weapons?

MR KIRBY: They have had a longstanding military relationship with Russia. That’s true. That doesn’t mean that --

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t they – their army mostly – I’m not --


QUESTION: Yeah. Just a question about General Austin’s testimony yesterday, which made it pretty clear that the initial results of train and equip in Syria were pretty poor, to put it mildly. And he said that there was a review of the program, or his colleague did. Is that something that Secretary Kerry will be discussing with the Defense Secretary? And does the State Department have a view on that or an input in terms of how that might be made more effective possibly?

MR KIRBY: Sure. As I said, they will be discussing the counter-ISIL effort at their meeting this afternoon. Again, this is a series of meetings that they’ve had on this particular topic. I suspect that, if past is prologue, they will – one of the items they will discuss is this program and the status of it. It has been on the agenda before. I would expect that it will continue to be on the agenda. Now what exactly will be said today, I don’t know.

We all saw General Austin’s testimony yesterday, and frankly, we’ve seen and been aware of comments made by other Pentagon leaders in the past about the struggles and the challenges of this particular program, which they have spoken to candidly and forthrightly.

The Secretary still believes, as he has, that this is an important component of the strategy and he welcomes the attention that the Pentagon continues to put on it. Obviously, these are decisions that they have to make, a review they have to conduct. Obviously, the Secretary will be interested in learning how that’s going and whatever recommendations they might arrive at. But I think the Secretary also recognizes that it is but one component of a strategy that has many lines of effort, and not all of them are in the training realm; in fact, not all of them are in the military realm. And so that’s why we have General Allen here, as I talked about his travel, and Ambassador McGurk, who is also on travel right now, working very hard at the coalition pieces to this strategy, which again are not all military in scope.

QUESTION: But as the person who’s taking the lead on setting up the coalition and keeping the coalition going, does the Secretary or the State Department have a particular view on the – on how this could be changed or made more effective?

MR KIRBY: Well, this is a DOD program, and the Secretary respects the Defense Department’s prerogatives in terms of how it’s administered and executed and eventually implemented. So he looks forward to continuing to talk to Secretary Carter about that and the broad swath of things that we’re trying to do against ISIL in the region. But he will leave it to the Defense Department, as he should, to conduct their review and make whatever changes they deem are most appropriate.


QUESTION: Does the fact that DOD is taking a second look at how the train and assist program goes forward put more emphasis or more importance on the other lines of effort – the counter-messaging, the political diplomatic channels in terms of trying to basically starve out ISIL, particularly inside Syria? Because the military part was the first part of this anti-ISIL campaign, and if it’s now going to be shifting into training a small number of people to basically call in airstrikes – which is very different from a big military force that was envisioned to go after ISIL – doesn’t that put more emphasis now on the nonmilitary parts of the strategy?

MR KIRBY: No, not necessarily, Ros. The nonmilitary aspects of the strategy have remained important and will continue to remain important. They are not the most visible nor are they the most tangible, but they’re no less important now – or no more important now than they were before. I think it’s important to remember that this train and equip program, whichever – wherever way it goes and whatever changes it sees is also just one component of the military line of effort. There are many lines of effort – I’m sorry, many components to the military line of effort which includes airstrikes, it includes training, equipping Iraqi Security Forces there inside the country. It includes assisting in command, control coordination. We have two joint operations centers now – one in the south, one in the north.

So there’s a lot of pieces to the military line of effort. This is but one of them. And again, we need to let the Defense Department do the work that they feel like they need to do to examine where they are and make the right decisions moving forward. But it doesn’t – the challenges that this program is having doesn’t, just by dint of itself, force a radical change in any of the other lines of effort.


MR KIRBY: All right? Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: John, back to the military-to-military dialogue --

MR KIRBY: I’ll get to you, Said.


MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I got you.

QUESTION: Wherever you want.

QUESTION: Just to clarify or make --

MR KIRBY: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Just to make clear, is – has the U.S. officially accepted the Russian proposal to discuss the de-confliction and possible cooperation? I know you’ve talked about it, but has the U.S. officially accepted that offer?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary was very clear yesterday that it’s a proposal they made that we are exploring, and I would say to you that that’s where we are today.

QUESTION: There was a report that said the Administration accepted the proposal by one of our colleagues from AP. Have you seen that report --

MR KIRBY: Again, I would just --

QUESTION: -- the Pentagon approved, Susan Rice approved?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the press reporting on this. Again, I think it’s – the Secretary, as you – you can go back and look at what he said yesterday. He certainly indicated a willingness to review this and to explore it, and that’s what we’re doing now.

QUESTION: One more question about it. What type of timeframe are you considering with this proposal? Are you perhaps considering something on the sidelines of UNGA or perhaps a meeting before the General Assembly?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any milestones here to read out on it. I think that’s putting the cart well, well before the horse. Again, this is a recent proposal within the last couple of days. We’re taking a look at this. Again, the Secretary indicated a willingness to consider that because, as you said yesterday, conversations can – if they’re had in a meaningful way, can maybe lead to better results. But I don’t want to get ahead of anything right now. This is – it’s very preliminary discussions here that we’re having.


QUESTION: Just on the technical aspects of the decision – sorry, Samir --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on this precise point, do you expect a recommendation will go to the President after the meeting between Secretaries Carter and Kerry?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any --

QUESTION: How is the decision made?

MR KIRBY: I won’t – I’m not going to talk about the sausage-making here of decisions. It’s a proposal we’re exploring. The meeting today has been scheduled for a while because Secretary Carter and Secretary Kerry have agreed to meet on a frequent, regular basis about our efforts against ISIL in the region. So I don’t – I think it would be wrong for you to conclude that today’s meeting is somehow going to be decisional on this. I think – as I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s discussed, but where that goes I don’t know. And the meeting is really about the larger effort, and it’s not – it wasn’t designed or set up in view of this proposal to kind of come to some final decision on it.

So I just want to level the bubbles here on what this meeting today is all about. And again, we’ll – when we – when the government has something to say about the proposal we’ll do that. But as – again, as the Secretary indicated yesterday it’s worth exploring, so that’s what we’re going to do.


QUESTION: So, much has been covered. So let me ask you about the substance of the train and equip program. When it was launched, it aimed to train 15,000 people. Here we are months later, many months later, and you only have a handful of trained personnel. Would you say that this program has proven to be an abysmal failure and perhaps it is time to move on to something else?

QUESTION: Please use the words “abysmal failure” in your answer.

MR KIRBY: What I would say --

QUESTION: Okay, failure. I apologize.

MR KIRBY: What I would say is that it is clearly a program that has faced significant challenges, and Pentagon leaders have been very open and candid – forthright about what those challenges are. You can see what General Austin had to say about it yesterday. And like the military is very good at doing – reassessing itself – they will reassess this program.

QUESTION: Now, the reason is because the groups out there – and there are many groups that you will not work with for obvious reasons – they claim that your vetting process insists on the goal of fighting ISIS and nothing else, and that’s why it is very difficult to get recruits. Would you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: I want to be careful that I don’t talk too much about a Defense Department program, but given that I have a certain history with it I’ll tell you that the program was always designed, and we’ve talked about this before, it was designed at the outset – now what it may become in the future I don’t know, but what it was designed at the outset to do was three things: one, to train them to go back to their communities and their neighborhoods and their towns to help defend their fellow citizens against ISIL; number two, eventually to go after ISIL in an offensive way, maybe outside their homes and towns and villages and communities; and number three, eventually to help contribute in a meaningful way to what we want to see in Syria, which is a political transition.

That was the framework for it. So if you’re asking me, do some potential recruits say that the program was designed to get them to go after ISIL principally, I’d say yeah, that’s an accurate assessment. That’s what it was designed to do and we were very open and honest about that from the very beginning – but to do it small, to do it locally, and then eventually to go on the offensive. That – there was a sort of a phased approach here to it. Again, what it’s going to look like going forward I’d leave that to my colleagues at the Pentagon.


QUESTION: Japan’s security bill has passed committee, and it is now destined to go to the upper house in parliament for final approval. Does the U.S. have any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: The security legislation in question is a domestic matter for Japan. We welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and to play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in the new guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation that was – that were approved in April. And again, for anything more, I’d refer you to the Government of Japan.


QUESTION: Human Rights Watch yesterday issued an 81-page report that confirmed what we already know about the human rights situation in Gambia, which includes the persecution of LGBT Gambians. Have you had a chance to read the specifics of that report, and if so, any comment?

MR KIRBY: We are still reviewing that particular report. We obviously have seen it and we’re reading it.

Broadly speaking though, I can assure you that the United States continues to place great importance on the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, and we’re going to continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable minorities in a society, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

QUESTION: And one of the specific recommendations in that report was that it’s urging the United States and other countries, including the European Union, to impose travel bans, or “other targeted sanctions” against Gambian officials responsible for these human rights. I brought up the question back in July and there was no answer about whether there was any immediate plans to implement such measures. Any update on that?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I mean, we’re – again, we’re still going through this report. I don’t have any decisions with respect to this issue to announce today. As you know, we have a variety of tools at our disposal. We’re not afraid to use them when we feel its warranted. But I wouldn’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made.


MR KIRBY: Samir.

QUESTION: Was the Secretary supposed to meet with the foreign minister of Egypt today?



MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a second question.


QUESTION: Any update on the bombings in Baghdad today? Did you confirm if ISIL was behind it?

MR KIRBY: In Baghdad?


MR KIRBY: No. Again, we’ve seen reports, but I don’t have anything to confirm with specifics.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I have a couple questions of Yemen.

MR KIRBY: On what?



QUESTION: Yeah. First of all, do you have any update of what’s going on in Yemen? What is the status of your involvement, let’s say. If – are you talking to Saudis, are you pushing them for some sort of a resolution? That’s one. And second, the – there are – the reports persist that actually al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is coalescing either on its own or behind the, let’s say, forces from the United Arab Emirates and Saudis and so on, and reconstituting itself. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: On the second thing, I’m – we can’t get into intelligence matters, but obviously, AQAP is a group that we continue to watch very, very closely. They have proven resilient. I’m not going to get into intelligence assessments about their level of strength, but I can assure you that we remain very keenly focused on the threat that they continue to pose.

As for the situation on the ground, again, I try to avoid operational kind of assessments in terms of where things are going. It’s very, very fluid. But I will tell you that we remain engaged on a variety of levels with key Yemeni partners and international partners in order to help support a return to the political transition that we want to see happen in Yemen, and that we’re working in coordination with international partners to ensure that the people of Yemen receive humanitarian relief. You might remember that King Salman was here. In his meeting with the President, both of them – both leaders reinforced the need for that political solution and for the free and unfettered flow of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people. That’s still proving to be a challenge, and obviously, we’re very focused on that.

QUESTION: On the one hand, the Saudis say that many of the targets that were targeted have been destroyed and so on, but on the other hand, we see a relentless kind of bombardment and it’s actually accelerating, not ebbing.

MR KIRBY: By the Saudis, you mean?

QUESTION: By the Saudis, yes.

MR KIRBY: Well --


MR KIRBY: I mean, if you’re asking me what my reaction to that is --


MR KIRBY: -- we continue to discuss with Saudi authorities their prosecution of the – of the air operations that they’re conducting. I’m not going to speak for the Saudi military, but this is something we’re in constant communication with them about. And we continue to urge them to take all proper precautions to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties and to conduct these strikes in accordance with international law, and will continue to do so.

It’s important to remember, Said, that they were invited in by the Yemeni Government to assist in this effort. But we’re in constant and close communication with them about it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied with the Saudi efforts to make sure that humanitarian aid is still getting into Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think this came out of the meeting between President Obama and King Salman. I think everybody recognizes that because it’s such a fluid situation there, that it’s difficult, that it’s hard. But the Saudis have committed on more than one occasion, including in this meeting, to doing what they could to try to make sure that the access for humanitarian aid can go on unhindered. It’s a difficult – everybody shares that goal; it’s difficult to actually implement it, given the fluidity of the situation. But we’re going to continue to work at that.


QUESTION: On Secretary Kerry’s state regarding the U.S. respond North Korea’s nuclear threat. Yesterday, Secretary Kerry has mentioned that United States have additional different pressure to North Korea, against North Korea’s nuclear threat. Does the U.S. have different additional pressure except existing economic sanctions to North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’ve talked about this before. I mean, we’ve often noted that in a country that’s as economically isolated as North Korea, there is going to limits to the pressure that can be exerted through sanctions alone, particularly unilateral sanctions from the United States. I don’t have – and the Secretary didn’t – I don’t have any announcements to make of – with respect to new tools or new options, but we do continue to look at and will aim to use all the tools at our disposal to make clear, as President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said, that North Korea has a choice to make. And the onus – as I’ve said before, the onus is on them. They’ve got this choice to make to denuclearize and attain the peace and security and prosperity that we’d like to see on the peninsula, or stay along the current path and face increasing diplomatic isolation and economic deprivation.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he said the economic sanction is not enough to pressure to North Korea. I’m saying did you have any specific different pressure currently he has?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary said that sanctions alone may not be enough to create the pressure to – yeah, to inspire a different set of behaviors out of North Korea, that we have other tools at our disposal. But I have nothing new to announce with respect to that. I mean, we have – it would be irresponsible of us not to look at other tools that could be used. This is a closed society and completely – not – almost completely isolated economy, and so there’s a limit to what sanctions can do. And that’s what he referring to, that that’s – it’s a difficult problem to solve and a difficult regime to influence, and we have to recognize that there are limits to what economic sanctions can do. But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to turn away from it or not continue to look at options.


QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: It’s on China. According to the reports from China, Xi Jinping mentioned at yesterday’s meeting U.S. and China agreed to establish the so-called new type of the major power relations in the 2013th meeting, and he likes to promote it in coming visit. U.S. and China is on the same page as for the using this word, so-called new type of the major power relations still, or is the U.S. Government comfortable using the word likewise?

MR KIRBY: New – the word is new type of major power relations.

QUESTION: New type of the major power relations.

MR KIRBY: I think you can understand that I’m not going to get ahead of President Xi’s visit and the agenda and what’s going to be discussed and/or decided. That’s really for my colleagues at the White House to speak to, and I simply wouldn’t get ahead of that. So I’m not in a position to characterize one way or another terminology that will or will not be discussed, debated, or adopted.

We’re looking forward to the visit. It’s an important relationship that matters not just in the Pacific region but around the world as China’s economy continues to grow and China’s influence continues to expand. And so we’re all very excited about this. Secretary Kerry is looking forward to it. And I think we’ll just let the meetings speak for themselves once they happen.

QUESTION: John, on China? This morning up on the Hill, the Secretary’s former colleague and old pal, Senator McCain, before – I believe it was a Senate Armed Services Committee, some subcommittee about the naval role in the Asia Pacific, said that the U.S. Navy should ignore China’s claims – disputed claims to these manmade islands in the South China Sea and should sail its vessels – the U.S. Navy – within the 12-mile limit there. Considering that President Xi is coming next week, from the State Department’s point of view, is this a diplomatically sound thing to be recommending to the military?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen the senator’s specific remarks with respect to that, and --

QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether – regardless of whether you’ve seen them or not, is that the kind of thing – I mean, intentional – what would appear to be a provocative move from your part, is that the kind of thing that the State Department would like to see happen ahead of such an important visit, a visit to which you ascribe so much value?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to hypothesize about potential or speculative military actions. First of all, I think it would be unwise to do that in the main. Secondly, it’s the kind of thing that I think is better proffered to the Defense Department to speak to. What I will tell you though, Matt, is that we continue to share an interest with the region in maintaining regional stability, upholding the existing rules-based order, and in that spirit we continue to encourage all the claimants – and that’s really what this is getting at is this idea of the claimant, the claims – to take concrete steps to reduce the tensions in the South China Sea. So what we want to see are tensions reduced, not tensions increased.

QUESTION: Right. So would this kind of suggestion, that’s something that – that that’s something that would increase tensions, right? Even though you’re not a claimant, if you sent --

MR KIRBY: We are not.

QUESTION: -- if the U.S. Government was to send naval – its Navy or some ships from its Navy from the Pacific Fleet into the waters claimed by the Chinese in these disputed areas, that would elevate tensions, correct?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know because we’re not – I mean, it’s not being done, but --

QUESTION: Well, let me give you the answer. Yes, it would.

MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: So you think that it’s a bad idea or a good idea?

MR KIRBY: What we want to see --

QUESTION: I’m asking you not whether it should be done or not, but whether you think --

MR KIRBY: What we want to see are tensions decrease, Matt. We obviously have an obligation, and we continue to exercise it, of freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas. And I think Secretary Carter spoke to this very bluntly earlier this week about the fact that the military will continue to operate in international waters and international airspace as we need to do to maintain our proficiency and to maintain our security commitments to the region. So that – that will not – we are a Pacific power. We’re going to remain one.

QUESTION: All right. You --

MR KIRBY: And we’re going to do it in keeping with international law.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means you – even though the --

MR KIRBY: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- these limits are disputed, you’re going to respect them.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is we’re going to continue to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of use of the airspace in accordance with international law. I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize on exactly where those activities are going to happen.


QUESTION: Just can you tell us – I know the meeting just began, but what can you tell us about the subject of the meeting between Secretary Kerry and the CEOs of American Airlines and Delta Airlines? And then the schedule had him also meeting with two union – airline union leaders. Are they in that meeting or is he meeting them separately, or is that not happening at all?

MR KIRBY: No, this – the meeting today between the Secretary and Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli – they’re scheduled to meet with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker – actually, the meeting is, as you rightly noted, going on now – and the Delta CEO, Richard Anderson. Those are the parties in the meeting, and the principal purpose is to discuss the concerns of these two airlines over Gulf carriers – Gulf country air carriers – that are benefiting from government subsidies that these CEOs believe are distorting the market. That’s the purpose for the meeting.

QUESTION: Do you know the --

QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine?

QUESTION: Sorry --

MR KIRBY: Did you have one on this?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Well, just given the fact that one of the airlines, I believe, is the Emirates Airlines and the Secretary is flying to London to see the Emirati foreign minister, you expect that he’ll be raising this issue?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. It could certainly come up in light of today’s meeting, but I don’t know.


QUESTION: Ukraine, as part of new sanctions, has banned more than 40 journalists from several countries. The list was criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the OSCE. Does the U.S. support these sanctions?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve seen – we’ve seen this. The – you’re talking about President Poroshenko’s --


MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we believe, as you know, all governments should uphold free expression, and we welcome President Poroshenko’s decision to swiftly lift the travel ban on some of the journalists. We recognize that more than 30 individuals remain banned from travel to Ukraine for a variety of reasons, including illegally entering the country.

As the Ukrainian Government continues to review the list, we encourage it to keep in mind the importance of unfettered and factual journalism in a democratic society. The United States fully supports a real marketplace of ideas, but we also recognize that the Ukrainian Government, like many other countries in the region, has serious concerns about the intense propaganda campaign waged by Russia’s state-controlled media and the possible impact that propaganda could have on the country’s future.

QUESTION: But they were from – they’re from, like, six different countries, not just Russia – throughout Europe, even Israel.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Nothing to do with Russian propaganda.

MR KIRBY: That’s why I said as the Ukrainian Government continues to review the list – and I recognize that there are more than Russian state media on the list – we ask or we encourage them to keep in mind the importance of unfettered and factual-based journalism in a democratic country. I mean, we – we’re very honest and candid and open here in the United States about the importance of media freedom, and that’s no less important there than anywhere else.

You had a question?

QUESTION: You know the – and you’ve seen in – the public schedule said he was going to meet the two union leaders.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I have to – I’ll have to turn back in the book here. Hang on a second.

QUESTION: Is he ever going to meet those union leaders? I mean --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t have anything further on his calendar with respect to this issue to read out. This – I do want to stress that this meeting was requested by these two CEOs, and so the Secretary agreed to meet with them. They, as I understand it, have also met with other leaders in our federal government, not just the Secretary of State. So I know of no additional meetings that he’s going to have on this particular issue or who they would be with. Obviously, just like today, if they happen, they’ll be on his public calendar and you’ll know about it.

QUESTION: And just last thing: I believe the department which negotiates the Open Skies agreements under which the claims of improper subsidies are being raised is reviewing the airlines’ claims about the Gulf carriers. Has the Department or the Administration more broadly made any determination one way or the other, or is it still in a information-gathering, kind of analyzing mode?

MR KIRBY: You’re right; it’s really a DOT and a Commerce Department issue. I’m not aware of any final decisions that have been made with respect to these claims. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why these two CEOs wanted to speak to Secretary Kerry to continue to discuss their concerns. So I’m not aware that this has been resolved in any way whatsoever. And again, the Secretary respects the role of DOT and the Commerce Department in terms of working through this.

I have got to go. I’m going – we have another bilateral meeting this afternoon. I’ll take one real quick one and then I’ve got to run.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to today’s expiration of the legislative review period for the Iran nuclear deal, and is there any consideration of the Administration offering some sort of olive branch to lawmakers who’ve been so vehemently opposed to the plan?

MR KIRBY: Our reaction is – I mean, we’re certainly grateful for the review in Congress, and we’re glad --


MR KIRBY: We are glad that --

QUESTION: You’re grateful for the review? But they didn’t review it. They voted not to – they voted not to.

MR KIRBY: For the --

QUESTION: And you encouraged them to stop, to stop --

MR KIRBY: We’re grateful for the review and debate and discussion that the deal elicited. And as I said from the very beginning, Secretary Kerry did not shy away from having discussions with lawmakers who had all kinds of different opinions about this. He recognizes that that’s what is – that’s what’s great about living in a democracy, is that people can have differences and can disagree and can express their opinions. Now we are turning to the important task of implementation of the JCPOA, and that’s where his focus and energy is going to be going now, moving forward.

So thanks. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 16, 2015

Wed, 09/16/2015 - 15:20

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 16, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:47 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a caution at the top: I’ve got a hard deadline to stop in about a half-hour, so I apologize, but I did want to get to your questions today. I have something – I have one thing to announce at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

Escalating violence in Yemen, which has already faced years of instability and poverty, has left 80 percent of the country’s population in need of urgent humanitarian aid. So I’m pleased to announce that more than $89 million in additional assistance to help people affected by the ongoing conflict in Yemen, including nearly 71 million from the United States Agency for International Development and more than 18 million from the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. This new funding will support the efforts of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations, and brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Yemen to nearly 170 million, and that’s in FY – Fiscal Year 2015.

With this new funding, the United States is supporting emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, improved sanitation, emergency shelter, lifesaving medical care, nutrition services, and protection for vulnerable populations. The United States stands with the people of Yemen and remains committed to helping the millions of men, women and children who continue to suffer in Yemen and across the region because of the crisis there.

Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. Let’s start with what Secretary Kerry had to say upstairs a little while ago about his conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the proposal that he said Foreign Minister Lavrov made about U.S.-Russia military-to-military talks on this. The Secretary did not say that the Administration had decided to go ahead and accept this offer, but he made it pretty clear that he thinks personally it’s a good idea because – well, he listed numerous reasons: de-conflicting things, making sure there’s no misunderstandings or no miscalculations. So I’m just wondering if you can elaborate a little bit more. Has this reached any – the stage of more than just a kind of vague proposal?

MR TONER: Well, as the Secretary said, this was a – something the Russians proposed in his conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I think we’re still in the very preliminary stages and, as the Secretary pointed out, one of the critical elements going forward is that we have a dialogue, that we have an understanding of what Russia’s intentions are in Syria. And so in order to have that, you have to have a conversation, which is how he framed it, I think, just a little while ago. But I think we’re still very preliminary stage here, so I don’t have much more meat to add to that bone, so to speak.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but you are – or his belief is that in order to fully understand what Russia wants to do and what their intentions are, that there should be a – that there needs to be a conversation back and forth. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Well, yeah, and as he said, not taking anything at face value, but --

QUESTION: Understood.

MR TONER: -- obviously need to have a conversation and need to de-conflict, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. So I’m curious – General Austin was up on the Hill earlier today talking about the train and equip program, and came out with a rather astounding figure of – that there were only four to five individual U.S.-trained and equipped fighters currently fighting ISIL in Syria. One senator said that that’s a joke, and it’s hard not to disagree with her, I think. Is that one of the reasons that you’re – that the Secretary is willing to have a dialogue with Russia about this? Because the Russians say that they’re there because of ISIL, not because – necessarily because of President Assad. If you only have single – less than a handful, or a handful or less, of people who have benefited or are fighting from the train and equip program, it would seem to me that you need all the help you can get. Are you willing to accept Russian help?

MR TONER: A couple of responses to that question. First of all, well aware of the comments he made on the Hill. Certainly don’t challenge that assessment. But the Department of Defense has been very candid in pointing out that this train and equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition has not, frankly, lived up to what we initially thought and is striving to do better, to train more moderate opposition, to put them into the battlefield – to reinsert them, if you will – to train and equip them. But they’ve fallen short and I think they’ve been very, as I said, candid and upfront about that assessment.

That said, that’s only one component of our strategy, and you know this, Matt. We’re working with groups like the Syrian Kurds, the YPD and others – Syrian Arabs – who are fighting against ISIL on the ground. We’re supporting them with airstrikes. So I mean, we have this train and equip program --

QUESTION: Sorry, let me just interrupt.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Those are – that – those are the Kurds that the Turks aren’t bombing, right?

MR TONER: Well, that’s a different matter. You’re talking about the PKK, which is a terrorist – FTO.

QUESTION: Who are also fighting – who are also fighting ISIL.

MR TONER: And also taking – and also killing Turkish military and police officers. Anyway, that’s another issue. But just back to my response: So this train and equip program, while it hasn’t lived up to expectations, is just one part of what is, frankly, a larger effort. Let me finish, sorry.

But the Secretary was also clear that if it’s true that Russia is only focused on ISIL, then there is the possibility for cooperation. That’s exactly what he said. And that’s why I think that we would be willing to pursue this military-to-military cooperation – or dialogue, rather – going forward, to try to get answers and to try to have a conversation about it. But ultimately that’s going to be for the Department of Defense and the Pentagon to pursue that.

QUESTION: Okay. So this would --

MR TONER: Yeah. So I wouldn’t necessarily draw a connection. Sorry.

QUESTION: His understanding – the Secretary’s understanding of this is that it would be purely military to military; he wouldn’t be involved at all, or he wouldn’t --

MR TONER: Well, I think, again, the military to military about anti-ISIL, if you want, kinetic actions that Russia may participate in – that has to be a mil to mil. But to a broader political settlement in Syria, we certainly – and we say that all the time – we’re open to discussions with the Russians.

QUESTION: And my last one --


QUESTION: -- and I realize this is unfair because it’s not a State Department program, it is a Pentagon program, but when you say that this train and equip program hasn’t lived up to expectations, that’s an understatement, isn’t it?

MR TONER: I’ll leave that for the --

QUESTION: I mean, when you first said you didn’t challenge the assessment, are you talking about the assessment of Senator Ayotte, who said that that’s a joke? Or are you – what assessment are you --

MR TONER: No, the total numbers of those trained for the program.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Before these latest announcements about the Obama Administration weighing Russia’s – looking into Russia’s offer, Russia’s strategy, we heard U.S. officials say that Russia’s strategy for fighting ISIL is “not a winning strategy.” Well, that would imply that the U.S. has a winning strategy. Has – how winning has the U.S. strategy been so far?

MR TONER: That’s – so I think you’re conflating. What we’ve said is – just your question, the way it was phrased – what we’ve said is we don’t believe continuing to support the Assad regime is a winning strategy. We’ve been very clear on that and very clear about that for a long time, that we think if there’s going to be a successful political transition – which is what we all want in Syria – that that ultimately can’t include Assad, so any effort to prop him up, to strengthen his position or his regime’s position we view, frankly, as not a winning strategy. That’s on the – that’s not something that we can support.

QUESTION: Now, about the U.S. strategy to defeat ISIL.

MR TONER: But – sorry, but – sorry, just – sorry, I’ll get to all of that. But what the Secretary said and what we’ve said before is if Russia does want to play a constructive role in anti-ISIL efforts or in the coalition against ISIL, that’s certainly something we can look at. And again, in that vein, that was what the Secretary was saying upstairs, was that we need to have a conversation military to military, certainly about the military aspects of any involvement that Russia might have in order to de-conflict, but more broadly, a political resolution in Syria.

Your – then your broader question was what’s the --

QUESTION: Well, actually --

MR TONER: -- what’s the ISIL, the winning strategy?

QUESTION: Well, Russia’s strategy – Russia says that its strategy would include – will include the Syrian Government and the Syrian army, so that is part of the Russian strategy that, as Samantha Power said, and I believe President Obama as well, is – the U.S. says is not a winning strategy. So how winning has the U.S. strategy been?

MR TONER: Well, I think, again, we’ve got a six-pronged or six components to our overall strategy against ISIL. We’re a year in; we’ve been very candid about saying this is going to be a long and difficult struggle. We have made significant gains. I can quote back to you all of the stats that others have given over the last couple of weeks as we reach this one-year anniversary in the struggle, but overall, I think we have seen gains on the ground. We’ve supported and our strategy is based on this 60-plus-member coalition. Part of it is airstrikes, part of it is supporting groups on the ground in northern Syria, also working with the Iraqi military as well, and trying to bring the fight to ISIL.

But it’s broader than that. It’s about strangling their financial support structure. It’s about changing hearts and minds, if you will, trying to stem the flow of foreign fighters. There’s a lot of different aspects to it. But just to finish --

QUESTION: You – yes.

MR TONER: Just to finish my answer – but fundamentally, where we have come down on this consistently is that we believe the Assad regime is largely to blame for the environment that allows ISIL to thrive right now in northern Syria and that’s where we simply draw the line that --

QUESTION: Understood.


QUESTION: Understood. You mentioned gains. Well, since the beginning of bombings last year, ISIL grew in territory. In front of me I have the map of the territory that they controlled from September of last year and from this September, and it is considerably bigger. I can show you that. The number of fighters, as I understand, stayed about the same.

Does that sound like a result of a – does it sound like gains? Does it sound like a result of a winning strategy?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve seen – certainly, in Iraq you’ve seen ISIL lose ground in – at Mosul Dam – Dam, rather, Tikrit, other places. They’ve been pushed back from areas around Kirkuk and Erbil. We’ve got now a more effective – again, I’m speaking about Iraq – a more effective military, Iraqi military on the ground that we’ve been working with, training, equipping. They’re able to – and are under much better command and control. They’re able to take the fight to ISIL there.

In northern Syria --

QUESTION: So you do you not argue the fact that they’re --

MR TONER: Let me finish. I let you ask the question.

In northern Syria we’ve also seen ISIL pushed out of areas where they had thought they controlled, largely through the efforts of groups like – I said the YPD, the Syrian Kurds and Syrian Arabs and other groups that have been really effective against ISIL. And certainly enhanced – their efforts have been enhanced by airstrikes coordinated with the coalition with the U.S. involved, certainly with Turkey now involved.

QUESTION: Well, even --

MR TONER: So this is a long effort, though.

QUESTION: I understand. But even U.S. officials say --

MR TONER: And I can’t – I wouldn’t --

QUESTION: Even U.S. officials say --

MR TONER: Sorry. Let me finish. But it’s – we have made, we believe, gains in the past year. Are we there yet? No. Have we done enough? No. It’s going to take longer.

QUESTION: Well, even U.S. officials say airstrikes alone are not going to do it. And about the U.S.-trained force, well, how winning is that force if it’s just not enough of them?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re working and across a broad spectrum. Matt brought that up, the – talking about the moderate Syrian opposition forces that we’re training.

QUESTION: The four of them?

MR TONER: That train and equip program – let me finish my – train and equip program has fallen short. The Pentagon has admitted that, been very candid about its assessment, need to do better. But we’re also working with a wide variety of groups in northern Syria, as I just mentioned, who are actually effective.

I’m going to let some other people – go ahead, please.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said that he wasn’t taking the Russian assertions at face value, so what specifically are you going to ask the Russians to do to prove to you that they are only there for fighting ISIL and that you are confident in that? Or do you have anything specific you are going to ask them to do to de-conflict?

MR TONER: Well, the Secretary – sure. The Secretary mentioned he’s spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov several times in the past couple of weeks. Those conversations are going to continue. Certainly, he mentioned that he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who’s, in fact, apparently going to Moscow, where he’s going to meet with Putin, also going to able to pose those questions.

We’ve been very candid – or very candid – very – yeah, I guess candid about saying what we’re asking our friends and partners and allies to do is also pose some of those tough questions to Russia about what its intentions are, what it’s doing. We’re certainly going to continue to watch as things develop. And as the Secretary said, this military-to-military conversation or dialogue that Russia did propose is one way to keep that channel open. If – and if there is any kind of constructive role that they want to play, certainly there is any number of questions about de-confliction and other issues that would need to be resolved. So we’re just going to continue to watch this closely. We’re going to continue to talk to the Russians and press them for answers and clear information about what their intentions are.

QUESTION: But can you be specific about what steps you would like them to take?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, writ large or in general about their actions on the ground?

QUESTION: As a show of good faith.

MR TONER: I mean, I think we’ve been very clear about our assessment that any effort to prop up Assad so that he can continue to attack Syrian civilians, which he’s done now across four years now, we would view as, frankly, counter-productive and detrimental to any kind of peaceful resolution, which is what we all presumably agree to as the path forward on Syria. So that’s really – that’s some of our clear areas of disagreement. If we saw any kind of efforts to continue to prop up Assad’s military might in order to take the fight against Syrian civilians, we would view that as detrimental to a peace process.

That said, going forward we have said we would welcome a constructive role that Russia could play in anti-ISIL efforts. But what that looks like and how that’s defined, that’s going to have to be through a lot of conversations and a lot of dialogue going forward.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You had an interesting qualification in that last line.


QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I thought it was interesting. You said any kind of effort to prop up the – Assad. And then you added to – in order to continue the fight or carry on the fight against innocent civilians. Does that mean that --

MR TONER: Which is what he’s done. No, I didn’t mean to imply that if he suddenly – look --

QUESTION: No, no, no.


QUESTION: What I’m asking – what I’m about to ask is --


QUESTION: Does that open the door for you to say that the Russians are cooperating if they help Assad but Assad is only turning his guns and the Russians are only turning their guns on ISIS?

MR TONER: I – we have been very clear all along that we do not view Assad as a credible partner in any anti-ISIL efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, the end of that sentence --

MR TONER: So please – yes. The only point I was trying --

QUESTION: -- in order to carry on the fight against innocent civilians should be stricken. (Laughter.) And it’s any kind of effort to prop up Assad you would be – see as counterproductive?

MR TONER: Sure. You could put a period there.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: I was only trying to point out the obvious fact that Assad’s – much of Assad’s effort and his military’s effort has been directed against innocent civilians.

QUESTION: Does it mean that you would approve of Russia doing it rather than helping Assad fight ISIL?

MR TONER: We’ve said – I – again, I would simply quote the Secretary, who said that any type of constructive – we would be receptive to a constructive Russian role in countering ISIL. What that looks like, that’s going to be the result of a lot of dialogue going forward.

That’s it?

QUESTION: No, I have – (laughter) – well, I actually have two more. But one --


QUESTION: -- is Russia, Russia-related.

MR TONER: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I saw the embassy in Moscow put out a statement, or the ambassador put out a statement today --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- about the closure of the American Center at a university in Moscow. Do you – I don’t expect that you’ll have much more to say than what Ambassador Tefft had to say about that, but as we all know, diplomacy is often run on – or mostly, largely run on reciprocity. Are there any plans for the – actually, I’m not sure there are any similar facilities or Russian facilities in the United States. But are you – is there any action planned to take in response to this?

MR TONER: I mean, I can’t – I don’t have anything to announce, certainly, or anything to even preview. I think Ambassador Tefft’s statement, as you mentioned, speaks for itself. It’s – this comes on the heels of last year’s unfortunate decision by the Russian Government to close down the Future Leaders Exchange Program, the FLEX exchange program. And as he stated, it calls into question Russian Government’s commitment to maintaining people-to-people ties with the United States.

And this is – again, this is the closing I – I was trying to get the statistic that I could give out if I got asked this question, but we’ve seen the systematic closing down or shutting down of our American Centers over the past couple of years. This is only the – I think the final straw. But that – these are simply places where Russian citizens can get information about the United States and are able to learn more about American culture, politics, whatever. And the fact that they’re being systematically pressured to shut down is just a really unfortunate phenomenon.


MR TONER: But I can’t speak to any kind of reciprocity. I just – nothing to --

QUESTION: Okay. Well – okay. So here you have the Russians, by your own – what you were saying is they’re shutting down these people-to-people exchanges; it’s a very unfortunate thing; it’s a systematic effort to try and clamp – and yet, at the same time, you’re perfectly willing to have a military-to-military dialogue with Russia on Syria?

MR TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: I mean, I can understand that they’re two completely separate things. But on one hand, you are essentially welcoming this proposal from the Russians to have this dialogue on Syria. And at the same time, you’re saying that the Russians are not interested in having a dialogue with the American people because they keep shutting down these centers. So I don’t know, it just seems to me they’re – either the Russians are being inconsistent or you guys are being inconsistent and not understanding exactly what’s going on.

MR TONER: I think we’ve spoken to this many times, including when Secretary Kerry traveled to Sochi to speak with President Putin. And it is simply the fact that, as we’ve seen with Iran and also seen with Ukraine, we have areas where we vehemently disagree with Russia’s actions. And I’m speaking specifically about eastern Ukraine. But there are areas like Iran, preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, where we seek their cooperation because we both have the same goal in mind.

And I agree with you to a point. We think – I think what is happening now, we believe what is happening now – the United States – in terms of closing that information space and that free information space in Russia is concerning. That’s a much broader topic about the state of, frankly, Russia’s democracy. But what you’re talking about in terms of military-to-military conversations apropos to Syria, as the Secretary said upstairs just a little while ago, it’s about de-confliction, it’s about getting a clear understanding of what their intentions are.

QUESTION: I understand that. But you’re basically --

MR TONER: You have to be able to do that in diplomacy.

QUESTION: -- on one hand – on one hand – yes. But on one hand, you’re accusing the Russians of being hostile to the U.S. by closing down these – by closing – systematically closing down these centers. And I don’t think it’s a leap to say that critics are going to be looking at this and saying, well, if you’re accusing them of being hostile, what on Earth thinks – makes you think that they are not going to be – that they’re going to be doing something different in terms – vis-a-vis Syria?

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, I think you have to be able to send a clear message when you – where you disagree, but also leave the door open for conversations because you need to be able to have those conversations in order to move forward in a diplomatic way.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Tomorrow there’s going to be a markup hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a bill that expresses concern that – of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement by the Palestinian Authority. Does the State Department agree that the Palestinian Authority has been doing that and that there’s concern about this? Do you think that these kinds of resolutions are helpful?

MR TONER: Right. I’m frankly not familiar with the bill and the contents of it, so I’d have to actually look at it and study it to see what our position would be. More broadly speaking, our position in general is that we want both sides in the Middle East to refrain from any way that escalates – any – or sorry, any language or any efforts that would escalate tensions between the two entities. But I can’t – I don’t know what’s in the bill, so it’s difficult for me to speak to it. I apologize.

QUESTION: Related issue.


QUESTION: I had asked you and it was a taken question about UNRWA and these allegations against UNRWA employees. I did get an answer to that, but the answer said that you were waiting to hear back from UNRWA about their internal investigation into this.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything?

MR TONER: I have not heard back. I’ll double-check on that, Matt, though.

Yeah, please, sir.

QUESTION: Last night the White House announced that President Xi is coming on the 25th. Is – are there any meetings scheduled for Secretary Kerry with his counterpart?

MR TONER: At this point, nothing to formally announce. Certainly, we look forward to the visit. It’s an important one. It’s an important relationship, as we all know. But I don’t have anything in terms of the Secretary’s schedule to announce, but I can assure you that he’ll be having appropriate meetings with his counterparts. But when we have more we’ll let you know.

Great. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, Matt. Thanks for getting me down early.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 15, 2015

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 16:54

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 15, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Tuesday.

MR KIRBY: Indeed. Okay. A couple things at the top, short and sweet.

I want to announce upcoming travel by the Secretary. He will visit London from September 18th to September 20th to meet with UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond to discuss bilateral and global issues, including the ongoing crisis in Syria and the refugee situation, of course, in Europe. While in London, Secretary Kerry will also meet with the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed to discuss also a variety of regional and bilateral issues.

Tomorrow – actually this week, the United States welcomes representatives from the Government of South Africa to Washington for the 2015 Strategic Dialogue. Established in 2010, the Dialogue was created to seek common ground on key issues influencing the U.S. and South Africa’s bilateral relationship. This year’s Strategic Dialogue, led by Secretary Kerry and the foreign minister of South Africa, will focus on key bilateral issues such as health cooperation, trade and investment, and peace and security.


QUESTION: I understand that Secretary Kerry has been in touch with his Russian counterpart.

MR KIRBY: He did speak by phone with Minister Lavrov today. I don’t have a readout of that call for you. I suspect we’ll be able offer something to you a little bit later.

QUESTION: Can we faithfully assume, though, that it was about Syria or that was a large reason for the phone call?

MR KIRBY: I know that Syria was certainly on the agenda of topics that the Secretary wanted to raise with the foreign minister. But again, I haven’t got a readout of that call yet.

QUESTION: Can you say if you, today, have a better understanding of what it is the Russians are exactly doing there, particularly given President Putin’s comments this morning about – well, basically reiterating earlier comments made by Russian officials that you can’t fight the Islamic State group without helping – or without the help of the Assad regime or without cooperating with them, and again calling on other countries to join Russia in supporting the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: I would – I think in terms of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, I’ll let their comments speak for themselves on that. We’ve seen multiple, now, public comments, including by the president this morning. I think we’ll let them stand on what they’ve said in terms of what they’re doing. And I’m not going to get into, as I wouldn’t, characterizing in any more detail what we see about their activities.

But I’d go back to what I’ve been saying. Nothing’s changed about the fact that we don’t want to see the Assad regime getting any support. There can’t be a role of the Assad regime in efforts to stabilize the situation in Syria, much less go against ISIL. And there is an international coalition fighting ISIL, 62 some-odd nations. And as I said yesterday, we’d welcome a constructive role by Russia in those efforts. But it can’t begin and it can’t continue under a condition where the Assad regime continues to get military support.

QUESTION: Well, I guess maybe I’d put it this way. Are you concerned at all that Russia is trying to create its own coalition that is also an anti-ISIL coalition, but is, at the same time, a pro-Assad coalition. In other words, they – are you concerned at all that they could bring in other countries, likeminded countries – and there are several that we know of – and that basically there could be two competing coalitions?

MR KIRBY: I would say, Matt, that what we’re concerned about is any support that bolsters the Assad regime’s ability to continue to have within their means the capabilities of rendering further violence inside the country. So what we’re concerned about is continued support for the Assad regime.

There’s no need for another international coalition against ISIL when 60-plus nations are already aligned and having an effect against ISIL, not just in Syria but also in Iraq. So I’ll let the Russians speak for themselves in terms of what they may be trying to achieve, but I would tell you that there’s already an international coalition dedicated to that. As we’ve said, we would welcome a constructive role by Russia to aid those efforts. But what – but you know who can’t be a part of that coalition is Bashar al-Assad and the regime.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But there is – I mean, a coalition I suppose is more than two members, but there is at least a two-member international coalition that is supporting Assad and fighting ISIL. Right?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I would call them --

QUESTION: Iran and Russia.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d call Iran and Russia a coalition, but what do they have in common? They – what they have in common is support for the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Right. And would you put Iraq in that group now, considering that they are not heeding calls to stop Russian use or Iranian use --

MR KIRBY: I would absolutely not include Iraq in that.

QUESTION: So they’re part of your coalition?

MR KIRBY: Iraq is a partner in our coalition against ISIL. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, how can they be a partner in your coalition if it’s supporting the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: They’re not supporting the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Well, they’re enabling support for it.

MR KIRBY: In what way?

QUESTION: Well, they’re allowing these flights to go --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, I’m not going to speak to the specific air corridors that may or may not be used. As I said earlier, we’ve asked our friends and partners to pose tough questions to the Russians about – in terms of air logistics.

But Iraq has been a staunch – and let me – I just want to make sure I make this clear: they’ve been a staunch and steadfast member of this coalition, and Prime Minister Abadi has made significant progress in trying to create a government, as he said he would, that is inclusive and representative of all Iraqis to help get at this very significant threat inside his country. And we have, as you know, troops dedicated on the ground to try to improve their battlefield competence. So Iraq is absolutely a valued member of this coalition and has – obviously, has a lot at risk and at stake here.

QUESTION: Can you quantify in any way the degree to which Russia has increased its involvement in Syria? I mean, knowing that the Russians, or the former Soviet Union, was involved militarily in Syria for a very long time – since 1971. How is their current presence different? I mean, they always had teams for training and directing even radar systems and so on. So how is the presence today in terms of quantity different?

MR KIRBY: I actually am not going to be able to answer that question, Said. I think those are questions you should ask Moscow about what’s changed today from last week or two weeks ago. Yes, they have had a long security relationship inside Syria. They have had a long military presence inside Syria, and we have seen over the last several years them resupplying existing assets that they have there and fulfilling what they have said are contractual obligations to the security relationship with Syria.

What we’ve seen in just the last few days, last week or so, has been increased activity that was opaque. Now, we’ve also seen in recent days Russian leaders come out and talk publicly about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It doesn’t make it any more comfortable. It doesn’t make it any more appropriate, in our view. But in terms of what exactly is on the ground, what they’ve moved, how often they’ve moved it, I’m not going to get into those kinds of assessments.

QUESTION: Outside the reports about Russia’s presence, have you been able to determine or see any, let’s say, reconnaissance flights by Russian fighter jets in Syria’s airspace?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into operational assessments.

QUESTION: If I may, I want to follow up with – on Syria. Today, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had an interview in Arabic with Russia Today, and he basically was saying, “Look, I mean, let’s all fight ISIS together” – he’s talking to the opposition – “and then we will move forward, we’ll move on to a political resolution.” Would that be acceptable to you? Do you feel that there is a sort of backtracking from, let’s say, the heightened rhetoric of six months ago?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen some excerpts of that interview that you’re talking about. Obviously, this is not a man whose word can be taken at face value.

I’m not – nothing has changed about our position with respect to what needs to happen in terms of a political transition away from Assad. There’s absolutely no change in our position there that the future of Syria can’t include Assad. And you need to remember that this is the same man who drops barrel bombs on his own people, so let’s keep it in perspective here when we’re talking about assertions he has made about fighting terrorists. He is the reason that ISIL has been allowed – and not just ISIL but other extremist groups have been allowed to fester and grow and sustain themselves inside Syria.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, John, but I want to press on this point because, you see, you keep saying that there is no military solution to Syria, and on the other hand you have a factor that is the regime and its followers, and in fact, a big portion of the population that adhere to the regime. But you’re saying that they cannot be part of this transitional process. Is that what you’re saying?

MR KIRBY: I’m saying that Bashar al-Assad can’t be a member of a coalition that’s fighting ISIL inside Iraq and inside Syria. He’s the reason why we are where we are with ISIL, point one. Point two, there are military solutions to going after ISIL, and we’ve been doing that quite effectively. And what we’ve said is what has to happen in the long run to defeat an enemy like this is good governance: good governance in Iraq, and I just talked about some of the steps that Prime Minister Abadi has been and continues to take in that regard; and good governance in Syria, which means a political transition away from Bashar al-Assad. Eventually, a political transition inside Syria away from Assad could be a factor – I think – we believe will be when its effected, assuming ISIL remains a threat, will be a factor in eventually degrading and defeating ISIL. I mean, again, because good governance matters here for a long-term, sustainable defeat.

QUESTION: Still on Syria. The Guardian ran an interview with the former Finnish president, who said that in 2012 the Russians basically offered to help negotiate a political exit for Bashar al-Assad and that the U.S. and the UK, among others, basically ignored the offer from Russians. Is that true?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing on that. I’ve seen those reports, but I have nothing to confirm that one way or the other. I think history speaks for itself in terms of who’s supporting Assad and who has historically – before 2012 and after 2012 – supported Assad and who’s doing it today as we speak. And I think those actions speak much louder than any words in terms of what may or may not have been debated over Assad’s future.

QUESTION: The former Finnish president also told The Guardian that as best as he could tell, the assumption at the time was that Assad was perhaps in the final few weeks of his presidency and that it basically wasn’t going to be worth trying to have any sort of organized negotiation. I know this predates your time at this podium, but are you aware – have others in this building said whether or not that judgment was made that it was basically a matter of waiting out Assad’s imminent departure at that time?

MR KIRBY: I know of no policy or decision to say that we were simply going to wait him out, no. I don’t know of any – I have seen no indications of that whatsoever. And again, there’s been a lot of energy applied internationally to try to get at a political transition.

To Said’s question, obviously there’s a military component to going after ISIL, but the commander-in-chief has been crystal clear for a long time that there’s not going to be a military solution to the – overall, the larger effort in – the larger conflict in Syria. This regards the regime. There has to be a political transition, and there has been a lot of energy applied to that and will continue to be, as I’ve said before.

QUESTION: And then a housekeeping question on the Secretary’s phone call to Mr. Lavrov. Did the Secretary initiate the call or did Mr. Lavrov call him?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary initiated it.


QUESTION: Another follow-up. Thank you. Andrei Sitov, from Tass. Why was Assad a legitimate partner for the chemical weapons and he is not a legitimate partner for fighting ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of things. First, we’re not – we weren’t – you’re talking about getting the chemical material out?


MR KIRBY: That wasn’t chemical weapons. It was chemical material --

QUESTION: Okay. Chemical material --

MR KIRBY: -- and it was declared stockpiles. And I don’t remember anybody calling him a legitimate partner. The international community worked to get those declared stockpiles out. So I don’t remember anybody calling him a partner.

QUESTION: Chemical stockpiles were moved out, and he was praised by the efforts in general. And all participants, including himself, were praised by a United Nations resolution. So he was, for all practical purposes, he was a partner there. Why can’t he be a partner now?

MR KIRBY: He can’t be a partner in the coalition to go after ISIL because he’s a major reason they’re there. And if your contention is that, well, he allowed for the declared stockpiles to leave his country – yes, he did. And yes, that was an international success getting those materials out of his country, out of his hands, and neutralized. But we still don’t know what undeclared assets he might have at his disposal, and we still see the man dropping barrel bombs on his own people. So there’s why he can’t be a member of the coalition.

QUESTION: Still now they are using chemical weapons?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about allegations of specific chemical weapons. We have seen reports that he certainly has – or seen reports that he’s used chlorine as a weapon, which is a violation. But frankly, if you’re being barrel bombed, the fact that you’re being barrel bombed alone is enough.

QUESTION: I’m not a military person. I don’t know what a barrel bomb mean – means. The assertion --

MR KIRBY: Well, maybe you should ask some Syrians about that.

QUESTION: Yes, right. The assertion that you are making that he’s the reason for ISIL is also disputed. Many people in my part of the world believe that the reason for the ISIL existence is the policy of regime change that is pursued by the U.S. and the American allies. What is your response to that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.

Next question. Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. On North Korea --

QUESTION: Well, wait. Can I just – I just want one more briefly on this. And this is the curious and the – well, I don’t know about curious, but the use all of a sudden of the word “double down” by everyone in the – from the President on down, doubling down on, the Russians doubling down on Assad and the fact that this is a strategy doomed to failure and that it’s – the White – your colleague at the White House said today doubling down on Assad is a losing bet.

But isn’t it at the same time true that the United States has doubled down on this idea that the – Assad’s days are numbered? And I’m just wondering, if you were a betting man, whether it’s smart to continue to double down on the idea that his days are numbered when he’s been in there for so long since you said – since the Administration came out and said that? Why do you think that your bet is a better bet than the Russians?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not a betting man, and I don’t believe anybody has said that by virtue of what we’ve been saying the last week or so with respect to this activity, or even in the last several months, that we are doubling down. Our policy, our pursuit of a stable, secure Syria has been pretty consistent, and what we’ve said is it can’t include Bashar al-Assad. I’m not aware of any efforts to double down necessarily.

QUESTION: Well – well, I mean, President Putin and other Russian officials before him have said look, other countries should join us – Russia – in supporting Assad. And by absolutely refusing to do that, I think you can make the case that that’s doubling down on the policy that his days are numbered and he’s --

MR KIRBY: No, I think it’s not doubling down, Matt. I’d say it’s consistent. We have been consistently in favor of a political transition away from Assad.


QUESTION: Another on Syria. The French prime minister has said that France will decide alone of its targets when conducting airstrikes in Syria to fight the Islamic State group, which seems to indicate they are deciding their own targets and perhaps acting unilaterally. Is this something that’s concerning to you?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, and I would point you to the Pentagon to speak to the air campaign and how that’s coordinated. That’s not something we would speak to at the State Department.


QUESTION: Today, Ambassador Brett McGurk tweeted two pictures of two Kurdish leaders – one from Syria and one from Iraq – meeting. And he said this is for joint efforts against ISIL. Are there any joint efforts between Iraqi Kurds and Syrian Kurds now against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen – I mean, there has been – in Kobani there was some.

QUESTION: Recently?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into operational assessments. Ambassador McGurk is there on the ground, and I would let his communications speak for themselves. I don’t have an operational assessment for you on who’s working together tactically. I’d point you to the Pentagon for that, but we’ve seen that kind of cooperation in the past.

More critically, we’ve seen continued cooperation between the Iraqi Government in Baghdad and the regional government in Erbil, and there’s a new joint command and control coordination center, I think it’s called, which will be manned by coalition members as well as KRG and Government of Iraq personnel. So there continues to be a strong level of cooperation up there in the north, and we encourage that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the status of Ambassador Ratney? What is he doing now? Where is he?

MR KIRBY: He is traveling in the region. I’m – I don’t have an exact itinerary for him here today, but he is traveling in the region.

QUESTION: So may I finish my line of questions? I just wanted maybe to ask a couple more. The first one is: Are you saying that Assad is basically responsible for all the turmoil in the region that is now – that we can see in Iraq, in Libya, in Mali, and elsewhere?

MR KIRBY: I never said that. He is responsible for the turmoil inside Syria.

QUESTION: So the – even if we take Syria out of that equation, other countries that have gone through regime changes with your help and with your encouragement – are they better off now?

MR KIRBY: Is Iraq better off without Saddam Hussein and with a democracy?


MR KIRBY: Yes, they are. And I think if you talk to many Iraqis, they would share the same opinion. I’m not going to dignify your claim, though --

QUESTION: Is Libya better off?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go through this with you.

QUESTION: Is Libya better off than --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go through this with you.

QUESTION: -- when it was --

MR KIRBY: I am not going to dignify the line of your questioning or the false claims that you’re making. I’m not going to answer any more questions on this from you.



QUESTION: John, one more on Russia, Syria. Today, President Putin also said that people are fleeing the terrorists in Syria because of arms being delivered from abroad, and obviously he’s talking about U.S. arms making their way into the hands of extremists, and that’s exacerbating the refugee crisis. Does he have a point when we think about, as we’ve talked about in Pentagon briefings, airdrops? We see M-16s – radicals holding American-made M-16s on video, and the Syrian training program that is having a tough time starting, there may be some defections there. So what do you think of his comment? Does he have a valid point?

MR KIRBY: People are leaving Syria for lots of reasons, I suppose. It’s a dangerous, unstable, insecure place. That’s because ISIL continues to hold sway over certain areas inside Syria. It’s also because the Assad regime has allowed groups like ISIL to fester and grow inside the country, and the Assad regime itself has perpetrated violence on its own people. To make the argument that they’re leaving because U.S. arms and material assistance to pro-coalition fighters or anti-ISIL fighters I think is a huge stretch. They’re leaving because they’re being barrel bombed and because this regime has allowed terrorism to fester and grow.

And frankly, I find it incredible that today I’m – there are lines of questions being posed to me that would implicate that people actually think Bashar al-Assad is good for Syria and that his continued tenure in the country is a healthy thing. I mean, and that’s where some of these questions are coming from, and I find that absolutely astounding, given what this man has done to his own people and how many other countries – not just the United States, but how many other countries – are engaged in a lengthy, dangerous, complicated fight against an enemy inside his country that he has allowed to come in and to grow there.

QUESTION: So doesn’t the strategy, even if – separate from that, our strategy for countering ISIL – do you think he has a point that these arms are making their ways into the hands of extremists? Separate from what you believe about Assad --

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before. I mean, we’re very careful about who we give arms to and how they’re trained to use them and how they use them. Can it be perfectly guaranteed that they’re never going to fall into the arms – to the hands of people that we don’t want to have them? No, and you don’t have to look any further than – excuse me – a year and four months ago when Mosul fell and ISIL’s driving around in American-made Humvees. I get it. But we do the best we can. So I can’t sit here and guarantee you that no rifle or no piece of military equipment that has been given to and has been trained on by an opposition member, for instance, in this train and equip program is going to – isn’t going to find its way into somebody’s hands. But to say that that is the reason why --

QUESTION: I think --

MR KIRBY: -- millions of Syrians have left the country in the last two and a half years is ludicrous.

QUESTION: But the idea that it contributes, that it’s a contributing factor – not the only reason, but --

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I just – as I said, I don’t believe we would share that view. We – I think it’s pretty obvious that Bashar al-Assad is the reason Syria is in the mess it is right now, and therefore is the reason why, on so many levels, support – the tacit support to ISIL as well as his own violence on so many levels is the reason why people are fleeing that country.

QUESTION: Regarding the future of Bashar al-Assad, the – the Russian foreign minister said earlier today that perhaps it’s time for the U.S. President and for the Russian president to talk about how to get him out of power. Can you find out whether that came up during the Secretary’s conversation with Mr. Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, when we have a readout to share with you about the call, we’ll read it out. And I don’t know what’s going to be in that readout because I have not talked to the Secretary since the call happened. It happened very recently, so --

QUESTION: Just in terms of your observation about the line of questioning, I can’t speak for everyone who’s asking these questions, but I just want to point out that these questions are about your policy of considering and still considering Assad to be illegitimate and whether or not you could agree or accept the idea that the Russians have raised that, in fact, cooperating with the regime would be one way to defeat ISIL quicker. They’re not about – they’re about U.S. policy; they’re not about saying that Assad is better or that – or at least mine, and I think some others, are not about trying to suggest that Assad should somehow – is good for the country.

MR KIRBY: I disagree, Matt. No, no, I disagree. I think – look, I think fair questions and hard questions about policy is – are absolutely right. But I do think there is an implication in some of these questions that – because some people think a future for Syria which includes Assad or that support for Assad or a change in our attitude about support for Assad would be helpful does indicate that there’s at least, I think, an implication in some of the questions that there should be support for this man. And obviously, that’s not how we feel, have not ever felt, and have no intention of changing.

QUESTION: So then coming at it from the opposite end – again, about U.S. policy – if that’s the way you feel, why haven’t you moved to take him out? You had chances over and over and over again.

MR KIRBY: What chances?

QUESTION: To get rid of him. The – with the chemical weapons and the military and the airstrikes that McCain were talking – and obviously, you weren’t going to target him for assassination, but the opposite argument, if you want to make the argument, there are – there are plenty of people up on the Hill right now who say that the Administration has not done enough to act on its decision that Assad is illegitimate in its view.

MR KIRBY: We are working very hard towards the same goal, which is a political transition away from Assad.


QUESTION: Apologies if this came up already, but does the State Department have a response to the Guardian report that the Russians made an offer for Assad to step down in 2012?

MR KIRBY: Yep. It came up; already answered it.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: India. Quick question. One, where do you put now as far as the U.S.-India relations are concerned before next week strategic dialogue starts between the two countries? And what are we expecting from this dialogue?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ll have more to say about the dialogue next week. We’ll have more, I think, towards the end of this week to talk about it. We’re very much looking forward to the discussions. There are – as you know, Goyal – a spade of issues that we want to continue to work on with India. It’s a strong relationship; we want to find ways to make it stronger, whether that’s the economic through development programs, and just increase cooperation on the security front. So there’s lots to talk about. We’re very much looking forward to it. I’ll have a little bit better sense for you as we get closer to the end of the week.

QUESTION: What I was asking was really that India – India’s Prime Minister Modi last year when he was here at the U.S., in the U.S. and also at the United Nations, he was asking that India should be part of the UN general – Security Council or expansion of the UN Security Council. Do you think this time to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations he’s going to put again this question, including maybe the delegation here including the foreign minister?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak for Prime Minister Modi or what he’s going to propose at the General Assembly coming up, and I certainly wouldn’t speak for the UN in this regard.


QUESTION: A quick one on Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria? Two questions. So White House and Department of State say that United States would welcome Russian constructive role in fighting ISIL. So can you clarify what does it mean exactly? On the ground maybe, or some different ways?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any more detail to flesh that out with. A constructive role can mean a lot of things, and it doesn’t just have to be military. It can’t mean, as I’ve said before, support for the Assad regime. And as I’ve said before, the most constructive thing they can do is to stop aiding and abetting and supporting the Assad regime.


QUESTION: May I ask second question?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, it’s just one more?

QUESTION: One more question. And yesterday White House said that if Russia continues to support Assad, it would lead to isolation of Russia. So what does it mean? It means new sanctions against Russia or something else?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate. I think the comment stands for – speaks for itself. I mean, it very well could mean increased isolation for Russia. The kind of isolation that they are experiencing with respect to what they’ve done inside Ukraine. The international community is aligned against Russia’s actions inside Ukraine, remains against that – remains aligned against that, and it could very well lead – these actions inside Syria could very well lead to further isolation for Russia.


MR KIRBY: But I’m not going to speculate about --

QUESTION: New sanctions.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future sanctions. We have a variety of tools at our disposal, but I’ve got nothing to announce or speak to today.


QUESTION: I have a question on China. Based on your discussions in the lead up to the visit, is there any evidence that Beijing is willing to have kind of a frank and candid conversation about OPM breach or reports that they’re using data to target American spies?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have anything with respect to the OPM breach to talk about. As you know, that’s still being investigated, so I won’t comment on that. That said, I think you can expect that cyber security will certainly come up as an agenda topic during the visit as it almost always does. I mean, I don’t think there’s an engagement that we have with Chinese officials that we don’t raise the issue of cyber security. This is an area that we don’t always see eye to eye and don’t always agree, and we want to continue to have very frank and candid exchanges about it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Is The Washington Post report correct, that the Administration has made a decision not to impose any cyber-related sanctions prior to the visit?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing – I have nothing to speak to with respect to sanctions.


QUESTION: Thanks, John. On North Korea, North Korea has announced today that it has reactivated Yongbyon nuclear facilities. As you know already, we – previously that the North Korea has destroyed their nuclear facility long ago. Why can it pick and running now this?

MR KIRBY: We’re aware of the state media reports regarding a readjustment in operation of the – those nuclear facilities, including the five-megawatt plutonium production reactor and the uranium enrichment facility there at Yongbyon. I don’t have any additional comments on intelligence matters. You know I won’t do that from the podium. And we continue to call on North Korea to refrain from irresponsible provocations that aggravate regional tensions, and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Six-Party Talk or Representative Mr. Hwang Joon-guk visit to United States?

MR KIRBY: Do I have anything on --

QUESTION: South Korean Six-Party representative --

MR KIRBY: I don’t. No.

QUESTION: You don’t have any?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: One more --

QUESTION: Is there any contemplation of taking the matter before the Security Council?

MR KIRBY: What matter?

QUESTION: The restarting of the nuclear facilities.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that in terms of the agenda.

QUESTION: Yesterday, did – I had to leave the briefing early. Did you talk about the satellite? They – the North Koreans talked about launching satellites to --

MR KIRBY: I did.

QUESTION: Oh, you did talk about that yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I did address that yesterday. Yes, I did.



QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Have you exchanged any information about the situation in North Korea with China, Korea, or Japan?

MR KIRBY: Have we shared anything about this --

QUESTION: This situation.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to read out. Obviously, we routinely talk about the threats and challenges posed by North Korea with our friends and partners in the region. But I don’t have anything with respect to this.

QUESTION: Mr. Kim, the – your representative on North Korea called his Russian counterpart today to discuss Six-Party Talks, as the Russians reported. Do you have a readout about that?

MR KIRBY: Do I have any what?

QUESTION: Any readout about the conversation?

MR KIRBY: I do not, no.


QUESTION: John, there was a delegation of Shabak religious community leaders to Washington and they met with State Department leaders. I was wondering whether you have a readout of that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, there are some meetings today, actually. So as part of an effort to strengthen our partnership with Iraq and to engage communities across Iraq, including those who have joined the fight against ISIL, the State Department welcomed the visit of a group of leaders from Iraq’s Shabak community Washington. The group is meeting today with Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Larry Bartlett and had a working-level meeting with representatives from the Department’s Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and Near East Asia Affairs Bureaus last week. So there were meetings last week; there are meetings today.

In these meetings, State Department officials expressed our condolences for the suffering that minorities, including the Shabak community, have endured at the hands of ISIL; discussed how to enhance cooperation in the fight against ISIL; and described our contributions to meeting the desperate humanitarian needs of refugees and those displaced by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: Yesterday I met with some of them, and they said they had one specific demand for the State Department, which was they want to have their own all-Shabak member security unit, force, to protect them, like the Kurds have, the Sunnis. They’re trying to have one. Is the United States supportive of this kind of force that is – that all of its members are, like, really belong to one community?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not heard that request before. What we are supportive of, and have been very clear about this, is an inclusive, representative Iraq which includes an inclusive, representative Iraqi Security Force that is well-coordinated and integrated across all the sectors of Iraqi society. That’s what Prime Minister Abadi has committed himself to and has instituted policies to effect that, and that’s what we’d like to see continue.

QUESTION: John, can you share with us any of the current status – some say imminence – of the battle for the liberation of Ramadi, where there are some 10,000 Iraqi forces assembled? They have American trainers with them and so on, and in fact, there has been increased reconnaissance flights over the area. Is there anything that you can share with us about this?

MR KIRBY: No, Said. As you know, I really try to stick – stay away from talking about military matters from this podium. I’d really – I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to speak to something like that.

QUESTION: Because this battle was apparently to take place some weeks back, but now it’s been put off time and time again because the Iraqis were not ready. Is there anything new that may change the situation where this could coincide with the leaders – the world leaders meetings at the UN?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to talk about military matters, but I do want to walk you away from any notion that operational issues are being scheduled or determined by political meetings in New York or anywhere else. The coalition military leaders know how to schedule, plan, and implement, execute operations, and many of these are Iraqi-led and – Iraqi-planned and led operations. It’s their strategy, their operational plan that we are helping execute.

It can be affected by weather. It can be affected certainly by enemy actions. And it can certainly be affected by issues of readiness, whether it’s materiel readiness or personnel readiness. Any one of those or all three can affect the timing of operations and an operational schedule. Again, I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon for more information about what’s going on right now on the ground.

QUESTION: My last question on this. But you can confirm that American military personnel and trainers are actually with the Iraqi units on the front line, training them?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak to military matters, but I do think it’s important to point out that the focus of U.S. military members has been training and helping equip and improving the battlefield competence of Iraqi Security Forces. And they’re doing that on bases designated for that purpose, that American troops are not accompanying Iraqi forces into the field. That’s never been a part of the mission. That hasn’t changed. But I’m already straying more into lanes that I’m not supposed to.

QUESTION: I have two very brief ones on two different subjects. One, have you gotten to the bottom of what happened in Egypt and whether or not there were Americans or green card/legal permanent members injured or – legal permanent residents?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything to add with respect to reports that --

QUESTION: That’s unfortunate.

MR KIRBY: -- that an American was involved. And I don’t have anything new on the investigation into the incident.

QUESTION: The Mexicans have just said that eight Mexican citizen have been killed. Can you rule out that any of them was also – were also American citizens?

MR KIRBY: No, as I said yesterday, we’ve seen – we’re aware of reports that an American citizen may have been involved. Our embassy is reaching out and making the appropriate inquiries. I just don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Secondly, on Iran. You may have seen that the French hotel chain Accor has signed a branding deal with an Iranian firm to open at least two hotels under the Ibis and Novotel brands? If you haven’t, can you take a look at this and see – is this something that you believe is too early, or is it allowed under the existing sanctions relief that has been – or is this a bad thing and the French company is moving too quickly?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen those reports. Let me get back to you, Matt.


QUESTION: Can you confirm or find out – there are reports that say that Iran’s top space scientist was actually killed – his name’s Ahmad Hatami – died in Mecca. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: You mean in the crane accident?

QUESTION: Yeah, in the crane accident.

MR KIRBY: I have not seen that. No. Sorry.

Thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

DPB #156

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 14, 2015

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 17:11

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 14, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a real quick one at the top here. The United States is deeply concerned by the recent violence and escalating tensions surrounding the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. We strongly condemn all acts of violence. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve unchanged the historic status quo on the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount in word and in practice.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll probably get back to that, but I just want to start real quick in Egypt with this accidental attack – military attack on this picnic – picnickers. I understand there was at least one, maybe two Americans who were wounded in this. Do you --

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen reports and are – seen reports that potentially a U.S. citizen was injured. Our Embassy in Cairo is making the appropriate inquiries with local police, and of course they’re monitoring it. I’m afraid I don’t have any more detail than that right now.

QUESTION: So you can’t – you cannot confirm that there was an American citizen in --

MR KIRBY: I cannot, no. But we’ve seen those reports. Obviously, those – we’re concerned about that and the embassy’s looking into it.

QUESTION: Still on that attack. I understand that Apache helicopters were used – and obviously the U.S. supplied. Do they come with any restrictions on what the Egyptians can use them for?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, the Egyptians have said they’re going to investigate this – this tragic accident. And so we need to let the investigation proceed before we jump to any conclusions about exactly what happened and what the circumstance were or what hardware was involved.

Separate and distinct from that, it is commonplace for – in foreign military sales programs to have end-user agreements on the types of equipment that the U.S. military sells or provides to allies and partners. But again, I don’t want to get into speculation right now about what happened here, what they used, and exactly what the causes were. We need to let the investigation go.

QUESTION: The Egyptians were suggesting that they were going after ISIL fighters in that part of the western desert. Would the use of Apache helicopters be an acceptable use under the U.S.’s sale of these helicopters to the Egyptian military?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into the specific circumstances of this incident, the short answer to your question is yes. Apache helicopters are a platform that can be used, could be used, have been used for counterterrorism missions, to include by the United States military. I mean, one of the reasons why the provision of those helicopters went forward was under counterterrorism – for counterterrorism purposes.

QUESTION: Are you able to say whether as the embassy carries out its own investigation into who may have been injured or killed in this incident, whether it has already had any conversations with the Egyptian interior ministry?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to characterize it as an embassy investigation. The Egyptian authorities are investigating what happened. Our embassy staff is reaching out to authorities and inquiring about these reports of a potential U.S. citizen involved. I would not call that an investigation. So just a point of rhetoric there.

And I don’t know exactly who they are communicating with in terms of local authorities. I suspect, as is typically the case in something like this, they’re reaching out to many levels of the Egyptian Government, but I don’t know exactly who.

QUESTION: Are the Egyptians using excessive force? Are they basically using more aggressive force that can spawn more violence than it can stem?

MR KIRBY: Well, Said, I mean, this is under investigation right now. So we need to let the investigation go forward --

QUESTION: They have a track record over the past few weeks that they are using more and more aggressive tactics in the Sinai. Or do you approve that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize the use of force in every instance here. Again, this is under investigation. We need to let the investigators do their jobs. And then what we’ve – obviously expect is that when the investigation is complete that the Egyptians will be able to make the results of that, the findings of it, publicly available and speak to what they’ve learned and what, if anything, needs to be done to prevent something like this from happening again.

So let that process play out. And then I’m not going to – I think it would be premature and speculative now to try to make some connection between this incident and the use of force against terrorists in other places in Egypt there on the Sinai.

QUESTION: If you get word later on today that there was an American or person with dual U.S. citizenship affected by this attack, could we get a readout on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Pam. I mean, as you know, the Privacy Act prohibits in many cases our ability to speak to things like this. So all I can tell you is we’ve seen the reports; we’re looking into them. And I’m not going to – I can’t stand here and promise you that I’m going to be able to provide much of a readout.

QUESTION: Well, the Privacy Act doesn’t prevent you from confirming that an American citizen was wounded. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t. And if the person is dead, if that is the unfortunate case, then the Privacy Act does not apply.

MR KIRBY: Why don’t we see where it goes? But I am not going to promise a readout of what we learn.


QUESTION: We know Ms. Susan Rice had a frank and open discussion with her counterpart from China last week.


QUESTION: Is there any agreement or consensus reached in those meetings, and what are the details in the meetings?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’d point you to the readout that the White House put out about the conversation for – I mean, that’s, I thought, pretty clear about what was discussed. And again, cyber issues are issues that we don’t always agree with the Chinese on. And we know that there’s a lot more work to do in that realm. I don’t have any specific agreements to discuss today or to read out to you. It was a frank and candid exchange, as they tend to be, on issues related to cyber security. One thing is clear – I think clear coming out of that meeting and clear coming out of every meeting that we have with the Chinese on cyber is that there is a lot more work to be done between both our governments.


QUESTION: Okay. Change of topics. I just want to go back to this Russian buildup or military assistance to Syria that we have been talking about it over the last few days. The Russian foreign minister said that they will continue this military aid to Syria, and I’m just wondering if the intention as you kept calling them has been clear by today. Do you know what the Russians are doing in Syria?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly have seen the comments by the Russian officials, to include Foreign Minister Lavrov, over the weekend. We have no reason to doubt the veracity of what he’s saying in terms of the acknowledgment that they are continuing to provide military support and equipment. So that – I think we’re taking on face value their claims about what they’re doing. The ultimate intent and goal I think still is a little uncertain. You heard the President talk about this on Friday. It – in his view, that it appears as if the regime has asked for Russian support. And – but nothing has changed about where we are on this. That while we would welcome – and I said this last week – a constructive Russian role in countering ISIL, it can’t include direct support to the Assad regime and to supporting the regime’s ability to continue to visit violence on their own people, which we continue to maintain as a big factor in why ISIL has been able to grow and fester inside Syria.

So our position hasn’t changed on this.

QUESTION: But the Pentagon – sorry, just a few questions. When the Pentagon were confirming that actually they have seen Russian transport planes, I think they confirmed the number – I think seven or nine that were there. So, I mean, the intention is to build some kind of a military base there. So do you believe that this is to fight ISIS and it’s not really directly to aid the Russian regime – the Syrian regime? And isn’t this a kind of defiance to your warning? Because the President has been talking about it, you have been talking about it, and yet they continue to do it.

MR KIRBY: Look, I would point you to the Pentagon to speak for what assessments they’ve made or not. As you know, I don’t get into operational assessments.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Now hang on just a second, just let me finish.


MR KIRBY: So as for their intent, these are questions that should be posed to Moscow, exactly what their goal here is in the long run. It certainly appears as though they are continuing to support, and perhaps even with additional assets, the Assad regime. And again, you heard the President speak about this on Friday. In fact, the President went so far as to say that if that’s true, it’s a mistake and it’s a strategy doomed to fail. What we would like to see is movement towards a political transition in Syria, and as I said last week, we still believe there’s an opportunity to pursue that kind of transition in concert with Russian authorities.

What will make it incredibly difficult to get there is continued support for the Assad regime from a military perspective. So should there be some opportunity for Russia to be constructive against ISIL in the country – against ISIL in the country, which is what the coalition is doing – then we’d be open to having that conversation, but it can’t start with open and continued aiding and abetting of the Assad regime.

QUESTION: But – okay.

QUESTION: All right. What – sorry, one last thing on that as well. Both Bulgaria and Greece, as you know, they have banned their airspace from being used by the Russian planes, but now you have Iraq and Iran openly saying they will do that. I guess an official spoke today, Iraqi Government, on the 5th of September. Can you update us on any response from Baghdad whether they would be able to monitor these planes, to stop them, to make sure they’re carrying only humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, or what exactly they doing with that?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, we don’t detail the diplomatic conversations that we have. I’m not going to start doing that today. What I’d go back to is that – what I said before, that we continue to ask our friends in the region to pose tough questions of the Russians about what they’re doing. We obviously don’t want to see continued support for the Assad regime, but beyond that I just won’t get into details.

QUESTION: But if you assign the top urgency or the top priority to fighting ISIS, and in fact that is the top priority of the Syrian regime, why not coalesce for the time being in the fight against one enemy?

MR KIRBY: Said --

QUESTION: I mean, I’m trying to make logic out of this.

MR KIRBY: Said, we’ve talked about this a lot.


MR KIRBY: The Assad regime cannot be a part of the solution against ISIL.

QUESTION: What is the logic – yeah. Uh-huh.

MR KIRBY: The Assad regime is a big factor why ISIL is even in their country and has been given the opportunities that they’ve been given. This is a man who barrel bombs his own people, for crying out loud. So there’s not going to be any solution against ISIL that would involve assisting, aiding, cooperating with, communicating with Bashar al-Assad. It’s not going to happen. It can’t happen.

QUESTION: But most reports suggest that most of his energies or the army’s energies is actually spent in the fight against ISIS. So first of all, can you confirm that? And second, if that is the case, why not at least for the time being perhaps allow aid and so on, so you can defeat ISIS on the ground? I mean, those are the only real ground forces in Syria that are fighting ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s not correct. There are other ground forces in Syria that are fighting ISIL. I’m not going to speak for the Syrian army and to what degree they’re spending their time on ISIL or opposition groups. That’s for them to speak to. I don’t talk about our military; I’m not going to talk about their military. But again, we’re not – there’s not going to be any cooperation. To the degree they see ISIL as a threat, again, they can speak to that. That’s their issue. Our issue is on using the coalition and the assets we have to defeat them with a combination of airstrikes and as well as trying to support competent, capable ground forces inside Syria. And there have been some that are not – in fact, the most success that’s been had against ISIL on the ground have been by other forces, not the Syrian army.

QUESTION: My last question on General Allen. It’s been a year since he was assigned his assignment. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, marked the one-year anniversary.


QUESTION: Could you give – tell us what has happened in that year in terms of the fight against ISIS?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the general spoke to this a little bit in some interviews last week. You’re right; he has been on the job a year. And a year ago we didn’t have a coalition of 60-some-odd nations. A year ago ISIL was still running pretty well rampant and free over Iraq and Syria. They are not now. A year ago places like Baghdad were under threat. You might remember we were talking a year ago – I know I was – about the threat to Baghdad. Baghdad is not now under any serious threat by ISIL. And a year ago you didn’t have the kind of command and control and coordination capabilities that we have particularly in Iraq, which is multilateral in scope and quite effective.

So a year ago they had thousands more pieces of military equipment. You were seeing CNN footage of driving around doing wheelies in tracked vehicles. You’re not seeing that footage anymore; and if you are, it’s because it’s old stuff. They’re not driving around like that anymore. They have taken to hiding in amongst the population. They aren’t moving in big formations the way they were. They aren’t as free to sustain themselves as they were before. And a year ago they had pretty much all their leadership intact. They can’t say that anymore either.

Now, we’ve talked about this before. Nobody is saying they’re down and out. We all recognize this is a long fight. That’s why standing up this coalition was so important and why General Allen’s leadership has been so critical in that regard. I’d also say – speaking of General Allen’s accomplishments – look at what Turkey is now contributing to the effort, which a year ago they were not. And General Allen deserves a lot of credit for helping work through issues with Turkey to get them to the point where they are right now. And they are – they always were or were at the outset a member of the coalition, but they are certainly contributing in ways now that they weren’t before.

And so a lot has changed. Nobody’s taking it for granted. Nobody’s saying there isn’t more fighting to do. Nobody’s saying that there aren’t going to be tactical victories and that ISIL is going to continue to see some success here. But we are in a vastly different place now a year later than we were at the outset.

QUESTION: John, can I ask you: Since you repeated the President’s comments, I assume you agree with him, yes?


QUESTION: That the strategy by Russia is a mistake --


QUESTION: -- and doomed to fail?

MR KIRBY: Of course.

QUESTION: What’s the – how do you back that up that it’s doomed to fail? I mean, this is the same Administration that has been saying Assad’s days are numbered for roughly the past 1,400 days.

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: Why should anyone take that seriously, and why do you think it’s doomed to fail?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, Bashar al-Assad is --

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, his days are numbered in the fact that he is a mortal human being and will die eventually of – for whatever, but I mean, the suggestion his days are numbered suggests that he’s going to be out of – at least out of power quickly. And it’s been four years since that was first said.


QUESTION: So I’m wondering why it is you think that the Russian strategy is doomed to fail.

MR KIRBY: A strategy that’s based on trying to bolster him and his capability to continue to barrel bomb his own people and to visit violence in his own country, under the guise of perhaps trying to help him fight terrorists, is doomed to fail because the Assad regime is never going to have a credible capability against a group like that given their other activities. And I don’t know how many more days --


MR KIRBY: But we know – we know and the Russians have indicated that they know that there has to be a political transition away from Assad in Syria. So just by dint of that – their own acknowledgment that a political transition is necessary – I think one can conclude that the way to get there – at least we conclude the way to get there is not by propping him up militarily and giving him more firepower.

QUESTION: All right. But I don’t understand how you can say that you know that the Russians know that there has to be a transition and then accuse of them of plotting a – a strategy that’s doomed to fail by --

MR KIRBY: Well, they’ve said themselves --

QUESTION: -- supporting the guy who you think they see needs to go.

MR KIRBY: Well, let me put it this way: If you believe that a political transition is necessary away from Assad – and the Russians have indicated in talks with us that they agree that there needs to be a political transition, and that’s what – again, we still think there’s an open opportunity to – if you do believe that, then what would be the logic of propping that same dictator up with military support?

QUESTION: Exactly. What would be the logic?

MR KIRBY: Exactly. So – so it’s – so --

QUESTION: So the Russians are just stupid and illogical, or --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: -- they’re not – or they’re not doing what you think that they’re doing.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we don’t have perfect visibility on exactly what they are doing or what they intend to do. We are taking what they said over the weekend at face value.

QUESTION: But you don’t think there’s any way that this buildup that they have could be – to be somehow in aid of a political transition?

MR KIRBY: It boggles the mind to see how militarily supporting with additional assets Bashar al-Assad is going to help lead towards a political transition.

QUESTION: So basically what you’re saying is the Russian – what the Russians are doing makes no sense. Well, it makes sense to them, because they’re doing it, right?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’d have to ask them why it makes sense to them. But again, that’s what the President said. He believes it’s a mistake. We obviously concur with that.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You want Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, Russia-Syria. Do you think this military buildup – would it be fair to say that this is the largest projection of Russian military strength since the fall of the Soviet Union?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on Russian military deployments. You’d have to talk to Moscow about the scale and scope of it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ukraine.

QUESTION: And Georgia. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’m just not – I’m not equipped to answer that question.

QUESTION: Is the full scope of what they’re trying to accomplish in Syria with their stepped-up military presence clear at all to U.S. policy makers?

MR KIRBY: Is it clear? No. I mean, last week we were talking about the uncertainty here. Now, again, over the weekend we’ve seen on-the-record comments by Foreign Minister Lavrov and other Russian officials which certainly does add some clarity to what at least they believe they’re doing. Clearly, they are providing more assistance from a military perspective. That’s obvious. But the ultimate goal, the ultimate intent here, I think there’s still a degree of opaqueness about that.

QUESTION: When was the last time that U.S. officials spoke to anyone in the Syrian Government? I know we don’t have ambassadors in either capital, but we still technically have diplomatic relations.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Ros. I have no idea.

QUESTION: John, can I follow up on this? So the Pentagon’s saying that what Moscow is doing – I mean, analyzing from a military perspective – is that it suggests plans to establish a forward air operating base.


QUESTION: Is that in any way threatening? I mean, you’ve just come back from – you’ve just come out of the Pentagon. Is that a threatening pose?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not in a position to clarify or to characterize the Pentagon’s assessments of what they’re doing, so --

QUESTION: Would you agree with them, though?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would – I’d go so far as to say we continue to see activities that certainly indicate increased support from a military perspective to the Assad regime, which, again, we do not find in keeping with movements toward an ultimate political transition. So I’m not going to – I’m not in a position to clarify that assessment, and I wouldn’t talk about intelligence matters one way or the other.

QUESTION: So – well, then can I ask you from a diplomatic side on – so what would a big Russian intervention like this in Syria mean? Could it – can it change anything for the war, what’s happening on the ground, if the Russians had to intervene like this?

MR KIRBY: It’s a great hypothetical, Lesley, that I’m ill-prepared to answer. And you know I try to stick – stay away from operational matters on the ground. I’ll just go back to what I said before that we – while we would welcome a constructive role by Russia when it comes to counter-ISIL and solely counter-ISIL operations, that can’t come at the cost of or to the benefit of further bolstering and supporting the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the questioning on Russian logic? You said they’ve indicated that they would support a transition away from Assad. They have never said publicly that they support a transition away from Assad. Isn’t that correct?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that that’s correct, Brad, but if you look at our readout from the Doha meeting, it was – I – we made it very clear that as a result of that meeting, we – all the three ministers agreed that a political transition in Syria was appropriate and that it would have to include the opposition groups.

QUESTION: Right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a transition away from Assad. And if you say it doesn’t make any sense to do this military buildup in connection with transitioning away from Assad, doesn’t it in fact confirm to you that they have no interest in a political transition away from Assad?

MR KIRBY: You would have to ask them what their ultimate intent here is.

QUESTION: Well, I only ask because you keep mentioning how they’ve indicated something that they’ve never indicated to anyone, at least publicly, and even privately.

MR KIRBY: They have indicated support for a political transition. We still think there is a --

QUESTION: Right. I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- I know you’re getting me on the word “away from Assad.” I get that.


MR KIRBY: That’s our position, away from Assad. I understand the rhetorical loop you’re in here, okay. But they’ve indicated interest in a political transition; we obviously want to see that happen. It’s hard to understand how that happens effectively when the Assad regime is continuing to get military support --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- to sustain its ability --

QUESTION: Well, then maybe they don’t want a transition. I mean, their actions speak louder than words, right? So if --

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question for Moscow.


QUESTION: You have this --

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question for Moscow.

QUESTION: And you have this current dialogue, or tri-alogue, or whatever you’re having with the Saudis and the Russians and other partners. What does it say about the effectiveness of this when you’ve talked about a new opportunity when they are doing the exact same thing, again, that they’ve done previously, which is support in military and political terms the Assad government?

MR KIRBY: I would just go back to what I said before, and that’s that we continue to believe an opportunity is there and we want to continue to work on that in dialogue with Russia and Saudi Arabia in particular. These activities are unhelpful to progress on that score. There’s no question about that. But it doesn’t mean that we’re giving up on the opportunity to continue to pursue a political transition, because that’s what we believe the right answer is for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: John, did you see any action from Russia in Syria to fight ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak for other nations and other militaries. I believe they – I can’t speak for the Russians; I believe the Syrians have talked about activity they’ve taken against ISIL, but you got to talk to them. Our focus is on the 62 nations and the coalition that are fighting ISIL inside Syria.

QUESTION: And will this military buildup complicate the coalition work in Syria?

MR KIRBY: That – it’s going to depend on what the activity actually lends itself to. I can’t speak to that yet. Has there been – let me ask – I’ll put it to you this way: Has there been an effect on counter-ISIL operations inside Syria as a result of these activities? No, not as of today.

QUESTION: Last question for me. The opposition has made the progress on the ground in Latakia, and the – a senior Syrian opposition figure has said that the United States is against targeting Latakia because it could spark revenge attacks by Alawites against its majority-Sunni population and add to an already huge refugee problem. Is this accurate?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the Pentagon. I don’t talk about the air campaign.

QUESTION: The Secretary spoke twice to Foreign Minister Lavrov in the past week. Has he spoken to him in the past three days? Does he plan to speak to him today or tomorrow?

MR KIRBY: I have no additional conversations to read out since the one I did last week. And --

QUESTION: Does he have any planned?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s schedule. But as we have in the past, if and when he speaks – and of course he’ll speak to Minister Lavrov in the future; they speak quite frequently – when he does, we’ll let you know. But I don’t have anything to read out today.


QUESTION: Yesterday Foreign Minister Lavrov said – based on the actions of the U.S.-led coalition, he said, “one cannot but suspect” that “they have ulterior motives,” and he claimed that colleagues among the coalition members told Russia that sometimes the U.S. told them to hold off on strikes when certain IS regiments were stationed. Basically, there was Islamic State targets and the U.S. told them to hold back. And the insinuation there is probably because it could’ve hurt Syrian forces. So what do you think about his theory, his strategy, based on what Russia says they’ve seen on the ground?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen those comments. I have seen no indication ever that we’ve shied away from hitting ISIL targets where and when we can, certainly with a mind to civilian casualties and collateral damage, obviously. But for more details on strikes, you’d have to talk to the Pentagon.


QUESTION: Different topics?

MR KIRBY: Sorry?

QUESTION: Different topics?

MR KIRBY: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: On the Futenma relocation issues. Okinawa governor said Monday that he was preparing to revoke the approval for work needed to relocate the U.S. military air base from Okinawa to other. He also say he will take all possible measure to block basic constructions in Henoko, and this is a first step. And he is indicating to he is set for a legal battle with the Japanese central government. So the Futenma issue is a drag on the interests now. So how does the U.S. Government think of that? Do you have any plan to change it to the other option?

MR KIRBY: We’re confident and remain confident that both sides – the U.S. and Japan – remain committed to implementing the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab. We’re very confident in that based on the discussions that we continue to have with the Japanese Government, and we remain and we’ll stay in close communication with officials from the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: Major of the Okinawa residents oppose to the new air base constructing in the Henoko, so what can we do in the United States?

MR KIRBY: What? I’m sorry --

QUESTION: Major of the Okinawa residents --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- they oppose to the constructing the new air base in Henoko, so what can we do in the United States?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we are working with Tokyo, with the Government of Japan. Both sides, as I said before, remain committed to this relocation. It’s important, we both believe, for the health of the alliance, and we’re continuing to remain in close coordination with them moving forward. And I’m confident that that process will continue.


QUESTION: Can I ask you about Clinton emails?


QUESTION: There was a release today by Judicial Watch from its lawsuit, and it cited several email gaps it claims existed in the former secretary’s list of ledger – full ledger of work-related correspondence.

MR KIRBY: Yep, seen the press report, Brad. We’re not aware of any gaps in the Clinton emails set with the exception of the first few months of her tenure when Secretary Clinton used a different email account that she has already advised she no longer has access to. And as I understand it, Secretary Clinton’s representatives have publicly stated that she used a separate email account in those first few months of her tenure. But beyond that, there’s no gap that we have seen or are aware of in Secretary Clinton’s email messages.

QUESTION: In that early part, you mentioned there was a gap of, I think, one month before – from the first received email to the first sent email. Now, I realize it’s fully possible she didn’t send an email that was work-related in that first month – that first month when she had that account, but is that your understanding or is that still an incomplete – you’re still fully researching all of those emails or unearthing them?

MR KIRBY: I know of no research attempt to deal with those first few months, Brad, because, as I said, former Secretary Clinton’s representatives already indicated that they were aware this gap existed and that she had – no longer had access to them. So it’s difficult if not impossible to do any particular research or forensics to get at those first few months. And as for how many were sent and received in that timeframe, I just don’t know. But this is not something that hasn’t been addressed before by her representatives. And beyond that first couple of months, those first four months, we have seen no gaps.

QUESTION: And in the last part of – in the last part of her tenure, there was what they cited was another gap in January 2013, which I’m guessing you’re saying is not a gap, in fact.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you – they produced an email which showed an official saying there’s a gap or listing it as a gap. Do you understand what happened? Were those emails then later recovered or found?

MR KIRBY: Right. So we continue to maintain there’s no gap. I think you’re talking about this period of December 2012 through the end of January 2013.


MR KIRBY: And upon further review – so originally when they all came in, a cursory sort of preliminary look, a very quick look at the documents by an official here at the State Department revealed a potential gap of about a month or so in emails. But in going through them in a more fulsome manner after that, we’ve determined that in fact, there was no gap – that that time period is covered quite well by the emails that have been provided.

QUESTION: So you have emails from that period and --

MR KIRBY: We do.

QUESTION: -- when you get to that point, they’ll be public.

MR KIRBY: We do, and I think you will continue to see – and we’ve been roughly rolling these out – roughly temporally and you will see – as we get to the remainder of the tranches, that you will see emails that were sent and received during that December ’12 to January ’13 timeframe.



QUESTION: Can we go back to the top where you started?


QUESTION: Can we change topics? Okay.


QUESTION: You began by saying that you don’t want to see any changes in the Al-Haram Sharif – or al-Aqsa Mosque, or the Dome of the Rock --

MR KIRBY: The status quo, right.

QUESTION: You’re in the status quo; you don’t want to see any changes. So that means it should remain under exclusive Muslim authority?

MR KIRBY: We don’t want to see any changes to the status quo.

QUESTION: You don’t want to see any – okay. And my second question is regarding the Dawabsha family. Now I know that last week, you designated three Hamas operatives on the terror list. Now would you also list the settler terrorists on your terror watch list once they are known to you?

MR KIRBY: Will I – say that again?

QUESTION: I mean, those who have allegedly committed the crime against the Dawabsha family in Duma in July, the end of July, once they are known – because the Government of Israel says we know who they are; we just can’t bring them – we can’t bring charges against them because that will compromise their intelligence sources. If they have – if they become known to you, will you also list them on the terror watch list or on the terror list, whatever you call it – the terror designated list?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m simply not prepared to make a judgment on that today, Said. What we want to see is the perpetrators of the attack brought to justice, we want to see the Israeli investigation proceed, and to get to results as quickly as possible. But beyond that, I’m not going to speculate.

QUESTION: And lastly, yesterday also is another auspicious anniversary. It was the 22nd anniversary of the Oslo agreement. Do you believe that 22 years since Oslo with no state in sight, the time has come to discard this process, that it has really shown no viability whatsoever?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you, Said, is that Secretary Kerry is committed to pursuing a two-state solution, and I think you’re going to see him continue to do that throughout his tenure here at the department. I don’t think anybody’s – certainly not here – willing to give up on that ultimate goal.


QUESTION: One more --

MR KIRBY: Actually, let me get to this guy. I got you before, yeah.




QUESTION: Have you seen reports that the Ugandan president over the weekend during a trip to Japan said that the anti-homosexuality act that he himself signed back last year is not necessary, and if you have seen those reports, any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: What I will tell you is we place great importance on the protection and promotion of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons around the world. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or whom they love. Human rights, as you know, remain, in our view, universal rights. So we’ve seen the comments, and obviously deeply concerned by that.

QUESTION: As a follow-up to that, the comments that Museveni made, would that have any impact on the U.S. potentially restoring some of the aid that was cut to Kampala after signing that law last year?

MR KIRBY: I know of no decisions at this time, but obviously, we take human rights very, very seriously, and we’re not afraid to make that case known around the world. But I know of no decisions made now to deal with this particular law with respect to aid and assistance. It’s something we’re constantly evaluating, constantly looking at – we have lots of tools at our disposal – but no decisions to announce today.


QUESTION: One more on Clinton emails. The company that managed that server recently said that – there’s reports that they said that there’s no knowledge of that server being wiped, meaning that there are indications that there could be tens of thousands of emails that she thought were deleted that are not. Do you know that to be the case or not?

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: Are you guys investigating that in any way? Would you – if those emails are recoverable, would you be going through those as well?

MR KIRBY: That wouldn’t be a State Department function.

QUESTION: Because they’re private or --

MR KIRBY: It wouldn’t be a State Department function to do that. There are reviews and investigations going on, as you know, into the email arrangement, but our focus here at the State Department is making public the 33,000 emails – actually, I guess there’s more like 26,000 left to go over the next several months. That’s our focus.

QUESTION: And these wouldn’t fall into that if they – all of the sudden we found out there were 30,000 more?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical about what may or not be on the server. As you know, that server has been turned over and that is – all that is under review and investigation, and I’m simply not going to comment on that.


QUESTION: North Korea?

MR KIRBY: North Korea?



QUESTION: North Korea. Several hours ago, North Korea issued a statement strongly suggesting that they can launch a long-range rocket around next month’s ruling party anniversary. Are you aware of this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we’ve seen the statement. I’m not going to speculate on the timing of it or any possible provocative actions by the DPRK.

QUESTION: Have you seen any things that – at North Korea’s rocket launch sites that you had not seen before and caused you some kind of concern that they are preparing to launch a rocket?

MR KIRBY: I think you know I’m not going to get into intelligence matters here.

QUESTION: North Korea – my last question is North Korea also said in today’s statement that it has the right to launch a long-range rocket for peaceful purposes. Do you have anything --

MR KIRBY: There are multiple UN Security Council resolutions that require North Korea to suspend all activities related to their ballistic missile program and re-establish a moratorium on missile launches, stop conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, and abandon its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner. So any satellite launch using ballistic missile technology would be a clear violation of those resolutions.

QUESTION: The United Kingdom?


QUESTION: Just the main opposition party in that kingdom has just elected a new leader, and they – some of his past statements may be of concern to U.S. policy. He has been in the past in favor of leaving NATO. He has expressed dismay that Usama bin Ladin was killed in an extrajudicial fashion, and he has – obviously, he’s an opposition leader, but he’s one of the most powerful people in the UK right now. He has a history of statements that go counter to current U.S. policy. He’s described himself as a friend of Hamas and of Hizballah, two groups that you regard as proscribed terrorist organizations. Do you have any comment and any plans for U.S. officials to meet Mr. Corbyn?

MR KIRBY: I know of no plans right now for a meeting, but obviously, we’re talking about a relationship with a country which is exceedingly close – a very special relationship between the United States and the UK, and I suspect that in every way that relationship is going to continue very, very strong. So we don’t comment on internal political matters, but I can assure you that regardless of the leadership changes in the UK Government, that we’re going to continue to hold Great Britain in – just as close as we always have.


QUESTION: Just on Australia. The – what’s your response to the change of leadership in Australia overnight that’s seen Malcolm Turnbull be appointed prime minister?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say almost a similar answer to that. I mean, we congratulate him, but – and look forward to working with him going forward. Again, this is a nation with whom we have a very, very close relationship and cooperate along a range of security issues around the world. So we look forward to continuing that relationship and to continuing to work with that government.

QUESTION: What impact do you think his appointment could have on Australia’s cooperation with the U.S. in Syria against ISIL, and also on potential resolution on climate change policy in Paris at the end of the year?

MR KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t speculate from here. I mean, those are questions that should be posed to him and to the government there. Obviously, we value the very close working relationship we have with Australia across a range of issues. You mentioned a few: climate and the ongoing crisis of conflict against ISIL. And we look forward to continuing to work with Australia on those and so many other international security issues around the world.

QUESTION: He has in the past expressed more favorable views towards some resolution on a climate change policy going forward that’s in line with the U.S. and China. Does that fill you with any positivity compared to his predecessor?

MR KIRBY: I think Secretary Kerry’s been very clear about the real challenges posed to the global community by climate change. We were just up in Alaska with the President dealing with the issues up there in the Arctic. He’s been very clear about how this is not just a national security interest for the United States, but for nations around the world. Again, I won’t speak to or comment on positions taken by other foreign leaders; that would be inappropriate. But our position on climate change has not changed. And again, the Secretary is very emphatic about the importance of this issue and he looks forward to working with the prime minister going forward on this, and again, so many other issues.

Yes. Go ahead. Yeah. I already got you, I think. Right? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Go back to U.S.-China cybersecurity issue for President Xi’s upcoming state visit, which is going to happen very soon. What progress could be expected between the two countries?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get ahead of the agenda, and this is a head-of-state visit so I’d point you to the White House to speak more specifically. But broadly speaking, Secretary Kerry is very much looking forward to President Xi’s visit, and there will be time for him to engage with the president during the visit.

There are – this is a very important relationship, not just in the Asia Pacific region but in the world, and we’ve consistently said that we welcome the rise of a peaceful, prosperous China. And there are many opportunities and many issues – climate change being one of them – where there’s opportunity for further cooperation and dialogue and progress. And I suspect that you’ll see a lot of time spent during this visit on those kinds of issues where we can work together, where we can – where there’s common cause and common opportunity.

There are also issues that we don’t always agree with China on. We talked about cyber earlier. And I suspect that we’ll – that there’ll be avenues to talk about some of those in the hopes that common ground can be found and move forward. So I think it’ll be – as it typically is when we engage with China in a bilateral way, there’s a wide scope of issues that matter to both of our nations that we’re going to spend some time on. And again, Secretary Kerry very much looks forward to the visit.

QUESTION: Is there any, like, new ground can be broken during this visit for U.S. and China to cooperate?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of what’s on the agenda. We’re very much looking forward to this. There’s lots of areas inside the relationship that we believe we can continue to make progress on, and I think we look forward to that.

Yes, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes. Going back to Russia and Syria, are you planning to by – in any way like to stop Russia from providing Syria with weapons, and like sanctions or international pressure?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any – I don’t have any decisions to announce here. I think we’ve made it very clear and I’ve talked about it a lot just earlier today about our concerns about continued support for the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Have you talked to your European partners about your concerns?

MR KIRBY: About our concerns about what Russia is doing in Syria?


MR KIRBY: As I said earlier, we have talked to our friends and partners in the region, some in Europe, about our concerns, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask one more question about al-Aqsa or the Haram Sharif attack? So the Jewish settler – there has been a report that Jewish settlers participate in this attack that happened today in al Aqsa. And I just want to know – I mean, this – last time they burned, like, a child. A bunch of Jewish settlers, like, burned a child. Today they participate in attacking al Aqsa. And you refuse to – you don’t categorize them in the – as terrorists, yet you categorize Hamas as terrorist. Don’t you see, like, a double standard in this?

MR KIRBY: There’s been no double standard by the United States when it comes to the violence in that part of the world and in this particular incident, and I talked about it right at the top. We want all sides to refrain from violence and return to peaceful conditions. We’ve been very, very clear about that.

QUESTION: But you categorize only one side, yet you --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t – I actually – I completely don’t agree with that, disagree with that. We’ve been very clear about the violence on both sides and how it needs to stop. There’s been no double standard with respect to our desire for a peaceful resolution here of these issues and no change in the status quo.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Gotta go.

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

DPB # 155

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 11, 2015

Fri, 09/11/2015 - 18:46

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 11, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR KIRBY: And to you as well. A couple things at the top, starting with Yemen. The United States welcomes the announcement by the United Nations special envoy for Yemen that the Yemeni Government, the Houthis, and General People&rsINDIA/IRANquo;s Congress will participate in peace talks next week. Yemen’s crisis must be solved through peaceful political means. All parties must return to the negotiating table to end the fighting as soon as possible and agree on a path forward that will end the suffering of the Yemeni people. We remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We continue to urge all parties to allow for the unimpeded entry and delivery of critically needed relief items to the civilian population nationwide, including food, medicine and fuel.

We also continue to urge all sides to exercise restraint, comply with international humanitarian law, and to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians. We note that King Salman conveyed to President Obama during his visit last week Saudi Arabia’s commitment to work with coalition and international partners to allow for unfettered access to assistance, including fuel, to the impacted people of Yemen and to work toward opening Red Sea ports.

On Burundi: The United States condemns the violent attack on Burundian Chief of Defense General Prime Niyongabo on Friday. While the apparent assassination attempt failed, we note that several people were killed. As we’ve said many times before, Burundi must step back from the path of violence. The only credible route to stability is a regionally mediated and inclusive dialogue that leads to consensus on a peaceful way forward according to the Arusha Agreement.

To Venezuela: I think you may have seen the statement that Secretary Kerry issued just a little bit ago. I want to reiterate that the United States remains deeply troubled by the conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The decision by the court raises great concern about the political nature of the judicial process and verdict, and the use of the Venezuelan judicial system to suppress and punish government critics.

I know you’ve also seen the Secretary’s comments and statement about today’s anniversary of September 11th, both noting the attacks in 2001 as well as the attacks in Libya three years ago, which was – which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. I’ll let you read the Secretary’s full statement, but obviously it’s a significant day here for our country and for additional reasons, very significant here at the State Department. It’s a reminder of how much work remains to be done against terrorist networks, how far we’ve come, how important it is to continue strong interagency efforts to get at that pervasive threat and challenge around the world.

Lastly, I would like to just – we offer our thoughts and condolences to Saudi Arabia. We’ve seen the press reports in just the last hour or so about the crane accident in Mecca. And we know it’s a fluid situation. We’ve taken note that upwards of 50 potential casualties here, and we know Saudi authorities are on the scene quickly and efficiently trying to deal with this situation. But again, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who were injured and their loved ones.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I am going to defer to Elise, who has to leave.


QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Yes.

MR KIRBY: There she is.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask about Warren Weinstein and reports that a drone strike – a drone surveillance found an apparent hostage but kind of dropped their surveillance, didn’t make efforts to identify or rescue him.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’ve seen the press report, Elise. The first thing I’d say is that our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the Weinstein family as well as the La Porto family for the tragic loss of their loved ones. They’re never far from our minds and that is why the President ordered an investigation into this particular strike to try to get at what happened, and if there’s any lessons that we can learn going forward to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. That inquiry, as you know, is ongoing so I’m really not at liberty to speak to anything that investigators are finding, and I’m certainly not at liberty to speak to intelligence that led to the strike itself. So I – again, our thoughts and prayers go out and the investigation --

QUESTION: Okay, but what do you say to critics, lawmakers, the family in particular, that say that the U.S. and its surveillance kind of prioritizes finding terrorists and doesn’t put a priority on finding hostages. I mean, there was surveillance in an area, someone looked kind of suspicious, and – but there was eventually a drone strike. So why, according to these critics, is the finding of U.S. hostages, identifying them, continued surveillance on the area not a priority?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, without speaking to this case, obviously, because it’s under investigation, I’ll tell you that nobody puts a higher premium on the safety and security of American citizens abroad more than we do, obviously, and – or our citizens abroad than the United States of America does. And that includes those that have been taken hostage by terrorist groups.

Now, it’s a difficult thing to gain and to be able to sustain information about their whereabouts, their condition, over any kind of period of time. It’s hard. Their captors are often very adept at keeping them hidden, moving them around. They know that we’re constantly on the look, and we are, and they often make every effort to try to conceal the whereabouts from us. So it’s a difficult thing to get at. Again, I won’t speak for this particular case, but I can tell you we never lose sight of them – these hostages. We never stop trying to acquire and sustain information about them and reacquire if we’ve lost it.

I wouldn’t go through many, many examples, but I mean, just look at Bowe Bergdahl, and I understand there’s – that was a different situation, an American soldier, but nobody ever lost sight of where he was. And it just changes over time.

That said, we also have a significant responsibility to the American people and to our allies and partners to protect them from a terrorist attack, from terrorist activities. And whenever we conduct a strike from whatever type of platform or whatever – using whatever capabilities against terrorists, it is done carefully and methodically with the best possible intelligence that we can muster. It is not always perfect. Intelligence is never perfect. It’s a mosaic and it does change over time, and it can change rapidly over time.

But we do the best we can to not only make sure that we know exactly who we’re going after, where and when and how, but that we’re going to minimize any civilian casualties or collateral damage, not to mention any harm that could befall American hostages on the site.

QUESTION: Right, but the suggestion here is that you’re not following every possible lead to find U.S. hostages as opposed to a particular drone strike, that there was surveillance in an area and you did not follow every possible lead to try and identify who it was. I’m not saying that it was clear that it was him, but --

MR KIRBY: Right. So again, this particular case is under investigation, and we need to let investigators do their job. And if – when they come back with what they found, if they found that there were gaps, if they found that there were mistakes, then we’ll deal with that, and we’ll learn from that moving forward.

I’d also say that nobody’s better at self-assessment and self-correction than the United States Government, and we’re pretty open about it and pretty candid about it. When we make mistakes, we admit it, and we move on. So let’s let the investigators do their job and then we’ll see where that goes.

But I can tell you that every effort is made over time, as best we can, to locate these individuals, to try to know where they are and in what conditions they’re being kept, and then if and when appropriate, to take action to try to recover them. And we have done that to some success in other cases. So it’s not perfect, we’re not perfect – we want to be, and that’s why it’s so important for this investigation to complete so we can learn from it, so that we can improve our capabilities in that regard.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go to – are you done?


QUESTION: Russia and Syria. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen the comments by Foreign Minister Lavrov, who has spoken twice this week or since the weekend – at least twice, I guess – with Secretary Kerry and his comments today that suggest that Russia would like other countries to join it in sending assistance – military assistance and help – to the Assad regime.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. No, go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re familiar with the comments?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the comments. Matt, our position on this hasn’t changed from what we talked about yesterday. We continue to believe that there needs to be a political solution to the conflict in Syria, and that support for the Assad regime, particularly in a military way, is unhelpful to achieving that goal, that supports the Assad regime only increases the chances for instability and insecurity inside Syria.

QUESTION: But does Foreign Minister Lavrov – do the comments that he made this morning contradict what your understanding of what the Russian position had been or was, in fact?

MR KIRBY: The understanding that we had about --

QUESTION: If we go back to – well, I mean, we could go back all the way to well before your tenure, the first term of the Administration. In Geneva and the Geneva communique, when the U.S. and Russia came out of there with diametrically opposed understandings of what happened, of what the communique said, and it appeared as of a month or so ago that there was finally – or that you guys thought that there was some common ground evolving --

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: The meeting in Doha with the foreign minister and the Saudi foreign minister, and then the Saudi foreign minister’s visit to Moscow.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Does this – do comments like the ones that he reported – he was reported to have made this morning change your understanding of what the Russian – what you thought the Russian position was?

MR KIRBY: Well, if the comments are – I mean, I’ve seen them. If they are taken in the proper context and true, again, that we – they are not consistent with what we believe to be the best path forward to a political transition in Syria, which we’ve long maintained. That said, Matt, as I said yesterday, we still believe that there is an opportunity here with Russia to pursue a path or multiple paths forward to this political transition. And the dialogue with the Russians will continue about this.

QUESTION: Okay, I understand that you think that if the – if his reported comments are correct that you don’t think that that’s the best way to get to a political transition. I get that. But do you feel like you have been faced – given these comments today, do you think that you have been or the Secretary was misled or misunderstood the Russian position?

MR KIRBY: I think through multiple conversations that the Secretary has had with Foreign Minister Lavrov – look, they’re nothing if not candid with one another. And I’m confident that though there still remains issues we don’t agree with the Russians on with respect to Syria, that our view of where we are with them in this discussion and these possibilities remains the same.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on that?


QUESTION: The quote that we’ve gotten is that Russia called on – to – on Washington to restart direct military-to-military cooperation to avert unintended incidents with Syria. Do you have any idea what that might mean?

MR KIRBY: Not --

QUESTION: In your mind, is that a threat of a sort?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov about what he meant in that regard. Again, support to the Assad regime we still don’t find to be the path forward here to a political transition and a solution that’s good for all the Syrian people. We’ve said that. Nothing’s changed about our concerns about the support that Russia and Iran continue to provide to Assad. The – as I said yesterday, while in general we would certainly welcome constructive Russian contributions to counter ISIL efforts, we oppose and continue to oppose any actions in Syria that empowers the regime to escalate the conflict. So as for exactly what he meant by that, I think I’d refer you to him and to his spokesman.

QUESTION: If the Russians say that their efforts in Syria is against ISIS and so is the United States-led group that efforts in parts of Syria – if those are the same, can you see any sort of cooperation with the Russians against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: I just said we’d welcome constructive anti-ISIL efforts by Russia, but it can’t start with and it can’t be a function of continued support to the Assad regime. I said the other day the most productive thing that they can do is to stop aiding the Assad regime.


QUESTION: Is it possible there’s a misunderstanding between you about whether they’re preventing the immediate collapse of the Assad regime rather – and therefore a mismanaged transition, rather than trying to avoid a transition? I’ve seen comments today from Mr. Brennan that an immediate implosion of the regime would not necessarily assist the transitional process.

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian authorities about what they think and what they believe the ultimate outcome is of what they’re doing there and whether they’re concerned about that.

QUESTION: What’s the U.S. point of view? Would you welcome – you obviously want to see Assad go as part of a transition. But if he was to fly to Minsk tonight and then his forces collapse in the field, would that be a good outcome?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypothetics about the what-ifs. Again, our position is the same: We need a political transition in Syria, a political solution to this conflict; it cannot include Bashar al-Assad going forward. And that’s why we continue to engage and will continue to engage with the Russians and the Saudis about this going forward. And the Secretary looks forward to discussions coming up at the UN General Assembly at the end of the month on this exact topic.



QUESTION: There have been several reports that the war with ISIL in Syria is not going well as reported earlier. And the latest ones, the General Chief of Staff Dempsey, he apparently stated that there’s a stalemate; ISIL is not losing. Is this the view of the State Department on the current situation on the ground?

MR KIRBY: As you know, I desperately try to avoid, with sometimes minimal success, getting into operational assessments about what’s going on on the ground. That said, we believe that there continues to be progress made in this strategy against ISIL in both Iraq and in Syria. We’ve talked about this many times. They don’t have as much overall territory as they had. Cities that they controlled early on a year ago when we started this in Iraq, they no longer control. They’ve lost leaders and they will continue to lose leaders. They’ve lost tons, thousands of pieces of equipment, and they will continue to lose equipment and material. And yes, they can – they’re able to recruit adherents to their ideology, some of them coming from foreign nations; we know that. And as they enter the battlefield, they become fair targets. And it’s a career field, as I said, that has a short shelf life.

We’re convinced that the strategy is the right one. We’re convinced that over time it will succeed. We’ve also said very openly and candidly that it’s a campaign that’s going to have ups and downs. There’s going to be tactical victories; there’s going to be tactical setbacks. And that’s going to be the case in what will be a years-long effort to defeat them.

Two other points that need to be reminded, I think. One, the way to sustain a defeat against them from a military perspective is with indigenous forces, which is why it’s so important that as part of our strategy it’s to help improve the battlefield capability of Iraqi Security Forces as well as a train and equip program, which we talked about yesterday. Number two, the real long-term answer here is good governance in Syria and in Iraq, and both of those have challenges. Although Prime Minister Abadi has made important reforms, he is moving forward on creating an inclusive, representative government in Iraq. He’s reforming the military. Positives steps are being taken. In Syria, obviously – and we’ve talked about the challenges inside there.

And I know that’s not easy to comprehend. You can’t put that on a bumper sticker; you can’t tweet that out. But that’s really the long-term answer here, and that’s why it’s going to take a while. So this is a determined enemy, but we are equally determined – in fact, I’d say we are more determined – not just the United States, but the 60 members of the coalition – into eventually defeating this group. And we will.

Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: India. Thank you, sir. My question is that now Iran deal is there and because of the Iran sanctions, a number of countries and including India obliged the United States to cut down the oil and also to put sanctions against Iran. What message you think Secretary has now for – especially now for India? Where is India stands as far as those sanctions, and which because of the cutting down the Iranian oil the Indian economy and the Indians are suffering? And how long this will continue?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s back up a little bit. The sanctions that we’re talking about as part of the Iran deal are UN sanctions that were always meant to drive Iran to the negotiating table. So they worked in that regard. There’s no new sanctions relief under the JCPOA until Iran has completed the necessary steps that it needs to complete with the IAEA to verify the status of their nuclear program and that it’s peaceful. Each nation has, obviously, sovereign rights to impose sanctions on their own. The unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nefarious activities will remain in place, and we’ll continually review those as we go forward.

So I don’t have – it would – wouldn’t be appropriate for us to tell India how to work their way through this, but we do believe that the architecture of the Iran deal is truly an international architecture. This was many countries coming together to try to make sure that Iran never possess a nuclear weapon, and the deal does that. And we’re grateful for what’s happened this week in Congress and the fact that the deal’s going to be – it looks like it’s going to be moving forward, and pretty soon we’re going to have to be – we’ll have to turn our task to implementation.

QUESTION: My question was really that because of the pressure on India, I believe, that India was asked to cut down the oil import from Iran because of the --

MR KIRBY: Asked by who?

QUESTION: I believe by the United States. And India obliged and they cut down at least 15 percent of the import Iranian oil to India.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know of any request that was made by the United States to ask India to cut its oil from Iran. I’ll have to check on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, it’s part of the sanctions. Numerous countries had to reduce or their – they would face sanctions, et cetera.

MR KIRBY: That’s different than saying though that the U.S. specifically asked them to do it though, I think.


MR KIRBY: But I take the point. Let me look into it, Goyal. You got me on that one. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Samir.



QUESTION: The Government of Iraq is seeking the issuance of international bonds to help its financial difficulties, and a delegation from the government is visiting Europe now to build support for these bonds. Is – what’s the U.S. position on this?

MR KIRBY: The U.S. welcomes Iraq’s efforts to address fiscal sustainability and broaden its funding resources, including accessing international capital markets.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Pam.

QUESTION: Venezuela. Going back to your opening statement about the conviction of Lopez, I have a follow-up question. The word of this conviction is coming shortly after Secretary Kerry, of course, met with Venezuela’s foreign minister on talks that focused on improving ties. What --

MR KIRBY: It was a telephone call. Yeah.

QUESTION: By phone.


QUESTION: What do convictions of human rights activists such as Lopez do to – how do they affect these types of efforts? Do they perhaps muddy the waters between the U.S. and Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: Communication with other countries is fundamental to diplomacy all around the world, Pam. We’re not always going to agree on every issue. Diplomatic engagement allows us to discuss those differences directly with governments. We continue to call for the release of those imprisoned because of their political beliefs, and we’re going to continue to underscore our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms. As you know, that’s not going to stop, and we’re pretty open and honest and candid about that. Having the ability to – having diplomatic relations allows you to do that in, perhaps, a more forthright, direct manner.

So obviously, we don’t agree with this sentence, and we’ve stated so. The Secretary himself stated so today. But we’re going to – and we’re going to continue to make that call. That said, this is a relationship that we are sort of at the beginning of trying to improve, and I think you’re going to see those efforts persist as well.

QUESTION: Still on Venezuela.


QUESTION: What would you like to see from this dialogue in the future? I mean, things have not gotten better. There’s a conflict, a crisis in the border with Colombia, now this Lopez sentence. What would you like to see going forward in Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ve – we obviously want to see the imprisonment of political prisoners cease. We’ve talked about that. We’ve – when he spoke with – when Secretary Kerry spoke with Foreign Minister Rodriguez earlier this week, they discussed the situation on Venezuela’s border with Colombia and the need for a quick resolution of the dispute there in view of the humanitarian situation.

So there’s obviously some issues that we would like to see Venezuela take to lessen tensions, but we also want to see the relationship that we have with Venezuela improve. Just because you disagree on some things doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where you can work together on them. And the – and narcotrafficking and transnational crime, and then there’s lots of issues that I think we’d share with Venezuela going forward, and we want to sort of focus on those issues as much as possible. But at the same time we’re not going to shy away if we have issues and concerns. I mean, we have an obligation to speak up and we’ll continue to do that. But again, this is a relationship that matters and one that we want to improve and we’re going to keep working at it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Venezuela?


QUESTION: He says the condemnation – the written condemnation. What else can the U.S. do? I mean, there is some feelings among the opposition that the U.S. really doesn’t care that much of what is going on right now in Venezuela.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get into hypothesizing about tools and options. As you know, we have various across the world – with many different relationships, we have various diplomatic, economic tools at our disposal, but I’m not going to get into hypotheticals here. We’re going to continue to work at this relationship which is complicated and it’s not always going to be easy. And as I said, there’s going to be times when we disagree.

I think the most important thing you can do, particularly when you disagree with a nation that you are trying to improve relations with, is to talk about it openly and freely.

QUESTION: But the foreign minister today, the Venezuelan foreign minister was today in New York talking to Secretary-General of the UN, and she said this is something that relates to the country and is a process, is a – it was done through the legal process and it should be something that is related and only matters to Venezuela.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those comments. I think the Secretary’s statement speaks loud and clear for what we believe about this particular sentence.


QUESTION: John, do you think the upcoming – the trial will affect the elections or the way – one of the things U.S. officials have said about Lopez and other political prisoners is that their release is important in this – in these discussions, in this new dialogue that the two countries have begun. So – but you’re suggesting that that’s not going to really affect, that you’d prefer to continue to talk to resolve those differences. But do you think this will affect at all the election?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, for the mere act of preventing the inclusion of opposition candidates weakens the electoral process and it undermines the principles of pluralism and participatory democracy. So obviously, if you’re not allowing opposition parties or members to voice their concerns and to be participants in the process, sure it’s going to affect or potentially affect elections.


QUESTION: I have a more general question about Islamic extremism. As we commemorate the 14th anniversary of 9/11, what is the U.S. assessment of the state of radical Islam or Islamic extremism? Do you believe it has been weakened as a result of 14 years of U.S. counterterrorism policies?

MR KIRBY: I believe that terrorist networks around the world, while they continue to metastasize and fester and remain a lethal threat, are themselves under threat, increasing threat and pressure, by the international community. I’m not going to give you a scorecard on this, but I think if you look back at 14 years now that we’ve been at this as aggressively as we have been, there’s no question that groups like al-Qaida are weaker than they were at the outset. Their top leadership is pretty much all but gone.

Now, there are splinter groups – ISIL, AQIM, AQAP – I get it; we’re focused on them too. But this is an ideology that’s a loser and it’s going to lose. But as I said earlier, we recognize that it’s going to take time and effort and resources and probably result in more bloodshed before it ends. But that doesn’t mean that the effort’s not worth pursuing and that this isn’t – that it’s not an enemy worth fighting; it is.

We recognize – and today’s a great day to do that – to recognize how far we’ve come against these groups and yet how far we still have to go, and why it’ s important for all of us – the interagency here in the United States as well as the international community – to keep the efforts up. I mean, we talk about ISIL and how determined and resilient they are – and they are – and I get that – and they’re adaptive. But so too are we, and you have more than 60 countries involved in these coalition efforts against this one group essentially in two countries, Iraq and Syria. That’s not insignificant. I mean, in fact, it’s very significant that we’ve been able to sustain this effort now with more than 60 countries for about a year now with just as much energy. And the contributions of certain members of those – of the coalition continues to improve and increase.

So long-term effort, going to require more diligence and energy and effort, but we believe it’s an effort worth pursuing.

QUESTION: On that general theme, are you aware of any embassies – U.S. embassies that are normally open on Friday that are closed today other than, perhaps, the one in Chad, which I see has been closed all week, due to anniversary-related threats?

MR KIRBY: No. And --

QUESTION: So Chad is the only one that’s been --

MR KIRBY: Chad is – Chad – the embassy in Chad was closed the latter half of the week, since – for the 9th, 10th, and 11th.


MR KIRBY: But not related specifically to a September 11th threat.

QUESTION: But it was also closed on Monday, because that was Labor Day.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: And I believe it was closed on Tuesday as well, but are you saying no?

MR KIRBY: I’ll check the facts here, Matt.


MR KIRBY: I was told 9th, 10th, and 11th, and they’ve issued --

QUESTION: And the 7th.

MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, but that was a federal holiday.

QUESTION: I understand.


QUESTION: But if it didn’t reopen, I mean, it’s an – if it reopened on Tuesday --

MR KIRBY: I think they issued – Tuesday they issued the notice that they would be closing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, but I want to remind it wasn’t as a result of a 9/11 issue. It was a result of security concerns that they had writ large there in Chad.

QUESTION: So it was not a threat?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. Security concerns obviously prompted them to close the embassy for the last half of this week, but it wasn’t – I can tell – while I can’t get into the specifics, I can tell you it was not related to specific September 11th threats.

QUESTION: Okay. Is the embassy in Chad usually open on a Friday, do you know?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t.

QUESTION: Or is that part of their weekend?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: All right. And there are no others? So everyone else that’s usually open, that’s normally open for business on Fridays, is open?

MR KIRBY: I know of no other embassies around the world that are closed because of terrorist threats or security concerns today.


QUESTION: John, I’m not sure if you have this information, but on the travel warnings that you issued last week on Turkey, can you tell us how many families have submitted for their relocation after the travel warning?

MR KIRBY: No, actually, I’m not at liberty to talk about that. We don’t discuss the numbers of families that either reside in or take advantage of an authorized departure.

QUESTION: That’s not exactly true, because when it was announced last week your colleague at the Pentagon talked about it being about roughly 900 families – on the record, on camera talked about it. And then your colleague here talked about it being about a hundred – on the record, on camera. I had a question, a taken question the other day, asking if any of the State Department community that was eligible for this authorized departure – not even asking for a number or close to a specific number, just if anyone had decided to avail themselves of the authorized departure, and the response came back: “We don’t talk about the specifics of authorized departure.” Well --

MR KIRBY: But that’s what I just said.

QUESTION: -- my question is about – is least – is about as unspecific as possible. Can you --

QUESTION: But that’s --

QUESTION: Is it more than zero?

QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: So wait a second --

QUESTION: I mean, if you don’t talk about authorized departures --

MR KIRBY: -- I think my colleague said about a hundred. He didn’t say with specificity.

QUESTION: No, he didn’t give any exact --

MR KIRBY: So well, my answer is we’re not going to get into specific numbers, and my colleague didn’t do that any more than I’m willing to do that. And I’m still not going to be at liberty to talk about how many, even roughly, families may or may not have taken avail – advantage of the authorized departure.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for how many. I’m asking if any.

MR KIRBY: Right. My answer is the same. We’re not going to talk about --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I guess we can talk about this later.

QUESTION: And also another question on this issue, on Turkey. One of the cities that included to the warning is Gaziantep, which is a city which is used as a center for the nonlethal assistance provided to the Syrians. I’m wondering if you’ll still keep open this office or not.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. You’re saying we have an office in --

QUESTION: Can you take this question?

MR KIRBY: What’s the name of the town?

QUESTION: Gaziantep.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take the question, Tolga. I just don’t know.


QUESTION: John, can I follow on on Russia and Syria? Has the coalition, as led from this agency, has it asked Russia to join the coalition formally?




QUESTION: No. So you’ve said you’d welcome their cooperation, but you haven’t asked them to join the coalition?

MR KIRBY: We would welcome – what I said was we would welcome constructive counter-ISIL activities. I did not – it wasn’t an implied invitation to the coalition. But what I also said was support to the Assad regime can’t be a factor in those contributions.

QUESTION: Did – you noted Secretary Kerry’s relationship with Lavrov. Did Russia forecast or notify the U.S. in any way that they’d be taking these steps to move military assets into Syria? And the Defense Department, Colonel Pat Ryder just a few hours ago actually directed me here when I asked what the details of the communication between the U.S. and Russia are right now in order to prevent – or in order to do de-confliction, in order to prevent the kind of incidents that Lavrov suggested this morning. So not a hypothetical. I’m wondering what the details of communication are between the U.S. and Russia right now in terms of de-confliction.

MR KIRBY: I know of no prior notice that was given to the United States with respect to these additional activities that Russia has taken.

QUESTION: So it was a surprise.

MR KIRBY: I know of no prior notice. And I’m not going to detail diplomatic conversations. I don’t ever do that and I’m not going to start today. That said, I think it speaks for itself that Secretary Kerry personally placed calls to Foreign Minister Lavrov twice in the last week, and we’ll continue to keep the lines of communication open, as we feel we need to, to gain better clarity. It’s – while the intent isn’t perfectly clear, our concerns remain valid, and we’re going to continue to have these discussions with Russian leaders going forward.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just to clarify, not to get into the details of the diplomatic conversations, but just in terms of trying to understand the process, the Defense Department said there is no military-military – military-to-military contact between the U.S. and Russian forces and directed me here. So I’m just trying to understand what the process is in terms of communication when there is no military-to-military conflict in order to ensure de-confliction.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t – again, I don’t – I’m not going to speak for DOD. I think – what I think they’re referring to is no military-to-military communication with Russian forces or troops in Syria --


MR KIRBY: -- as they conduct counter-ISIL operations in Syria. But obviously, we have routine military-to-military exchanges and dialogue with the – with Russia, just as a matter of course. But I think that’s what they were referring to. I – there are many vehicles through which we communicate with Russian leaders about their activities and their intentions, and one of them is direct communication between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. We also have an embassy there that routinely talks to Russian leaders and officials about all manner of issues, particularly those that are of concern to us.

So we have many vehicles, but I’m – I simply am not able to list for you today every call that’s made, every email that is sent, every document that is passed back and forth between our two governments. There is a healthy – not always in concert – but there’s a healthy dialogue between our two countries, and that’s what you would expect.

QUESTION: Sorry --

QUESTION: Does your response to her first question that you would welcome Russian help against ISIL but not its support for the Assad regime – does that response mean that you would welcome Russian troops parachuting into Raqqa and starting – on their own and just starting to kill ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about specifics there, Matt, and that’s a better question put to DOD and to military members of the coalition.

QUESTION: Well, no, just --

MR KIRBY: What I would say, just broadly speaking – broadly speaking, we would welcome a constructive role by Russia against ISIL. I can’t – I couldn’t detail for you what that would be because it’s not happening, and I wouldn’t speculate about what it might look like. As I said, we’d welcome a constructive role here, but it can’t start with, it can’t be a function of continued support to the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Can you just – sorry, last one, I promise. I just want to clarify one thing you had said earlier in response to Matt that I was trying to understand. It seemed after the Iran agreement was reached that there was sort of a glimmer of hope. The White House seemed to speak to this, that Russia and Iran could be partners and it might be more of an opportunity for a political resolution in Syria. Does the military – the confirmed Russian military presence in Syria to back Assad, in their words, against the – to help in the fight against the Islamic State, does that complicate, does that make it less likely that a political resolution to remove Assad can be reached?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’ve answered this. We still believe there’s an opportunity to work with Russia towards a political transition in Syria.

QUESTION: Still an opportunity, but does this complicate that?

MR KIRBY: The – what we said before is the support to the Assad regime – the most productive thing that they – that the Russians can do, if they’re serious about assisting in the effort – the international effort against ISIL, the most productive thing they can do right now is to stop aiding and abetting the Assad regime. We’ve said that before.

So is it helpful? No, it’s not helpful. But that doesn’t mean that we still don’t believe there is an opportunity here to continue a dialogue towards a political transition, and Secretary Kerry has every intention of doing that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: General --

MR KIRBY: Oh, no, no, I got you before. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Your colleagues over at the White House said today that the international community and other countries need to step up their efforts to support the Syrian refugee crisis. And would you agree with that? Would you be encouraging other countries to step up their --

MR KIRBY: I’ve said here this week that we want all nations involved and even those who aren’t directly involved in the European refugee crisis right now to do what they can.

QUESTION: But my question yesterday was about the Japanese effort and that they’re actually backtracking, making it more difficult for Syrian refugees to enter. Would you --

MR KIRBY: My answer will be the exact same as it was yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay. But – so you wouldn’t be encouraging Japan at all to --

MR KIRBY: We want every nation, as I said yesterday – we want every nation to do what they can. But these are sovereign decisions they have to make. And as I said before, we’re proud of our track record on this issue and the fact that we’re going to continue to explore options here in the United States to do more.


QUESTION: Still one more question on that.

QUESTION: The BBC – the BBC reported and cited an unnamed official that Washington believes the Islamic State is not only using chemical weapons, but they started producing it. Have you seen this report? And any comment on it?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the report. As you can imagine, I’m not going to try to get into tit for tat with every anonymous official who speaks – clearly isn’t speaking for the U.S. Government. So I honestly – as you know, I’m not going to get into intelligence matters. But what I will say is any report of the potential use of or possession of chemical weapons by a group like ISIL is obviously deeply concerning to us. It’s the last thing you’d want to see these murderers get their hands on. So we take it all very seriously. I know DOD is looking into some specific claims, but I can’t couch any veracity here.

QUESTION: Does it surprise you that they’re producing, or is that --

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean --

QUESTION: If they were --

MR KIRBY: -- any allegation that these guys could or would or might get their hands on this material, whether it’s manufactured or purchased or theft, is a concern. I’m not going to speak to the veracity of these specific claims by an anonymous official. But just rest assured that the concern remains there, because again, I think we can all agree that this group having the ability to get their hands on that material would obviously be a very bad, very dangerous thing.


QUESTION: (Inaudible). I got a breakdown for the statistics from one of your colleagues here that for the Fiscal Year 2015 about the refugees you settled in the United States. It seems that it’s actually – this is the case – Burma and Iraq had more than 10,000 refugees settled in the United States in Fiscal Year 2015. So my question is, this decision by the President to settle at least 10,000 Syrians doesn’t seem to be so exceptional. You did that for Iraqis last year, 11 – more than 11,000.

MR KIRBY: What’s your question?

QUESTION: My question is, like, why does the President announce this as a – some sort of big news while it was something normal for Iraqis last year, settling 11,000 here?

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me why we announced that we’re increasing the number. We announced it because we have an obligation to be transparent and open about major policy decisions that we’re making in this country, and the President made this decision, and therefore announced it. And it certainly comes in light of the crisis that we’re seeing in Europe. I think it would be fair for you to criticize if we made a decision like that and we didn’t tell you about it. And look, I’m just – and I’ll go back right at this, this idea that it’s some sort of paltry decision or it’s not enough is just – it’s just not conducive with the facts.

This country, the United States, resettles more refugees from around the world by a factor of 40,000 than any other country in the world. And that – we did 70 – we took in 70,000 in 2014. We’re on track to hit 70,000 by the end of this month for Fiscal Year ’15, and the number will grow next year in ’16. I don’t know what that is, but it will get bigger, and we will once again lead the world in the resettlement of refugees in this country.

No other country – wait a second, Matt – no other country donates more money to this effort than us; no other country puts as much energy or effort into it than the United States. And I’m not trying to brag here, but this idea that we don’t do enough and that we don’t care enough is frankly false. And so while you can parse out the numbers, at least 10,000 – and I say at least; the President didn’t put a cap on it; he said at least 10,000 – I don’t think that’s going to be insignificant. And I don’t think it’s going to be insignificant for the at least 10,000 Syrians that get to come to this country.

So we’re going to keep working at this. And there may be more decisions coming down the road. As I said, Secretary Kerry’s got a working group stood up here. They met this week. They’ll continue to meet to explore other options and things that we can do to try to alleviate the suffering of these people. But we’re going to keep at it. And we welcome the efforts by other nations to do as much as they can as well, particularly those that are being affected by it directly.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that people are confusing the idea of resettlement with the temporary housing of huge numbers – I mean, people are talking about Germany – 800,000. But those people aren’t being resettled in Germany proper. They’re just being housed there temporarily --


QUESTION: -- and will – may be referred to other countries eventually for resettlement.

MR KIRBY: Possibly.

QUESTION: There seems to be a big disconnect going on between what it is you guys announced yesterday and what is happening in Greece and Hungary and that kind of thing right now, which is not resettlement.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct. I mean, I can’t speak for each nation. Some nations might be considering resettlement as part of their function, so I don’t want to impugn any of their intentions or efforts. But largely, what you’re seeing Europe with this massive influx is an issue of temporary housing and care while they sort through the issue. And again, most of these people want to go back home, so that’s why what’s going on in Syria is so important and why we have to work so hard to try to get to a political transition to a government that is responsive and responsible for the safety and security of the Syrian people, and that’s going to take some time.

I also want to correct something. Yesterday, I think I said that Germany had agreed to 800,000 over 10 years. I was wrong about that; it is not 800,000 over 10 years. It is 800,000 that they’re working – that they’ve agreed to admit. So I stand corrected on that and I want to make sure that it got that out there.

Sure, yeah. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I want to move to another subject.

MR KIRBY: Another subject? Are we going to be still on this?

QUESTION: On Syria. I had a follow-up on Syria issue.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Because in terms of the de-confliction. At the beginning of the airstrikes that you are conducting in Syria, you were notifying the Syrian regime to the representative at UN. Is this the – still the case? Are you still notifying the Syrian regime in terms of the U.S. airstrikes in Syria?

MR KIRBY: You need to talk to DOD about that. There’s no – as far as I know, there’s no coordination with the air campaign and the Syrian regime, but yes, they have been notified in the past about air activity and advised to stay clear of it.


MR KIRBY: But I don’t know what level of communication continues to take place. You’d have to talk to DOD.

QUESTION: Yeah, you were doing this, actually, notifying – notification issue --

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to DOD.

QUESTION: You are not involved anymore?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to DOD about air coordination over the skies of Syria. That is not a State Department function. That’s something you need to talk to the Pentagon about.


QUESTION: I wanted to go back to Venezuela because the foreign minister of Venezuela in Leopoldo Lopez case. She mentioned that – she rejected the press release by Secretary Kerry, said that they don’t – they rejected the aggressions and offenses contained in that press release today, and --

MR KIRBY: Did this just happen on your smartphone while we were talking?

QUESTION: Yeah, and I’m looking at her tweeting and she basically says that they believe this and it’s intrusion by the United States.

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to let the Secretary’s statement speak for itself. It – it’s – I don’t think it’s insignificant that the Secretary of State himself put this statement out, and I’m going to let the statement speak for itself and our concern.

QUESTION: Still on Venezuela. But I mean, it was short of a condemnation of this trial and its result. Was that an attempt to keep the talks going?

MR KIRBY: No. It was an attempt to state our position about what we believed to be an injustice against Mr. Lopez.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I change it to Cuba one minute?


QUESTION: Sorry. This is on the release of the announcement of the release of 3,000 – over 3,000 prisoners in Cuba ahead of the Pope’s visit. Do you have something on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen that report, so you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that.


MR KIRBY: Abbie.

QUESTION: I know that this has been spoken about generally in this room, but your colleague over at the White House confirmed that the President as well as others in this Administration will no longer be staying at the Waldorf Astoria. Is there a reason why Samantha Power would continue to maintain her residence there? Is there any concern about security with her (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, security’s always a concern, Abbie, as you know. I don’t have anything to announce with respect to Ambassador Power’s residence. For the time being, she’s at the Waldorf. We constantly review accommodations, especially for our diplomats, and that will continue in this case. I don’t have anything to specifically to announce one way or the other with respect to her residence, but I think you can safely assume that we’ll continue to look at the suitability of the Waldorf for her, so I think I’d leave it there.

QUESTION: But why was there a decision made not to send a delegation there?

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about for the General Assembly? We don’t discuss – I never would and not going to start – discuss the factors that go into contractual arrangements that we make with lodging and hotels around the world. I’m not going to start today.

We look forward to the General Assembly. The Secretary’s excited about it. We went over the agenda with him today. He’s got a very full plate of meetings and conferences and discussions that he’s looking forward to getting at. That’s the focus, much more than where we’re going to be laying our head at night. But again, this is – it’s not uncommon for us to constantly review our contractual obligations, particularly when it comes to lodging, and we did that in this case when we made a decision to go with the Palace.

QUESTION: So were you able to find out whether or not this decision to go to the Palace means that U.S. officials are barred from going to the Waldorf at all --

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t --

QUESTION: -- or at least for official meetings with other delegations who might be staying there?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an answer for you on that.

QUESTION: But does that --

MR KIRBY: But I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: Okay, but --

MR KIRBY: But I’ll look.

QUESTION: So I want to make – can I make it two parts? I want to know, one, (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: You can make it three parts, if you’d like.

QUESTION: Okay. And the other one I want to know if it’s just like an event at the Waldorf or --

MR KIRBY: Are we writing this down?

QUESTION: -- which is not, I don’t know, a dance or something in one of the ballrooms, or a drink in the Bull and Bear, whatever. Is it okay?

MR KIRBY: I’m totally shocked that you know the name of the bar in the Waldorf. (Laughter.) I --

QUESTION: It’s a famous bar. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: And yet somehow I think that if it wasn’t famous you’d still know.

QUESTION: Probably.

MR KIRBY: I’ll – we’ll look at it, Matt. We’ll look and get --

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I was not able to get you an answer to that --

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR KIRBY: -- before I came out here today. Okay, everybody. Look, it’s three o’clock. Have a great weekend and thanks again. Bye-bye.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 10, 2015

Fri, 09/11/2015 - 06:23

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 10, 2015

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2:40 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple things --

QUESTION: Good afternoon – late afternoon.

MR KIRBY: Well, I had to wait for the Secretary to finish.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR KIRBY: It’s 2:40.

QUESTION: Right. I’m so old, I remember when we used to have these briefings at 12:30.

MR KIRBY: Really?

QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Was that since yesterday, Matt? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Welcome to the 21st century. (Laughter.) Okay.

A couple things at the top. As you may seen in a media note I just released, the U.S. Department of State will send a small delegation to Havana tomorrow, September 11th – they’re actually leaving today – to participate in the inaugural session of a bilateral commission with the Cuban Government. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee will head the delegation, which will include the Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, David McKean. Charge d’affaires ad interim Jeffery DeLaurentis will lead the team from the U.S. Embassy down in Havana.

During this first bilateral commission meeting the team will meet with members of the Cuban foreign ministry to discuss next steps in the normalization process and schedule dates for future discussions on shared priorities. The delegation will seek agreement on priority issues for future negotiations and discuss the scope, timing, delegation level, and frequency of engagement on each issue. The delegation does not plan to enter into extensive discussion on each topic during this first meeting. This is largely going to be a logistical meeting of sorts.

In Ecuador, you may have also seen the statement – my statement that we just released – about increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association in Ecuador, over which we are, obviously, deeply concerned, particularly the Ecuadorian Government’s September 8th decision to initiate legal steps intended to dissolve the free press NGO Fundamedios – sorry. An active civil society and tolerance of dissenting views are vital components of any democracy.

We share international concern over the Ecuadorian Government’s efforts to silence critical voices and deny its citizens access to a diversity of information and ideas. Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, among others, have all spoken out in opposition to the government’s latest action against Fundamedios. We call on the Government of Ecuador to honor its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights by upholding freedom of expression and association as fundamental democratic rights.

And then lastly, two days ago, Dr. Vaughan Turekian, formerly the Chief International Officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was named the fifth Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. In this capacity, he will advise Secretary Kerry and the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment on international environment, science, technology, and health matters affecting the foreign policy of the United States. And we welcome him to the State Department.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to start with refugees. You will probably be aware that a little while ago, over at the White House, your counterpart announced that President Obama has directed his team to scale up the number of refugee – Syrian refugees that the United States accepts and that he’s informed his team he would like them to accept – at least make preparations to accept – at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.

The first thing is kind of a logistical thing. Ever since this crisis has been getting worse and worse over the course of the past couple of months, every time your counterpart at the White House has been asked about this, he’s referred the questions to the State Department, saying that this is the State Department’s job, this is what they do, and that’s where your questions are best addressed. Did you – isn’t there any angst that once there’s something ostensibly good to announce that the White House comes out and announces it?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) No, not at all, Matt.

QUESTION: No? (Laughter.) It doesn’t suggest to you that since from the very beginning this whole refugee admissions process is actually driven by the White House, which it has been since – for years and years and years, and that referring questions over here, based on the fact that they just hadn’t made a decision at the White House, is a little bit disingenuous?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think so at all, Matt. And look, this – these are --

QUESTION: This is a presidential decision, right?

MR KIRBY: These are presidential decisions.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR KIRBY: I mean – and the President did make this decision.


MR KIRBY: Obviously, Secretary Kerry fully supports this decision. He was just up on Capitol Hill yesterday talking about things that we are considering doing to try to improve our own participation and cooperation with our European allies and friends on this particular issue. So it’s obviously on everybody’s mind. And these are very much interagency discussions. But ultimately the individual that has to make these kinds of difficult decisions, that’s – is the President.

QUESTION: Right. I’m not suggesting that anyone disagrees with it. I’m just wondering if there was any angst or any concern in this building that it took so long for this decision to be made, given the fact that this crisis has been building up for months and months and months. And now that we know – although some of us already did know – that this is actually a White House, a presidential decision, was there any frustration at the State Department that this was taking so long?

MR KIRBY: No. Not at all.

QUESTION: No? All right.

MR KIRBY: I mean, not at all.

QUESTION: So let’s get to the substance of the actual announcement. What is the practical effect of this? There seems to be a lot of confusion, misunderstanding about whether this is, in fact, going to help any of the refugees that we’ve seen fleeing over the course of the past couple weeks.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’ll certainly, we believe, help in the resettlement here to the United States. It’ll certainly help the at least 10,000 Syrian refugees that the U.S. Government will be taking in next fiscal year. Certainly there’s a tangible benefit to those that are admitted. But it also underscores – and I think it’s important to remind that there’s a lot more to dealing with the problem of refugees than just resettlement. We’ve talked about this before, and the United States continues to remain the biggest donor. We don’t expect that to change at all going forward. We talked about this yesterday. There are lots of things that we do around the world, not just in respect to the – what’s going on in Europe, to aid in refugee care, of refugee human rights, and sometimes refugee settlement.

The other things that’s important to continue coming back to is that what really needs to happen here is Syria returning to a place – to being a place where people don’t have to flee the violence, the persecution, and the war. And that’s why Secretary Kerry and the entire U.S. Government is working hard on trying to get to a political transition in Syria so that the people that live there can continue to live there in peace and prosperity.

QUESTION: Is it not the case that there are currently 15,200 – about roughly 15,200 Syrians who have been referred to the United States for resettlement by the UNHCR and who are currently undergoing – going through the vetting acceptance process? And if that is the case, is it not the case that this 10,000 will apply – will come from that number – people, in other words, who fled at least a year – maybe two years ago, or three, depending on how long the vetting takes – that in fact, that that’s the people who this will affect, people who have already been referred to the United States and are current – whose applications are currently in process?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that the – of the at least 10,000 for next year will all come out of the referrals we’ve received so far. I think the – you got the number about right. I thought it was more like 17,000 total UNHCR referrals.


QUESTION: Right. But 1,500 have been accepted already, and then there’s 300 more by the end of this month.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: So for the next – so you’re looking at, according to Brad’s math – I hope it’s right; is it?

MR KIRBY: I see what you’re saying. You’re already subtracting --

QUESTION: So the – so subtracting the 1,800 that you expect by the end of this month from the --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- 17,000 who have been referred --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- that leaves 15,000 --

QUESTION: Two hundred.

QUESTION: -- 15,200 who are in process, plus or minus – or minus anyone that has dropped out, decided they didn’t want to continue to their application.

MR KIRBY: Right. I think the referral process is sort of fluid, so I don’t want to get so mathematical about it that saying only of the 15,200 that are left, that that’s all that’s going to be referred by the UNHCR. There could be more in the coming months and over the year.

QUESTION: No, I understand that. But there’s no way that those people are going – anyone referred now is not going to be able to complete the vetting process within the next fiscal year. I mean, within --

MR KIRBY: Well, the fiscal year’s almost over. And we will get to --

QUESTION: No, no, no. I mean the next one. The one that begins October 1st.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d say that. I don’t know that I would say that.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that you think you can speed up the vetting process so that --

MR KIRBY: I think we got to – we have to approach this in a balanced way. And one of the things that we’ve talked about, particularly with taking in refugees from this part of the world, is there’s a – there is a significant national security concern that must be met. The American people expect us to do this safely and securely, and we will. So I’m not arguing that we’re going to cut corners here, but the President has laid out his decision and the target he wants to achieve for next fiscal year with respect to Syrian refugees, and we’re going to work very hard to do that.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: But you’re right; we’re going to do it through the UNHCR and using the referral system that is already in place. How that’s going to play out going forward I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay, last one.

MR KIRBY: We do expect – but let me just finish; I want to get one point in. We do expect – I know the fiscal year’s ending here in a couple of weeks, and we do expect to meet, to within single digits, the 70,000 total goal that we had set for this fiscal year.

QUESTION: Okay, last – my last one. On the – next year the number 70,000 is probably going to rise to about 75- or some modest increase of that. Of the current 70,000, 33,000 are set to come from South Asia and the Mideast, the region that includes Syria. Does this new announcement today, the 10,000, mean that the allotment for South Asia and the Middle East is going to increase from 33- to 43,000?

MR KIRBY: Not necessarily. So as you know, the Secretary was up on the Hill yesterday talking about the annual resettlement program for next year. And in his discussions, he did – his – in our proposal that we consulted the members of Congress on yesterday, we did propose an increase in the number over higher than the 70,000 for Fiscal Year ’14. I’m not going to estimate for you right now what that number could be. I think that it’s still very much a moving target. But it will most likely be higher than the 70,000 that we admitted in Fiscal ’14. How that apportions out by region also I don’t believe has been set. So I don’t know that I could tell you definitively that the 33,000 that we – that were accepted from that region this year, that that number stays the same next year. Again, the whole – the total top line is going to change. It’s going to go north of 70. And how it breaks down inside of that I think they’re still working out.

What I can tell you is that based on the President’s decision and direction that at least whatever the number is coming from South and Central Asia and the Middle East, whatever that number ends up being, at least 10,000 of them will be accepted from Syria.


QUESTION: But does it not depend on how many – if the situation worsens, which it appears that it is because of several new factors, including the buildup from Russia and, of course, barrel bombs and so on on civilians – does this figure not also depend on – the need to give more flexibility depend on a worsening situation in Syria? And if the – I mean, you’re not basically saying just 10,000. Is there flexibility in that?

MR KIRBY: There is. As I think my colleague at the White House said, the President’s decision was for the admission of at least 10,000. So I think there’s a measure of flexibility here in terms of where the number might end up going. Obviously, nobody wants to see the situation in Syria get worse. Nobody wants to see more, hundreds of thousands more Syrian families have to flee the region. That’s not the goal here. But we are mindful that it is a very dynamic situation and we’re certainly mindful that under Bashar al-Assad’s leadership Syria is absolutely not any safer or more secure for the people who live there.

So I think that’s why the way it was couched – at least 10,000 – to add a measure of flexibility in there. What it could end up actually being we’re just going to have to see.

QUESTION: Could I have just a quick follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Just a clarification on the figures. This 10,000 Syrian, they will come on the top of the 1,500 who already resettled in the U.S., or --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. The – at least 10,000 of the whatever the final top line for – so let’s break it down. Every fiscal year you’ve a number that we consult with Congress on, right? So in Fiscal Year ’14, that number was 70,000, and that’s from around the world. That’s from around the world. That top line – that 70,000, that number – I do expect – we do expect that that number will be higher for Fiscal Year ’15.

QUESTION: Sixteen.

QUESTION: Sixteen.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, ’16, thank you. Sorry. For Fiscal Year ’16, it will go higher. I don’t know how much higher. Therefore, as I told Matt, I don’t know inside that number how many are going to be allocated to come from the Middle East and South Central Asia. At least 10,000 inside whatever the top line’s going to be – at least 10,000 more from Syria will be admitted here into the United States.

This fiscal year is almost over, and as I said, we are going to – by the end of this month, we will be at – within single digits, so – that I’ve been told. We will be within single digits of having met the 70,000 goal for this fiscal year.

QUESTION: All the 10,000 will come out of --

MR KIRBY: And that includes – wait a minute. And that includes what will be about 1,600 total for – from Syria.

QUESTION: Just a clarification: They all have to be referred through UNHCR, correct? I mean, you – yeah.

MR KIRBY: We work through the United Nations on this particular program.

QUESTION: Yeah. You will not accept refugees that can go, let’s say, to this mission or that embassy and so on?

MR KIRBY: We work through the UN.


MR KIRBY: We – the people that are resettled in the United States from wherever we’re talking about, they’re resettled through referrals we get from the UN.

QUESTION: And another clarification: What will their status be? Will they be like refugees, or will they be given green cards and a pathway to citizenship, let’s say, like Germany and --

MR KIRBY: Well, they’re accepted as refugees.


MR KIRBY: I don’t know – this is not intended for – it’s not intended as a --

QUESTION: Permanent.

MR KIRBY: -- as an immigration program. It’s a resettlement program for refugees. And as I said before, the goal here is eventually to – so that they can go home. And these are people who most of them want to go back home. This is not an immigration program.

QUESTION: So they will not be given permanent status?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: They will not be given permanent status?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any permanent statuses granted.

QUESTION: I thought resettlement was permanent status and you have immediate residency and you’re on the path to immediate citizenship. It’s a resettlement for permanent relocation as opposed to --

QUESTION: Or you can opt out.

QUESTION: -- as opposed to temporary asylum or some other process.

QUESTION: Temporary protected status.

QUESTION: Yeah. I think – I thought resettlement previously had permanent (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Let me double-check on that. I’m not an expert on the program. Let me double-check on that.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Also on this refugee thing, considering that Germany took 800,000 and the United States was taking 1,500 and now you’re saying that this number can go to 10,000, and considering the size of the United States – the wealth and its humanitarian obligation to the crisis of refugees – do you believe that the review itself is – actually has been late in assessing the situation, considering that Syria is one of the worst humanitarian crises in 21st century? And I just wanted to ask you why. Is it because – is it impact by the immigration debate in the United States, or is it because of the proximity of Europe to the Syrian refugees? Or is it because of fear of infiltration by jihadist groups, or all these factors?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me – there’s a lot in there. Let me challenge the implication that we’ve not been focused on this or we haven’t been aware of it. We have been very focused on the issues inside Syria in particular for --

QUESTION: Yeah, but with the refugees – sorry, John, that does not translate into taking any number. I mean, if you’re talking – in four years you have taken 1,500. How could that – you’ve been alerted to the situation and you will be in (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Because resettlement – we’ve talked about this. Resettlement is not the only answer, and sometimes it’s not the best answer. We’ve been the strongest donor for --

QUESTION: Right, I know that.

MR KIRBY: -- for financial contributions to the refugee problem in the region. And as I said the other day, that’s where you want to apply your energy, because most of these people want to go back home. Syria is their home. That’s where they want to be. And so – and most of them have – as they’ve left, have stayed close by, Jordan and Turkey to be two good examples. And so very much – a lot of our contributions to this have been in helping the Jordanians and the Turkish Government deal with the millions of Syrians that they have, that they’re taking care of inside the country. And that’s where you want to focus it on, because again, these people – many of them want to go back home. That’s why we’re also focused on trying to urgently get to a political transition inside Syria. That’s why the coalition has taken the fight to ISIL inside Syria.

So the idea that we’ve sort of not been paying attention to this I just don’t think is fair and it’s borne out by the facts. And you talked about resettlement numbers. As I said, the President’s well aware that we can do more, and so he’s announced new numbers for next year, and we’ll continue to do more. But resettlement is only one factor here. It’s not the factor. And oftentimes in the minds of these individuals it’s not the one that they really want anyway.

You mentioned countries in Europe agreeing to take in this flood of refugees, and we welcome that. We’re encouraged that so many individual countries in Europe are willing to take in more of these refugees, and we’re glad to see the EU take a leadership role in trying to approach this from a comprehensive manner. And even the EU has acknowledged that resettlement – again, while it may be an acute need now – isn’t the long-term answer here. All of us agree the long-term answer is a better situation in Syria, and that’s going to take some time.

QUESTION: Well, that may very well be true, probably is true, but I think the point of the question was why did it take the White House, the President, so long to come up with this number? Is there any reason why you couldn’t have come up with this 10,000, at least 10,000 in the next fiscal year, two months ago or a month ago?

MR KIRBY: No, nobody was dragging --


MR KIRBY: Nobody was dragging their feet on this.

QUESTION: I’m not saying --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no. Nobody’s dragging their feet on this. Look, I mean, obviously --

QUESTION: I know traditionally this – these figures are announced shortly before the start of the new fiscal year, but there’s nothing to prevent them from coming out earlier. I mean, you could have taken the initiative, led by example for the European countries, and announced your – an increase far earlier in this after it became clear what a severe problem – crisis this is.

MR KIRBY: I think the United States record of leadership and example on the issue of refugee resettlement and refugee programs and support for this around the world is pretty well established, Matt. I actually – I --

QUESTION: Let me try Nadia’s question another way. A couple of weeks ago you said that for Fiscal Year 2016 the Administration was looking at accepting between 5- and 8,000 Syrian refugees, and today we’re talking about an apparent increase of 2,000. It’s such a paltry number when you consider that the U.S., as Nadia said, has the world’s largest economy, much more territory, many more communities that are prepared and equipped to help resettle people who may not be able to go home for years even though that’s what they ultimately want to do. Is it a process? Is the U.S. Government incapable of processing so many tens of thousands of people all at once? It seemed to have been after the fall of Saigon in 1974, and that’s how we have Orange County and large parts of Houston today.

MR KIRBY: No other country --

QUESTION: I was a child. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No other country admits more refugees from around the world than the United States. So you talk about paltry numbers; I absolutely challenge that assertion. No other country is more generous about accepting refugees for resettlement than this one. No other country donates more financially to trying to take care of them where they are. I know when I say $4 billion it sounds kind of cold, but think about what that money does for them. It provides them some safety and security for the camps in which they’re living, fresh water, medical care, food, shelter.

No other country is more generous than the United States in this regard, and no other country, I don’t think, is more cognizant of the need to try to have – to create the conditions where people can live at peace at home, which is where they want to live – most of them. And that’s why no other country is capable of leading the way the United States is when it comes to this coalition against ISIL inside Iraq and inside Syria, and why Secretary Kerry has taken the lead with trilateral talks between the Russians and the Saudis to try to get at a political transition which includes the opposition groups inside Syria.

So I absolutely take issue with this idea that our contributions are paltry or insignificant in any way. It’s absolutely not borne out by the facts. We talked about Germany and 800,000. That’s over 10 years. It’s not 800,000 today. And we’re grateful for Germany’s leadership, but let’s keep this in perspective.

QUESTION: But that’s still 80,000 per year for Germany versus 10,000 that the U.S. is going to process over the course of one year. It’s a ratio of one to eight.

MR KIRBY: At least 10,000, and it could go up. As I mentioned to Lesley, this is a fluid situation. We’re paying a lot of attention to this. And to Matt’s question, which I probably didn’t answer as well – well, why did it take so long – it didn’t take very long. And you have to – this is – the issue of resettlement isn’t just – this is not a small issue to deal with. It’s not a small decision to make, because there is a national security balance you have to achieve, and the American people expect us to do this carefully and methodically.

QUESTION: Actually --

QUESTION: The balance is built into the process --

QUESTION: I’m saying that if people --

MR KIRBY: It is built into the process, but part of that process is determining the number here.

QUESTION: So in fact, one person is making this decision, right, ultimately? It’s the President.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s the President’s decision.

QUESTION: I mean, he can do it at the snap of a finger.

MR KIRBY: It’s the President’s decision, obviously. But there’s a lot that goes into that.

QUESTION: Just to go back to the waiting time, I think this building says it’s an 18 to 24 month process for relocation, but I’ve heard a 1,000 day mentioned by various aid groups who track this as well.


QUESTION: So it would be – and I think at the White House they’ve said, just like you, that there will be no corners cut. So it would be very hard to imagine anybody applying now and coming in the next year or even two years – maybe in two years.

So these are all people, as I understand it, who are already waiting in the pipeline for resettlement to the U.S. So the only decision, as I understand it – and correct me if I’m wrong – is that you are allotting more to the Syrians than to others from that region. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Not necessarily, because as I said, the total number for Fiscal Year ’16 from around the world hasn’t been set yet.


MR KIRBY: So it doesn’t necessarily mean that – let’s say it stops at 10,000 – I think the President said at least 10,000. But let’s just for argument’s sake say it was 10,000. That doesn’t mean that that eats away at some other part of the world that we would take refugees in. I do think the whole number’s going to go up, and how the 10,000 relates to the total from the region I don’t know. How that 10,000 relates to the total top line, I don’t know. We’re still working our way through that.

QUESTION: Just two related questions about Syria. I’m sorry, I have to go. But the one that you talked yesterday – I’m trying to find the exact quote – but today Lavrov said that this military assistance to the Syrian regime, it’s – is kind of normal in terms of this relationship that they have of supplying them all the time with military equipment that they need. So what is exactly your concern? He – I mean – and otherwise, why you making a big deal to the degree that the Secretary calls him twice and complain about that? What exactly that you’re worried about that the Russians are supplying the Syrian with that they haven’t done in the past that will affect the military balance?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said yesterday, I’m going to let the Russians speak for what they are doing. I’ve saw – I’ve seen Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments. We would continue to be – we continue to have concerns about their activities from a military perspective inside Syria, and we continue to monitor this closely. There is a degree of uncertainty about their intentions that continue to concern us.

QUESTION: But, I mean, surely the Secretary’s not going to call him twice in a period of four days without you guys having some certain concern about what you have seen on the ground. You’re not relying on journalists’ reports. Obviously he had something substantial that you worried him that he called – your concern – he was concerned about it.

MR KIRBY: What concerned him to call yesterday is the same thing that concerned him to call over the weekend, that the activities that we’re seeing – the intent --

QUESTION: So what do you see – what you seeing?

MR KIRBY: -- the intent for which is unclear, and that’s what we’re trying to drive at. So yes, he’s going to – and I suspect he’ll continue to talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov about this.

QUESTION: I’m just – sorry, I’m trying to get the bottom of that, because Reuters were reporting yesterday that Lebanese sources have spotted Russian troops inside Syria, indicating that they going to fight with the Syrian regime. I just want you to confirm that. Have you seen anything apart from what you saw in general that something that concerns you? And you don’t know the intention of it. What is it?

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said before, we have seen activities on a military – in a – as a military – as part of military functions that are concerning to us, that the intent for which is unclear. And it is that that we continue to raise with our Russian counterparts, but I also said yesterday I’m not going to make it a habit of speaking for the Russian military.


MR KIRBY: Some of these questions are better put the Russians about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

QUESTION: But were you satisfied with the answer at least that Lavrov gave to the Secretary?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of the private conversation that the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I think it is a fact that he called him over the weekend, and it is a fact that he called him yesterday. I think that should tell you the degree to which there are still questions that we would like better answers to.

QUESTION: Any other steps you might take, apart from just being concerned and phoning him?

MR KIRBY: What do you mean?

QUESTION: Other steps that United States is taking with the Russians?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future steps or options. What it’s important to us is that a political transition moves forward in Syria. And while in general I think we’d welcome constructive Russian contributions to counter ISIL, we oppose any actions in Syria that would empower the regime to escalate the conflict.

QUESTION: And will this complicate a political solution?

MR KIRBY: Will it complicate a political solution? Again, it – this depends on what exactly Russian intentions are. What we continue to want to see – there’s not going to be a military solution to the conflict in Syria. We’ve said that. What has to happen is a political transition. We’d like to see that move forward urgently. That’s why Secretary Kerry has led efforts between Russia and Saudi Arabia and the United States to try to work towards some solutions here, and so we’re going to continue to do that.

Will this complicate it? I don’t know, and frankly, it’s the intention part of this that we’re still trying to grapple with.


QUESTION: If Russia is proven to have provided the kind of military assistance to Assad that concerns you, since you are not focused on removing Assad from power, what can you do to counter that? You are focused now on removing – on fighting ISIS, not removing Assad from power. If Assad – if Russia supports Assad, what can you do to counter Russia’s increased involvement?

MR KIRBY: It’s not about – what we’re trying to achieve in Syria is a political transition away from Assad, and we believe that there’s still room for dialogue and discussion with the Russians about moving forward towards that political transition. We don’t believe – and I’ve said this before – that helping arm the Assad regime or support the Assad regime is constructive to going after the problems inside Syria, whether it’s towards that political transition, obviously, or towards fighting ISIL, because Assad’s a factor in ISIL’s growth inside his own country.

So we’ve been very clear about what we think would be – and I said this the other day – the most productive path here is for countries like Russia and Iran to stop supporting and abetting the Assad regime. And we’re going to continue to make that case. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room to talk, and we are talking to the Russians about a political transition.



QUESTION: Can we – sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. I just have to go. We’ve got a report out today about chemical weapons in Syria and I just wanted to ask you one or two questions off the back of that. Is the United States testing samples from sites of alleged Islamic State attacks using mustard gas? And either way, how close are you to concluding or how convinced are you that ISIS or Islamic State is using mustard gas?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any testing done on those sites. I would refer you to DOD for that. I’m not aware of that. However, we obviously remain concerned about any potential and certainly any claim or allegation that chemical weapons are being used inside Syria, be it by the regime or by ISIL. I mean, obviously, that’s something we’re deeply concerned about, but I’m not aware or privy to any knowledge about specific testing.

QUESTION: And if --

MR KIRBY: So I don’t know that – as far as I know, it’s not been proven conclusively that ISIL has been in possession of and/or used chemical agents.

QUESTION: Is there a concern that the use of chemical weapons might spread if, in fact, Islamic State is using them? Because of course, it’s operating out of – in more places than Syria and you got American --

MR KIRBY: Certainly, that’s a --

QUESTION: -- you got American soldiers in Iraq and they might --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely that’s a concern, sure. That’s why we take this so seriously. Again, I haven’t seen any evidence or indication of that, and I’d point you to DOD for more specifics. But I think we can all agree that this group is the last group on Earth that you’d like to see have in their hands any kind of weapon of mass destruction.

QUESTION: John, just to clarify what you just said a little while ago, are you saying now that in order for transition talks to take place, Assad has to be gone before these talks begin?

MR KIRBY: Said, nothing’s changed.

QUESTION: No, I want to understand, because – during the transition, is it acceptable to you that Bashar al-Assad will be part of the process or out of the process for these talks to begin?

MR KIRBY: Nothing has changed about our policy --

QUESTION: So what is your position?

MR KIRBY: -- on the fact that we want to see a political transition in Syria away from Assad. Assad – we don’t believe Assad has any future in Syria, and we’re working with the Saudis and the Russians in particular to try to work through options for how that political transition can look and how it can include the opposition groups who are, as you know, not monolithic; they all have different agendas. And so we believe there’s room here to talk to the opposition groups and to sort of work towards that, and that’s what the Secretary’s focused on.

QUESTION: The reason I asked is because yesterday, the British Foreign Secretary Hammond said that Assad should be part of the transitional talks. So I was wondering if they – if you are parting ways with your ally, the British.

MR KIRBY: I – again, I talked about this exact question yesterday; I think it was to you. You brought this up --

QUESTION: Yes, I asked.

MR KIRBY: -- and I said nothing has changed – nothing has changed about our position about the future for Assad in Syria and the fact that we need to get to a political transition away from him.

QUESTION: John, I’m trying to figure out how – why is it such a mystery or why does it remain such a mystery to the Administration what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria? You told – said they should stop supporting and abetting the Assad regime. Isn’t it pretty obvious by their actions and their words that their intention is to support the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly they’ve got a military presence in Syria. We have seen historically their support for the Assad regime. I think what we’re talking about here is this latest activity --

QUESTION: But isn’t it obvious that that’s just more of the same? I mean, it would seem to be pretty clear --

MR KIRBY: If it was so obvious and clear, Matt, the Secretary wouldn’t have devoted so much time over the last several days to talking to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: On the phone – and so when – and I’m not asking you for the Lavrov side of the conversation or even the Secretary’s, but does he – did he say, “Hey Sergey, what are you guys doing in Syria?” Did he say, “Hey, what are your intentions in Syria?”

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that he used those exact words, Matt, but he certainly – I mean --

QUESTION: But that’s what – but those are the --


QUESTION: But those are the – that’s the flavor of why he was calling?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, yes.

QUESTION: But I just don’t – I don’t understand, if you’ve seen historically and currently the Russians sending all sorts of equipment, potentially soldiers too, in. I don’t understand why it’s a mystery to the Administration what they’re doing.

MR KIRBY: Because some of the activities could relate to the kinds of capabilities that we haven’t historically seen them deploy inside Russia. And trying to understand exactly what those capabilities are and why those capabilities might be needed I think are fair questions for us to be asking.

QUESTION: But John --

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, because why is it so – again, if you want a political transition, building up your military in a foreign country next door doesn’t show that they look like to – that they want to have a political sort of solution to this. Is there anything that the Russians have said that makes you believe that they want a political solution?

MR KIRBY: Well, as we talked about following the meeting in Doha, it was apparent that in the meetings with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir Secretary Kerry came away feeling that it had been a constructive conversation and that – and if you go back, and I think I issued a readout of that meeting, that they agreed that a political transition needed to take place and that it needed to include the opposition groups.

So we do think, as I said earlier, that there’s ground for that kind of dialogue. And it’s what makes the reports of this additional military activity so troubling.

QUESTION: But at that time there wasn’t a buildup as you – as we see now.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that I would call it a buildup. It’s unclear exactly what some of these military activities are all about. I don’t know that we’re ready, at this point, to call it a buildup necessarily.

QUESTION: It’s – have the Russians – has – again, has Secretary Kerry not asked why the Russians – why there is this buildup?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has expressed our concerns about what we are seeing and he’s talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov about those concerns. I’m not going to speak for the Russians and how they’re characterizing it.

QUESTION: Have – are there meetings coming up at the UN over the next two weeks during the UNGA? That could be the opportunity to discuss this. And what could be discussed with the – what kinds of issues could be then raised with the Russians?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the UN General Assembly agenda. I think, obviously, issues inside Syria are going to be on the agenda for the General Assembly. There’s no question about that. And we look forward to having those discussions inside that fora and look forward to hearing more from the Russians as well.

I also think you can expect that the Secretary will take advantage of the opportunity at the UN to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov again as well as Foreign Minister al-Jubeir.

QUESTION: There’s --

QUESTION: One more on refugees. Is the 10,000 figure announced today higher than what had been actively discussed within the State Department or across the Administration? Yes or no?

MR KIRBY: Given that they were estimates only, yes.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on terms of the non-traditional capabilities that you are wondering about. Would that include air activity, the buildup – the possibility of launching airstrikes?

MR KIRBY: I’d rather not get into specific operational or intelligence issues. But again, we’re – the kinds of capabilities that we’re talking about have us concerned.


QUESTION: Can I go to Turkey?

QUESTION: Hold on. Just hold for one --


QUESTION: Don’t your concerns – the mere fact that you have these concerns, that you’ve seen these – this stuff going in – suggest that whatever it was that was the understanding after the meeting in Doha was in fact, not the case, perhaps similar to what the first term administration’s understandings were coming out of the Geneva conference, where you thought the Russians were on board with what you – with your interpretation when, in fact, they had – they were not and had their own interpretation?

MR KIRBY: We certainly hope that they have the same interpretation and we certainly hope to see the continued progress towards some sort of dialogue moving forward on this political transition. Again, it’s the uncertainly surrounding these activities that have led to our concerns and to the questions that we’re asking and to the questions that we’ve asked our allies and partners to ask.

QUESTION: Okay. But that doesn’t translate, though, into the – I mean, doesn’t the mere – yeah, doesn’t the mere fact that you are uncertain about their intentions suggest that you either misread or misunderstood what the Russian --

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re ready to make that call right now, Matt, no.

QUESTION: Do you still see this as an opportunity for those political solutions? Because a few months back, you were saying this was an opportunity, specifically with Assad looking more under threat militarily, but he no longer looks that vulnerable. So do you still see this as an opportunity for those --

MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, we do. And we still believe that the indications are he’s under increasing pressure and vulnerable. And I think you can just – just looking at press coverage alone out of the region, you can see that he, himself, is concerned about the stability of his regime. That said, he remains in power, has found a way to continue to remain in power through brutality. And so we want to exhaust every avenue we can to get at this political transition.

So long answer, but the short of it is yes, we still see this as an opportunity. And I would say we still see this as an opportunity – we still see the opportunity ripe with Russia to have these discussions and this dialogue.

QUESTION: John, on Syria train and equip. Can I ask you a question?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. What was your – what was yours on?

QUESTION: On both Russia and Syria.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me go to you first, and then we’ll go to train and equip. I’ll probably kick it to the DOD, but I’ll be happy to take your question.

QUESTION: I was going to preface that with --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION : Okay. So Russia is starting to find another route to Syria. And they probably are going to use Iran, the north of Iran, Iraq into Syria. Would United States, since they are flying missions over there, have any problem with that?

MR KIRBY: What we have a problem with is the continued material support to the Assad regime. We talked about this yesterday. I will let the Russians speak for their air flight logistics. That’s for them to speak to. As far as the air space over Iraq, it’s Iraqi air space and it’s Iraqi sovereign airspace that is up to the Iraqi Government to coordinate. For our part, the airplanes that we fly in support of coalition operations over Iraq, we coordinate all that through the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: So it’s up to the Iraqi Government to decide?

MR KIRBY: It’s the Iraqi Government’s airspace. I’m going to let – I’ll let the Iraqis speak for how they manage their airspace. Regardless of what air corridor is being used, we’ve been clear about our concerns about continued material support to the Assad regime. And it’s – it doesn’t matter necessarily – I mean, objectively, what particular air corridor it is or whether it’s by sea, the support to the Assad regime is what concerns us.

QUESTION: Would you try to convince the Iraqis not to allow them, since --

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t talk about our diplomatic conversations. But as I said yesterday, we’ve asked our friends and partners in the region to ask them – to ask those questions themselves of the Russians about their intent.


QUESTION : I realize it’s a military matter, but here we go. Earlier this week, the Pentagon press secretary indicated that he was concerned about the Syrian train and equip program in terms of their disposition, where they were, whether they were potentially joining ISIS ranks or al-Qaida ranks. And I realize, again, it’s a military, but are you concerned that the Pentagon is concerned about this program? (Laughter.) It’s a key piece of the strategy, training these fighters and --

MR KIRBY: Yes. So --

QUESTION: And they’re having a hard time locating them.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak to the status of the program. Again, that’s a DOD program. I think Secretary Carter and my colleague at the Pentagon have spoken, I think very candidly and forthrightly, about the challenges that they continue to face with this program, and the fact that they’re taking a hard look at this, as they should. I mean, one of the things that’s great about our military is that we constantly assess our performance and our capabilities and adjust as we need to go. And I think that’s what you’re seeing them do. Secretary Kerry is appreciative of the energy and the effort that’s being applied to the program. He’s supportive of the program, has been since the very beginning of it. And obviously, like Secretary Carter, wants to see it succeed, because he understands the importance of it. But --

QUESTION: Have any of the partners --

MR KIRBY: -- the execution of it is, obviously, up to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Have any of the U.S. partners expressed concern? Have they – hey, John, or Secretary Kerry, where are these guys? Or has anyone --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of those kinds of discussions that we’ve had inside the building. I would refer you to the Pentagon. They would be in a much better place to speak to coalition members and any concerns they might have about that. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an important element of the strategy, and obviously, we all want to see it succeed. I think everybody’s been pretty frank about how hard this was going to be, even when it got launched a year or so ago. There’s been nothing but, I think, a candid and forthright approach to how difficult it was going to be to get up and running and to execute. And obviously, they’re going to work through those issues, and we’re confident that they will.

QUESTION: But isn’t the success of the train and equip program key to helping to create the political space for a political resolution to the civil war? Wasn’t that always the reason for train and equip, to help get rid of ISIL and basically free up the political opposition to worry about its main task, which is trying to get a post-Assad government established?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to talk too specifically about the program, since it’s a DOD program. But --

QUESTION: Right. But it’s an underpinning --

MR KIRBY: To your question --


MR KIRBY: -- the goals of it were always threefold: one, to train them to go after ISIL in their country; two, to be able to defend their communities, their neighborhoods, their towns, their villages, their fellow citizens, so a local approach; and then three, eventually – and we always said eventually – when it’s mature enough, the program could potentially provide them the skills and capabilities that they would need to help work towards this political transition inside Syria. But the goal always – the immediate goal was always to get them skilled, militarily skilled, to go after ISIL – and again, on a much more local basis.

QUESTION: One more on Syria?

QUESTION : So the fact that you will receive at least 10,000 from Syria, will that make the Syrians the largest portion of your refugee program? Or in other words, in Fiscal Year 2015 were there any country from which you received at least 10,000?

MR KIRBY: I do not have the breakdown for the current fiscal year. We can get that to you. So – and because we haven’t established the total number for the next fiscal year, I’m not going to get into an estimate of where this 10,000 number would be inside of that. And I would remind you that it’s at least 10,000. And as Lesley and I discussed, there’s some fluidity there, there’s some flexibility, and that number could go north of 10,000. And I don’t think we want to be in a position where we’re pinning it down too specifically. So I just don’t have a good breakdown for you mathematically.

QUESTION: Can you clarify one thing about this year’s numbers? You said earlier in the briefing today that it looks like the total number of Syrians admitted to the United States for resettlement will go to 1,600 by the end of this fiscal year. But earlier there was the number of 1,800 total.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, that’s because since – that’s since the beginning of the conflict in ’11. So I do think that by the end of the fiscal year there will be 1,800 total in the country by the end of this month. But a chunk of those – I think roughly 200 or so – were admitted before this fiscal year. We’ve used the number 1,800 as a total since the beginning of the conflict in ’11. Okay? Does that make sense?


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION : On Turkey, I hope today – will not tell me that you’re not aware of the situation in Cizre, the Turkish border city with Iraq that’s being --

MR KIRBY: Yep, that’s what I’m going to tell you.


MR KIRBY: You’ve got your iPhone. I do not.

QUESTION: For nine days it’s been like the martial law has been imposed in the city and the electricity, communications have been cut, and even the Demirtas, the co-chair of the HDP, he was marching to the city and he was blocked by the --

MR KIRBY: Is this the curfew question?

QUESTION: Yeah, the curfew question.

MR KIRBY: Look – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. That’s the curfew question, but the other thing is that the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) curfew statement.

QUESTION: Yeah. The --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Yesterday’s statements on Turkey was also found a little bit problematic that you characterized the way that the attack on HDP and then that happened the following day – the escalation of violence by PKK. It was found like the same justification that the Turkish officials use for attack by the protestors on the Kurdish businesses, HDP offices, and all of the Kurdish-affiliated things. Is that the same thing that you are justifying these violences because PKK is doing that, like attacking Turkish army and then that happened? That was the same way, like, characterized in your statement yesterday.

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I follow your question.

QUESTION: So that – let me repeat. These events following an escalation in the violence over the strongly condemned PKK terrorist attacks on Sunday that killed these amount of soldiers, like this is followed, like this is how you characterized the attack.

MR KIRBY: Because it did. Because they did. Because the attacks against the offices and buildings and the attack against the Hurriyet Daily happened after recent PKK violence. I was simply noting a historical fact that it happened after that.

QUESTION: But what Hurriyet Daily News should have to do with PKK if the HDP is affiliated with PKK, and what the Kurdish also businesses should have to do anything with the PKK? Is that the justification? Because this is the same thing that President Erdogan is saying.

MR KIRBY: I think you should ask the people who perpetrated the attacks what the motivation was. I simply noted the fact that these attacks inside the country against the newspaper and against opposition offices and buildings happened after the PKK attacks.

Look, what really needs to happen here – I mean, we can quibble all you want about what happened first, but what we’ve said and I’ve said – I said yesterday we want to see Turkey live up to its democratic institutions and its own core values, and to respect freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We understand there’s a legitimate concern about terrorism inside the country. We get that, believe me. The United States of America understands that. But as we’ve long said, we want Turkey to respond in a way that protects innocent lives and is acting in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: And also two more things on that same text on Turkey. So you extended condolences to the families of the soldiers and police who were killed, but no condolences for the civilians who were killed also as a result of the conflict that killed by both – maybe PKK and also the protestors.

MR KIRBY: We have repeatedly expressed our concerns over the loss of innocent life inside Turkey, particularly as a result of the activities of the PKK.

QUESTION: How about the curfew? I didn’t get anything about that curfew. Are you aware?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports of the curfew, but I’d refer you to the Turkish Government for the administration of the curfew. That’s for them to speak to.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Northern Ireland?

MR KIRBY: Nick. Can we – give me a second. I’ll get to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION : A very quick one on the Palestinians. Any comment on the UN General Assembly which is about to vote for the Palestinian flag to be raised at the UN?

MR KIRBY: We’re going to vote against the resolution when it comes to a vote this afternoon.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Okay. Now, all along since the 31 of July when the burning of the Dawabsheh family home, you indicated that you expect the Israelis to apprehend the perpetrators. Yesterday Israeli authorities said that they know who the perpetrators are, and in fact, the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said yes, we know who they are, but we are not going to bring them to trial because that will compromise our intelligence sources. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports and again urge Israeli authorities to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack and to bring them to justice. We condemned in the strongest possible terms this vicious terrorist attack. We convey again our profound condolences to the Dawabsheh family and extend our prayers for the recovery --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry? The recovery of Ahmed after the death of his mother on the eve of her 27th birthday. We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this tragic accident – incident.

QUESTION: So you find that the comments by the Israeli defense minister unacceptable – or the justification?

MR KIRBY: I’ve stated our reaction.


QUESTION : Can I ask about the developments today in Northern Ireland?


QUESTION: The first minister, Peter Robinson, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, he resigned and the region’s power-sharing government is on the brink of collapse over police claims that the IRA still exists. Does State have any comment to make or response to Mr. Robinson’s resignation and the heightened political tensions in Northern Ireland?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re watching the developments in Northern Ireland very carefully. Secretary Kerry’s personal representative, Gary Hart, remains closely engaged with Northern Ireland parties as well as the UK and Irish Governments to find the best way forward. What we’re doing is urging all of Northern Ireland’s political parties to engage constructively in the current talks and to demonstrate leadership at this difficult time.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary send Senator Hart to Northern Ireland in response to this? Is there a role for an enhanced, greater U.S. diplomatic involvement as a result of this crisis?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, Mr. Hart is in constant contact with the – with all the authorities. I’m not going to speculate about future activities. This is something we’re watching very closely, and as – again, as I said, again, we want all the parties and leaders in Northern Ireland to work together constructively here.


QUESTION: John, can we --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Can we go to Azerbaijan real quick?

MR KIRBY: Let me go to Samir and we’ll go back to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you give me a soundbite why the U.S. is going to vote against the Palestinian flag at the UN? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: While I’m looking for my soundbite, why don’t you go ahead and ask me about Azerbaijan?

QUESTION : Okay. The Armenian installed regime in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan is holding municipal elections this upcoming Sunday, September 13th, in violation of international law and constitution of Azerbaijan. Many governments already denounced these elections as illegitimate. Do you have a position on these elections?

MR KIRBY: In the context of a comprehensive settlement on the – of the conflict, we recognize the role of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding their future. However, the United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent sovereign state, and we will not accept the results of the so-called elections on the 13th of September as affecting the legal status of the region. We also stress that the so-called elections in no way prejudge the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing negotiations to bring a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

O n the flag – so our vote against this resolution is not a vote for the status quo or a rejection of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Our vote is a vote for all interested parties to take the constructive, responsible steps required to achieve a two-state solution and the end – and end the cycle of violence and suffering that has persisted for far too long in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Was that a good enough soundbite?

QUESTION: Excellent. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s excellent, but can I just quickly follow up on it? So this process has been dormant. Nothing is ongoing. Are you guys prepared, perhaps, to sort of reignite this process or inject some life into it, maybe on the sideline of the General Assembly or anything like this?

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry remains focused on this issue specifically, Said. I don’t have anything to announce or read out today, but obviously, this is on his mind and has been on his mind, and it will remain so during his tenure in office. And I fully expect that issues in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians will come up in the General Assembly, absolutely, yes.

QUESTION : Turkey? Just to finish up Turkey, yesterday also in your statement you talk about Mr. Demirtas, head of the HDP pro-Kurdish party, and actually you praised his role in terms of his anti-violence and calming rhetoric. On the same day, Turkish courts launch an investigation on him on four different cases and – for inciting violence. So there seems to be stark difference between the U.S. viewing this very --

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about what I said about the prime minister?

QUESTION: About the HDP head of the Kurdish party, Selahattin Demirtas.

MR KIRBY: The chairman, yeah. Look, I’m not going to get into internal – the internal judicial processes inside Turkey. I stand by what we said yesterday.

QUESTION: About the Selahattin Demirtas role and his --

MR KIRBY: What we said was we welcomed their comments denouncing the violence themselves. That’s what we said. I welcome that.

QUESTION: One final ones. Same Mr. Demirtas also today talk about if the parties, the Turkish Government, and the PKK – if they have not altered their positions, there may be a civil war on the – over the horizon. Are you worried about your ally’s stability and security? What’s your assessment, the current --

MR KIRBY: Turkey remains an important ally and partner. We’ve talked about this. We’re going to continue to work with whatever Turkish Government is in the future. We fully expect to be able to do that. As I’ve also said, obviously, these recent events give us reason for some concern. We want to see Turkey continue to live up to the strong democratic values that it espouses, that’s espoused inside its constitution, and to live up to its very noble core values. But nothing’s going to change about the fact that they’re a strong NATO ally. We appreciate their cooperation and support in the fight against ISIL and their contributions to NATO writ large in missions around the world. And I – we fully expect that that strong partnership will be able to go forward.

But when we see things that concern us, specifically in this case attacks on opposition buildings or on the press, obviously we’re going to speak out about that. And we’re going to do that no matter where we see it and no matter who’s responsible for it because it doesn’t comport with our values as a democracy either.


QU ESTION: Yes. Thank you. So in light of the U.S. announcing that it will be accepting 10,000 – over 10,000 Syrian refugees next fiscal year, and that you’re welcoming European actions to accept more refugees from Syria, meanwhile Japan has accepted only 11 out of 5,000 asylum seekers last year. And yesterday, Japanese officials announced that they’re considering changes in the regulations that would make it even more difficult for refugees to seek asylum. Are you discouraged by such actions, and would you call on Japan to do more rather than less?

MR KIRBY: These are sovereign decisions that every country has to make, and we respect that. So again, we’re talking about a country with which we have a strong alliance, a deep and abiding partnership and friendship, a country for which and in which we take our security commitments very, very seriously. And I’m not familiar with the resettlement policies of Japan. You’d have to talk to the government in Tokyo about the decisions they’re making, but these are sovereign decisions and we respect those sovereign decisions.

What we are concerned about is the decisions we’re making, and that’s what we’re talking about today: this additional – at least 10,000 more for next year, and the full scope of our resettlement program around the world and how seriously we take that. And that’s our concern here today.

QUESTION: But would you welcome, if they were to take actions to increase their --

MR KIRBY: Look, this is – we welcome Japan’s contributions to security and stability around the world in the forms that they take and in the forms that the Japanese people decide and the Japanese Government dictates. And it’s not for us to cast judgment on these sovereign decisions that they’re making. They – that they take people in is noteworthy. And you can quibble all you want about the numbers, but it’s still noteworthy. Japan is a generous nation; there’s no question about that. And again, these are sovereign decisions that each country has to make, and we respect that sovereignty.


QUESTION : A quick one on Ukraine, and I have a follow-up question. On Ukraine, what is State’s reaction to NATO’s plan to open an office in Ukraine? And could this perhaps enhance military cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine through NATO?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that, Pam. I mean, I would – I’d point you to NATO on that.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the opening of the office?

MR KIRBY: Again, it’s a NATO office, so I’d point you to NATO to speak to that.


MR KIRBY: Obviously, separate and distinct, I can’t speak for NATO, but obviously the organization and the member nations, as well as the United States, are – take very seriously the situation that’s going on in Ukraine and Russia’s continued actions to back separatists inside Ukraine and to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and territory, and I’ll let NATO speak for what they’re doing in that regard. But obviously, we all take this very seriously.

QUESTION : There was an incident last month at the Armenian consulate in California. An assailant threw a Molotov cocktail that damaged the building, and the State Department had been part of the investigation. Is there anything new on that probe? Or is there any assessment of this attack?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I don’t have anything for you on that today.

QUESTION: Can I go back --

Q UESTION: And then one final one. Guatemalan President Molina has accused the United States of orchestrating the circumstances that have led to his incarceration on graft charges. What’s State’s reaction?

MR KIRBY: The United States didn’t press for either his stepping down or for his prosecution. We have, however, consistently supported the rule of law in Guatemala. And the recent arrests of an array of public and private figures show the Guatemalan Government’s commitment and resolve to identify and root out corruption. It gives us increased confidence in both the government and the CICIG that anticorruption efforts are showing progress.


Q UESTION: I have a follow-up on that – on Ukraine. Do you have any comment or more insight into Russia building a huge military base housing ammunition depots and barracks for thousands of soldiers near the Ukrainian border?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen those reports. As I understand it, if they’re true, this is a base that’s inside Russia and nations have the right to build and to construct inside their borders. I think what our focus is on is what Russia’s doing on the other side of that border inside Ukraine, continuing to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and Ukrainian territory and put Ukrainian lives at risk. That’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: So even though this is close to Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: It’s on Russian soil, as I understand it, and I don’t have a lot of detail about the actual construction to tell you definitively that we know it’s a military base or not. But if it’s being built inside Russian territory, it’s for the Russians to speak to. Again, what our concern is is what they’re doing on the other side of that border.


QUESTION : Actually, I have a question about al-Bahrayn regarding the dismantling of the opposition, al-Wefaq opposition. I don’t know if you have a comment about that.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports. I think we’ve been very clear about what we’d like to see continue in Bahrain in terms of necessary political reforms. As you know, we freed up some additional aid for the ministry of defense because Bahrain has taken steps to improve their human rights record, but I don’t have anything specific on that.

I’ve got time for just one or two more. I’ll go to you and then you in the back.

QUESTION : A quick on Venezuela. Do you have a readout of the conversation Secretary Kerry had with his Venezuelan counterpart on Tuesday or Wednesday?

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry did call Foreign Minister Rodriguez yesterday. They discussed the importance of keeping channels of communication open between the United States and Venezuela. The Secretary reiterated our concern with the imprisonment of individuals under political pretenses, including Leopoldo Lopez, as well as the nature of Mr. Lopez’s trial. They also discussed our concern with the situation on Venezuela’s border with Colombia and the need for quick resolution of the dispute in view of the humanitarian situation there.

Yes sir. Last question.

Q UESTION: The takeaway from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the fact that there were weak institutions and strategies. Is – in the aftermath, nothing has changed. Is the U.S. willing to do anything, sort of advocacy on better strategies health-wise in West Africa?

MR KIRBY: We continue to focus on West Africa with respect to Ebola while we note the significant decrease in the spread of the disease, particularly in Liberia. I can tell you we are – continue to monitor it very, very closely and work with local authorities there. We still have individuals from USAID as well as from nongovernmental organizations in the region. We have not turned away from this issue, and we’re mindful that – again, though the numbers are down, what we want to see is zero, and we’re going to continue to work with local authorities for that – to that goal.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:48 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 9, 2015

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 16:24

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 9, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:05 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Front row’s empty today, huh? Couple things at the top.

QUESTION: It’s the humidity.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: It’s the humidity.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Couple of things at the top here, so bear with me. First, I know you all saw the Secretary’s schedule that he was going to be on Capitol Hill this morning – he and Assistant Secretary Anne Richard met and were accompanied by officials by the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. They met with members of the House and Senate judiciary committees this morning to present the President’s proposal for refugee admissions in Fiscal Year 2016. They discussed the work that the State Department is doing to address the recent refugee crisis in Europe, of course. The consultations – and it’s important to remember that these consultations are held every year just before the beginning of the next fiscal year, but obviously we took the opportunity to also address the energy being applied to the current refugee crisis in Europe as well.

On Turkey, the United States finds unacceptable yesterday’s attacks against offices and buildings associated with the People’s Democratic Party and for the second day against the headquarters of the Hurriyet Daily. We join those Turkish people who are condemning the use of violence directed against specific political parties, ethnic groups, and media outlets. These events followed an escalation in violence over the weekend, as you know, by the PKK. We strongly condemn the PKK’s terrorist attacks on Sunday that killed 16 soldiers and 12 police officers. This represents a deadly escalation in violence and hurts the cause of those Kurds who want to live in peace. We extend our condolences to the families of the soldiers and police who were killed, and as we have said before we call on the PKK to renounce violence and return to the peaceful political process.

We endorse the calls made yesterday by the Turkish prime minister and the HDP co-chairman Demirtas and other leaders in condemning the violence and appealing for calm. It is critically important that Turkish law enforcement provide equal protection to all segments of society, political parties, and media outlets. There is no place in a democracy for violent protests, particular those motivated by partisanship or ethnic animosity. And as I said yesterday, we expect Turkish authorities to uphold Turkey’s core values, democratic foundations, and universally recognized fundamental freedoms.

I also have a travel note. I want to note that Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom landed in Papua New Guinea earlier today to lead a high-level U.S. Government delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum Post-Forum Dialogue. Her trip, which will include site visits and bilateral consultations, demonstrates how deeply the United States values its relationship with Pacific island countries. In her meetings with leaders there, the deputy secretary will emphasize the need for substantial commitments on climate change, sustainable fisheries, and women’s empowerment. She will also visit U.S.-funded projects that provide economic opportunities and shelter for women at risk of gender-based violence and potable water for local communities.

Two more things. I also want to note that we have some special guests in the room today. I’d like to welcome participants from the Afghan Diplomat Training Program, an exchange jointly organized by the United States and China. So, welcome. During their two weeks in the United States, these early-career diplomats will meet with think tanks, participate in public diplomacy training, and visit the White House. I’m sure today will be, of course, the highlight of your time here. Now in its fourth year, the exchange is emblematic of U.S.-China cooperation on Afghanistan and we’re glad to have you here.

Finally, I think I would be remiss if I did not note that today is a special anniversary. It is Matt Lee’s 50th birthday.

QUESTION: Oh my. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I got you nothing.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I expected nothing less.

MR KIRBY: However, I could not talk the Secretary out --

QUESTION: Oh, really.

MR KIRBY: -- of having something to offer. So I’m going to read from a card that the Secretary wrote just this morning: “Dear Matt,” the first line says, “the big 5-0. After spending your honeymoon with your friends from State, we’re all honored to be celebrating yet another life milestone with you today. Though given the hours and the miles that you’ve logged, I hope that you finally get a little downtime and a chance to celebrate properly with Amanda. Best of luck to your Bills this season. For your sake, I hope Rex Ryan works out better for them than he did for the Jets.”

QUESTION: And coming from a Patriots fan too. Boy, that’s – all right. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: “All joking aside, thank you for all that you do. Many happy returns onwards. Sincerely, John F. Kerry.” And then at the bottom he wrote in his own writing, “September 20th, Bills – Patriots. Brady playing. Best wishes.” (Laughter.) So Happy Birthday, Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t know, is – oh well, thank you very much, and thank you to the Secretary. (Applause.)

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. Have a happy birthday.

QUESTION: Are we absolutely sure that Brady’s going to be playing? (Applause.) Is that a completely a done deal?

MR KIRBY: I believe the Secretary’s sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Well, I’ll take his word for it.

MR KIRBY: And if he’s sure, then I’m sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Right. Well, that was very nice. Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: You’re welcome and Happy Birthday to you.

QUESTION: I appreciate it and I’m sure my wife does to.

MR KIRBY: Happy Birthday to you and over to you.

QUESTION: Thanks. All right. So on to probably less exciting things, but before getting into the Turkey and Syria and Iran, I just want to go through the – couple email questions, clear stuff up from yesterday --


QUESTION: -- in terms of the Secretary’s appointment of Ambassador Jacobs. One, is – my understanding of the job description from yesterday was not that she was going to be in charge of vetting or adjudicating Secretary Clinton’s emails. Is that – she was going to be looking at the larger process that goes beyond – going forward, goes beyond what’s happening now. Am I right or am I wrong on that?

MR KIRBY: You’re correct, Matt. I mean, as we talked about, I mean, her job is really twofold. It’s, one, to improve our processes here at the State Department for records disclosure, particularly under the Freedom of Information Act. And as we talked about, we’ve got a huge backlog here that we’re dealing with. And two, helping us with the preservation of records. There’s an executive order that requires us to have electronic records of the conduct of foreign policy, and so she’s going to be responsible for helping us grapple with that problem, to include potentially the introduction of new technologies here.

Now, that said, I mean, because the process – the monthly process of disclosing the emails from former Secretary Clinton, I mean, that is a public disclosure issue and I would expect that she will have views on how that’s being done. So I can’t rule out the fact that she might not be examining some of the documents, but her role, her job, is really change management, reform leadership of an organizational process.

QUESTION: Well, as you are – excuse me – as you are well aware, less than an hour after the announcement of this position, it came to a lot of people’s attention that she had donated the maximum amount, $2,700, to --


QUESTION: -- Secretary Clinton’s campaign. And I’m just wondering if, in fact, she is going to be a part of the process of releasing those emails, if that was – if anyone at the Department who was involved in appointing her or naming her to this position was aware of this contribution and whether or not now, if they weren’t, if after the fact you think it’s still an appropriate choice.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary wholeheartedly believes that she’s the right choice for this job. This is a career Foreign Service officer with decades of experience under both, I might add, Republican and Democratic administrations. In fact, she was appointed the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs in 2008 by President Bush. So this is, again, a career foreign officer – Foreign Service officer with extensive experience. She knows how to run large organizations. She knows how to conduct reform, as she did with our visa program after the 9/11 attacks. An impeccable resume, and the Secretary is grateful for her willingness to continue to serve and has, as I said yesterday, the utmost trust and confidence in her.

She did acknowledge that she made a political contribution. She acknowledged that she made that after retiring from the federal service, not that making contributions while one is on federal service is prohibited. I mean, we’re – this is a democracy and people are – citizens are allowed to espouse and to have political views. And so she made these contributions and she’s admitted to that.


MR KIRBY: It was not – we were not aware of the contribution. But I would tell you, Matt, that it bears no relevance on her selection one way or the other. She’s the right person for this job. The Secretary is convinced of that. She has the experience and the leadership to get the job done. And even if her job – as I said, there can be times that she executes her duties where she will have to look at or review some of that traffic as we come to grapple with the appropriateness of disclosure, but that’s not the main function. That’s not what she’s doing here. But even if – in that case, even if that were to happen, the fact that she made a donation to Hillary Clinton bears no relevance on her ability to do this job, to do it objectively and fairly. Again, this is not so much an adjudication role as a process improvement role.

QUESTION: I don’t think anyone has suggested that she’s not free to make contributions to whoever she wants. That’s not the issue here. It’s a question of whether it’s appropriate, her selection, given the donation, is appropriate. And also, whether or not when – in the – during the process of choosing someone who’s going to take – who’s going to be appointed to this job, the State Department considers the greater issues out there, how sensitive this is politically --


QUESTION: -- as well as legally, in terms of, one, the time that we’re in, the political season that we’re in, and also the legitimate questions that have been raised about classified/unclassified information being – sorry, classified information being sent over private email servers, whether given or received. I mean, it would seem to me that the Department kind of shot itself in the foot here, an unforced error, in selecting someone who critics could say has some political bias, whether – that she’s perfectly entitled to have --


QUESTION: -- as a federal employee or retired federal employee, whatever. But is there no – there’s no concern in this building about that, about the appearance of possible conflict of interest?

MR KIRBY: I think – no, I think we understand how some people might have that perception. And you articulated, I think, pretty well, though, Matt. That said, again, Ambassador Jacobs was chosen for her exemplary service particularly in this kind of area, and the Secretary is 100 percent convinced that she’s the right person for the job and will do the best job at it of any candidate that he considered. So we’re delighted that she’s here.

She understands – believe me, she understands the sensitivities regarding the issue of the Clinton email disclosure. That is not, however, her main function, but she understands the sensitivities around it. She understands the heavy load that Secretary Kerry has asked her to carry, and she’s up for that job.

QUESTION: Hey John, is it --

QUESTION: It is in part her function to look through the Hillary emails, though. It’s not her total function, but it is in part.

MR KIRBY: Justin, I’m not going to – I don’t – I’m not going to get into how she’s going to do her job. She – her – she’s being hired to improve our processes and procedures for both record keeping and record disclosure under the law. That’s the job. And as I said yesterday, the Secretary, while he is grateful for all the effort that’s gone into that here at the State Department, recognizes that we can do better. And that’s why he asked her to come onboard to help us figure out ways to do it better. So her function really is on process improvement. And again, she’s the right person to do it based on her long experience. That she --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: That in a performance of that job that she might have opinions about how we are working through the disclosure of yet 75 percent of the remaining emails, I think would be natural. But I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what that’s going to look like for her on a daily basis. The job is much bigger than that – much bigger than that.

QUESTION: Okay. When did you become aware – you said you weren’t aware of it ahead of time – the donation. When did you become aware, and when did the Secretary become aware of her donation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know when the Secretary became aware of it. I became aware of it yesterday when it was made public.

QUESTION: John, you said the --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said that she disclosed that information. That disclosure was made when?

MR KIRBY: No, I did not say she disclosed it. I told Matt we weren’t aware of the donation.

QUESTION: But she did say that (inaudible) fact that she did.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, she has to. I mean, it’s a public record, so she disclosed it publicly.


MR KIRBY: So it’s out there. I mean, that’s how people found out about it, because it was out there. It was online.

QUESTION: I wonder if you would explain --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I think, guys, just one – I want to make one point real clear here. I mean, I get the sensitivity. But there’s nothing wrong with a federal employee, as any other U.S. citizen, making donations to campaigns. I’m going to get to you in a minute, Said, but this is an important point. This is the United States of America. It’s a democracy. People are allowed to do this kind of thing.

And to suggest that just by dint of making a contribution to whatever political cause or campaign that it disqualifies somebody from a job that they’re taking on – and I’d remind you that this is a – this is a leader who has some four decades of experience and was retired and agreed to come back to serve the country once again – I think that’s a very bad place for us to be if we’re going to start criticizing people for campaign contributions that they make in their private time, in retirement no less. I just don’t think that’s – I don’t think that’s where we want to be as a country. I just got done talking about our concerns in Turkey and media freedoms and civil society and how we expect the Turks to live up to their core values and their democratic institutions. I think it’s – we need to do that here too.

QUESTION: John, no one is criticizing her for making the donation. If there’s any criticism, it’s directed at the State Department for choosing someone who has demonstrated a – demonstrated, I don’t want to say bias, but demonstrated a preference in a political candidate who happens to be at the very center of the issue that she has been nominated or has been named to take on. That’s the point. It’s --


QUESTION: Whether she is the most appropriate person for the job is the question, not – no one is criticizing her donation to anybody. I mean, she could have --

MR KIRBY: Well, the implication was that because she had done this she’s somehow not supremely qualified for it. So I do think you’re a little bit --

QUESTION: No, no --

MR KIRBY: I do think it’s --

QUESTION: It’s not a question of whether she is qualified or not. It’s a question of whether the choice, given the donation, lends itself to an appearance of a potential conflict of interest, which, honestly – and I think you would agree to this – that this is the last thing the State Department, embroiled in this whole thing now as it is, wants to present.

MR KIRBY: I do think – I take your point. I kind of disagree. I do think some of this is aimed at her, but I also take your point that, yeah, there’s this criticism that – about the selection. And I would just go back to what I said. The Secretary is supremely confident in her choice to do this job.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, I haven’t – and I’ve been looking at this since yesterday, and I haven’t seen anyone criticize her for making the donation. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s not that.

MR KIRBY: But there’s an implication in it that somehow that should be a disqualifying factor, and I just think it’s important for us not to go there. It’s just not a healthy place for us to go as a republic.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on the duties, her duties, not the donations. Now, transparency is really a broad term. What would be the specifics that she’s going to be focusing on?

MR KIRBY: Well, I talked about this yesterday, Said.

QUESTION: I know, but if you would care to explain just a little bit more. Is it – is she going to be completely focused on this email issue?


QUESTION: Or are there other issues and so on?

MR KIRBY: No, she’s not. So I talked about this yesterday. I’ll do it again.

QUESTION: One – you talked about it about 10 minutes ago too.

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: It’s okay. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Two main tasks, because we have an obligation under executive order to make sure that we’re preserving the record of U.S. foreign policy in an electronic secure form. So we have a heavy task ahead of us to do that, so she’s going to be helping us figure that out, to include, as I said, potentially the adoption and introduction of new technologies here at the State Department to do that kind of record preservation. That’s an obligation we have.

The other obligation that we have that the Secretary has been very adamant about is to the American people, to the public, to disclose as efficiently and effectively and as securely as possible information to the American people, particularly when it’s covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which I know as journalists you all appreciate the importance of that law. So do we. We have an obligation.

And this is – this gets beyond just the Clinton email issue. That’s part of it. But as I said yesterday, we’ve seen a threefold increase since 2008 of Freedom of Information Act requests and – hang on a second, Justin – most of them have nothing to do with this issue. We’ve added staff, some 50 people, to the FOIA office – some are permanent, some are temporary what we call detailees – to the Freedom of Information Act Office to help them clear through this backlog. That’s a significant effort and amount of resources being applied to this.

So we’ve got a lot of work to do, and the Secretary acknowledged that when he made this announcement yesterday. She’s going to help us work through that process. And this is a Foreign Service officer who kind of specializes in admin process and procedures, as she ramped the – she revamped the visa office, as I said, back in 2001. She has a lot of experience in this, and the Secretary looks forward to her applying that experience and the leadership and her ability to craft and then implement necessary reforms. And it’s reforms here that we’re really after.

The process of disclosing every month former Secretary Clinton’s email traffic will continue, and she will have, I’m sure, a voice in the process of how we do that. But that’s not the main function here. She’s got a much larger task, a much larger responsibility, to include helping us once – I talked about this earlier in the year. Secretary Kerry asked the IG to come in and take a look also at how we manage information here at the Department. The IG is still working on that. When they come back with recommendations for how we can improve, part of her job will be to implement those recommendations. And as I said to Matt yesterday, we expect that she’ll be meeting regularly with Secretary Kerry and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom on a very frequent, consistent basis to keep them apprised of what she’s learning and what she wants to do.

QUESTION: Presumably she’s not flying to Papua New Guinea (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: She’s not on a flight to Papua New Guinea with the Deputy Secretary; however, she did show up for work today. She’s here today. She just started.

Yeah, Justin.

QUESTION: One last one on this for me. Given the fact that there are so many records issues to deal with, so many FOIA requests to deal with, separate from the Clinton email debacle, would the Secretary consider removing those Clinton email responsibilities from her tasks to avoid any potential conflict of interest, given the great national interest in this story?

MR KIRBY: No, because there’s not going to be a conflict of interest. There’s no conflict of interest here, Justin – none at all.


QUESTION: John, there were some questions yesterday about staffing for that new office, and there have since been stories about 50 staffers being transferred to that office. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I just said that to Said. We’ve added 50 people to the Freedom of Information Act office.

QUESTION: Is there a quantifiable number for cost to the taxpayer?

MR KIRBY: I do not have a cost figure for that to share with you. I’m sure that there is, without question, additional cost to the taxpayer for us to work through this, as well as meeting – not just from the Freedom of Information Act, but meeting the increasing demands by members of Congress for information and reports, such as the Select Committee on Benghazi and, of course, the task of working through more than, what, 25,000 or so emails that we still have to get through from former Secretary Clinton. All of that requires time and money and resources. I just don’t have a – I don’t have a figure for you today.

QUESTION: But they are transferring from within State. You’re not adding 50 to your total head count.

MR KIRBY: You mean in terms of bringing – no. As far as I know, the 50 are – as I said, a lot of them are going to be detailees, people from other places inside the State Department.

QUESTION: So it won’t cost any more money?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t have a figure.

QUESTION: No, I know. But if these people are already employed by the State Department and it’s not as if you’re hiring new people from outside to come in, the question is whether or not – I mean, for the time that they’re temporarily detailed, are there going to have to be replacements hired to do their – what these people’s original job was?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. The bureaus that they are coming from will have to make those decisions.

QUESTION: So the – I guess the question – although specifics would be nice, but the just broader question is: Is there a net increase in the cost of doing this because of these detailees?

MR KIRBY: Not because of the manpower specifically.


QUESTION: Are they – will they all be from this building, or will they be, let’s say, like foreign missions, for instance?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, all the work is being done here at main State.


QUESTION: Turkey. John, if you – based on what you said on the top about the current situation in Turkey and also the – last week’s – the travel warning and other concerns you had in the past, can we say that you are concerned about the Turkish democracy in general, not just recent events?

MR KIRBY: You mean --

QUESTION: The Turkish --

MR KIRBY: -- in a different way than I said yesterday? (Laughter.) I mean, we – as I said, Turkey’s democracy matters to us. More critically, I think Turkish democratic institutions matter to the Turkish people, and we’ve seen many streams in Turkish society speak up against the violence that’s been perpetrated the last few days, not just from the PKK but from these individuals who have attacked these buildings and attacked the Hurriyet Daily. So I think it matters to Turks as well, and we note the prime minister’s comments about this and about calling for a cessation of violence.

What I would say is what I said yesterday, is our expectation – and I think it’s the expectation of so many Turks – is that the Government of Turkey will continue to live up to its core values and its democratic fundamental principles. That’s our expectation.

QUESTION: So I had an interview a couple weeks ago with Ambassador Jeffrey, former ambassador – U.S. Ambassador to – in Turkey. He mentioned that there are some sort of warnings and concerns in the United States – in the Administration in general about the President Erdogan’s actions. So he was referring to the situation of – the current situation of fighting and conflict between the PKK and also attack on the journalists, (inaudible). So is that the concern that you have about President Erdogan’s actions to shifting the country from democratic to non-democratic?

MR KIRBY: Again, Turkey is a democracy. We value that. We believe the Turkish people value that. We want to see it thrive and flourish. We want to see it live up to its own core values and the values expressed in its constitution. And actions such as these attacks that we’ve seen, and particularly against the newspaper, are unhelpful and certainly not in keeping with those values, and we’d like to see all Turks express the appropriate respect for those values.

QUESTION: John, about the attacks --

QUESTION: Syria --


QUESTION: -- have you seen reports on the attack against Turkish newspaper Sabah over the night?

MR KIRBY: I have not.

QUESTION: Some protesters – Turkish nationalists – threw rocks and blades towards the building and partly destroyed the building yesterday.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: A group of Turkish nationalists threw rocks and partly destroyed the Sabah newspaper’s building over the night --


QUESTION: -- in Turkey.

MR KIRBY: I have not seen those attacks, but if they’re true, if that happens, I would put it in the same category of what we’ve seen in the last couple of days. And it’s, again, not in keeping with Turkey’s democratic institutions and core values and we would --

QUESTION: So you condemn this attack too if --

MR KIRBY: If it’s true, we absolutely would, sure we would, yes.


QUESTION: A question related to Turkey as well: I noticed yesterday that LGBT Envoy Randy Berry is scheduled to be in Ankara and Istanbul from the 11th of September through the 16th of September. He’ll be in Brussels before that. I’m just wondering, does he have any plans to raise the issue of the LGBT folks who are escaping ISIS in Syria and Iraq that came up at the UN Security Council a couple of weeks ago? Any specifics on whether that will come up during his conversations?

MR KIRBY: You know what? I don’t know, so let me take the question and get back to you. Obviously, he’s got a full agenda and --


MR KIRBY: -- there’s concerns about the way LGBT people are treated around the world --


MR KIRBY: -- and that’s – frankly, that’s what his job is, to express our concerns and to try to work for solutions. I wouldn’t be surprised.


MR KIRBY: But let me just make sure on that particular question about ISIL. As you know, we have very publicly stated our concerns --

QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

MR KIRBY: -- at the UN and from this podium about their treatment of people who they believe to be LGBT.


QUESTION: Can we stay on ISIS?

QUESTION: Syrian refugees?


QUESTION: What’s the number of refugees the Administration is ready to receive next year? You were talking about Secretary Kerry discussing this issue.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a number to give you today. As I’ve said before, we’re continuing to look at options, and it’s possible that the numbers will increase over next year, but I just don’t have a number to give you.

QUESTION: Syrians say that the barrel bombs are the main cause that push people to leave Syria. What’s – what is the U.S. doing to stop the regime from using barrel bombs?

MR KIRBY: We’re using all the levers at our disposal to try to help bring about a political transition in Syria --

QUESTION: But they didn’t work yet.

MR KIRBY: -- a transition that doesn’t leave Bashar al-Assad in power.

QUESTION: But they didn’t work. Nothing has worked so far.

MR KIRBY: We’re continuing to work this. Look, I understand. We’ve talked about Syria a lot from here. We all understand how complicated it is and how hard it is. The President has made clear that there’s not going to be a military solution inside Syria to this particular conflict. Obviously, we’re helping coalition members go against ISIL inside Syria, but with respect to the conflict there and the Assad regime, there’s not going to be a military solution. There needs to be a political solution. That takes time. That can be messy, that can be complicated, but it’s a goal worth pursuing and we’re going to continue to pursue that.

QUESTION: But you had a successful experience with the regime when the Administration drew a redline for the regime when he used the chemical weapons and it worked. Why don’t you use the same tactic with the regime to stop the barrel bombs?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypothetical scenarios.

QUESTION: It’s not a – you had the good experience.

MR KIRBY: We – it is a hypothetical. We’re – we understand that this is a complicated issue. There has to be a political transition, and as Secretary Kerry has made clear and met, as I said, in Doha and continues to discuss with his Saudi counterpart and his Russian counterpart the importance of striving toward a political solution there that has to have some element of participation by the opposition groups. And they’re not all the same, they’re not monolithic, they don’t all have the same goals, but they’re important to finding a future in Syria. And so how we work through this is going to have to include them in some form or fashion and we’re trying to figure that out.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov today?

MR KIRBY: He did.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about that call and whether or not the – you guys have any reaction or thoughts about the Russians saying that Iran has given them overflight rights to fly into Syria?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So he did discuss – he did talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. He reiterated our concern about these reports of Russian military activities – or buildup, if you will – in Syria and made very clear our view that if true and if borne out, those reports would be – could lead to greater violence and more – even more instability in Syria and were not helpful at all to what we’re – what eventually the international community should be trying to achieve inside Syria.

On Iran, I don’t know if the specific issue of Iran overflight came up in the call. That said, reports of – that we’ve seen of the Russians saying that they have overflight rights from Iran is clearly disappointing but not surprising given Iran’s history of support to the Assad regime as well.

QUESTION: But just given the way that geography works on the map, if they’re going to overfly Iran to get to Syria, they need to fly over Iraq as well. Do you have any – or are you planning to talk to the Iraqis about this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – and I wouldn’t read out the specifics of diplomatic conversations that we have on this. What I would tell you is that we have asked our partners in the region – we’ve asked them to ask some pretty tough questions of the Russians about the intent here.

QUESTION: Well, can I just ask: Would you consider in this context Iraq to be a partner – a U.S. partner?

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. So pretty much every – all of Syria’s neighbors have been – or adjacent – all the countries adjacent to Syria and even further out – we’re talking Greece and others – have been asked not to allow overflight?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to detail diplomatic conversations, Matt. But we’ve asked our partners and our friends to ask the Russians tough questions about this.

QUESTION: But on that, though, I mean, in the past this building has actually been public in its conversations that it had with the previous prime minister of Iraq, Mr. Maliki, about his allowing for Iranian overflights and gear to be transported into Syria. So in the past there has been public criticism. Currently, given the geography, as Matt just laid out, it seems that this is indeed happening if these reports are true. So why is it different now?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to what we’ve done in the past or what we said in the past. I routinely decline to speak about the details of diplomatic conversations we have around the world on any number of issues, and I’m going to continue to do that today. As I said, we’ve asked our friends and partners in the region to ask for themselves the Russians some tough questions about what they’re doing and what their intent is.

QUESTION: So it would be wrong to infer that Iraq said no?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize it any further than what I have.

QUESTION: Because in the past, it has been explained as Iraq being unable to stop overflights, that it doesn’t really have control of its own airspace. Has that situation changed given that the U.S. has provided and now delivered F-16s and that there are now coalition aircraft in Iraqi airspace (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would let the Government of Iraq speak for its control of its airspace. It is its airspace. It’s sovereign airspace. It belongs to the Government of Iraq. How they’re policing it and securing it is really for them to speak to.

QUESTION: Is there actually a law – an international law that disallows flights from going to Syria?

MR KIRBY: Is there an international law --

QUESTION: Is there an international law that has been agreed upon by the United Nations or the Security Council that disallows flights from going to Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on international law in that regard, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up – a couple questions on ISIS and what’s going on. Could you tell us what is the status of General Allen? We have not heard from General Allen for some time. What’s --

MR KIRBY: He’s been --

QUESTION: What’s going on? Why is he --

MR KIRBY: He actually did some interviews this week.




MR KIRBY: I mean, he’s not been a shrinking violet from the challenges that he’s still trying to work through for the coalition. Again, he did media interviews this week. I think we’ve posted – I know we posted a transcript this morning of one that he did.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry I missed it. Could you comment on Philip Hammond’s comment where he said that there is actually a role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a transitional role? Could you comment on that? He just made this today.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen Mr. Hammond’s comments, so I’d be a little careful trying to characterize them. I can just tell you that nothing’s changed about our position that Bashar al-Assad does not have a future, should not have a future, in Syria; that we need a political transition to a government in Syria that’s responsive to the Syrian people and doesn’t include him.

QUESTION: Now, he was very specific. He’s talking about a transitional period. Would you oppose a role for Bashar al-Assad in a transitional period?

MR KIRBY: Again, our position on Assad’s future in Syria has not changed, Said. Hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: And let me just follow up with a point that Michel did before. Barrel bombs, are they weapons of mass destruction? Because everybody gets the impression that --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a legal --

QUESTION: -- that barrel bombs are weapons of mass destruction.

MR KIRBY: Look, you’re asking --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, they’re very crude bombs.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a legal definition of them. Obviously, it’s a cruel weapon to use against your own people – anybody, but certainly your own people.

QUESTION: It’s crude. Any weapon is (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: And certainly, they are designed to kill, maim, or injure multiple people. It’s a weapon specifically designed to go – to kill people. And that’s atrocity enough, but I’m not going to get into a legal definition here about whether it’s WMD or not. It has to stop, and the international community, I mean, is aligned against this with the exception of Iran and Russia, who continue to support the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Yeah, but in your description, it’s not really that much different than cluster bombs, which, let’s say, the Saudis are using in Yemen that are supplied by the United States.

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s a huge difference, Said. I mean, cluster munitions are allowed legally when they are applied in a combat environment for discrete purposes. And when we transfer them or sell them, there is an end-use requirement there for how they’re used, and certainly, we have vehicles at our disposal should they not be used appropriately. That’s the big difference between the tactical, specific use of cluster munitions in accordance with international law and then dropping a barrel bomb out of an aircraft or a helicopter on a crowd of people. Big difference.

QUESTION: John, you said that you don’t have any confirmation about the Russian military buildup in Syria?

MR KIRBY: That’s right. I’d point you to Moscow. They can talk to their own military. I don’t even talk for our military.

QUESTION: And you didn’t see the pictures on social media and everywhere about the Russian soldiers in Syria?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the social media reports. I’ve seen the press reports. But --

QUESTION: Then why don’t you confirm that Russia is building up?

MR KIRBY: Because I work for the United States Government, not the Russian Government.


MR KIRBY: They should speak for their own military and what they’re doing.

QUESTION: But if you --

MR KIRBY: I would tell you that the intent’s unclear, still remains unclear, still concerning. And that’s why Secretary Kerry called Foreign Minister Lavrov today.

QUESTION: But you were talking to the Russians. Secretary Kerry met Lavrov in Qatar; special envoy to Syria went to Moscow and met with the Russian officials. You were cooperating with the Russians to solve the crisis in Syria. That means you have to be – or you have to know what’s going on with the Russians since you are cooperating with them.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean we have to know everything about what the Russians are doing. I mean, as I said at the outset, the intent here is unclear about exactly what they’re up to and why they’re doing it and to what degree or to what scope they’re going to do this. I would point you to their comments that they’ve made or that they’ve not made. You’ve got to talk to Moscow about this. I’m not going – I don’t even like to characterize what our own military is doing from this podium, and I’m certainly not going to get into characterizing what another military intention – another military’s intentions are. These are questions that should be posed to the Russian Government, and I think fairly should be because of the uncertainty surrounding what they’re doing.

QUESTION: But if you have the proof --

QUESTION: But the reason that the Secretary called Foreign Minister Lavrov was because you are concerned, and you’re not just concerned by media reports about what’s going on – at least I hope that’s not your only source of information on this.

MR KIRBY: I said “reports.” I did not just say “media reports.”

QUESTION: Okay. All right, so – but I mean, so there is some concern.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely, there is. I mean, he wouldn’t have made another call today if there wasn’t, of course.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. So this is two calls, and the first – the other one was Sunday?

MR KIRBY: It was over the weekend. I think Saturday.

QUESTION: Saturday? And clearly the first call didn’t have the desired effect, did it, if you’re still concerned today?

MR KIRBY: I would just say that we’re still very concerned about this.


QUESTION: On the refugee situation, the Secretary of course had the trip to the Hill today to look at the budget proposal for the next fiscal year.


QUESTION: I know that you can’t get into specifics, but can you talk in general – the Secretary said the Administration is looking hard at the numbers that the U.S. may be able to provide and that it’s being vetted. But in general, can you talk about what is under consideration, and also how the Secretary gauged reaction to the proposal?

MR KIRBY: He did propose increasing the number of refugees that will be accepted by the United States through the Refugee Resettlement Program in the next fiscal year – and I’m talking total now. I’m not just talking about from Syria. I don’t have a reaction for you from the members there in the meeting. I would point you to them to speak for how they reacted to that, but he did make – he did propose that we want to increase that number over the next fiscal year. And as I said earlier, I won’t get into estimates right now. I don’t have an estimate to share with you.


QUESTION: On that same point, so you said that there would be more refugees taken in. And yet, at the exact same time, there are members on the Hill saying that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to fight the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. I mean, do you think, does the Secretary think, does the department think that you are doing enough to fight that ongoing crisis?

MR KIRBY: No. As I said yesterday, the Secretary has – he stood up a working group here last week at the State Department to try to get our hands around the specific crisis in Europe right now of Syrian refugees. He mentioned it again yesterday at the staff meeting. It’s very much on his mind. And he, like so many leaders in Europe, share the same sense of urgency about this. And we are exploring options to try to get our hands around this crisis more and more effectively.

I don’t have specific strategies to detail for you today, but I can tell you there’s an awful lot of people here at Foggy Bottom that are working very, very hard on this problem set and working hard to coordinate and communicate with our counterparts in Europe who are obviously dealing with it in a much more direct fashion over there.

I think it’s also important to remember a couple of things. And I know I talked about this yesterday, but resettlement is only one option and it oftentimes isn’t always the best option. Many of these people want to go back home. That’s why we’ve – so much of the money – and we are the largest donor with respect to these issues around the world, but certainly with respect to the Syrian crisis – over $4 billion. But it’s being applied to the refugee situation there in the region, particularly trying to help countries like Jordan and Turkey, who are dealing with really the brunt of it there right on the borders of Syria.

So that’s where most of the money is going and most of our aid and assistance and advice is going right there. But we’ve also donated 25 million-plus to help deal with it in Southern Europe. And again, I think you’re going to see more options being developed. I don’t have anything to preview today, but there’s an awful lot of energy being applied to it. Everybody understands, again, the sense of urgency and the importance. It’s impossible to look at the images, all of them, whether they’re still photos or video, and not be moved by what’s going on right now.

And as I said yesterday, we’re grateful for the leadership being shown by so many European countries individually and the willingness of individual citizens of those countries to take people in – it’s quite astounding – as well as the leadership of the EU, who is really trying to approach this from a comprehensive manner. And I think – we think that’s the right approach and we’re willing to contribute. Again, we’ll have more to say about this in coming days.

QUESTION: Is there a correlation between what the working group is doing and the proposal for the next fiscal year? In other words, is the working group trying to formulate its strategy to present before there is a final announcement on the budget?

MR KIRBY: Well, the working group that the Secretary stood up was to get at what’s going on in Europe now but also to look at refugee issues around the world. I mean, it’s not just constrained to the Iraqi and Syrian refugees that are flowing through Europe, although that is a major issue of attention for them right now. But that’s separate from the original intent of the meeting today, which was an annual meeting, consultations on the President’s proposal for the next fiscal year.

But that said, Pam, look you can’t divorce the two and we’re not trying to. We understand that there is a global refugee issue to deal with specifically right now in Europe, and they’re all interconnected. And I don’t think the Secretary wants the staff or the working group to try to divorce the issue, because what you learn and what you can propose and what you can do in one crisis may very well help you in other places around the world with other refugees.

QUESTION: On this issue --

MR KIRBY: I got you a lot. Hang on a second.

QUESTION: No, no. On this issue, there are news reports said – that say that there are communities in the U.S. that refuse to receive refugees especially from the Middle East, because they are concerned that maybe terrorists will come and live in their communities. Are you aware of these reports, and how are you dealing with them?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen press reports about that. These are decisions that individual families have to make and communities have to make, and it’s not for the State Department to pass judgment on that. I think it’s important to remember, and I think Americans are rightly proud of our strong track record on dealing with human rights around the world regardless of the issue, and specifically on the issue of population, migration, and refugees. We have a very strong track record from a financial donor perspective, from a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief perspective. And it’s not just here at the State Department; it’s an interagency effort, whether you’re talking about the military, which is exceptionally good at helping in crises like this, to other federal agencies like USAID.

So we have a very strong track record. We’re proud of that. We also recognize, as the Secretary does, that we can do more. And certainly, the situation in Europe presents us that challenge to try to step up and do more, and the Secretary is committed to that and he wants to explore options for how we can do that. But individual Americans have to make their decisions based on their own dictates, and we respect that too.

QUESTION: Did you intentionally omit DHS from your list of agencies that --

MR KIRBY: No, I did not. Let me --

QUESTION: Okay. Do you want to go back?

MR KIRBY: Let me add DHS. Thank you. I was riffing and just listing. I did not mean to omit the Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Some of the options that you are discussing with your friends and allies to deal with the refugee issues, does it include clamping down on smugglers and human traffickers that are making tons of money by smuggling Syrian refugees? I mean, they charge up to 1,000 person --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, absolute – look, there’s --

QUESTION: -- per person and so on.

MR KIRBY: Human trafficking does present a nexus here in this challenge.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: And we, again, have a strong record about going after those kinds of human rights abuses. I mean, just a few weeks ago, maybe a month ago or so ago, whatever it was, we stood up here and we briefed you on our Trafficking in Persons Report, which is a pretty hard-hitting, candid, forthright look at how we view the problem around the world. And so yeah, obviously, this is tied into it. And there are unilateral and multilateral sanctions and vehicles at the international community’s disposal to try to deal with this.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: You mentioned the U.S. contributed 25 million in Southern Europe for the refugees.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Is this is a recent thing?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I think it is. I’ve been talking about it now for a couple of days.

QUESTION: This week, we mean?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, yeah. And today wasn’t the first time I’ve talked about it.

QUESTION: But there was no announcement. Like, usually, you issue a press release on this or something like that?

MR KIRBY: I’ll check and see if we did a release, but I know I’ve talked about it from the podium several times.

QUESTION: Is that – that’s money to UNHCR, yeah?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s to UNHCR to deal specifically with Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, and the challenges that they have there on the southern front. And look, I mean, I don’t want to get into what future options there may be, but I mean, we’re going to look at a lot of tools at our disposal to try to deal with this going forward.

QUESTION: Does – but so the Administration believes that it is good for the U.S. taxpayer to help Greece, although I realize they’ve had money problems, Serbia, and Montenegro to --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: -- I mean, Western European countries should get – are the recipients, essentially, through UNHCR. This is --


QUESTION: But don’t you think that those countries, first and foremost as the recipient nation of the refugees, should pony up some money too, yeah?

MR KIRBY: Well, we talked about that yesterday, Matt. We certainly want to see countries that – certainly those that are affected by this, we want to continue to see them continue to do what they can to deal with it appropriately. But these are sovereign decisions that these countries have to make. The money that we’re talking about is going to the UN to apportion in the way they see best fit, but it was for – specifically for that southern flank of Europe. And I won’t rule out future options going forward here.

But obviously, yes, we talked about this. We want to see nations in the region and those that are obviously affected by this do what they can to help, as we will do what we can to help.


QUESTION: Can we go to Turkey?


QUESTION: John, I don’t know if you are aware of, but if you are – if you do, are you concerned about the Turkish Government’s decision to impose the curfew that Kurdish populated areas south and east, and also the Turkish parliament recent decision to send – to allow the Turkish army to enter Iraqi territory to fight PKK?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t heard anything about the curfew, so I’m going to reserve comment on a decision I’m not aware of. You talked about this incursion against PKK. We understand directly from the Turks that this was a short-duration tactical move to go after PKK terrorists that had just perpetrated attacks on their soil. We understand their right to defend themselves against terrorism. We also understand the sensitivities expressed by the Iraqi Government of that move. And what we’ve long said is we want to continue – we think it’s important for both, in this particular case or in cases like this, for Turkey and Iraq to continue to talk and be transparent with one another about their concerns and to have a dialogue about this very real challenge along that border.

QUESTION: Also, that was also that this tension, I think, had a negative impact on the Turkish main gate border with Iraq, the Habur. It was closed for a few days and several hours, was open temporarily. So did you have any talk with Iraqis and Turks on this issue?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any talks specifically about this gate, but we routinely talk to both governments about the importance of a shared dialogue and communication and transparency about these issues with one another. We understand the concerns on both sides.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MR KIRBY: What would really be helpful --

QUESTION: Yeah. Different subject.

MR KIRBY: -- is for the PKK to renounce violence and stop conducting terrorist attacks. That’s what really needs to happen here.

Yeah, Janne. Janne, go ahead.



QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I thought you give to the other guys. Okay. It is reported that recently United States provide humanitarian aid to North Korea. Do you have anything more detailed about this?

MR KIRBY: It has been suggested by who?

QUESTION: Humanitarian assistance to North Korea – U.S. provide many --

MR KIRBY: Who has suggested that?

QUESTION: Well, it is reported already last --

MR KIRBY: Oh, it’s reported that we --


MR KIRBY: Well, look, there’s no question that the regime is brutal to its own people, and Kim Jong-un and his government have the opportunity within their own hands to change the direction that their country is going and to look after the North Korean people, which is a responsibility they continue to shirk. What we want to see is for North Korea to stop the destabilizing activities and to do the things that you would responsibly do reduce tensions there on the peninsula.

Our responsibilities, particularly militarily, are to our alliance with the Republic of Korea and to security and stability on the peninsula, and we’re focused on that. I know of no plans, offers, proposals for humanitarian assistance. This is a regime that is completely, utterly closed off to the world and it – the onus is on them to do what’s right on the peninsula and for their people.

QUESTION: The – one more – U.S. and South Korea – I’m sorry – I got really lost.

MR KIRBY: You got what? You got lost?

QUESTION: Some – yeah, because I catch cold. I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I hope you’re feeling better.

QUESTION: South and North Korea had agreed to – on the family reunion next month. Any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would just say we support President Park’s tireless efforts to improve inter-Korean relations which support peace and stability, as I talked about in my previous answer on the Korean Peninsula. We’re going to continue to coordinate closely with the Republic of Korea and reiterate our unwavering support for the alliance, and I would refer you to the Republic of Korea and the government there to speak for more details about those efforts.

But again, we definitely support President Park’s efforts.


MR KIRBY: Okay? Yeah, Tolga.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Turkey. The press reports suggesting that the Turks are preparing for a major ground operation in northern Iraq. Peter Cook yesterday condemned the PKK attacks against Turkish soldiers and – but also he said that the Turks – Turkish response to these attacks will be proportional. Will this kind of major ground operation, rather than a (inaudible) that you mentioned, be proportional in terms of this fight against PKK?

MR KIRBY: First of all, you’re asking about a hypothetical situation. I – I’m not going to speculate about what the Turkish Government may or may not do with its military. You need to ask the Turkish Government those kinds of questions. I mean, you’re asking me to describe whether a particular operation is proportional when I don’t even know that such an operation is in the offering, or if it was in the offing what it would look like. Moreover, I’m not going to get into talking about the military activities of another nation here.

What we have said, and I’ll continue to stress, is we understand and respect Turkey’s right to defend itself. When they do, our expectation is – and we’ve made this clear to them – is that they’ll do it in a way to minimize and to take – minimize civilian casualties and take the necessary precautions to protect civilian life and to conduct those activities in accordance with international law. We’ve said that repeatedly.

We’re grateful for the support that Turkey is lending to the coalition. They are now involved in counter-ISIL strikes in Syria. That’s a welcome addition. And we’re going to continue to have these conversations with them going forward.

QUESTION: About the notification of the – before that the Turks made in these attacks in northern Iraq. The last time in July, there were some tensions between U.S. and Turkey in terms of this notification timing, because according to the press reports, Turks informed you just 10 minutes before the attacks. Was it a timely notification this time? Did you have any – enough time to inform the U.S. personnel on the ground on these Turkish air strikes?

MR KIRBY: The ones against PKK just recently? I don’t know.

QUESTION: In northern Iraq.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know whether there was notification or not. I don’t know.


MR KIRBY: I’d point you to DOD for that.

QUESTION: Yeah, they are not replying this question. But --

MR KIRBY: But that’s a better question for DOD than it is for me.

QUESTION: On the press freedom issues, did you raise your concerns about the security of American journalists working on Turkey with the Turkish Government?

MR KIRBY: I won’t get into specific diplomatic conversations. You know we don’t do that. That said, we have been nothing but candid, particularly publicly, about our concerns for media freedoms and media access around the world, and we’ll continue to make those cases. And it’s – there’s no doubt – should be no doubt in anybody’s mind where the United States of America stands on the right of free speech, and certainly freedom of the press.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Thanks for your support for Hurriyet, for your statement that you made yesterday. But I’m trying to understand, did you take any concrete steps in terms of the – American journalists’ security in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – if you’re asking what we’re talking about with the Turks, I’m not going to get into diplomatic conversations. We obviously take very seriously the safety and security of American citizens wherever they are over the world, to include reporters. But we also respect a reporter’s right and need to have access, to move freely, to report when and where they want to and can about events going on in the world.

QUESTION: And the last one. About this upcoming G20 summit in November in Turkey. Do you have any concerns in terms of the security of U.S. delegation which will be heading to Turkey?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have any – I mean, look, security’s always a concern when you have major conferences and meetings. I won’t get into and I wouldn’t get into from this podium any specific security issues one way or the other.

QUESTION: Will be Secretary Kerry heading to Turkey for the meeting?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on his schedule to read out to you.

Yeah, one more. Back to you, Martin.

QUESTION: Yes. Last week I had asked about the ISS presence in Afghanistan, and you had said that there aren’t any such reports. And then just a few days ago, the NATO chief had said that the ISIS has becoming very influential in Afghanistan. Any comment on that by the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – I don’t think I said that I had nothing to say about ISIL in Afghanistan. I have routinely talked about the fact that this is a group that wants to metastasize and grow and migrate to other areas, including Afghanistan. And I know that they have a presence in Afghanistan and that they want that to expand. It’s difficult to tell – and I would point you to DOD for more specifics on this, but – it’s difficult to tell with any certainty exactly what it is in terms of numbers and scope and capability. But clearly they’ve shown an interest in expanding to places like Afghanistan, and clearly it’s a concern not just for President Ghani, but for the coalition members and the troops that are there as well as Afghan National Security Forces. We’re mindful of that.

QUESTION: Also, today there are reports that ISIS has said – like, they have said in a statement that they will – while they are Afghanistan they will work towards removing the Durand Line. And yesterday, Karzai had issued a similar statement where he said that we don’t recognize Durand Line as a permanent border. What does the State Department has to say about the actual Durand Line thing? Is this still an issue here? I mean, if a former president --

MR KIRBY: We don’t have any new policies with respect to the borders of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: The Durand Line is a final border, right? Like, this is --

MR KIRBY: It’s the recognized border, and we recognize the borders of Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Yesterday, there was a taken – there was a question that I asked that you said you would take about whether as a general principle if State Department employees are permitted to receive outside income and whether they are under any obligation to report that.

MR KIRBY: Yes. I think I have that here somewhere. Hang on with me. I want to make sure that I’m precise about this, Arshad. Okay. So without speaking to individuals, as we said we wouldn’t.

QUESTION: Yes. In general principle.

MR KIRBY: Generally speaking, Executive Branch ethics requires certain employees, including senior and Schedule C employees, to file financial disclosure reports. The report requires outside earned income over $200 to be reported as well as any outside positions. There is no general ethics rule that employees seek advance approval for outside employment, noting that each employee is always bound by ethics laws and regulations, including those related to avoiding conflicts of interest.


QUESTION: So it applies the requirement that you report and that – the requirement for financial disclosure forms and for reporting outside income above 200 applies only to senior officials and Schedule C officials.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I didn’t say only, but including senior and Schedule C employees.

QUESTION: Including. Okay, okay.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the whole pay scale, but there is a requirement for certain employees to file those disclosure reports, and it has to do with any earned income over $200.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, it’s a yearly report. Yeah, absolutely.

QUESTION: But it’s not, like, $200 a day or something like that, or an hour? It’s $200 in a year?

MR KIRBY: Any earned income over $200 flat.


MR KIRBY: Two hundred. Yeah, 200 a year. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I go to the other thing that --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, Margaret. Go ahead.

QUESTION: A question on Greece. The Greek coast guard said it is now investigating reports. CBS aired video yesterday of uniformed men in unmarked boats cutting the fuel lines of Syrian refugees, setting them adrift at sea to prevent them from coming to shore. Turkish coast guard intervened. I’m wondering if you’ve seen this and if these new reports of an investigation are something that the U.S. supports.

MR KIRBY: Well, yes, we are aware of the reports. Obviously, if they’re true it’s deeply, deeply troubling and concerning, and we certainly would support local authorities investigating that. I mean, this is a wave of innocent people who are in dire straits, and we want to see them – as I said yesterday, we want to see them – their safety protected. We want to see them treated humanely. And as I said, we want to see all affected nations do what they can to help them.

If these reports are true, obviously it’s – that is cruel at the very least, if true. And so we do hope that those kinds of allegations are being looked into and investigated, and that if true, the responsible people are brought to justice.


QUESTION: I just wanted to ask quickly – I promise quickly. The other reason the Secretary was up on the Hill today and also the big show in town, I suppose, or two shows, as it were, this morning with formed Secretary Clinton, and now, as we speak, on the – up on the Hill with some Republican presidential candidates – the Iran deal and the IAEA announcement today that it has sent back to Iran a list of questions asking them to address ambiguities in their original response to the PMD questions that derive from the roadmap. Do you – is this just – first, is this just an IAEA thing, or does the United States agree with the IAEA leadership that there are, in fact, ambiguities about its responses to the PMD questions?

MR KIRBY: This is a process issue for the IAEA, so we welcome their timely submission to Iran of the PMD questions as outlined in the roadmap – all part of the process agreed between Iran and the IAEA. As we’ve previously said, the completion of the roadmap steps are necessary as part of our process to get to implementation day. Without the completion of those steps, we won’t get to implementation day and there won’t be sanctions relief.

QUESTION: Right. But my question is: Do you share the opinion of the IAEA that there are ambiguities in Iran’s initial responses?

MR KIRBY: Well, this is --

QUESTION: Under the roadmap that the IAEA --

MR KIRBY: But this is between the – Iran and the IAEA.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: So I – you’re --

QUESTION: Well, I know, but you’re part of the IAEA. So do you agree with them – and I presume you do because I think it operates on consensus – that there are ambiguities in Iran’s responses that need to be addressed still before you can get to implementation?

MR KIRBY: We are not and are not in a position to challenge the IAEA’s questions. We welcome those – we welcome those questions they’re asking. And again, this is all part of the process. But we’re in – we’re – this is – so two thoughts. One, this is between Iran and the IAEA, as it’s spelled out normally in normal IAEA and roadmap procedures. Number two, we’re not in a position to challenge the IAEA on their questions.

QUESTION: One more on Iran? Iranian members of parliament on the particular committee that’s charged with reviewing the agreement came out today and said that there were two secret documents that they were not allowed to see. One of those, as I understood it, refers to the agreement between the IAEA and Iran with regard to PMD – resolving those questions, which, as we’ve often discussed here, is indeed an IAEA-Iranian document. It’s between them. But secondly, they also said that there was a secret U.S.-Iranian document that they were not allowed to see. To your knowledge, is there any secret U.S.-Iranian document or not? Is everything that you’re aware of the 159 pages in the comprehensive – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?

MR KIRBY: I have – I’ve not seen these reports, Arshad, and so I’m not aware of any such document. Again, the arrangement between the IAEA and Iran is a confidential arrangement that we won’t speak to the content of, so I just don’t have anything for you on that.

Thanks, everybody. And Happy Birthday again, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 3, 2015

Thu, 09/03/2015 - 18:47

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 3, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:12 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Happy Thursday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: You’re welcome. Just one thing briefly at the top and then I’ll go to your questions. As many of you saw – I think we already issued the Travel Warning as well as a brief comment by me – but the Department of Department of Defense have authorized the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. personnel stationed at Incirlik Air Base as well as our consulate in Adana, Turkey. This decision was made out of an abundance of caution following the commencement of military operations out of Incirlik Air Base. Certainly, the safety and security of U.S. citizens living abroad are top priorities and we take very seriously the responsibility for ensuring the security of members of the entire official American community, and we’ll continue to evaluate our security posture in Turkey as well as worldwide.

That’s it. Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Very briefly on that.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I want to know if you can be a little bit more specific about what it means, “out of an abundance of caution.” What are you worried about? Are you worried about attacks that the consulate in Adana or Incirlik might – or institutions or people affiliated with them might be attacked because of the Turkish involvement in the airstrikes or because they have – the Turks have allowed Incirlik to be used? What exactly is the concern?

MR TONER: So first of all, as you, I think, noted, it’s – this is precautionary and it’s in line with how we’ve generally postured ourselves in other locations, frankly, that are in the vicinity of active military operations, which is what’s going on at Incirlik now. But bear in mind, this is – and important to note that this is (a) voluntary and (b) it’s – which – as opposed to ordered, as you know, but also (b) it’s also for dependents of official families. So --

QUESTION: Why the delay?

MR TONER: Why the delay?

QUESTION: Well, wait a second.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: That’s a fine answer, but it wasn’t an answer to my question. What is it that you’re concerned about?


QUESTION: What is the abundance precaution for? I mean, presumably, you don’t think a Turkish jet is going to accidentally drop bombs on the American – the consulate.

MR TONER: Of course not. But --

QUESTION: So what is it your concern? Is it the PKK? Is it ISIS? Is it some other kind of – is it --

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not going to get into specific threats. Certainly, our Travel Warning speaks for itself. But it’s just – it’s an acknowledgement that the threat level has increased due to military activities now going out of that base.

QUESTION: Well, I guess the other way --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Sure.

QUESTION: I guess the other way to put my question is: If there were to be this agreement between the U.S. and the Turkish Government and now there is this agreement, why wasn’t a voluntary departure authorized at the time of the agreement? What’s – why has this taken several weeks for this to happen?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re constantly evaluating the security situation, and we take decisions or make decisions about both voluntary and authorized departure based on our assessment. It’s not on any given timeline, but we operate out of an abundance of caution in making these kinds of decisions.

QUESTION: But wouldn’t it have been reasonable to assume that there might have been the potential for any sort of retaliatory attack in light of the U.S. being allowed to fly out of Incirlik?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Wouldn’t it be safe to assume --

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it have been reasonable to assume that there might be some sort of retaliatory attack once the U.S. began to --

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of how we evaluate the security and the dangers that are out there. We don’t often do that for obvious reasons. It’s a decision we made. We’re – we put out a Travel Warning; it’s specific to these two locations, not throughout Turkey. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: How many families does that involve?

MR TONER: We don’t give out precise numbers.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: That’s okay. Ballpark – yeah, no. Ballpark, this is – there’s – we’re talking – it’s not a large number of people. Probably under a hundred or so.

Indira and then --

QUESTION: Hold on a second. It’s not a hundred families. It’s far more than a hundred families. You’re talking about a hundred people that might be – the Pentagon – your colleague at the Pentagon said it was about 900 – the universe.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I’m talking about --

QUESTION: You’re talking about the State Department.

MR TONER: Yes, I apologize.


QUESTION: So a hundred State Department --

MR TONER: Ish. No, I can’t. Really, I’m sorry, I’ve already --

QUESTION: In the same --

MR TONER: -- overstepped. We don’t give out precise numbers for security reasons.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: In the same Travel Warning, you also talk about U.S. citizens should be alert to the potential for violence in Turkey and also U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and even large gathering – other large gatherings, even if they are peaceful. So it is not only Adana, but also it seems like you have some broader concern over Turkey.

MR TONER: I mean, look – I mean, that’s somewhat standard language that we give to travelers and somewhat – part of that is just good common sense; you shouldn’t go to a large gathering or a protest or whatever, a demonstration in a country; it’s prudent not to engage in those kinds of things. But certainly, this is advice we give to travelers, to Americans traveling abroad in many different places.

Specifically, I’d have to see the exact language that – whether it refers to all of Turkey. Again, this Travel Warning and this authorized – sorry, this voluntary departure is specific to Adana and Incirlik.


QUESTION: You also – in the Travel Warning you mentioned the region, the southeast of Turkey, which is that Kurdish-populated area where the fighting between PKK and Turkish Government, Turkish army is happening. So is – there is already critics of this that you are trying to justify the Turkish act – Turkish Government’s action of arresting Americans and Western journalists, that – to cover the conflict in that area. What’s your response to that?

MR TONER: I apologize, just --

QUESTION: Yeah, you want to justify that? You will warn your citizens and the people that these areas are not safe so if the journalists go in there, so the Turkish Government will arrest them, not for this reason that they don’t want to – they don’t want them to cover the events but also --

MR TONER: Well, it – if you’re specifically talking about the Vice journalists who were arrested the other day --

QUESTION: Not just Vice. Other journalists also.

MR TONER: -- we were very clear in saying that we’d expect any investigation and charges against journalists and any arrests of journalists obviously to follow – and certainly in a democracy like Turkey, to follow due process and be backed up by good evidence.

QUESTION: I think his question was kind of: Did the U.S. Government do this as to give the Turkish Government a pretext to go after journalists in these areas? Presume that the answer is no.

MR TONER: No. (Laughter.) Yes, thanks. Thank you, Arshad.

QUESTION: Can I switch to Iran?


QUESTION: So the Iranian supreme leader made some comments this morning that appeared to suggest that he favored the Iranian Majilis parliament taking – voting on the nuclear deal. Although I realize there’s some potential ambiguity in what he said, we quote him as saying, “Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue … I am not saying lawmakers should approve the deal or reject it. It is up to them to decide.” And, “I’ve told the President that it is not in our interest to not let our lawmakers review the deal,” referring to President Rouhani.

Do you have any comment on the utility of an Iranian parliamentary vote on this? Do you think that that would be a good thing, so that Iran could see whether there’s wider support in the country for it?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I don’t have a comment one way or the other. I mean, we don’t generally respond to public comments by Iran’s supreme leader. I’ve seen those remarks. I would just say the JCPOA, its text, its annexes are clear in spelling out what needs to be done for all parties to start to benefit from its successful implementation. But as to internal Iranian debate over the passage of it, that’s up to them.

QUESTION: And then second thing, just related.


QUESTION: Does the Department have any reason to believe that Secretary Kerry’s speech yesterday has changed any minds in either the Senate or the House? Have you gotten any indications from anyone that they’re now favoring the deal, when they weren’t previously?

MR TONER: Good question. I’m not sure that we – we’ve haven’t seen any immediate reactions. Certainly, it was, as we talked about yesterday --

QUESTION: Well, you’ve got another senator today.

MR TONER: We do, but I can’t positively link the two is what I’m saying. But I like to think that it’s part of our attempt to continue – and the Secretary is certainly at the forefront of this – our attempt to explain what this deal means for the American public as well as for the region and the world, and that’s to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And we’ve said before we’ve seen, obviously, an increase in congressional support. That’s encouraging. But we’re certainly not going to take our foot off the gas pedal.

QUESTION: So, on this --


QUESTION: -- yes, there has been an – I suppose you could call it an increase in congressional support. But you’re – there’s no way that you’re going to get a majority of senators or even close to anything like a significant minority of the House to vote in favor of it. So while the numbers are increasing, they’re still quite low, no? Is that a disappointment to you?

And secondly, related to that, Senator Booker, when he came out and said he would support it today, echoed the comments of many recent yes-vote announcements by saying this is a deeply flawed agreement, and other comments have been “not the agreement I was hoping for, was looking for, or expected,” “serious reservations about it but will still vote yes.” These are hardly ringing endorsements. Is that of concern?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve been, from the Secretary to the President to Secretary Moniz to others, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, have been engaged – certainly Wendy Sherman as well – with Congress trying to answer every question that they may have on this agreement. We’ve always said every vote matters. We want to see that increase. Our goal fundamentally is we want to see the Administration be able to implement this deal.


MR TONER: Whatever that takes in Congress. So your first question was: Are we disappointed? I think we’re seeing – or we’re neither disappointed but we’re not satisfied. We think we can get more approval votes or yes votes.

And – sorry, to answer your other question about – your second question about some of the statements about support for the deal, this is for each senator and congressperson to weigh as they make their decision. But we’ve made the case repeatedly that this is the best possible deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.



QUESTION: But if you look at the recent statements, there are very few lawmakers who have come out in support of this who are as enthusiastic as the members of the Administration are, particularly those in the Administration who actually negotiated the deal. So I’m just – I just wonder – and all of these lawmakers who have come out with their support, ostensible support --


QUESTION: Well, it’s not ostensible.

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s support.

QUESTION: They say they’ll vote yes.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: It is support. So – but many of them recently have – they’ve listened to all the arguments made. They’ve listened to the case that you’ve presented to them in classified and unclassified form, and they still say this is not what I had hoped for or, as in the case of Senator Booker today, this is deeply flawed. The Administration does not believe that it is deeply flawed, does it?

MR TONER: Of course not.

QUESTION: So the case --


QUESTION: So are you satisfied that the case has actually been made?

MR TONER: I think to some extent we’re confident that once this agreement is implemented that the proof --

QUESTION: That it won’t be deeply flawed anymore?

MR TONER: That the proof will be in the pudding, that we’ll see an Iran that’s unable to obtain a nuclear weapon, that is still kept in check by continuing sanctions.

QUESTION: I’ll stop after --

MR TONER: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: I’ll stop after this. So is it – it’s fair to say that despite the fact that this – the support that you’ve been getting in some of the recent statements has not been 100 percent rah, rah, go team, it’s been far more reserved, you’re – that’s not a disappointment for you? You’re just happy to get the yes vote?

MR TONER: I mean --


MR TONER: Of course, we’re happy to get a yes vote.


MR TONER: Exactly. (Laughter.) And I won’t – I promise I won’t give you the entire – I won’t repeat the Secretary’s speech yesterday --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: -- which made very clear why this is a good agreement.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: I asked the other day about refugees from Syria and the resettlements here, and there was – I was a little confused about whether it was 1,500 per fiscal year you’d allowed in or whether that was the total since the start of the war. And I know there’s a reporting moment coming up before the end of this month where the President has to report what the plan is for 2016. I know in the light of the photographs that have shocked the world coming out of Europe that there’s more pressure now for countries to come forward. And Germany’s made a big offer for resettlement. I just wanted to check in with you today before we write about this --


QUESTION: -- what your latest figures are and what your stance is.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Well, as you alluded to in your question, certainly, we were all shocked by some of the very graphic and heartbreaking images that we’ve seen from Europe today. Clearly, this situation is very complex and certainly very urgent as we see individual nations trying to handle the huge influx of migrants. We strongly support in that respect the European Union’s efforts to resolve this issue in a comprehensive manner. We welcome the news that the EU is going to meet on September 14th to discuss the situation in depth and formulate a coordinated response.

We recognize this is an enormous challenge and commend those leaders, some of whom you mentioned, and citizens in Europe who have responded with compassion and generosity to this crisis. And then I’ll get to specifics about our – some of the numbers you asked about, but just would add that any solution to these kinds of migration challenges certainly should focus on saving and protecting lives, ensuring human rights of all migrants are respected, and promoting orderly and humane migration policies.

Now, in response to your question which was about some of the numbers I gave the other day about – so that was correct. I said that the United States is likely to admit roughly 1,800 Syrian refugees total by the end of this fiscal year, which is October. We’ve certainly – in light of the significant number of Syrian refugees displaced, we’ve made substantial efforts this year to facilitate increased refugee admissions in this – from this population.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I think it was – there was --

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on this.

QUESTION: There was an ambiguity about this. Do you mind if I follow up?

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: And then – because I have some more that (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I don’t think what you said was right in the sense that you were – there was a conflation of since the beginning of the conflict versus since – during the course of this fiscal year. So just so there’s no ambiguity – and I got a response on this, and you may have it --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- but my understanding was that since the beginning of the conflict, you’ve gotten 17,000 Syrian refugee referrals --

MR TONER: Referrals, correct.

QUESTION: -- that since the beginning of the conflict, the United States Government has accepted 1,500.

MR TONER: And we expect to reach 1,800 by the end of this fiscal year.

QUESTION: Okay, you --

MR TONER: That’s what I was – if I was --

QUESTION: And then – yes. But in other words, that’s not another 1,800; it’s just another 300 --

MR TONER: Correct. That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- by the end of the fiscal year. Okay, got it.

MR TONER: That’s correct. Yeah, no, I’m sorry if I was unclear on that. I meant – you’re absolutely right that it was the beginning of the conflict, and then I meant to say that the ending – well, we hope to reach that 1,800 mark by the end of this fiscal year in just a few weeks, frankly.

QUESTION: So that’s about 450 per year.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, this is – I mean, we’ve put significant resources behind this in the past year to – really to – I mean, this is – it’s an extensive review process, certainly. It’s – folks coming from that part of the world, that region, we need to obviously conduct a thorough review process. I’ve been told it takes anywhere up to 18 to 24 months, so it’s time-consuming.


MR TONER: Please, go ahead, Ros.

QUESTION: I went – all right. I went --

QUESTION: Just one other thing?

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.


MR TONER: Yeah, sure, that’s okay.

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s right to say about 450 since the beginning of the – per year because the conflict, of course --

MR TONER: That’s right too because we’ve --

QUESTION: -- in fact, the majority is --


QUESTION: -- this fiscal year, right?

MR TONER: Yes. We’ve put additional resources. I don’t have that clear breakdown. I can try to get it for you. But yeah, we’ve amped up or ramped up our ability to process (inaudible).

QUESTION: I’ll be giving a background briefing on it.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) Thanks, Arshad.

QUESTION: Okay. So I’ve – I went back and took a look at the numbers of people who have been admitted under U.S. RAP, the Refugee Admission Program, regarding Syria since 2011 when the civil war started. Eight hundred fifty-two people have actually been resettled in the U.S.: 29 in 2011; 31 in ’12; 36 in ’13; 105 in ’14; so far in Fiscal Year 2015, which started October 1st, 651. Part of the reason I have been told from people at DHS, which oversees the actual screening, is the background check.


QUESTION: There’s also the political component on Capitol Hill. There’s a very anti-immigrant sentiment on Capitol Hill right now and in this country, and you have had members of Congress, including Congressman McCaul of Texas, who deals with homeland security issues, saying that they are very concerned about members of ISIL, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups using the Refugee Admission Program as a way of trying to gain access to the United States and they want to see, in essence, a slow roll on the admission of any additional Syrian refugees.

When you’re dealing with the fact that there is an annual worldwide cap for 70,000 refugees to come to the United States – not just from Syria, from all other countries – and then you’re dealing with this political sentiment on Capitol Hill, how is it possible for the U.S. to say that it is doing everything possible to try to help the millions of people who have been displaced, who have had to leave Syria? Not the 9 million inside Syria. How can the U.S. argue that it is doing everything possible to help these people when you’re dealing, one, with such a small number of people who can be admitted and a Congress which has to agree to the number of people admitted as refugees to this country? The President can’t just sign an executive order and let people in.

MR TONER: Okay, big question. Let me start with what you correctly said, which is that these individuals, these refugees, asylum seekers who are being considered by DHS have to pass security background checks precisely because of some of the factors that you raise, which is that – the fear from – there’s a lot of terrorist groups operating in that region, in that part of the world, and we need to make sure that – fundamentally, that we protect the national security of the United States of America. So any asylum seeker has to go through a thorough background check. And I spoke to that a little bit about – when I talked about the 18 to 24-month review process.

You said, “How can you say that the United States is doing enough to respond to that?” I would simply say we’ve provided – and the $4.1 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the crisis, which is more than any other single donor, to help address the humanitarian crisis by the I guess almost 7.5 or even 8 million displaced people both inside Syria, certainly, but also the 4 million Syrian refugees throughout the region, particularly in Turkey, certainly in Jordan, in Iraq as well as in Egypt, and we are committed to maintaining a robust Refugee Admission Program. And we are certainly aware of the needs of the Syrian refugee population, and as you noted, we have raised our numbers in the past year. We’ve put more resources behind some of these background checks. But the fact of the matter is they do need to be thoroughly vetted. So I’ll stop there.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is it reasonable for this Administration to even try to argue to Congress that absent cutting out those people who may be trying to escape political persecution in sub-Saharan Africa or in Southeast Asia or in some parts of Central America – shifting the numbers around and giving those slots to Syrians – is the Administration willing to go to Congress and say we need to raise the overall cap so that we can try to get more people in from Syria just because the pool --


QUESTION: -- that is out there is just overwhelming and we would be remiss as a country if we don’t try to bring in more citizens?

MR TONER: Well, again, a couple of points there. One is, certainly, you raise a valid point, which is as dire as the situation is in Syria and in that region of the world, there are indeed asylum seekers, refugees, migrants coming in from other parts of the world and we need to consider their situation, their plight as well. I would also just say that when we look at this, and I spoke to this the other day, refugee resettlement and responding to a crisis, certainly as we’re seeing in Europe right now, is important. There’s an urgency there. But the longer-term solution remains a political resolution to the conflict in Syria and in other places, but mostly in Syria, and that’s why we need a credible peace process. We need Assad to step aside. We need a peace process that adheres to the Geneva communique, that creates a stable, secure Syria. We need to destroy ISIS. We need to get ISIS out of the picture. We need to create an environment where these refugees can ultimately return home, which is where they want to be.

QUESTION: Could I have a follow-up?

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, Barbara.

QUESTION: Just two questions. One, you’ve made the case for the stringent background checks because of security issues. Is there any discussion or pressure for fast-tracking at least some of the most vulnerable refugees coming from Syria? This is one.

And the second is: In the statements made on this topic – the senators’ letter in May and then Nicholas Burns and David Miliband writing their op-ed and the International Rescue Committee statement – they’ve all been saying that traditionally the United States accepts half the refugees that the UNHCR approves for foreign resettlement, that that’s the tradition. What’s the reason it’s not happening now? Is it mainly the security issue or is there something else? Because that number would be 65,000 – the UNHCR has asked for 130,000 resettled.

MR TONER: I can’t, frankly, give you like a response to the question of why the slowdown other than that it does speak to the length of the process to review these individuals. As I said, the – as compelling as these – as it is, the situation of these refugees, our first priority is to maintain the national security of the United States, protect American citizens. So that’s certainly a consideration.

But – what was your second question? I forgot now, Barbara.

QUESTION: I asked if there was any move to fast-track some of the most vulnerable refugees.

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, I think we’re looking at a variety of options. I mean, certainly we recognize there’s an urgency. I spoke to that. I can’t – I don’t have anything to announce necessarily in that regard, except for the fact that we have improved our numbers and admitted more Syrian refugees. I realize that in relation to the number of requests referred to us or referrals by the UNHCR, it still seems small, but we have significantly raised those numbers.

QUESTION: Anne Richard was saying that next year she was expecting the U.S. would be accepting thousands. Do – is that like a – is there a figure that you’re aiming towards?

MR TONER: I don’t – I mean, and we don’t – it’s important to note we don’t have certain quotas or numerical targets for any refugee group, including Syrians.

QUESTION: Well, you do by region. You have targets.

MR TONER: We do by – we have – well, we do – we have – based on the number of – what are you talking about? In terms of regions?

QUESTION: In terms of – yeah. The 70,000 is divided into various regions of the world, meaning targets.

MR TONER: Right, exactly, but we don’t have – but I’m talking about – specifically about countries.

QUESTION: Not by – not country-specific, but --

MR TONER: Yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: -- I mean, they fit into the – where do they fit in? Do they fit into the Middle East – the Near East region? They do, yeah?

MR TONER: The Syrians? Yeah.


MR TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: How many by the end of the year – sorry, Barbara.

QUESTION: It’s okay.

QUESTION: No, no, I mean – I think you --

QUESTION: No, I – that was – I just want to – I just think that if the one question that I asked first about the tradition or role of accepting half the refugees approved for foreign resettlement – it’s quite a big difference from that to 1,500 on a massive emergency refugee scale. So it just seems – that’s why I asked what the – what was behind that.

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I think – and I said this before – we are the largest humanitarian donor to the Syrian conflict. We’re helping refugees within Syria and outside of Syria. We recognize that other countries – and I’ve noted before Turkey’s played a prominent role in accepting I think over 2 million Syrian refugees. And --

QUESTION: But not for resettlement.

MR TONER: Not for resettlement, I agree. But this is an urgent situation and we’re looking at ways we can improve our response, but I think we’re doing a lot.


QUESTION: So, one, can you tell us where you expect to be at the end of the month, the end of the fiscal year, on the 70 overall and then on whatever the – the breakdown number for Near – for refugees from the Near East is?

MR TONER: I’d have to get that for you, yeah. Yeah, take that question.

QUESTION: Can you check on that? And secondly, you’ve spoken several times now --

MR TONER: You said by the end of this fiscal year?

QUESTION: Yeah, I want to know how many – you have an allotment – you’ve set aside 70,000 spots, right?

MR TONER: I’ll check, yeah.

QUESTION: How many will be filled by the end of the year worldwide, and then also for the Near East region.

MR TONER: I can check. I also would – frankly --

QUESTION: How many of --

MR TONER: Yeah. I would also encourage you – there is a website that has some of these statistics. It’s called, and it does have many of the statistics on refugee admissions, so I would encourage everyone to – it’s wraps, w-r-a-p-s,

QUESTION: And then you’ve spoken several times to the urgency of this matter, and you also welcomed the EU holding a meeting about this. But the EU meeting is on September 14th. Unless I’m wrong, if today is September 3rd, how urgent do you think the EU is actually taking – thinks this problem is? Is this okay with the U.S.? I mean, if something is urgent, you generally schedule a meeting about it not 11 days away.

MR TONER: Well, I think it speaks to – and frankly, many EU leaders have spoken to this as well – to the fact that there needs to be a comprehensive approach. You’ve seen refugees arriving from the East to some of the countries – Hungary, for example – and frankly, those are kind of front-line states dealing with this influx. But there needs to be a more comprehensive – so we view this meeting as an opportunity to really forge ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but shouldn’t this be – if it’s that urgent, shouldn’t this meeting be held yesterday?

MR TONER: Well, I’ll let the EU speak – I’ll let the EU speak to that.

QUESTION: Well, you – but you welcomed it, so I want to --

MR TONER: I do welcome it, because --

QUESTION: Is this the kind of speed that you think is acceptable?

MR TONER: Well, we would welcome it in the sense that it would certainly speak to the kind of comprehensive approach that we feel needs to be applied here.

QUESTION: Is the Hungarian Government handling the influx of refugees properly in the U.S. view?

MR TONER: Properly or proper way? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.

QUESTION: Properly.

MR TONER: Well, again, I think I spoke to this a little bit when I – when I – before, prior. All countries have the right – sovereign right to manage their borders, but we would emphasize the need to ensure that human rights are respected, that proper screening and registration procedures are in place to allow these most vulnerable people to receive appropriate assistance and protection.

QUESTION: The government has been accused of changing the rules on how people can come into the country. First, it said, well, you just need to have your passport, and now they’re saying you need to have a certain kind of visa and it needs to have been processed in a certain way. And when we’re talking about people who have basically been on the run, it seems as if the rules have been changing before they could actually get to a place where they could try to figure out, okay, what’s my next step, whether it’s trying to ask for asylum here or trying to get to families somewhere else.

MR TONER: Well, I think there’s no question, as I said before, but there’s a very large number of extremely vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers trying to get into Europe. And it does pose a serious, and frankly, a difficult challenge to EU nations and other nations in the region. And it’s clear that these groups continue to arrive – large numbers in Greece and Italy, elsewhere – and that these people need appropriate assistance. So we applaud steps, and we’ve seen this of individual countries, some have taken to humanely accommodate these refugees, these arrivals, these migrants. We certainly support the provision of humanitarian aid and proper screening and registration procedures. And I think, speaking more broadly to what I was saying about a comprehensive approach, there is this agenda on migration that the EU is working to complete that’s – that does try to create this more comprehensive response to the situation.


QUESTION: On a different topic, The Washington Post --

MR TONER: Are we done with – yeah, please. Oh, let’s finish on the topic and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because of the severity of the crisis affecting Europe, has there been any talk of looking at raising the level of U.S. funding to support the UN refugee effort?



MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, again, that’s primarily, is my understanding, where our humanitarian assistance, the 4.5 billion that I mentioned – it’s primarily funneled through the UNHCR. We’re constantly reassessing what we can give to support its ongoing operations. It certainly does good work, and as I said, it’s the primary vehicle through which we distribute our aid. Sorry.

Please. Are we still on --


MR TONER: Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, refugees.

MR TONER: Let’s finish with Syria. I promise I’ll get to you. Are you on Syria or are you --


MR TONER: Okay, great.

QUESTION: So I think you have seen the pictures of the three-year-old kid, Aylan Kurdi, circulate on the social media. Actually, her – his family is from the city of Kobani. And I remember several times I asked you and also John from this podium, is there any way that you can help the people, the areas that have been liberated, including Kobani, Tal Abyad, and Jazira and Afrin that most of the areas that controlled by YPG. And the answer was no. And I know you helped the Syrian refugees in Iraq, especially in the city of Duhok, and you helped the Syrian refugees in Turkey and in Jordan, other areas. But what prevents you to help the Syrians? They live in their areas but there’s no resources that they can stay there. The city is destroyed. Is there any way you can help them inside, especially Kobani and Tal Abyad, other areas?

MR TONER: I mean, a couple of thoughts. And I hope we – our answer wasn’t simply no. What we’ve talked to --

QUESTION: Kind of.

MR TONER: Kind of?


MR TONER: What we’ve spoken to before is once these areas are liberated by, as you mentioned, YPG, there’s other forces who are effective in going after ISIL, what we want to see is a return to normalcy, to an open, inclusive government. We need to – and frankly, it’s one of the lines of effort that we talk about all the time in our coalition against ISIL is to re-establish governance, good governance, civil society. That’s support that needs to come in, as you correctly say, on the heels of liberation – that allows, creates the condition that allows those refugees who want to return to return.

So it’s certainly something – now, that said, in norther Syria it’s an extremely challenging environment, even more so than Iraq in some ways in terms of that – providing that kind of direct assistance, but certainly, it’s something we’re encouraging those forces on the ground to move towards.

QUESTION: But also the civilians, they need support because if you just continue to --

MR TONER: I agree, yeah. And again, this is a part of our overall efforts.

QUESTION: So but if you continue just to support the refugees in Iraq and Syria – so you will just basically indirectly encouraging people to leave that area to go there and to get assistance.


QUESTION: But several times, the civil – this Administration in those areas, if you recognize them or not, the cantons, they are the people that they are – running people’s daily affairs. They asked for the support and that’s the reason. It’s not ISIS, it’s the severe economic situation that the people, the families --

MR TONER: Well, in some cases it certainly is ISIS, and it’s certainly Assad’s unrelenting attacks on his own people that creates an untenable environment. I can give you the latest statistics, but the amount of Syrian citizens that Assad kills in any given week is appalling. But you’re absolutely right in the sense that the ultimate objective here is to create the conditions on the ground that allows these refugees to return.

QUESTION: But what prevents you to create that condition in, like, for example, Kobani? It’s really right across the border with Turkey that you can just help the people that they need the basic services.

MR TONER: I mean, I think that’s one – as I said, that’s one of our lines of effort. We’re trying to work in that regard. I’m not – I don’t have specifics on Kobani. I can try to get them for you, but no, we’ve said that many times. That’s part of the five lines of effort against ISIL, and one of them is clearly that kind of providing that support. And you’re right to mention we’ve done that and spoken about it and what we’ve done to newly liberated areas in Iraq because you want to see these populations to be able to return.

Are we done with Syria?


MR TONER: Okay, sorry.


MR TONER: I haven’t forgotten.

QUESTION: The State Department made a comment on ISIL’s potential – or reported use of chemical weapons, that it was a reminder for the need of a diplomatic solution. And you often use the word “political transition.” There’s been a lot of activity around political transition. What is this political transition looking like? I know you mentioned the peace process, but do you think this is culminating – do you envision this culminating in like a referendum or democratic elections?


QUESTION: Like, I know what you don’t want. (Laughter.) We know what you don’t want, but what do you envision?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. So I would just – I would, frankly, refer you to the special representative for the UN, de Mistura, and also the Geneva communique, which does lay out kind of the process and how it would look. What we want to see is a moderate opposition coalesce. We want to see a political process take place that leads to a transition away from Assad. And we’ve been very clear that we don’t see the result of any kind of political resolution can include Assad. We view his as, frankly, the person who has helped create the kind of climate that exists, not only against – talking about the Assad regime’s abuses of his citizenry, but also creating the kind of environment that we see where groups like ISIL can thrive.

So what we want to see – I mean, I’m dumbing this down to some extent because as I said there’s many more people who are expert in this than I am, certainly, is this UN process take place; again, a moderate Syrian opposition arise; and for the aspirations and, frankly, hopes of the Syrian people be realized in a transitional government that doesn’t include Assad.

QUESTION: The – back to the attack real quick.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, I apologize.

QUESTION: So the report of ISIL’s use of chemical weapons. State Department, they came out pretty strongly yesterday, but in general these reports – why is your response mild when you compare it to Assad’s use of chemical weapons? When those reports came forward President Obama was making speeches every day, so was Kerry, to make the case against Assad. But we don’t see the same urgency here it seems.

MR TONER: Well, I certainly don’t want to give away – or give the sense that we’re not concerned by these reports. We’re looking into them. We’re investigating them very seriously. I can’t speak to – well, I can speak to the fact that any use by any party, be it state or non-state actor, of a chemical as a weapon of any kind is an abhorrent act, period. And frankly, that kind of behavior would be consistent with ISIL’s record of complete disregard for human rights; we’re seen that countless times, as well as international norms and values. So we take these reports seriously and we’ll continue to do our utmost to address our concerns and these concerns, the concerns of the international community. But I don’t have much to add beyond that. We’re --

QUESTION: And theories on where these chemicals came from?

MR TONER: No. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about the declared weapons by the Assad regime and what was undeclared. We’ve always been concerned about ISIL’s interest and intent to acquire a chemical weapon. But I don’t have any more details on where these might be coming from.


MR TONER: Oh, Syria. Syria. And then we’ll finish – I think we’re kind of in Syria. We’re in that grey zone between Syria and Iraq.

QUESTION: Yeah. I apologize if you’ve already addressed this, because I haven’t been here all week, but the reports that the Russians are ramping up their military presence in Syria with military equipment or military personnel or military aircraft, depending on which report you read – does the Administration see any evidence of that?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve seen various press reports, as you said, that Russia may be deploying military personnel or aircraft to Syria. I can say we’re monitoring that very closely; we’re looking into it. We’re in touch with our partners in the region to try to get more information.

We’re unclear what these might be intended for or whether this is actually happening, but certainly, we would be concerned by any attempt to support the Assad regime with military personnel, with aircraft, with supplies of any kind, or funding, because we view it as destabilizing and counterproductive.

QUESTION: So that would be contradictory to Russia’s moves to find some sort of political solution, which the State Department has been working with --

MR TONER: Again, and I would repeat, what we’ve seen so far we’re looking into. We’ve seen these press reports and are looking into them. But we would view that type of activity as, as I said, destabilizing and counterproductive.

QUESTION: Just so we’re clear --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- in the middle of that answer you said you were unclear what these might be intended for or even whether – or whether they are even happening.

MR TONER: Yeah. Absolutely.

QUESTION: You’re not even certain that this is happening? Okay.

MR TONER: We don’t have – no, we’re looking into these and we’re talking – as I said, we’re talking to our partners in the region, we’re trying to get a clear understanding of what may be behind these reports.

QUESTION: Well, are you talking to the Russians?

MR TONER: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, when you say your partners in the region, I mean, it’s great to talk to the Jordanians about what Russia might or might not be doing next door, or the Israelis, or whoever, but have you asked the Russians what they’re – exactly what they’re doing?

MR TONER: We have conveyed our concerns.

QUESTION: All right. And then just to make --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: And then just to make sure that --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on this --


QUESTION: -- that you don’t know if the Russians are supplying the Assad regime with troops or weapons or anything like that, but you do know that Iran is, right?



MR TONER: I mean, we’ve spoken about Iran’s support for --

QUESTION: So what happens if you prove – what happens if you come out and confirm that the Russians are supplying the – supplying Syria with – the Assad regime with --

MR TONER: Again, what we’ve said is --

QUESTION: Do they get a nuclear deal too? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: We’ve said that sanctions relief is only related to – and it’s not immediate.

QUESTION: So what happens?

MR TONER: It’s only if they comply with the --

QUESTION: I obviously – obviously, I was being sarcastic.

MR TONER: Yes. Oh, really?

QUESTION: But what happened – yeah. But if you can confirm --

MR TONER: No, I just think, again --

QUESTION: What – is there a consequence for Russia if they, in fact, they support --

MR TONER: Again, we don’t know --

QUESTION: I know. But if the report is borne out --

MR TONER: So you’re asking me --

QUESTION: -- is there a consequence or not?

MR TONER: You’re asking me to respond to a hypothetical, which we’re loath to do from the podium.


MR TONER: What I have said is, is that we – we have said this in the past, frankly – we see any support of military personnel, of equipment, of funding for Assad’s regime, that supports Assad’s regime, as counterproductive.

QUESTION: Right, right. I know, but does it draw any consequence?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, it – what we want to see here is a political process, a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria, and we’d view that as counterproductive to that.

QUESTION: And so just to clarify.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Did you say you had conveyed your concerns about these reports to the Russians?

MR TONER: I believe so. I’ll have to check on that. But again, we’re still looking at these reports --


MR TONER: -- so I’m not sure that we’ve actually contacted them about them yet.


MR TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned previously that you had hoped that the Chinese military parade would be future-looking. Now that China has concluded its VOJ commemoration ceremonies, did it live up to your expectations?

MR TONER: Did it live up to our expectations?


MR TONER: Well, again, I think many of you or hopefully all of you saw the Secretary’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the formal end of World War II in the Pacific. We honor and respect the sacrifices made by many nations, including China, 70 years ago and we believe that all parties should take a reconciliatory approach to the end of World War II. Certainly, as the President noted in his statement, the United States relationship with Japan over the last 70 years has been a model of the power of reconciliation.

So I guess, as I said or reiterated before, we certainly don’t question or challenge Beijing’s right or authority to host these kind of commemorative events, and we’ve consistently shared with our Chinese counterparts our desire to see these types of events highlight the themes of reconciliation and healing.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MR TONER: Are we on this topic? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just follow up?

MR TONER: Are you on this topic?

QUESTION: No, but if I could just – The Washington Post --

MR TONER: You’ve been waiting so long, and then I promise --


QUESTION: I want to follow up.

QUESTION: Yeah, I also want to --

MR TONER: I’ll get back to your guys.

QUESTION: The Washington Post reported today that Bryan Pagliano, a former Clinton campaign staffer, became an IT employee at the State Department while she was secretary. Is it unprecedented for a secretary of state’s former campaign staffer to get an IT job at the State Department? And has Secretary Kerry employed any former campaign staffers as IT people at the State Department?

MR TONER: Okay, that was a very quickly-read question --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, do you want --

MR TONER: -- with a lot of components to it.


MR TONER: So your – drilling down to your essential question, you were asking whether it was okay or proper for --

QUESTION: If it was unprecedented --

MR TONER: If it was unprecedented.

QUESTION: -- for a secretary of state’s former campaign staffer to get an IT job at the State Department.

QUESTION: And you can also put in there: How many secretaries of state were former presidential candidates?

MR TONER: Good question. Sorry, to answer your question --


MR TONER: -- I don’t know that it was unprecedented. I think that it depends on his qualifications. I can’t speak to the hiring decisions of former Secretary Clinton or her staff. Certainly, anyone who worked on her campaign, if they had the necessary skills set, would be certainly welcome to apply for an IT job anywhere, including the State Department. But I can’t speak to what decisions were made about that hiring at that time. That’s something for her staff or for her to answer.

QUESTION: I have a couple --


QUESTION: No, hold on a second. If we’re going to – if we’re on Mr. Pagliano I have --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, I realize I opened a --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Please, let’s go ahead, and then I promise I’ll get to China – back to China.

QUESTION: So are – do you have anything more to say about the military parade, one way or another?


QUESTION: Okay, I didn’t think so. So Mr. Pagliano: Does the State Department have a problem with him through his lawyer saying he’s going to plead the Fifth, or take the Fifth Amendment, when he’s asked to appear?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, our desire, our commitment throughout this has been to cooperate with the Benghazi Committee and to be responsive to congressional inquiries, which I believe and we believe we have been. But we certainly respect the constitutional rights of individuals, so --

QUESTION: Well, all right, so his status right now is that he is in – a contractor – he’s still working at the State Department but not employed by the State Department. Is that correct?

MR TONER: Yes. So he was – just to share what I have on him, he was employed by the State Department from May 2009 through February 2013 as an IT specialist, and now he currently serves as a contractor working in the Bureau of Information Resource Management.

QUESTION: All right. If, in fact, the Department – and really, this is just – I don’t know. If, in fact, the Department is encouraging employee – he’s being asked to testify or to speak to or to talk to the committee about his time when he was working for the State Department, I don’t think they care what he did necessarily after 2013. Why is it that you would not encourage him to actually answer their questions? Why do you not have an issue with him pleading, taking the Fifth Amendment?

MR TONER: Well, because (a) it’s his constitutional right, and (b) he has his own lawyer and his own counsel, and --

QUESTION: Yeah, but if you want to be truly open – I’m not saying that you could force him to, but why --

MR TONER: Well, that’s why I – I mean, I – sorry. We are – this Department is committed to being responsive --

QUESTION: Well, that – but if you’re not --

MR TONER: -- both to the committee as well as congressional inquiries. But it --

QUESTION: So have you said, “Hey, we think it would be a good idea for you to go up there and answer the” – I mean, the campaign says that they have told him that.

MR TONER: I am aware of what the campaign has said. But --

QUESTION: So what about this building? I mean, if the building is seriously honest – is honest about seriously wanting to address all the issues that they’re – that the committee is asking, it would seem to me that you would tell this guy, “Hey, we can’t force you but we think that it would be a good idea for you to get up there and to answer their questions and not plead – take the Fifth Amendment.”

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, first of all we weren’t consulted by – about his decision. And again, he has his own legal counsel.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he works in this building right now. I mean, not for the – or in some annex of the building.

MR TONER: But again, we didn’t – we were not aware or consulted about this decision. We didn’t have any contact with him.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Well, then now --


QUESTION: But you were.

QUESTION: -- at this moment in time, though, would you say that you – would people in this building like him, whether you can force him or not, to answer the committee’s questions?

MR TONER: Again, I’d just stay where I was, which is that we respect the constitutional rights of individuals, and that is – asserting one’s Fifth Amendment is a constitutional right.

QUESTION: So if someone – if a current or former Department employee goes up there and refuses to answer questions, that’s not an issue for you?

MR TONER: It – whether it is or isn’t, it’s their constitutional right to do so.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but wouldn’t – if you have nothing to hide and you want to come clean or – “come clean,” that’s a bad word.

MR TONER: It is.

QUESTION: If you really have nothing to hide, why wouldn’t you encourage this person to answer the questions, as the campaign has said?

QUESTION: Why would you ever encourage somebody to voluntarily give up their constitutional rights?

MR TONER: I’m not encouraging any – wait, or – precisely. I mean, in that sense, you’re right. I’m saying we’re not – we weren’t consulted in his decision. He has pleaded the Fifth, so to speak. It’s certainly not an admission of guilt, as we all know, but it’s his constitutional right, so we respect that.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: I have a – I’d asked you a question the other day and you said you’d get me an answer to it --

MR TONER: Did I? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- and the question was whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to secretaries of state? Does it?

MR TONER: So – (laughter) – yeah. So I did do some research into this, as did others. It is – the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants. So – and what do I mean by that? I mean it’s not – for example, there’s things in there about reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle. Certainly, that doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department.

So it’s – what’s contained in the Foreign Affairs Manual – and this is – I apologize but this is a kind of an in-the-weeds question – all of that is not necessarily relevant to, for example, ambassadors or secretaries of state or senior Department officials. I mean, if I can say what I think the essence of your question was, and I’m sorry if this is presumptive, but was whether they are bound by the responsibility to protect classified information. That certainly is true, that any Secretary of State, any senior State Department official is bound by that. And I spoke to this the other day, is that any individual, whether you’re the Secretary of State on down, takes that responsibility seriously.

QUESTION: But my question --


QUESTION: I mean, I really – I was not asking whether they were bound by every aspect of it, including those that are not relevant to them. It was whether they’re bound – basically whether they’re bound by the things that are relevant to them.

So to take the one that you raised, which is not whether they’re bound to protect classified information or to take seriously the responsibility to protect classified information, the question would be then, since you raised that as a specific: Are they bound – are secretaries of state bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual with regard to the handling of classified information?

MR TONER: I would say, as they are pertinent to the – and again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me – but as they are pertinent to the responsibility to protect and safeguard classified information, and we’ve talked about this, frankly, ad nauseum about the gradations and how we classify stuff and how we look at it. But as those rules – they apply to everyone in the State Department, including, for example, politically appointed ambassadors, and certainly by a secretary of state who is appointed by the President and, frankly, serves at the pleasure of the President and is not a Foreign Service officer in that regard or a civil servant.

QUESTION: So insofar as the regulations of the Foreign Affairs Manual touch on the protection of classified information, they apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have it in front of me but – and I’m not trying to parse this, but in a sense I am. Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go back --

QUESTION: That didn’t seem like a parse to me.


QUESTION: I just want – am going to go back to Pagliano for one second. And that is --

MR TONER: Sorry, I’ll get to you in a moment. I apologize.

QUESTION: So you weren’t consulted. Does the State Department have any equity in what he might have said should he – or might say should he decide to speak? I mean, would you like to have someone present for him? And then non-hypothetically, Cheryl Mills is up before the committee today. Was there anyone from the State Department with her or in attendance? It seems to me that you would have an interest at least in what she said. I don’t know if the committee will allow them in, but did you have anyone or did you try to get anyone in there to hear what she might say?

MR TONER: On – in the case of Cheryl Mills testifying, I’ll have to check on that. I don’t believe we had anybody in the meeting with her.

And your first question? I’m sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, in --

MR TONER: Oh, whether we have --

QUESTION: And in both cases --


QUESTION: -- with both people and in terms of Jake Sullivan tomorrow, are they – they have attorneys, I presume their own ones.

MR TONER: They do.

QUESTION: But is there any State Department legal involvement in this?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. What I would say – sorry, going back to both Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan, as I said before, we’re committed obviously to cooperating with the Benghazi committee, and that certainly includes – that would include facilitating the – their testimony, the testimony of former officials, and that would include access to their State Department records. But this is what we’ve done with, I think, 30-some-odd witnesses who’ve already appeared before the committee. But as to being somebody – having someone in the room, I don’t believe so, but I’ll double-check on that.

QUESTION: Well, okay. If that applies to them and they are former officials, why does it also not apply to Mr. Pagliano?

MR TONER: Again, he – he is --

QUESTION: I mean, are you facilitating his testimony?

MR TONER: We weren’t consulted. He – and he has counsel so – yeah.

QUESTION: So no one from – so the committee never approached you about him?

MR TONER: I believe not, but I’d have to check on that.

Yeah, let’s finish with this.

QUESTION: There’s now a report that Mr. Pagliano has also decided – it’s a Yahoo News report that he has also decided – he’s also declined to speak to the FBI and to the State Department Inspector General, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. I just want to make sure that your answer applies to those two other bodies as well, the IG and the FBI. If he wants to invoke his right to – his Fifth Amendment rights with them, that’s fine with you too?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, “fine” would be --

QUESTION: That’s his choice.

MR TONER: I mean, right. I mean, that’s a little glib. I think what we’re – it’s his choice, exactly, and he has legal counsel. He has sought legal counsel. He has made his decision.


MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the Bureau of Industry and Security has added 29 Russian persons – that includes companies – to the sanctions list, and it says, “The BIS is taking this action to ensure the efficacy of existing sanctions on the Russian Federation for violating international law and fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” What does Russia do in Ukraine right now that warrants an update of sanctions?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you said – you mentioned – who was behind the upgrade in sanctions? I apologize, I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: The Bureau of Industry and Security.

MR TONER: Bureau of Industry and Security here in the United States?


QUESTION: It’s not State Department. It’s the Commerce Department.

MR TONER: Right, the Commerce Department. I apologize, I just didn’t – I believe – and I may be wrong, but I believe this is in line with ongoing sanctions strengthening and what we talked about a couple weeks ago here, which is when we’re constantly freshening our sanctions and our sanctions are in place because of Russia’s behavior, support for the separatists, ongoing support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. And we want to keep those sanctions as current as possible. In any kind of sanctions regime there’s obviously workarounds that develop over time, so we constantly look at those and ways to strengthen them and close those kind of workarounds in order to keep them both knitted up with EU sanctions as well as Canadian sanctions, but also to make sure that they’re airtight, for lack of a better term.

QUESTION: As I understand before when you said they’re not indefinite, they’re conditional, right?

MR TONER: They are conditional, yeah.

QUESTION: What violations by Russia at this point right now warrant such tightening, strengthening of the sanctions?

MR TONER: Again, if – again, if we’re talking about Ukraine, specific to eastern Ukraine, I mean, we’ve seen --

QUESTION: Yeah. What is – is Russia doing right now?

MR TONER: What we’ve seen is – sorry, I didn’t mean to – we’ve seen, frankly, writ large, a lack of serious effort to comply with any of the commitments that Russia and the separatists have made regarding Minsk. And we’ve seen ongoing violations of the ceasefire, and I know we’ve been back forth on that or who’s to blame for that. We believe the preponderance of those ceasefire violations are on the part of separatist forces – again, supplied and also helped by Russian military.

QUESTION: Can you give some specifics? Exactly what violations, what ceasefire – how is Russia --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, again – I mean, I can – we’ve got many examples. Obviously, I’d refer you to the OSCE. Their monitors are on the ground and their mandate or their --

QUESTION: But you’re making a judgment that Russia is involved in that, so --

MR TONER: Sorry, their – but their – sorry, let me finish.

QUESTION: -- how do you decide?

MR TONER: Their mission is to look at and survey all of the disputed territory, but also to monitor the ceasefire, which is a central part of the Minsk commitments. We’ve seen a new ceasefire come into effect today. We hope that that will bear fruit and solidify. We’ve seen relative calm today, but I think we’ve continued to see violations on the part of Russia and the part of the separatists, and to that regard --

QUESTION: But you can’t name them, right? Can you?

MR TONER: Sure, I can, yes. If you want to wait while I get to it, I’m happy to give you chapter and verse.

I mean, first of all, the larger picture: There would be no conflict in eastern Ukraine if Russia were not providing tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, military personnel to the separatists. I think we all understand that. We’ve made that very clear over many months, including showing satellite imagery that shows Russian troops, command and control on the ground in eastern Ukraine. They’ve seized --

QUESTION: Do you have the recent – very recent images showing --

MR TONER: Sure, we do. I don’t have them in front of me, but we’ve seen continued destabilizing actions on the part of Russia in eastern Ukraine. We’ve – now have this ceasefire in place, but we remain concerned about further ceasefire activities.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: But there are no specifics yet – what exact – what violations. Do you have any in front of you? Because by many accounts, this has been the calmest I can say week for sure in probably the whole year. Do --

MR TONER: That’s not true. I mean, we’ve seen repeatedly within the past months Russian separatist forces have launched dozens of attacks across the line of control, killing more than a dozen Ukrainian soldiers, injuring dozens of others. I was very clear: There is a new ceasefire initiative set in place today, frankly on the part of the Ukrainian Government. We hope that holds. We’re cautiously optimistic, but we haven’t – we’ve seen in the past these ceasefire violations continue, and the vast majority of them are on the part of the separatists.

Go ahead. I’m sorry, did you have a question?

QUESTION: I – well, I have a question on sanctions, but it’s Russia and China.

MR TONER: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: The Financial Times has a story out today citing – just out citing three U.S. officials as saying that the United States is – and let me get the exact language – “preparing to sanction Chinese companies connected to the cyber theft of U.S. intellectual property as early as next week.” It cites the officials as saying sanctions would probably be next week before President Xi’s trip, that the United States is also considering sanctions against Russian individuals and companies for cyber attacks. Is that right? Are you actually considering sanctioning the Chinese next week?

MR TONER: So as you know --

QUESTION: Wasn’t this in The Washington Post --

QUESTION: Well, the Chinese thing – they said within the next – they said within the next two weeks, and now we’ve got another report suggesting it’s next week, so I guess you’re right.

MR TONER: So as you know, when it comes to economic sanctions, we don’t preview any kind of sanctions beforehand for obvious reasons. We don’t want to give a heads-up to those who may be potential targets of economic sanctions to begin to take steps to evade sanctions activity.

QUESTION: Well, three U.S. officials previewed them to The Financial Times.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Three U.S. officials previewed them to The Financial Times.

MR TONER: I can’t speak to people speaking on background or leaking information.

QUESTION: And by saying that, you’re not --

MR TONER: That’s, frankly, an unfortunate reality of the world we live in.

QUESTION: By saying that, you’re not suggesting that there will be any action taken next week.

MR TONER: Exactly. I certainly have nothing to announce. I think we’ve spoken very clearly about the executive order the President signed that gives authority to the Secretary of the Treasury so he can impose sanctions on – against those who carry out cyber attacks, and we’ve obviously raised our concerns about China’s activity in this sphere.

QUESTION: That executive order gives the authority to the Secretary of Treasury, correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Not to the Secretary of State.

MR TONER: So I would – yes, I would --

QUESTION: So are questions about this best directed to you at this podium or to the Treasury Department?

MR TONER: I would encourage you to reach out to the Department of Treasury.

QUESTION: All right. Can I ask – I’ve got three very brief ones on the Mideast, and I know you’re going to doubt that they’re brief, but they are. One is – I just want to know, I asked you the other day about a report, NGO report, about UNRWA. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, and I’m – I apologize; I have not. I apologize. That’s on me.

QUESTION: All right, okay. Can --

MR TONER: I will get you answer before the end of day today.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly, apparently there was an incident --

MR TONER: Mark that. I will – that’s my bad, I apologize.


MR TONER: Seriously.

QUESTION: There was an incident today in Hebron where five American students were attacked – firebomb. They’re apparently okay, but I’m just wondering if you can --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, obviously – so you’re right. We’re just getting the details just before walking out here – condemn any acts of violence and continue to urge all parties to take steps to decrease tensions and refrain from provocative acts and rhetoric.

QUESTION: Okay. But you – you don’t have any more details about --

MR TONER: I don’t have any more details.

QUESTION: And then lastly, there are some calls in the Israeli Government to – for their – I guess I don’t know what you’d call them. Rules of engagement? I don’t know. How to deal with – how police deal with stone-throwers, with some calls for the police to be able to use live fire. One, are you aware of this? And two, if you are, have you said anything to the Israelis about it? Do you have any opinion one way or the other or is this a strictly internal matter for them to deal with?

MR TONER: I mean, obviously, it’s up to the Israeli Government to make decisions about its security and its – but as we often say in these cases, we would ask all parties or all sides to show restraint. That said, I don’t know that we’ve conveyed that directly to the Israeli Government. I just don’t have that information.

QUESTION: Okay, can you find out?


QUESTION: And also if the specific – if your call for all sides to be showing restraint, would that include you calling for the Israelis not to use live fire against people, some of them – who often are teenagers throwing stones?



QUESTION: Can we go back to China?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish with China. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Okay. South Korean President Park was one of the guests of honor at the military parade, and this – her attendance is seen as a sign that the relations between the two countries are growing stronger. And do you have any concern at all that South Korea, which is one of the key U.S. ally, is getting too close to China?

MR TONER: No. I mean, it’s – that’s a sovereign decision for the Republic of South Korea to make. Obviously, we would encourage strong relations in the region and we consider South Korea to be a strong partner and ally.

QUESTION: Do you support good relations between Korea and China?

MR TONER: Do I – I think I answered that. I mean, that’s a decision for the Government of South Korea to make how it relates to other countries in the region. Certainly, as much dialogue, as much cooperative – or cooperation there can be between South Korea and China on a range of issues affecting the region I think is for the betterment of the region.

QUESTION: One more on China.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you saw the reports of I think it was five Chinese ships in the Bering Strait international waters. What are your thoughts on that?

MR TONER: What are my thoughts? That’s well put. No, we’re aware, obviously, of the ships – the five, as you said, People’s Liberation Army, navy ships – in the Bering Sea. This is certainly the first time we’ve observed Chinese navy ships in the Bering Sea. But that said, we certainly respect the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: Why the “that said”?

MR TONER: Not “that said.” I’m just saying that we would – sorry, I didn’t mean to add – added emphasis to that. I’m just saying that we believe that they have the right to be there as long as they’re operating in accordance with international law.


QUESTION: When President Park Geun-hye met with President Xi Jinping, they agreed to hold a trilateral summit with Japan later this year. What – how does the U.S. view this and what role do you anticipate the U.S. will --

MR TONER: You’re talking a trilateral summit between China, Japan --

QUESTION: China, Japan, and South Korea.

MR TONER: And South Korea.

QUESTION: Later this year.

MR TONER: I would transfer all my remarks that I just said about the – to the gentleman about South Korea and closer relations to the same thing. Look, we consider ourselves – as you all well know, the United States considers itself to be an Asian power. We’re deeply rooted in Asia. We’ve spoken to that many times. But as much as we’d – as much as there can be increased cooperation between the other countries in Asia, that’s, we believe, to the betterment of the region.

QUESTION: An Asian power or a Pacific power?

MR TONER: Pacific power, thank you.

QUESTION: And what about the role that --

QUESTION: Because when you say you’re --

MR TONER: Pacific power, sorry.

QUESTION: But when you’re deep – you say you’re deeply rooted in Asia, what – is Hawaii part of Asia now? Guam?

MR TONER: We’re a Pacific, sorry.

QUESTION: And what about the role that you anticipate the U.S. to have?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of a role.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Yesterday when President Xi Jinping gave the remarks and he mentioned no matter how much stronger China may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. And at the same time, he also announced the military reduction by 300,000. What is your reaction to that? And is that some gesture the United States would welcome China to take?

MR TONER: You said he announced a reduction --

QUESTION: A military reduction by 300,000 personnel.

MR TONER: Thousand personnel.


MR TONER: In PLA. Yeah, I mean, that’s ultimately a decision for the Chinese Government to make with regards to its own national security, its own military planning. We don’t have any particular comment to that. In the way back.

QUESTION: And I just have a question on religious persecution in the Middle East if we can go back to that. The archbishop of Iraq says that’s what’s happening to Christians at the hands of ISIS and in other areas of the Middle East is nothing short of genocide. Can you just go over the U.S. policy regarding persecuted Christians who are looking to enter the United States?

MR TONER: Persecuted Christians from Iraq who are looking to enter into the United States?


MR TONER: You mean seek asylum here?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm, yes.

MR TONER: I don’t have an update, frankly. I mean, certainly, speaking broadly, we take religious freedom very seriously. We – I mean, it’s no surprise ISIL would – is just carrying out brutal attacks and treating these individuals with its trademark brutality. But I don’t have specific figures, if that’s what you’re looking for, in terms of policy. I mean, asylum seekers come in all religions, all races, all political leanings. What matters is that we look at their cases individually and whether they have compelling reasons to seek asylum. But I don’t have specific details on that. I can try to get more.

QUESTION: And then real --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up to that? The organization Minority Humanity Foundation says that 27 Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution by ISIS are detained in San – in a San Diego jail for illegally entering the U.S. Why are they deemed political refugees instead of illegal immigrants? Have you heard about that?

MR TONER: Why aren’t they deemed, or why are they deemed political – I just don’t have the specifics of the case. I’ll have to – and frankly, it may be a DHS case. I’m not trying to --

QUESTION: That’s all right.

MR TONER: -- push you away here, but I’ll have to look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - September 1, 2015

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 17:34

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
September 1, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:35 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Great. I have nothing at the top, so I will take your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask a logistical question about the speech tomorrow?


QUESTION: Why is he still giving it?

MR TONER: Is that a logistical question?

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, is he still going to go to Philly and do this speech when he doesn’t really need to? It looks like the intended audience – or the two – maybe the two main intended members of the audience have come out today and said they support the deal.

MR TONER: Well, look, there’s many different elements of the Iran deal, and in fact, making the case both to Congress but also the broader issue here is making the case of the Iran deal to the American public. And so --

QUESTION: Okay, what I’m trying to get at – he and the rest of the Administration still feel that it is a relevant and – that it’s important to make the case for the agreement, right?

MR TONER: The Secretary feels very strongly that he needs to and this Administration needs to continue to make the case.

QUESTION: But not – but really it’s no longer to Congress right now, right? He’s trying to convince public – trying to sway public opinion? Or is it still --

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s trying to build support and, obviously, solidify support where that support already exists.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: And that’s relevant to Congress, but certainly, more broadly to the American public.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You’re not giving up at 34, correct?

MR TONER: No, absolutely not.

QUESTION: I mean, wouldn’t you much rather have the largest amount of support?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: And wouldn’t you rather have 41 so you can block a motion to proceed, so you don’t even have to face a vote?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re looking for the maximum amount of support we can possibly get.

QUESTION: Do you support a vote in Congress?

QUESTION: Staying on --


QUESTION: Support a vote in Congress over the deal?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the congressional tactics here and gaming it out. We’re very pleased with the support that we’ve seen thus far; those senators who’ve come out and members of Congress who’ve come out publicly in support of the deal. We’re going to continue to work that and try to increase those numbers.

QUESTION: So would you like to see lawmakers issue a vote and be on the record for how he or she stands on --

MR TONER: I mean, certainly, we’d love to see this pass in Congress, yes.

QUESTION: Mark, just staying on this same topic.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying – or sources from the Republicans on Capitol Hill, they suggest that they may introduce more severe sanctions and legislations, financial, and so on after – in the fall, basically forcing Iran just to sort of walk away from the deal. Is that something that you are concerned about?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about what may or may not happen.

QUESTION: They’re not hypothetical. I mean, they’re saying.

MR TONER: What we’ve always said about this deal is, first of all, sanctions relief won’t come to Iran immediately if the deal is passed. It has to meet certain requirements before any type of sanctions relief related to its nuclear program could come into effect. And we’ve also talked about the fact that bilateral or, rather, unilateral sanctions that are nonnuclear related will remain in effect for years to come.

QUESTION: But you will discourage any kind of more sanctions against individuals, individuals Iranians, or government agents, and so on.

MR TONER: Again, it depends on what you’re talking about. What we’ve said all along is that – and we’ve tried to separate the two baskets, if you will. We’ve been very clear about what this agreement is about. It’s about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That said, we’re not ignoring the other basket of issues, which is the fact that Iran continues to be – play a nonconstructive or unconstructive role in the region. And we’re certainly going to keep pressure, whether it’s through sanctions or otherwise, on Iran to change its behavior in that regard.

QUESTION: Can I go to the cause that many of us didn’t get very much sleep last night?

MR TONER: Sure. Are we done with Iran?

QUESTION: That would be other people’s emails. I’m curious about the upgrades and the frequency of upgrades. In the comments that you put out – that were put in your name last night, you say it’s routine to upgrade information to classified status during the FOIA process. Happens frequently several times a month. What is – can you be more specific about that? Because it appears to have happened 125 times over the course of the month of August, and I realize that it’s an unusual --

MR TONER: It’s an extraordinary --

QUESTION: -- because it’s a large amount of material that is being released.


QUESTION: About – so there are 4,368 documents; 125 – portions of 125 were redacted. That’s about – at least if my horrible math is accurate, that’s about 2.8 percent. Is that pretty standard that in any FOIA release, about 2.8 percent of the documents have redactions for a classified reason?

MR TONER: You’re asking --

QUESTION: In general.

MR TONER: -- because the example that we gave, which is, as you’re – you’re right in that on a given month, this massive FOIA request notwithstanding, we do generally upgrade on --

QUESTION: Right. That’s why I’ve boiled it down to a percentage.

MR TONER: Yeah, exactly. I don’t have an exact whether that’s in keeping with the regular FOIA requests, how many we redact and upgrade. That’s just an example to say that this is not unique to this particular review, that it happens all the time. I can try to get that for you.

QUESTION: Can you just find out how many --

MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- how many – is there an average of how many --

MR TONER: Yeah, we can – that’s certainly – we can try to figure that out. I can’t promise, but I think we can probably try to get the math for you.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On this topic of the now classified emails, which I believe totals with the addition of 125 yesterday 288, the simple question I have is: Why weren’t those emails marked classified at the time they were sent?

MR TONER: Well, a couple points to make there. One is just understanding what our role in this process is, which is that we’re responding to a FOIA request to publicly release these emails.

QUESTION: I know. I know. But --

MR TONER: No, no, no, let me finish and then I’ll try to answer your question, I promise. So that’s where our attention is focused on is looking at and then upgrading these before public release, which is a common, frankly, thing that we look at these, we redact where necessary, in light of the fact that they’re going to be publicly released.


MR TONER: What we’ve said all along is we have not found anything that was marked classified at the time that it was sent.

QUESTION: Right. But the question is, Mark: Shouldn’t it have been marked classified? Wasn’t it – isn’t it true that it was mishandled? Because now you’re calling it classified, and not because this is information that has changed over time, that is magically now sensitive that wasn’t then. This information was mishandled and should have been marked or should not have been sent through unclassified systems. Is that an inaccurate statement?

MR TONER: No, I reject that because – for a couple of reasons. One is it is routine for us to look at this material – again, in light of the fact that via a FOIA process it is going to be publicly released, that this information is sensitive and we don’t want it to be publicly released, so we’re going to redact necessary portions. But we’re only doing that now in the sense that we can’t go back in time and judge accurately what the conditions were, what the circumstances were of that information at the time it was shared with the Secretary and make a judgment on that.


QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: But wait a minute. But isn’t it true --

MR TONER: It’s not that easy, Matt.

QUESTION: Isn’t it true that when you, Mark Toner --


QUESTION: -- use your unclassified email State Department system, as all these correspondence, all these 125 emails are based – are basically based on unclassified --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- most of them State Department email systems, isn’t it true that you’re not supposed to be sending information that could at any point be deemed classified, whether it’s the lowest level of confidential or whatever? If you’re going to be communicating that way, you’re supposed to use alternative secure means. Isn’t that true?

MR TONER: I mean, again – and we’ve talked about this a lot – and without getting into the specifics, but information that was shared at the time might years later be considered to be sensitive. And again, looking at it through the prism that we’re ultimately going to release it publicly, that does add an element to all of this.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the – this is my last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The majority of these emails fall under that category of things that were just later deemed sensitive that weren’t sensitive at the time? Or isn’t it true that they’re just being classified now because you have to because you’re putting them on the website?

MR TONER: So a couple of things. One is it’s very difficult for us – and I said this before – to go back and to judge what the circumstances were at the time this information was shared and to make a judgment on whether that information was classified at the time. It’s not a black and white issue. It’s not a clear issue. We see nothing at this point in time up until now that would indicate that any of this information was either – was marked classified at the time.

QUESTION: Well, of course, but it would have been impossible to mark it classified at the time --

MR TONER: Not necessarily.

QUESTION: -- and using an unclassified system, it would have been impossible to properly mark it classified.

MR TONER: But to the second part of your question is our role in this, as we have processed or continue to process this tranche of emails that we’ve received, we’re looking at how this is – could be perceived now upon public release. And that’s been our focus here. How do we process these and how do we ensure that any sensitive information now is redacted appropriately?

QUESTION: Do you think it’s possible when all is said and done and the FBI has had its look at it and everybody else is – whoever else is investigating this, that it could be determined that staffers within the State Department are actually responsible for mishandling and sharing this information in ways they shouldn’t have?

MR TONER: Again, that’s not for me to speak to from this podium today. Our role is to process this FOIA request. But you raise a valid point, which is that there are other investigations and reviews underway, and I would encourage you to speak to those entities to ask what they’re looking at. But they could well be looking at some of these broader issues.

QUESTION: But why is it harder --

MR TONER: Yeah, please, Arshad, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Why is it harder to establish whether something should have been classified at the time it was sent than to establish, as you have just done, whether it should be classified now?

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s --

QUESTION: It should be easier because you have the benefit of history.

MR TONER: No, not necessarily, because again, when it’s – something might have become sensitive over time. And it’s equally possible the opposite, and we see that all the time where stuff is – material is declassified over – because it’s no longer considered sensitive. But equally, because of personal equities, other things we’ve talked about, that we deem this material should be redacted and classified just because the circumstances now make it more sensitive. I mean, it’s hard for me to give examples of that from the podium, but that’s – it’s part of the process and it’s just the way it works. There’s examples on both sides.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: But aren’t there far, far more – and I would guess about 99.999 percent – examples of information becoming less --

MR TONER: That’s an awfully high percentage.

QUESTION: It just seems to me that the whole concept of classifying something and with a date --

MR TONER: I think there’s examples on both sides.

QUESTION: Even the stuff that the redactions – well, but the redactions in here say that they’re being classified until declassification at a date certain. That date certain is never before; it’s always after, which means that all information becomes less sensitive over time, not more sensitive.

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: And I don’t – it just doesn’t compute to me --

MR TONER: Again, there’s examples of both. But again, this – none of this information --

QUESTION: I don’t think there’s any examples of --

MR TONER: But none of this information – no, you’re talking about – sorry, just to – what you’re talking about is classified, clearly classified information becoming declassified with the passage of time. I know exactly what you’re referring to. Again, let’s remember that this information was not classified at the time, not marked classified at the time.


MR TONER: And so that doesn’t apply to it that it would be declassified at a date certain. What we’re looking at – again, through this FOIA process, we’re looking at this information in terms of public release, and that adds an element to all of this. And so we redact as necessary to protect the sensitivity of that information.

QUESTION: So in other words, if it hadn’t been for the FOIA request --

MR TONER: But this is a common --

QUESTION: -- this stuff would be still floating out there or not, but it would be still floating out there just as sensitive as you say it is now, but just in the ether and no one would know about it, so it would be okay?

MR TONER: I don’t think it would be in the ether, but --

QUESTION: Well, it might be. I mean, the --

MR TONER: What – what – again, what I’m trying to --

QUESTION: And it might have just disappeared.

MR TONER: What I’m trying to clarify here is that we have a process to look at this information. It’s a FOIA process, and it’s not – it doesn’t just pertain to these emails from former Secretary Clinton. It pertains to all FOIA processes where we look at this and view a public release and redact as necessary.


QUESTION: Okay. So can I – may I just make my plea --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- for the taken question again just to --


QUESTION: When you say that it happens frequently or several times a month, if --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, we’ll work on that.

QUESTION: Just an idea.

QUESTION: May I ask you to take one other question, please?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: It’s a question that I asked the other day and I’d like to ask if the State Department will take a policy decision on this, not with regard to Secretary – former Secretary Clinton, but with regard to current and past secretaries of state, and that is whether it is the view of the Department that the Secretary of State is bound by the rules laid out in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

MR TONER: Okay. I mean, I --

QUESTION: As a general principle, do they apply to the Secretary of State or not, or do they apply selectively? That’s the question.

MR TONER: Okay. I will get you an answer for that.


MR TONER: Please, Lucas.

QUESTION: Who at the State Department signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own private email account and server?

MR TONER: Sure. My unsatisfactory but necessary answer to that is, again, that’s not our role in this process to really answer that question publicly; that there are reviews and investigations underway that will look at possibly some of these issues is for other entities to speak to.

QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: Did anybody?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.

QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?

MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so --

QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?

MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.

QUESTION: And just --

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.


MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.

QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and --

MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.

QUESTION: And just going back to Matt’s point about the redactions: Also in the redactions wasn’t just the code for classified but this B5, which is a privileged interagency memorandum. And there were 697 emails that contained this designation; by my math, about 10 percent of the emails contained this designation. I was wondering why so many of the emails contained this designation.

MR TONER: What, B --

QUESTION: B5, this privileged interagency redaction.

MR TONER: I’d have to, frankly, find out more about that.

QUESTION: And based on those markings I was describing a little bit, doesn’t this say that there was a lot of – these documents reveal a lot of foreign policy intent and objectives of this Administration, and isn’t that kind of a breach of national security?

MR TONER: Again – and we’ve talked a lot about this – is classification is not a black-and-white issue. You can talk about all of these things – foreign policy priorities, interagency communications – at an unclassified and a classified level. And I can assure you and I can assure the American people that these kinds of decisions are made by serious professionals within the State Department but throughout the interagency every day, and everybody receives extensive training and everybody takes that responsibility seriously. And when there are breaches, certainly, those are investigated and looked at.

QUESTION: And speaking of breaches, is the State Department confident that nobody breached the Secretary’s private server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have an answer for you on that. That’s – I don’t know.

QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.


QUESTION: Mark, is there a different classification criteria from one agency to the other, or is it like one size fits all?

MR TONER: That’s a good question. I would say it involves more equities, and different agencies look at it in different ways, and it speaks to sources and methods and other aspects of classification that I don’t want to get too deeply into. But again, many of these are, frankly, judgment calls, but done through – by seasoned professionals who are acquainted with all the risks and whatnot. But those are decisions that are made every day.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: So does your evident caution in limiting the areas you’re prepared to address on this reflect an expectation that this ends up in court?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve been clear about this is that there’s reviews underway. I would refer you to those agencies for specifics about what they’re looking at. But yes, I would say that at this point, given the ongoing reviews, that it’s not appropriate for us to speak to them in any conclusive manner from here.

Please, Tejinder.

QUESTION: Going back to this – the earlier question that now that you are doing this under this Freedom of Information Act, is it fair enough to say that your standards are stricter? You are – we are seeing more blacked out pages. Like there’s one email between the secretary and I think it was Huma where you are just giving us from and to and there’s not like – that email is just I think an addition to the number of emails you are throwing out there. What was the reason to show that email when there’s – like, there’s not even one word that you can show from that body?

MR TONER: Well, we release it because under the FOIA process we have to release all of these documents. But with every document, we look hard, line by line, word by word, at what might be sensitive, again, with a view towards public release now, in this current time, not passing judgment on what it may have been or may not have been at the time. And we make that judgment.

QUESTION: Line by line and word by word?


QUESTION: And you couldn’t leave like articles in and --

QUESTION: Yeah, some full stops, commas --

MR TONER: Articles matter. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can we change --

QUESTION: Well, but I mean, if you’re just going to black the whole thing out, then there is a point to be made there.

MR TONER: It’s hard for me – (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You can make something completely unintelligible just by taking out all the verbs and all the nouns. (Laughter.) But you – right?

QUESTION: You just wipe out verbs.

MR TONER: I suppose so, Matt. but --

QUESTION: I mean, sometimes you don’t even have to take out the verbs and the nouns to make it unintelligible.

MR TONER: -- are we really going there?

Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR TONER: I’m sorry?


MR TONER: I’d love to.

QUESTION: Turkey. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Turkey, even if it – Turkey.

QUESTION: Do you want to take that back? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So just --

MR TONER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- to follow up from yesterday, as we all know, two Vice journalists are still arrested in Turkey. According to reports today, they are – they have been arrested because engaging in terror activity on behalf of ISIL in Turkey. Do you have any further comments since yesterday? Have you gotten any kind of reaction from Ankara on this?

MR TONER: No, I mean, I would only say that we’ve – just in light of the comments I gave yesterday, which I talked about the fact that we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold universal democratic values, and that includes freedom of the press, due process, and access to media and information. We’ve made our views often and clearly to the Turkish Government. I’m not going to get into any specific diplomatic exchanges about this case we may have had. But they’re aware of our feelings about this.

QUESTION: There are many rights groups around the world, including Amnesty International, calling on Turkey – first of all, dubbing these charges against them bizarre. And they call on Turkey to release these journalists. Would you join – would you urge Turkey to release these journalists?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’ve made our – I think we’ve – I’ve made our stance on this clear.

QUESTION: Today also there --

MR TONER: One last question, okay, then we’ll to move around just to keep it --

QUESTION: -- were further police raids on some private TVs --

MR TONER: Further? Oh, police raids.

QUESTION: -- security raids. Yes. The private TVs and newspapers. First of all, what’s your reaction? Have you seen the reports?

MR TONER: I’ve seen the reports. We certainly look to governments, including Turkey, to ensure that legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards, and that includes full respect for due process as well as equal treatment under the law.

QUESTION: This seems to be every day new cases up to the November 1st elections. There are hundreds of cases, insult cases – allegedly insulting president being arrested. Mostly pro-Kurdish party members now being arrest again. And it seems like since the U.S. has been using Turkish air base, Incirlik Air Base, with the increased partnership with Turkey, some of these cases are gone unnoticed and U.S. is not giving the way – the reaction or condemnation that supposed to give. These are the criticism. What’s your response?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t make that assumption. First of all, we’re deeply appreciative of Turkey’s role now in the ISIL coalition, and as I mentioned yesterday, they’ve begun flying missions – anti-ISIL missions in northern Syria. So we appreciate their contributions as well as allowing the U.S. to use Incirlik Air Base. That’s a separate piece altogether from any concerns we might have about Turkey living up to its proud, democratic tradition. It’s – Turkey’s a NATO ally, it’s a friend, and we continue to call on it to live up to the democratic standards that it espouses.

QUESTION: Mark, would you like Turkey to conduct the same volume of airstrikes against ISIS as it has the PKK in middle and late July?

MR TONER: Again, it’s first of all in response to PKK strikes they have – or PKK attacks, rather, on Turkish security forces, police and military. They have, as we’ve said, justifiably taken action against PKK. We call on them always to use restraint. We’d like to see an end to that violence on the part of the PKK. They’re just ramping up now on their ISIL – anti-ISIL missions. It’s hard to know where – how far they’ll go or how much they’ll increase those, but we want to see a prominent role.

QUESTION: Because Turkey seemed pretty ramped up to strike PKK. They used over 20 airplanes, and it seems like this strike against ISIS was just like a couple jets.

MR TONER: Well, again, these are one-off missions, and certainly, what we talked about in the last couple of weeks is part of this process is getting Turkey integrated into the broader coalition effort. So watch that space.

Please, go ahead, Said, and then --

QUESTION: On ISIS too. Yeah. Yesterday, former General David Petraeus, former CIA head, suggested that maybe the United States should aid Jabhat al-Nusrah to fight ISIS. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment on this?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve seen the report and I would raise an eyebrow because I think General Petraeus actually came out and said he had no – he made no comments. I think it was based on second-hand conversations that were suspect. Certainly, we’re not looking to cooperate with al-Nusrah. We – they’re a designated foreign terrorist organization.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On Uganda?

QUESTION: Actually, back up. One more on that question.



MR TONER: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Part of General Petraeus’s statement was he would like to see some elements from Nusrah, not necessarily partnering with the whole organization but maybe recruiting some fighters away. Do you see that as a potential?

MR TONER: Not at this point, no.




QUESTION: Have you – do you have any comment on a bill that was before the Ugandan parliament today, apparently, that would further regulate nongovernmental organizations? I know LGBT rights groups in particular are concerned that, as one person told me, it would institutionalize – additionally institutionalize discrimination against LGBT organizing in Uganda. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. Certainly, we’d be concerned about any legislation, proposed legislation that would further limit gay rights in Uganda or put LGBT populations in Uganda under any duress. I don’t have specifics in response. If I can get those I’ll --


MR TONER: -- I’ll go ahead and give them to you. But generally speaking, we consider gay rights to be an important component of human rights writ large, and so we take those – any threat to those very seriously.

Please, Wendy.

QUESTION: Ambassador Power --

MR TONER: Pamela, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- made reference to the journalist sentenced in Azerbaijan, Khadija, and I did see your statement from earlier. Can you elaborate on the U.S. objection to the seven-and-a-half-year sentence? And then secondly, has the U.S. expressed those concerns directly to the government?

MR TONER: So on your – on the issue of raising those concerns, our concerns about this sentence to the Azerbaijani Government, yes, on multiple levels we’ve raised those concerns and we’ve raised them repeatedly. I apologize for your first question again, I – the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the U.S. objections to the sentencing?

MR TONER: Well, again, and I – if our statement – I thought it was in our statement, but we note that the court refused to review certain evidence and testimony from Ms. Ismayilova’s former employee – employer, rather, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, that were – was of direct relevance to her case and to the charges – specifically to the charges of financial crimes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Let’s go in the back. Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, can we go back to Syria, please?

MR TONER: We can go back Syria.

QUESTION: Syrian refugees crises is getting worse and worse every day. After affecting the neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey, it’s affecting Europe today. How does the U.S. view this problem and what it’s trying to – and how is it trying to help?

MR TONER: Well, thanks, Michel, for that question. This is a very – as you correctly noted in your question, a very pressing issue. We’ve all seen news reports out of Europe, Eastern Europe, and also Greece and elsewhere of these migrants seeking asylum in parts of Europe and the European Union. It’s a complex issue, it’s a pressing issue. We support, certainly, the European Union’s efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to resolve these migration challenges. There’s no question that the very large number of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers coming to Europe poses a very serious and difficult challenge to the EU and the region and the nations in the region as a whole. Any solution must focus on saving and protecting lives and ensuring the human rights of all migrants are respected, as well as promoting orderly and humane migration policies. And so we would urge all the governments in the region to develop appropriate facilities that allow for proper screening of migrants and the provision of life-sustaining assistance. That’s where we think the focus should be at.

More generally speaking, as we’ve said all the time about these kinds of migration issues and asylum seekers, is we need to – ultimately providing safe haven for these individuals as they flee violence in their countries – as you noted, in Syria – is a temporary solution. What we really need to do is attack the root causes, so we need to have or put in place a credible, peaceful political resolution to the conflict in Syria so that these people can do what every refugee wants to do, which is eventually go home.

QUESTION: A follow-up on this, please, Mark.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, Michel, last question, then the – sorry. Thank you.

QUESTION: There are voices in Europe calling for sending troops from Europe and under the UN flag to Syria to create free zones or secure zones to protect the refugees. How do you – what do you think about that?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve been clear and we’ve talked about this, certainly, in the case of Turkey, who I might add – or which I might add is a country that has absorbed some 2 million Syrian refugees over the past several years. But we’ve been very clear: Our goal is not just to create a safe zone. We’ve actually avoided that terminology. What we want to do is drive ISIL out altogether and create – re-establish, frankly, political order and legitimate governments – good governance in place so that these refugees can ultimately return.

QUESTION: And last one for me, please.


QUESTION: What’s behind the refusal of creating the secure zones?

MR TONER: What’s the --

QUESTION: Why the U.S. refuses to create secure zones in Syria?

MR TONER: Again, because ultimately the goal here is not just to drive ISIL out of a set geographic location; we want to basically destroy them.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Syria?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Yeah, one thing that might relieve – reduce some of the pressure on the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria is the UNHCR’s resettlement program. And so the United States has received referrals from the HCR of many thousands of – up to 15,000 potential refugees that could be resettled here in the United States. Is the United States doing enough to process these things? Are you on course to take in that many refugees this year?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve talked about this in the past, and I’m just seeing if I have the current numbers in front of me. But we have taken in a number of Syrian refugees. I think – sorry, just to get the current figures here. So in 2015, rather, we received over 17,000 Syrian refugee referrals from the UNHCR, of which approximately 1,500 have been admitted since the beginning of the conflict. But I would caveat that by saying that the United States has not set resettlement targets for specific countries. We’re very likely to admit 1,500 to 1,800 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement by the end of this fiscal year, and that number will increase for 2016, we expect.

QUESTION: Just to clarify --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: You said you had gotten – in 2015, you had gotten 17,000 referrals, correct, in – so far this year?

MR TONER: Seventeen thousand.

QUESTION: Yeah, or more than 17,000. And then you said of those, you have admitted about 1,500?

MR TONER: Fifteen hundred.

QUESTION: Is that – since the beginning of the conflict. Does that mean you didn’t admit any prior – that nobody was referred prior to this year?

MR TONER: I’d have to look into that. I don’t think that’s correct. I think we’ve admitted Syrian refugees before --

QUESTION: Prior to --

MR TONER: -- FY15, yes, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just --

QUESTION: But the fiscal year ends in 30 days, so you think you’re going to get up to --

QUESTION: Well, you said 15- to 1,800 --


MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

QUESTION: So you think 1,500 to 1,800 in the next 30 days?


QUESTION: No, you’ve already taken 1,500 in, I thought.

MR TONER: We’ve already taken approximately 1,500, so --

QUESTION: Oh, so you expect --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. So 300 – I mean, 3,000 --

MR TONER: It’s an estimate, but yes.

QUESTION: I think we should --

QUESTION: By the end of the month. (Laughter.) Are you banning me from doing math?

QUESTION: I think we should all be banned from doing math. (Laughter.) I think if we were good at math, we would --

MR TONER: I think I made an explicit request yesterday not to make me do math from the podium, Matt.

QUESTION: Anyway --

MR TONER: I thought you would honor that request.

QUESTION: But when you said the end of this fiscal year, you meant the end of this month, right?

MR TONER: I meant the end of this month, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. If I was good at math, I would not be here. (Laughter.) But I have one more refugee question if I may.

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I drew to your attention, but I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to get an answer, whether the U.S. Government has a position on privately run refugee centers that are contracted out by the Australian Government to a private company but that do not permit external visits by human rights groups. Do you have anything on that?

MR TONER: I would refer you to the Australian Government for more details specific to that question, but we encourage all countries to work with the UNHCR – UN High Commissioner for Refugees – to find adequate, durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers, and to uphold obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

QUESTION: And does that include letting international observers like the UN inspect camps to make sure that they are well run?

MR TONER: I believe so.


QUESTION: One more --

QUESTION: Historically, the United States has taken about 50 percent of the refugees for resettlement from the HCR, but you’re short of that in the Syrian conflict.

MR TONER: Well, right, and a couple of points to make on that. One is that, as I thought I made clear, is that we don’t typically do our process – we just don’t assign – we don’t say we’re going to take X amount from Syria, per se. We don’t assign country quotas.

The other thing is – frankly, is that it’s a very rigorous review process to approve these asylum seekers coming from Syria and which involves a very rigorous security check. So that takes time. And then lastly, as I said, ultimately – well, two other points. One is that we are, I think, the largest provider of humanitarian assistance and providing humanitarian assistance and protection to these asylum seekers. I think we provided over 4 billion in humanitarian aid since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, and this is to the millions of refugees in Turkey and elsewhere where they’ve relocated.

But then ultimately, as I said in response to Michel, the ultimate goal here is we need to create the conditions where these reugees can return. That’s obviously the --

QUESTION: Mark, one question on Syria?

MR TONER: Let’s go to you and to you, Michael. And I’ll get back to you, Tejinder. Go ahead, please, sir.


MR TONER: Are we done with Syria?

QUESTION: Syria – no, no, one question.

MR TONER: Oh, I apologize, okay. Let’s finish with Syria and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: So there are some media reports out of the Middle East that the United States is considering to establish a command – some sort of command and control base in northern Syria to make the fight that YPG is taking against ISIS more effective. Is that true?

MR TONER: I don’t have anything to announce or even to say about that. I would --

QUESTION: Is that an option that you would be willing to consider?

MR TONER: I’m not going to deal with hypotheticals. What we’ve – what we’re actually doing right now is working with Turkey flying more strikes out of – airstrikes out of Incirlik. We believe that’s taking the fight in support of these anti-ISIL fighters in northern Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Okay, you, sir. Yeah. Let’s finish with Syria and then we’ll go. I apologize.

QUESTION: I want to change topics.

MR TONER: Do you have a Syria?

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Syria.

MR TONER: Quick one on Syria and then --

QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.

MR TONER: I just want to exhaust that issue.

QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned about reports that Russia is sending fighter jets to Syria to strike ISIS, or do you welcome this development? And if so, how would you coordinate with the Russians?

MR TONER: So I spoke to this a little bit yesterday. We’re, frankly, still chasing the ground truth on that. We’ve seen those reports. I think I said yesterday that, in response to questions we got last week about – frankly, in response to some Russian officials saying we need to take the fight to ISIL. We’re already doing that. There’s a 37-some-odd-country coalition that’s taking the fight to ISIL. We would welcome Russia to be more involved in that effort.

QUESTION: And going back to the General Petraeus news, does the State Department --

MR TONER: That was two questions. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Excuse me. Does the State Department believe that there is a moderate opposition in Syria --


QUESTION: -- that the United States Government can --

MR TONER: Yes, but we’ve talked, again – and we’ve talked all along about the fact that we need to find – and that moderate Syrian opposition needs to coalesce and come together in order to form a more united front.

QUESTION: Who are these groups? Do you know?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, there’s several. I can get into the details, but they are out there. But they need to find their voice and they need to unify.

QUESTION: I want to go to Iraq.

MR TONER: What’s that? I promised this gentleman here.

QUESTION: I’ll follow. It’s okay.

MR TONER: Okay. Okay, Said.

QUESTION: Question on Japan.


QUESTION: So the lower house speaker, Tadamori Oshima, met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, and Japan has been critical about Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, going to China to attend the 70th anniversary of the war ceremonies, saying that it undermines the neutrality of the UN. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR TONER: That it undermines the neutrality of the UN for --

QUESTION: By attending these ceremonies.

MR TONER: For the UN – we’ve been very clear about our perspective on this commemoration event that’s taking place tomorrow, I think, in Beijing. We think it’s appropriate to honor the tremendous sacrifices of those who fought and died in that tragic war. But our focus – just as we stated on VE Day, our focus is on the future and our focus is what happened after the war, where we’ve seen a sustained period of peace, prosperity, partnership with Asia. And we want to see that continue to grow and solidify and bring a new era of peace and prosperity.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow up?

MR TONER: Please go ahead. Let’s finish this topic.

QUESTION: What do you believe the role of the UN is in commemorating historical events?

MR TONER: Well, that’s for the UN to decide. Our – I think the UN is – can speak to how it – what role it wants to play. It’s a body comprised of all the nations of the world. I think it stands for the fact that all nations can come together in the pursuit of dialogue to discuss issues of importance and vital interests of the world. And so what the UN symbolizes I think speaks for itself.

Please, Michael.

QUESTION: Ukraine. On the Ukraine clashes yesterday --


QUESTION: -- you called for a full investigation and those responsible should be held accountable. The Ukraine interior minister – he doesn’t need to conduct an investigation, in his eyes. He knows – he says he knows exactly who did it: It’s members of the Svoboda political party and their leader. He has photos, videos; he said these guys were wearing t-shirts with logos on it. I mean, they weren’t really hiding it. And yesterday you deplored the violence. Do you condemn it? Sounds like it – this is an attack. This wasn’t --

MR TONER: I mean, look, I don’t know if I could’ve been clearer yesterday. I mean, first of all, we welcome the actual vote by Ukraine’s parliament on these draft constitutional amendments on decentralization. This is a key component of them continuing to fulfill their Minsk commitments --

QUESTION: Are you --

MR TONER: -- something, frankly, we haven’t – sorry, let me finish, Michael --

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR TONER: -- we haven’t seen on the part of the separatists or Russia. And then secondly, we strongly deplore the violence that took place in the aftermath of that vote. It resulted in many injuries among law enforcement authorities, and our condolences to those who were injured and killed. And we call on the government to fully investigate this. If they feel they have evidence and proof of who was at fault here --

QUESTION: That’s what they’re saying.

MR TONER: -- then they need to, obviously through due process, investigate this incident and hold those people accountable, certainly.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: This was in reaction to the draft amendment --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and this violence. Are you concerned that once the real thing gets implemented what that could look like? Are you – and that could undermine the Minsk process overall? Not to be flip.

MR TONER: No, I mean, I think – look, I think we have confidence in Ukraine’s government and in their law enforcement agencies to be able to provide security. But this is ultimately something for the Ukrainian people. Those who stood on the Maidan through the long winter months to make their case to the government that was then in place that they wanted more democracy, they wanted greater economic prosperity, greater engagement with Europe, they need to stand up and speak for themselves and to make their feelings known. And we – as I said, we support fully people’s right for peaceful assembly and protest, but once you have violence enter into it, then it changes it.

QUESTION: The draft – the problem with the draft, one more thing is --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- he was able to secure that with 265. He got 265 of the vote, but to make it law, he’ll need 300 eventually. Now, October elections could change but that’s a big gap. Are you worried – you congratulate him here, but aren’t you worried that this thing may never happen?

MR TONER: Boy, you’re – I mean, Matt was trying to get me in the congressional whip counting in the – for the Iran deal vote, but no, I’m not --

QUESTION: Are you not familiar with Ukraine parliament?

MR TONER: That’s right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You don’t know the --

MR TONER: So no, I was going to say – I was just going to say I’m certainly not going to wade into Ukrainian parliamentary vote counts. Look, this is democracy in action. It’s up to the Ukrainian Government to make its case, so we’ll leave it to them.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Palestinian --

MR TONER: Couple more questions. Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Two quick questions on the Palestinian issue.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Are you aware that the Israelis raided a Palestinian refugee camp, Jenin, last night – the raid is still ongoing – using a tactical pressure cooker where they demolished three homes in pursuit of three Palestinian suspects? Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: Said, I have to say I’m not.


MR TONER: No. I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: The – and the flip side of that, it’s been 31 days since Israeli terrorist settlers attacked the village of Duma, killing a Palestinian baby and his father and mother and so on.

MR TONER: Yes, and his father, yeah. Mother, yeah.

QUESTION: And at the time, you expressed confidence that Israel has the wherewithal to pursue the terrorist perpetrators and bring them to justice, yet we don’t see this kind of raiding of the settlement to bring the perpetrators to justice. Are you still satisfied that Israel is doing all it can to apprehend the terrorist suspects in the settlement?

MR TONER: Well, again, we – and we spoke very clearly at the time and continue to condemn that kind of violence, that kind of activity, and call on for a full investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Now, we know and we speak to this often that a full investigation takes time. The prime minister, the government was very clear in expressing their outrage about this violence and the need to address it, so let’s wait and let this process play out.

QUESTION: The point being that when the Israelis express their outrage going into Jenin to apprehend someone, but we have not seen anything similar to that in the settlement where the settlers have suspected – are suspected to come from.

MR TONER: You’re – I’m sorry. You’re talking – say you have not seen this expressed --

QUESTION: No, I’m saying no, we have not. We have not seen anything.

MR TONER: I just haven’t – I am not aware of the incidents.

QUESTION: Are you in touch with the Israelis on these things? Are you coordinating with them? I mean, you have a great deal of law enforcement and security coordinations with them. Are you coordinating with them in fact operationally or otherwise to bring these suspects to justice?

MR TONER: You’re talking about in the attacks in the Palestinian – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, those suspected – right, yes.

MR TONER: I don’t know if we’re actually cooperating with them on this case, but we have every confidence that they’re able to carry out this investigation.

QUESTION: You are? So --

MR TONER: Let’s let the process play out.

QUESTION: So you have every confidence, then, that the Israelis can bring these perpetrators to justice?


QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

QUESTION: Different --

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

QUESTION: I have two brief ones.


QUESTION: One, I don’t know if you’ve addressed this when I was not here, but do you know there’s an effort by the Palestinians at the UN to get their flag --

MR TONER: Yes. No, I’m just kidding. Sorry.

QUESTION: -- to raise their – to raise their flag at the UN? I would have asked Ambassador Power, but she took off.

MR TONER: Yeah. Boy, what an opportunity there, missed opportunity.

QUESTION: Do you guys have a position on that?

MR TONER: On the --


MR TONER: On the flag?

QUESTION: On the Palestinian request to have their flag – I mean, they are now a – recognized as a member of the General Assembly.


QUESTION: Yes, what?

MR TONER: We do have a --

QUESTION: Is it yes, no? Yes, we have a position? No, they can’t?

MR TONER: Let me finish, let me finish. We continue to believe that Palestinian efforts to pursue statehood or endorsements of statehood claims through the UN system that are outside of a negotiated settlement, we believe those actions to be counterproductive.

QUESTION: And that includes – that would include raising the flag?


QUESTION: It would. Okay. The Vatican has got a – which has the same status as the Palestinian Authority does at the General Assembly, has got a similar request. They have distanced themselves from the --

MR TONER: I don’t – have they --

QUESTION: -- Palestinian one. But they – it’s been an ongoing thing, and particularly because the Pope is going to be there this year, who is a head of state, and if I’m not mistaken is going to be on a state visit, or at least a papal visit here, which is pretty much the equivalent of a state visit, getting greeted by the President and all that kind of thing.

I’m wondering if the U.S. has the same position on the Vatican flag going up as it does for the Palestinians, or is it just an entirely different case because the Vatican is already recognized – you already recognize the Vatican as a state?

MR TONER: I’ll double-check on that, but my sense is that you answered the question, which is it’s an entirely different case.

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: So in the absence --

QUESTION: Excuse me, Said. Then also related to the UN and the Palestinian issue, are you aware of this latest surge in criticism of UNRWA and calls by some in Israel for it to be investigated, that kind of thing?

MR TONER: I’m not. I’d have to --

QUESTION: I didn’t think you would be. Could you --

MR TONER: I’ll look at --

QUESTION: Could you take a look at that?

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, no worries.

Tejinder, you’ve been waiting a long time. I apologize.

QUESTION: A short one on India. Is there any diplomatic fallout from the release of the 12-page secret document of the CIA yesterday which made headlines in India and other places about saying that then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to bomb the Pakistani nuclear sites when she became the second time the prime minister?

MR TONER: Tejinder, I apologize; I’m not aware of the document. Are you talking about recent release of this document?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday it was – it made big headlines --

MR TONER: I apologize. I don’t --

QUESTION: -- that front page document – secret document of the CIA. And so there are no phone --

MR TONER: I was preoccupied by other --

QUESTION: The emails. I know.

MR TONER: -- questions of classification and non-classification.


MR TONER: No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any comment.


QUESTION: This is a different topic on China.


QUESTION: About Ambassador David Saperstein’s visit to China, who is in charge of the international religious freedom. As you released the statement yesterday, firstly let me ask about – could you tell me the reason why ambassador visited China this time and raised a deep concern against the violation of the religious freedom at this moment?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. So you’re talking --

QUESTION: Is it – are you --


QUESTION: Is the United States Government is investigating regularly or this is the first time?

MR TONER: But you’re – I’m sorry. Who made – could you just mention – you’re talking about?

QUESTION: Ambassador David Saperstein. You --

MR TONER: Yeah. No, I am aware of that. I’m not sure I have anything on his visit, though. I apologize. I’ll try to find out more about it.

QUESTION: Okay. And I believe U.S. Government is going to raise a concern when President Xi Jinping visit this time. But as we all know, on this human rights and the religious freedom, there are significant differences between the United States and China. So how are you going to – the United States Government raise concern and have a constructive discussion on this issue?

MR TONER: On religious freedom?


MR TONER: Well, just like we try to have constructive discussions on difficult issues across the board with China, including human rights, as Ambassador Power just spoke to, we believe strongly as a country, as a nation, in religious freedom, and we would call on all countries to allow people to – their own citizens to worship as they see fit. And that’s a matter of concern to us, ongoing concern.

QUESTION: One more thing.

MR TONER: Last question, guys.

QUESTION: So I would like to know about the fair assessment of the United States Government. The situation of the religious freedom in China is getting better or getting more serious since the last investigation, like the last couple of years.

MR TONER: Well, I can’t give you an overall assessment. It’s something we do watch closely. Certainly, our Human Rights Report speaks to it, our annual Human Rights Report speaks to it. I can say that it is an ongoing concern. And specifically, just to cite a recent case, a prominent Christian human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and his assistant, they were detained by the Chinese authorities. We certainly want to see him released. But this is just indicative of an ongoing pattern that we’ve seen.

Last question in the back.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Turkey and media issue because my --

MR TONER: Turkey and --

QUESTION: Turkey and media issue.

MR TONER: Oh, media issues. Sorry.

QUESTION: Media issue, because my newspaper today, police raid it all day and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. According to some source, especially from government, they are going to take over all critical media, because we have some information about that. And have you concern – have you related with Turkish Government or communicate with Turkish Government specifically about this issue? Because today they – police raided two newspaper, two TV channel, and our newspaper raided today, and maybe tomorrow another one. Maybe day after, another one. And especially before election.

MR TONER: Well, as I said, we’ve made clear in the past and continue to make clear of our concern about Turkish Government interferences with freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the importance in the administration of due process and justice. I spoke to that already, talking about some of these raids that you referred to, that any kind of law enforcement, legal enforcement activity is done in accordance with international legal standards. And we would urge Turkey to follow those standards in this and any other case.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)

DPB # 149

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 31, 2015

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 20:09

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 31, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:41 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Happy Monday, everybody. Sorry for the slight delay, but if I know one thing, it’s never talk over the boss. So I apologize, but thanks for waiting, everyone.

I just have a few things to read out at the top. First of all, just wanted to announce that Secretary Kerry will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, quite possibly the greatest city in our nation and my hometown, on September 2nd to deliver --

QUESTION: Mark, come on. Such hyperbole – (laughter) – coming from you. All that homerism.

MR TONER: Anyway, I stepped on my lede. The – Secretary Kerry will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 2nd to deliver a speech about the importance to our national security of the Iran nuclear deal. He will reassert that by blocking all pathways to a nuclear weapon for Iran the deal also makes safer the entire Middle East region. He’s also – he will deliver his remarks, rather, at the National Constitution Center. Secretary Kerry’s remarks will be open to the press and streamed live on More information on timing and how to access the speech will be released at a later time, so stay tuned.

I know many of you are eagerly awaiting the release of the next tranche of emails from former Secretary Clinton, so today I just wanted to announce that at approximately 9 P.M., the State Department will make publicly available online more than 7,000 additional pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. These emails were reviewed using FOIA standards for public release. We’re producing more documents this month than we have produced in the previous three releases in May, June, and July combined. Today’s production exceeds the court’s goal of producing 25 percent of the Clinton email collection by August 31st. Meeting this goal is really a testament to our commitment to releasing these emails to the public as expeditiously as possible. And combined with the May, June, and July releases, the total page count now comes to more than 25 percent of the full set. The department is continuing to review the remainder of the set of former Secretary Clinton’s emails that are records and will make them publicly available on the department’s FOIA website on a rolling basis.

Just a couple more. Bear with me. September is the Department of State’s Passport Awareness Month and the launch of our Apply Early public awareness campaign. Why is this important? Well, in 2007 the department experienced an unprecedented surge in passport applications as a result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Nearly 10 years later – and we’re coming up on it – those passports are beginning to expire, and the department has been experiencing increased demand for passport renewals. So we’re expecting a surge in passport applications to continue through 2018, and we would encourage all U.S citizen travelers to submit passport applications well ahead of their planned travel dates in order to avoid delays receiving their travel documents.

And then lastly, but certainly not least, we welcome today’s vote by Ukraine’s parliament on draft constitutional amendments on decentralization. This is an important step towards good governance for all Ukrainians which also helps fulfill another key piece of the Minsk agreements. We deplore the violence outside the parliament today that reportedly resulted in the death of at least one police officer as well as dozens of injuries. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and injured. We call on all Ukrainians, no matter their affiliation or organization, to respect law and order. We fully respect Ukrainians’ right to engage in peaceful protests, but in a democratic society, grievances must be addressed peacefully and lawfully. We also call for a full investigation into the cause of today’s violence. Those responsible should be held accountable.

With that, I’ll go to your questions.

QUESTION: Just before we get into the email thing for a second, I – aside from taking issue with your description of the city of brotherly love, you said that more details would – what --

MR TONER: I just mean about just timing and --

QUESTION: Do you know roughly – is it afternoon, morning? When is --

MR TONER: Roughly around noon.

QUESTION: Around noon?


QUESTION: Okay. On --

MR TONER: But that’s not a definite. That may move a little bit, so I don’t want anybody to take that as gospel yet.

QUESTION: Okay. On the email release --


QUESTION: -- you say it will bring to more than 25 percent. Is that incrementally over 20 – like a point-something, or is it like 27 percent? Or do you – can you be more specific about what the percentage is?

MR TONER: Well – sure. Well, no, actually, because we’re still finalizing even at this late time how many – so I can’t give you a precise beyond that, that it’s over 25 percent. I could try to get you a more detailed and accurate --

QUESTION: So in other words, the number of pages could – is still in flux that will be released? So --

MR TONER: So the total page count – I can assure you it will be over 25 percent, but I don't know exactly whether it’s 26 or 27 or whatever. The – I mean, it’s 7,000 additional pages of emails today, and I don’t have – I can look for them, but – and do the math up here, but I encourage you all to do the same.

QUESTION: Is it 7,000 pages or is it 7,000 emails?

MR TONER: Seven thousand additional pages of emails.

QUESTION: So this could be 6,500 emails?

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have an accurate number on the emails yet.


QUESTION: Is it the judge’s --


QUESTION: -- standard that it’s 25 percent of the number of pages or 25 percent of the number of emails?

MR TONER: I believe that it’s 25 percent of the emails. That’s my understanding, but I’ll double-check that.

QUESTION: So is it, in fact, accurate that this is more than 25 percent of the emails --

MR TONER: So what I just said --

QUESTION: -- have been released, or is it more than 25 percent --

MR TONER: -- I said combined with the May, June, and July releases, the total page count comes to more than 25 percent of the full Clinton set. So I’ll double-check your – Arshad, your question about that. I’ll get back – yeah.

QUESTION: So if – but if he’s – if you’re right in saying that the judge’s standard is percentage of emails rather than percentage of pages, we don’t know that – for sure that you’re meeting the core standard.

MR TONER: That’s what I said, I think it’s pages.


MR TONER: That’s why I caught myself.


QUESTION: I got some more on the emails.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: I’d like to take you back to a story that was written by one of my colleagues earlier this month that looked at the question of whether so-called foreign government information is classified – is presumed to be classified when it is transmitted to the – somebody in the U.S. Government with the presumption or the explicit agreement that it will be held in confidence by the U.S. Government official.

My colleague has found 30 series of emails of those that have already been released by the State Department that contain what the department has subsequently itself deemed to be foreign government information. These are the ones that have been declassified. And among the emails that he found was a five-page email from then-British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s top aide sent to Huma Abedin saying that then-Foreign Secretary Miliband wanted Secretary Clinton only to receive his email. That aide sent it from his home computer, which is a little perplexing but doesn’t, I think, change the obligations on the part of the U.S. Government when it receives information that a – from a foreign government that is clearly transmitted with the understanding that it is to be held in confidence.

So the question is: Is or was Secretary Clinton bound by the Foreign Affairs Manual’s obligation to treat as confidential – that is, the lowest level of U.S. classification – information that was transmitted by a foreign government with the understanding that it would be held in confidence? Or, as Secretary of State, is he or she not bound by the Foreign Affairs Manual’s strictures on this?

MR TONER: Well, so writ large or speaking broadly, classification – and we’ve said this many times – it’s not an exact science. It’s not often a black-and-white process. There’s many variation and there’s many strong opinions even on this very issue about classification. And this is all part, as we’ve said, again, many times, of the process that we’re undergoing – an interagency process where we look at these emails and we upgrade them as necessary, as we see fit. We’ve been very clear what our goal is here, and that is we’re dealing with some – as we said, some 55,000 pages of emails, and we’re processing them via FOIA rules and regulations. But our goal here is simply to make – to upgrade these where necessary and make them public.

What you’re asking me to speak to, Arshad, I’m not going to speak to from the podium because it’s not up to me to litigate these kinds of questions from the State Department podium. Our goal, as I said, is to respond to the FOIA request. Now, there are other reviews, investigations that we’ve spoken to or alluded to that may look at some of these broader questions, but it’s not for me to do that from here and certainly not today. I can just say that we stand by our contention that the information we’ve upgraded was not marked classified at the time that the emails were sent.

QUESTION: But wait a minute.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Foreign Affairs Manual – and I’m reading from the version in effect for 2009 when the emails that we looked at were sent --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- says, quote – it says all department employees, quote, “Must safeguard foreign government and NATO-restricted information as U.S. Government confidential,” close quote, or higher. So I don’t fully understand how this can be a matter of great debate because if you stipulate that information given in confidence by a foreign government to a U.S. official is foreign government information, it seems like you are under an obligation to treat it as confidential or higher in terms of classification. Can you explain to me why that’s debatable?

MR TONER: It’s just that – I appreciate your question. It’s just that I hope you understand that I can’t litigate those kinds of things. I can’t pass judgment from this podium right now, certainly not when there’s other reviews or other investigations that may be underway. Certainly, as you know, the Inspector General is looking more broadly at some of these issues and questions. As I said, we just – our clear focus is on clearing these emails, redacting them as necessary in order to safeguard anything that we’ve deemed now should be upgraded in classification. But I can’t speak to the original.


QUESTION: Two other quick things. One is: Do you believe as a general matter that the Secretary of State, whomever he or she may be, is bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? I mean, it may be that they’re not, that they have sort of a status that’s different and that therefore they have the rights to not follow it.

MR TONER: I mean, I would just say that every State Department employee from the Secretary on down takes the handling of classified information very seriously and is aware of the rules surrounding those classification standards.

QUESTION: And then one other thing. You said – sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that you stood by your position that you’re – I can’t remember if you said you were confident or certain, but that the information in the emails was not marked classified at the time it was sent or received, but you’re not willing to take the position that it was not, in fact, classified when it was sent or received regardless of whether it was marked as such?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve said that we’re – and we’ve been very clear about this. When we’ve upgraded, we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent or handled or however, forwarded or received, and we’ve also been very clear that nothing that we’ve seen so far was ever marked classified. So I’ll just stay there.

QUESTION: And just last thing.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On the thing that everybody is obliged to – I mean, can you not address squarely whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to the Secretary of State or not?

MR TONER: I mean, I can say that, again, we, from the Secretary on down, take the handling of classified materials and the rules surrounding those – so I mean in that sense, including the Foreign Affairs Manual but also other regulations, stipulations, training that we undergo in how to handle classified and confidential information.

QUESTION: You take them --

MR TONER: Seriously. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re bound by them?

MR TONER: We’re all bound by – how we treat classified information is, as I said, an important component of the work we do, but I’ve also made clear that when you look at classified material it is not an exact science, it’s not black and white, it’s not always clear, so there’s strong feelings and different beliefs about when something is classified, whether it’s born classified, whether it should be classified later. These are all questions that are being answered in a deliberative and a thorough way that we’re looking at that’s not somehow some cabal of people in a small room somewhere making these decisions. It’s an interagency process. It involves the IC, it involves other agencies as it touches their equities. So that’s our focus.

QUESTION: Mark, since you just said those --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- rules and standards are so important that everyone in this building has to follow them, can you say from that podium categorically that Secretary Clinton followed the rules and the law?

MR TONER: I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function in this regard in releasing these emails. Our goal and our sole purpose when we look at these emails is to decide – well, first to publish them according to the FOIA request that we have received. But in doing that, looking at them and deciding whether any of that material needs to be redacted and subsequently classified.

QUESTION: Isn’t it a little odd that the State Department can’t state categorically that the Secretary of State followed the rules?

MR TONER: All I can say is that there are – and I’ve alluded to there – I’ve not alluded to it, I’ve said as much to Arshad: There are other reviews, and that’s really for the inspector general and other entities who are out there looking at some of these broader questions.

QUESTION: Why had this information been delayed? I mean, earlier we were told midday we’re getting these emails, then 6 p.m. Now it’s 9 p.m., when most of the public is not paying attention.

MR TONER: No, it’s – look, it’s certainly – that’s – it’s a fair question.

QUESTION: Well, so –

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. It’s – it always ends up this way. It’s because we’re getting these emails back from, as I said, this interagency review. We’re compiling them. We’re actually loading them online. It just takes a long time. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of really dedicated and tired people who have been working throughout the weekend to meet this goal.

QUESTION: So to your point, is it because they’re going through what’s classified and what’s not? They’re redacting? Is that the delay?

MR TONER: That’s part of it. They have to review literally every email, every page. And this is – again, this is a multilevel – what am I trying to say here? It’s a process whereby bureaus look at these, the regional bureaus; they’re passed on to other entities who look at these. They’re scrubbed several times, then they’re passed around to the different agencies if they – those agencies have equities here. And we’ve seen that in the case – in prior cases. But again, the goal is we do a thorough scrub on whether these need to be redacted before they can be released publicly.

QUESTION: So – can you tell the public have you found more information that was classified that’s in this tranche of documents?

MR TONER: We have upgraded some – a number of these emails.

QUESTION: And what’s your estimate of how many? You say there’s 7,000 pages. How many --

MR TONER: Right. And I don’t want to – again, it’s – until we release it, we don’t have a firm number. I think it’s somewhere around 150, but that’s --

QUESTION: That have classified information?

MR TONER: That had been subsequently upgraded --

QUESTION: That had been redacted? Okay.

MR TONER: -- had been upgraded to classified.

QUESTION: And are you saying that those 150 are being considered classified after the fact, or did any of them --


QUESTION: Okay. So zero were considered classified at the time?

MR TONER: That’s correct. That’s our estimation right now. Again, that’s – our goal is to look at this stuff – look at these emails, make a decision whether we redact, upgrade the classification, and then publish them.

QUESTION: Mark, can we move on?

QUESTION: No. I just want to – this foreign --

MR TONER: Matt’s going to make me do more math at the podium, and that’s always a dangerous thing.

QUESTION: This – yeah, no, I’m not going to get into math. The question though that Arshad was asking about foreign government information – is it safe to assume, and I don’t want to use – “assume” is the wrong word. But in the previously released emails, all the redactions that had been – that are going to be made have been made already, right? For stuff that is already out there that you put out over the first --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So if there was something that was not redacted from a previous – from an email that was released prior to today, it’s not possible that it – you’re going to go back and redact it now, is it? It’s --

MR TONER: I mean, that stuff’s all publicly – what hasn’t been redacted is already out in the public sphere.

QUESTION: Is it the State Department’s – and is it the belief of the people who are looking at this that there was no classified information that was inadvertently already released in emails?

MR TONER: No. That’s not our belief, no.

QUESTION: So you think that there – so you’re allowing that there might have been --

MR TONER: Or conviction, rather.

QUESTION: -- or there was information that should have been classified and that was not redacted from earlier --

MR TONER: No, no, no, wait. Wait, wait. I said what we’ve released has been redacted via the FOIA process --


MR TONER: -- and we stand by what’s been released.

QUESTION: And so – so there is --

MR TONER: So nothing will be --

QUESTION: No one’s going back and looking at the stuff that’s already out there and seeing if there is information in there that should have been redacted?

MR TONER: Not on our part, no.



MR TONER: Yeah, please. Said and then – yeah.

QUESTION: Moving on? Okay, can I ask on --

MR TONER: Moving on.

QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli issue? There was a study issued by Oxford University and published in Haaretz yesterday that there are 60,000 American Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Sixty thousand?

QUESTION: Sixty thousand American Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

MR TONER: I don’t. I’m not aware of the study.

QUESTION: I know because you guys – your position is --

MR TONER: I just haven’t seen the study, frankly, so I don’t --

QUESTION: -- you oppose the settlements, you oppose – you consider them to be illegal and so on. But there you go – you have 60,000 Americans. Do you have any leverage with these American citizens?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, in terms of leverage – I mean, we through our embassy offer support for American citizens throughout the world. But what – we’re very clear on our policy on this issue, and I don’t know that we need to be any clearer.

QUESTION: Many elements among these settlers are extremists, they carry guns, they enforce their own sort of rules and regulations on roads and hamlets and so on – Palestinian hamlets. Do you have any kind of program, perhaps, to rehabilitate these settlers, bring them back somehow, as as opposed to the settlements?

MR TONER: No, I mean – and the other thing is we’ve also spoken about the uptick in violence, in extremist violence in Israel. And in fact, the government and the prime minister have also spoken about some of the recent attacks that we view as abhorrent. And we call on, frankly, all sides to stop this kind of violence.

In terms of programs, I’m not aware of what you’re – specific programs aimed at Israeli American settlers, no.

QUESTION: Since I – my last question on this issue.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Should the United States or would the United States have some sort of a program – an incentive program – to sort of encourage settlers to perhaps dismantle these settlements?

MR TONER: I mean, that’s really a question for the Israeli Government to look at. I mean, we’ve been very clear on how we feel about settlements.

QUESTION: Not really because they maintain their U.S. citizenship.

MR TONER: Well, we believe that settlements hinder getting any kind of talks back up and running and peace process going. We want to see positive actions on all sides.

So yeah, please.

QUESTION: Before I go, my two questions on South Asia.

MR TONER: You’re going?

QUESTION: If I can go back, emails, just quick one.


QUESTION: Some of these emails may be dealing also with --

MR TONER: I know it’s a big story when you’re even asking me about the emails, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Some of these emails may be also dealing with the foreign governments at the highest level. You think any of those governments are in touch with the State Department, or are you in touch with them?

MR TONER: Good question. We – I mean, of course, we’re in touch with foreign governments about a wide range of issues. But again, in terms of what we release publicly, that’s just according to the FOIA process. So we – if they have issues, they can certainly exchange those issue with us, but I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Before I go --

MR TONER: Please go ahead.

QUESTION: -- two questions on South Asia, please.


QUESTION: Today you have issued a – or reissued or continuation of a Travel Warning to Pakistan. And that said that because of terrorism and terrorists are there and they may be a danger to the travels of U.S. citizens, and also Peshawar and Lahore consulates not offering any more services to the Americans there. What I’m asking is that since this Travel Warning is asking – talking about the terrorists are still there and there’s a threat, and at the same time today Pakistan’s defense minister, Mr. Khawaja Muhammad also– Mohammad issued another warning to India that we will use nuclear weapons against India.

What I’m asking is because of the base of terrorists in Pakistan and continuation of nuclear threats against India, where do – are we going about this? And at the same time we are talking about nuclear – nuclear activities or nuclear weapons in Iran because in the past there was a connection between Pakistan and Iran as far as giving or proliferation of --


QUESTION: So what is the future? I mean, where do we go from here?

MR TONER: That sounds like a lyric from a song. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I want to have that as a standing question for every topic.

QUESTION: What I’m saying is --

MR TONER: No, let me try to answer that. Let me --

QUESTION: What I’m saying really, India must be worried --


QUESTION: -- and India must be talking with the U.S. --

MR TONER: Sure, no, understood, understood. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make light of it because it’s a very serious issue.

First of all, in terms of the Travel Warning upgrade, or reissuing – reissuance rather, I’m not aware of that. But certainly, we do update our Travel Warnings periodically. That’s a courtesy to U.S. citizens traveling abroad. And there’s a lot of reasons why we issue these Travel Warnings, and there’s various – there’s Travel Warnings, there’s Travel Alerts. All of these are just to inform U.S. citizens who travel abroad about specific events, but certainly, in this case of a Travel Warning, the possibility of terrorist activity or danger to them if they do decide to travel to these areas.

Speaking more broadly, National Security Advisor Rice was just in Pakistan last week and met with Pakistani leadership and shared our assessment of the sources of regional violence as well as discussed ways to reduce this violence and to return the region to peace and stability. It’s a very dynamic region; we all know that. And we continue to consult with Pakistan and its neighbors to assess the challenges of the threat environment and what responses need to be made.

Speaking to your question about relations with India, that’s really a matter for – between the two countries, but we certainly want to see a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan. It’s in the interests of everyone in the region and certainly everyone in the world. So as much as there can be dialogue there, as much as there can be a reduction in tensions, we would encourage that.

QUESTION: And on Sri Lanka quickly?

QUESTION: Can we continue with Pakistan?

MR TONER: Let’s – yeah, please. Lalit and then --

QUESTION: Pakistan itself. Today Pakistan’s foreign minister, the national security advisor, in his meeting with the German foreign minister, said that Haqqani Network is no longer present in Pakistan. Do you agree with his assessment that Haqqani Network is no longer present in Pakistan and they have all moved to Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not going to speak necessarily to his statement. I’m just going to say that – and certainly, as I said, National Security Advisor Rice was just there and she had very frank and productive conversations with her counterparts about the continuing threat and violence in the region and ways we can best counteract it. But in terms of the Haqqani Network and really the violence that we see from the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, we really want to double down, if you will, on trying to stop these groups from carrying out other acts of terror.

QUESTION: So – but if they are not in Afghan – Pakistan, then why from this podium for the last several weeks you have been expressing concern and asking Pakistan to act on Haqqani Network?

MR TONER: I just – look, I’m just saying that we recognize that there’s still a threat from these terrorist groups emanating from Pakistan. We want to see Pakistan take additional steps to address some of these threats. So I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Change topics?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) on China?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Regarding this morning’s story in The Washington Post that the U.S. is readying sanctions against China, do you have anything to say on that?

MR TONER: No. I mean, the – I mean, not a lot of more light to shed on this issue. Certainly, the United States, as we all know, has sharp disagreements with China over its actions in cyber space, and we’ve been pretty clear and consistent about addressing these disagreements with the Chinese. We remain deeply concerned about Chinese Government-sponsored cyber-enabled theft of confidential business information and proprietary technology from U.S. companies. And in addition to cyber theft, we’re also concerned about actions that China’s taking that violate personal privacy, undermine core freedom or core – yeah, core freedoms for individuals online, and discriminate against U.S. technology firms.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. be concerned – since this comes a few weeks before the president of China visits the United States, would the U.S. be concerned about any retaliation by Chinese authorities in response to something like this?

MR TONER: In response to what specifically?

QUESTION: To sanctions against Chinese companies or --

MR TONER: Well, again, I didn’t – I was very clear saying we had nothing to announce in terms of economic and sanctions. Certainly, that remains a tool in the proverbial toolbox when we look at these kinds of situations, but I’m not saying we’re moving forward in that direction.

And that said, speaking broadly – more broadly to the President Xi’s visit, we’ve been very clear in all of our interactions with the Chinese to discuss the broad range of issues. Some we just – we agree on, obviously, but also a lot we disagree on, and cyber security and cyber protection is obviously an issue where we seek better cooperation. And again, we spoke to this during the S&ED meeting a couple months ago that it’s in the interest of China as well because if they want to attract more foreign investment, certainly companies – private companies are going to look for a secure cyber environment.

QUESTION: Can we stay on China?

QUESTION: Would you say – sorry, I had a few more on these.

MR TONER: Please go ahead and I’ll get to you next.

QUESTION: Would you say that the U.S. is coming to a realization that simply raising the issue and talking about it in diplomatic meetings doesn’t really help anymore given that the Chinese have not shown a willingness to back down on this issue?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to say it doesn’t help or it’s – look, I mean, we’re very clear and clear-eyed about our approach to this in the sense that we feel that these meetings, these dialogues with the Chinese allow us to raise these issues and have frank exchanges with them about our concerns. But it’s – this is – it’s one part of the strategy, diplomatic engagement. We also have trade policy tools and other law enforcement mechanisms that we can rely on. It’s just – I would say diplomatic engagement is just one of the avenues.

QUESTION: Okay. And last one on this: What is it exactly that has prevented you – given how outspoken the Administration has been over the last few years about Chinese cyber hacking, what is it that has prevented you from taking a more forceful action like the one described in this article up until now?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re constantly – it’s a very fluid environment, cyber security. We’re constantly assessing the danger, assessing the risks, how to better prevent incursions on our cyber security. I don’t want to speak to your specific question other than to say that when we act, we want to make sure that we have compelling evidence to act on.

QUESTION: What are you --

QUESTION: Can we stay on China?

MR TONER: Yeah, please – I’ll get back to you in a second or – is this still on the same topic?




QUESTION: It’s on China, but it’s not about --

MR TONER: China? Matt had --

QUESTION: -- not about this.

MR TONER: All right. Go ahead and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering – maybe you spoke to this last week or when I was away about the president of Sudan visiting China for the military – the World War II celebration. Do you have --

MR TONER: I did not – we did not speak to it, but I --

QUESTION: Okay. Can – do you have any thoughts about that – positive, negative, or neutral – considering that he is wanted by the ICC and China is a --

MR TONER: I get one of those three choices, I would say --

QUESTION: -- Security Council member that --


QUESTION: -- or a member of the – permanent member of the Security Council that voted to send the whole Darfur case, issue to the ICC in the first place.

MR TONER: Well, we are concerned about these reports that Sudanese President al-Bashir is going to travel to China to attend the September 3rd World War II commemoration. As you know, he’s been charged with – by the ICC, International Criminal Court, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and warrants for his arrest remain outstanding. And we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for those acts. Our position is clear: We oppose invitations, facilitation, or support for travel by persons subject to outstanding ICC warrants.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, doesn’t – do the Chinese not have, in fact, a special obligation – even though they’re not like you, they’re not a member of the court, they are a member – and a permanent member at that – of the Security Council. Don’t they have a special obligation to uphold – or maybe not – to --

MR TONER: Well, we’ve been clear, as I’m being clear right now, in that we’ve called on all countries to join the international community in its call for Sudan obviously to fully cooperate with the ICC, and requested that governments, including China’s, not invite or facilitate or frankly support travel by President Bashir. And we have a longstanding policy of urging other nations to refrain from lending political or financial support to persons subject to ICC arrest warrants in Darfur. So it’s a serious cause for concern that he remains at large.


QUESTION: All right. Well, other than this being a cause of – serious cause of concern for you, are there any consequences for the Chinese for doing this?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to any concrete consequences that may result, but we believe China, like any nation, as you say, as a member of the Security Council, should weigh its concern – or weigh the world’s concerns about President Bashir and the fact that, as I said, he’s got an active warrant out for his arrests for war crimes.

QUESTION: Do you think they’ve done so in this case?

MR TONER: I would let them speak to that.

QUESTION: Should they arrest him?

MR TONER: We believe – I don’t know how to put it more clearly. We believe he should be held accountable and that they should arrest him.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: You had your hand up and then I’ll get – sorry. It was China as well?

QUESTION: About China, yes, back to the cyber issue.


QUESTION: What do you say when the Chinese say the U.S. spies on us too, hacks our computers, and so on?

MR TONER: Well, again, cyber security is a concern for many countries. You’re speaking to – you’re asking me to confirm that we spy or we hack into other people’s computers around the world. I’m certainly not going to speak to any intelligence activities we may carry out, except for the fact that the President has been very clear that we never do that – we never do any kind of surveillance or any kind of activity like that in pursuit of economic gain. What we – our intelligence agencies conduct is in the national security interests of the United States and our friends and allies.

QUESTION: The Chinese don’t confirm that either, by the way.

MR TONER: What’s that?

QUESTION: The Chinese don’t confirm that either. They never confirmed any of that.

MR TONER: No, I understand, but the other thing is, again, and I think I spoke to this when answering the question, is we have concerns – legitimate concerns, we believe – and we have a combination of ways to address those concerns. And again, it’s something we raise with China on a regular basis. That’s something that’s important. I mean, we need to have that dialogue. We need to have that exchange of information. But as I made clear, that’s just one tool in the toolkit and if we need to move to other measures, we will. But again, we do that on the basis of evidence.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Ukraine?

QUESTION: China, China.

MR TONER: Let’s stay on China and then I’ll get to you on Ukraine. Please.

QUESTION: Mark, circling back to Bashir, has the U.S. made its concerns about this particular Bashir trip known to China?

MR TONER: Well, I just did if – no, I’m just kidding. (Laughter.) It’s a fair question. I don’t know that we’ve expressed it explicitly via our embassy or from – or here. I’ll have to – I can take that question, but get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Iraq?

QUESTION: China, please? China.

MR TONER: Just stay on China and then I’ll – you and then Iraq. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on a recent explosion in China --

MR TONER: I do not. I mean, you’re talking --

QUESTION: -- today or the day before?

MR TONER: You’re not talking about the explosion, the terrible accident that took place last week, are you?

QUESTION: Oh, no, no, no, no, more current.

MR TONER: Okay. A new – recent? No, I’m sorry, I don’t.

Please, you go ahead. You had a Ukraine question. Ukraine and then I’ll get – she had her question – her hand up before. Please.

QUESTION: You commented on the violence in Kyiv in your opening statement. Do you think the Ukrainian Government can use force against the ultra-nationalist rioters causing violence in Kyiv?

MR TONER: Well, our position – and it doesn’t apply simply to the situation in Ukraine – is pretty clear on this. We believe everyone has a right to peaceful protest, whether --

QUESTION: But they’re not peaceful.

MR TONER: If it’s not peaceful, then that’s – we would ask any law enforcement – sorry, law enforcement agency to conduct themselves with restraint, but certainly they have an obligation to uphold peace and law in that country. But it’s also an obligation on any protestors – no matter what they espouse – to do so in a peaceful way.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: So some of these same ultranationalist groups attacked the police at Maidan two years ago, and the U.S. message to the government at the time was do not use force, those are just protestors. Would you say the same thing to the current Ukrainian Government in Ukraine – to the current Ukrainian Government?

MR TONER: Again, and I say this realizing that many of these situations it can be a very murky situation in terms of violence, who causes what or who starts what. But law enforcement agencies need to exercise restraint. They’re certainly trained in that capacity, whether it’s in the United States or whether it’s somewhere else around the world, and that people have the right to peaceful protest. But there’s an obligation, as I said, on the protestors to also behave in a peaceful manner, which I think we saw in large part on the Maidan several years ago.

Please, on Iraq.

QUESTION: I want your reaction for a video that circulated over the internet of a celebrated Shia militia in Iraq, whose, like, his graphic pictures are seen basically burning an ISIS member and slicing off his flesh. I wanted to know whether the United States has a position on the anti-ISIS forces taking basically what seems to be from ISIS playbook in fighting the ISIS fighters?

MR TONER: Sorry, so you’re speaking to a video that shows --

QUESTION: Of a very famous militia man named as the Rambo of Iraq in Western press. He’s seen basically in the video like desecrating the body of an ISIS fighter. Is it okay for anti-ISIS forces to practice --

MR TONER: I mean, we wouldn’t – I’m not aware of this actual incident that you’re speaking about. But the desecration of any --

QUESTION: But in general, you are not --

MR TONER: In general, no, we don’t support --

QUESTION: Against ISIS. Against ISIS.

MR TONER: Regardless of who it is, we don’t support the desecration of bodies of fallen enemy or anyone, frankly.

QUESTION: I want to change topics.

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.


MR TONER: Oh, are we done with Iraq?

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


MR TONER: Syria.


MR TONER: In the back, Iraq?




MR TONER: All right.

QUESTION: Very quickly.

MR TONER: Too much. (Laughter.) All right. Sorry, Said, very quickly to you, and then I’ll go around. And I promise I’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: On Syria, today the Russian foreign minister called on the Syrian opposition to close ranks so they can move forward with some sort of peace negotiation. Do you support that call? Are you working with different groups? Is Mr. Ratney sort of meeting with them to have them close ranks and perhaps get some (inaudible)?

MR TONER: So I’m going to try to kill two birds with one stone, because I know that you were also asking about Mr. Ratney. (Laughter.) This is how we – first of all, I’m not – I haven’t seen the remarks. Are you saying Foreign Minister Lavrov?

QUESTION: Lavrov, yes.

MR TONER: So I haven’t seen the remarks explicitly. I don’t have them in front of me. I haven’t seen them. We’ve long called for the – a political process consistent with the Geneva communique, but one that brings together moderate Syrian opposition towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. Where we’ve, frankly, differed is that we’ve long held that the end result of that process cannot include any kind of government that includes President Assad. He has proven through his barbarity throughout the years that he cannot be a part of any peaceful political resolution in Syria.

Now, you mentioned our Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney. Just a quick update, we spoke about the fact that he was – met on August 28th in Moscow with senior Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov. And August 31st he was – he’s in Jeddah – today’s August 31st, sorry – with Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir to continue discussions about working towards a genuine political transition and bringing an end to the devastating crisis in Syria.

He also met on August 29th – just to complete the circle here, he was in Geneva with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and again they talked about ongoing efforts to create conditions for productive negotiations. So all of these meetings support our efforts, Secretary Kerry’s efforts and engagements, rather, with his counterparts in support of Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts. But nothing more concrete to share at this time.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Dave Clark. It’s my first briefing.

MR TONER: Hey, Dave. I meant to – I’m so sorry. That was a – so Dave Clark has joined the AFP bureau here replacing Jo Biddle. But welcome aboard – I should’ve said at the top. I apologize for that. That was --

QUESTION: It’s okay. Just for the question, the two British journalists working for a U.S.-based organization, Vice News, have been arrested and charged with terrorism in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Obviously, this comes on the heels of journalists being convicted in Egypt, another of your Middle Eastern allies. I was wondering whether the United States – obviously they’re not U.S. citizens, but do you have anything to say on that particular topic?

MR TONER: Well, sure, actually, we do. Freedom of expression, including for journalists, and due process are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined, in fact, in the Turkish constitution as well as Turkey’s OSCE commitments and Turkey’s international human rights obligations. So as Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, including due process, freedom of expression, as well as access to media and information.

QUESTION: One more on journalists.


QUESTION: As you’re aware of in Iran – there are reports out of Iran that two unnamed people have been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for espionage. Do you have any reason to believe that one of those two unnamed people might be the Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian?

MR TONER: So we’re aware of these news reports of the sentencing of these two espionage cases. At this point we’re not aware of any connection to any of the cases of detained U.S. citizens in Iran, including Jason Rezaian.

Yeah. I’m sorry, where was I? How about you? You were waiting. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Ukraine, if I may.


QUESTION: Thank you. You used the word “murky” describing the current situation.

MR TONER: No, I actually wasn’t --

QUESTION: You said --

MR TONER: I was saying writ large, oftentimes when there’s these ongoing street protests – we’ve seen it elsewhere; Egypt and elsewhere --

QUESTION: There’s violence. There is violence on the street.


QUESTION: Well, two years ago, the message that came from the U.S. was more clear and less murky, and that it was to urge the government at the time not to use force even though some of the same groups who came out to the parliament on Monday threw Molotov cocktails at the police and so on – so on and so forth. Why should the approach to these nationalist groups be different now as opposed to two years ago?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to relitigate or reopen every instance that took place on the Maidan. But I think we can all agree that the Maidan was largely a people-led peaceful demonstration, remarkably so given the months and months that many of the people were out on the Maidan. And our message should have been clear, which is that people do have the right to peacefully ask their governments to reform and to change according to the direction they want to see and the future they want for their country. And that message remains clear. Again, I – our message is that if you want to peacefully protest – and let me finish – peacefully protest, then the obligation on the part of law enforcement is that they should respect that right.

QUESTION: Two years ago are you saying that it was all peaceful? Was there – was the violence coming only from one side?

MR TONER: I – again, I just – this is the last thing I’m going to say about it. I said I can’t speak to every incident that took place on the Maidan. But by and large, yes, it was a dignified, peaceful protest on behalf of the Ukrainian people.

QUESTION: Did you see footage of --

MR TONER: In the back, please.

QUESTION: -- rioters throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and shooting --

MR TONER: I answered – I answered the question. Please go ahead. I answered the question. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. A question from the UK about Jeremy Corbyn --


QUESTION: -- who is, obviously, about to become the leader of the opposition and possibly our next prime minister.

MR TONER: Where – I’m sorry, where are we at? I apologize about that.


MR TONER: UK, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. So Jeremy Corbyn is about to become leader of the opposition and possibly the next prime minister. He wants to withdraw from NATO and also abandon the Trident nuclear deterrent, and he recently also described the death of Usama bin Ladin as a tragedy. Have you got any concerns about this? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: The United Kingdom is a vibrant democracy, a close ally and partner, and they’ve got their own political process that we deeply respect. And I’ll refrain from commenting further.

Please, in the back. You have your hand up, and then I’ll circle back around. Please.

QUESTION: Thank you. About two things.

MR TONER: Ma’am, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Two things. Anything on an American who may or may not have been fighting with the Kurds having been beheaded by ISIS or ISIL?

And two, Save the Children is saying that the major hospital, the al-Sabin Hospital, is close to having to shut down because of lack of supplies.

MR TONER: This is in Syria?

QUESTION: In Yemen, excuse me.

MR TONER: In Yemen. Okay. Sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. So anything on --

MR TONER: But your first question was about --

QUESTION: An American beheaded by ISIL or ISIS.

MR TONER: In Syria. Yeah, right, okay. And then the second one – sorry, I’m just trying to clarify.

So we are aware – which was a small part my confusion when you mentioned the video – I thought you were speaking about this, but we are aware of this video. To be perfectly honest, we don’t have any way to confirm its veracity or not. We don’t have eyes on the ground in Syria and certainly in northern Syria, so I can’t really speak to it beyond that. But we are aware of the video.

QUESTION: Is it an American? Do we know?

MR TONER: We don’t know. I mean, I – we just don’t have any kind of – as I said, we don’t have – we’re limited in our capacity to confirm it.


MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. On the Yemen --

QUESTION: The hospital, yeah.

MR TONER: I don’t know about that specific situation, but it doesn’t surprise us. I mean, certainly, we’ve been quite clear that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is very dire, which is why we want to see all sides exercise restraint and allow vital humanitarian assistance to get to where it needs to be on the ground. And that would include, obviously, Save the Children.


MR TONER: Yeah – Ilhan. Sorry – I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Going back to Turkey --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- quickly follow up on UK journalists. Have you reached out Ankara to ask about this development? They were arrested in Diyarbakir a few days ago. You don’t see this very often even though there is a pressure on the press. This kind of situation doesn’t happen often.

MR TONER: I believe we have conveyed our concern to the Turkish Government authorities.

QUESTION: Okay. One more: Today in New York Times, there is a editorial again, and slamming Mr. Erdogan, Turkish president, for waging a war of distraction talking about war with the PKK. So the criticism has been leveled by many, many experts that Mr. Erdogan is using this war as a cover before the upcoming early elections. Would you – what’s your reaction to this analysis?

MR TONER: Well, I would note that Turkey is a NATO ally and a strong partner in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – I-S-I-L. And just this past weekend, we saw Turkey’s increased – a manifestation of Turkey’s increased participation in the coalition to counter ISIL, which is its first airstrikes on ISIL targets inside Syria as part of the coalition’s air operations. So a couple of thoughts or a couple of responses to your question, which is – and certainly, John Kirby spoke to this last week on several occasions about the fact that Turkey’s doing all it can to contribute to anti-ISIL operations as a member of the coalition, and we’ve seen, certainly, progress on that front.

We continue to be in discussions with Turkey about its concerns along its own border and ways to help it better secure its borders. But Turkey, in terms of combating ISIL and dealing with the inflow of Syrian refugees, has been – has done above and beyond what we might expect. And speaking to the PKK issue, all of Turkey’s strikes against PKK targets has been in response to PKK attacks on Turkish military personnel and police. We want to see the PKK stop its attacks, we want to see both sides refrain from violence, and we want to see a return to a solution process that ultimately ends in peace for --

QUESTION: The Al Jazeera journalists?

QUESTION: The Al Jazeera journalists.

MR TONER: Oh, sure, yeah.

QUESTION: A question on Al Jazeera journalists.

MR TONER: Please, please.

QUESTION: I know you guys issued a statement --

MR TONER: All three of you at once.

QUESTION: -- over the weekend, but I wonder if you have anything to add.

MR TONER: I mean, nothing beyond what we said this weekend. As you noted, we put out a statement, I think, on Saturday. We’re deeply disappointed, concerned by the verdict handed down by an Egyptian court on these three Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste. We urge the Government of Egypt to take all available measures to redress this verdict which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development.

QUESTION: Has any level in this building – any official at any level reached out to their Egyptian counterparts with this message?

MR TONER: I would just say we have consistently and forcefully spoken about this case and raised it directly with the Government of Egypt.

QUESTION: So when you’re calling upon Egypt to redress the verdict, are you expecting the Egyptian Government to pay heed or any attention to your call?

MR TONER: Are we --

QUESTION: Are you expecting them, since they are your ally --

MR TONER: Yes. I mean, we urge the Egyptians to demonstrate through their actions – and rather than words – its support for freedom of expression, and we think the journalists should be released.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Can I go to – go back to Yemen for a second?


QUESTION: Reports are that the UAE military is taking a more and more expanded role in southern Yemen dealing with things like public services, governance and issues and things like that. Is the U.S. providing any support to that – to the UAE in this effort?

MR TONER: No, we’re not providing any support, and in terms of UAE’s actions on the ground in Yemen, I would have to refer you to the Government of the United Arab Emirates.

QUESTION: Is the United States supportive of this given that you’ve – what you’ve – this sort of endgame is a little bit different from what you’ve been calling for.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, certainly, what we want to see is – and we’ve been – the ultimate solution in Yemen is – must be a political solution. So we continue in that regard to support the United Nations-led political transition as well as the UN special envoy, and we urge all parties to de-escalate hostilities and return to the political transition that was established by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

QUESTION: Sure, but what I’m getting at is --

MR TONER: Please, yeah.

QUESTION: -- what is – does the U.S. have any issue at all with the United Arab Emirates coming in, stepping into the vacuum after the Houthis left --

MR TONER: Again, I would --

QUESTION: -- and providing basic services that were not --

MR TONER: No, I would refer you to them to speak to their actions. Our concern in Yemen is a de-escalation of the violence, the violence that was – let’s remember was initiated by Houthis, and get back to the UN-led political process.

Go ahead, Lucas.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Is the State Department – in addition to your objections of Russia potentially selling the S-300 missile system to Iran, is the State Department also concerned about reports that Russia will sell jet fighters to Iran?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ve heard that question. I just – we just don’t have any firm details about that, frankly. So it’s hard for me to – right now, it’s somewhere between a hypothetical or – I just don’t have anything concrete to speak to, I mean, to – so I can’t say whether any sanctions would apply to that if that were to happen, but it’s not even there yet, so --

QUESTION: Okay. And – but sanctions would apply if Russia sold fighter jets? Because that clearly is not a defensive weapon.

MR TONER: Well, again, you’re – we’re dealing in hypotheticals here. I’m just not going to speak to a situation, or like I said, some reports that we’ve heard. I haven’t seen anything concrete about it.

QUESTION: Just staying with Russia --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- up in the Arctic, the Russian military appears to be expanding its presence. It’s putting in new rescue stations, it has more ships in the water, and has put its flag down on some unclaimed territory beneath the ocean floor. Is the State Department concerned about Russia’s expansion in the Arctic?

MR TONER: I mean, Russia so far, just like any other member of the Arctic Council – of which there are eight, I think – all have territorial claims based on legal parameters, and they’re going about it the right way. They’ve – they’re going about it through the Law of the Sea Treaty and the conventions within that treaty. So they’re going through the right process to address those claims, just like other countries within the Arctic Council also have claims.

In terms of – sorry, I don’t mean to – but in terms of their actions in the Arctic, one of the aims of today’s GLACIER conference but certainly the Arctic Council’s main purpose is to bring together all those nations who have territorial interests or concerns in the Arctic, bring them together to discuss all of these issues, as well as important things like sustainable development, like the responsible use of resources in the Arctic. So all of these are on the table to discuss and that’s why we think it’s a really important forum.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the State Department concerned about Russia’s military expansion into the Arctic?

MR TONER: Well, again, that’s – it’s somewhat of a murky issue in the sense of – and this is, again, why the Arctic Council is important, because search and rescue, is that a military option? We need to be as transparent as possible about all our intentions and what we’re doing in the Arctic. And so do we have concerns specifically about Russia? I would say we’re – we have concerns about how militaries conduct themselves in the Arctic, but that’s for all of the Arctic Council members to discuss.

QUESTION: But is --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: With Secretary Kerry and President Obama up in Alaska, they seem to be clearly very concerned about climate change. Are you concerned that Russia is not on the same page as this Administration when it comes to the Arctic?

MR TONER: Well, I think again, and it speaks to the importance of today’s conference, we will – it’s incumbent on all of the Arctic nations, if you will, to raise public awareness about the environment and how the environment in the Arctic and climate change in the Arctic affects all of us, whether you live in the Arctic or not.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem like that’s a priority for Russia, climate change. Would you say that the State Department’s concerns about climate change exceed Russia’s?

MR TONER: Again, I think it’s something we’re all – I’m not trying to excuse anybody or give anybody an A-plus on this – in this respect. I think every country needs to do more.

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- back to the emails, if you don’t mind. One question, or two questions about the emails. Does the State Department own all the intelligence that are part of these redactions in the 150 emails today?

MR TONER: I’m not quite sure I understand the premise. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay, let me – let’s try again.


QUESTION: Does the State Department have the authority to declassify intelligence from other agencies?

MR TONER: So that’s – I mean, that speaks to the fact that – and we had this situation where the intelligence – the IC IG actually, on a couple of emails actually upgraded them after the fact. But when those touched on IC equities, that was their purview or their right to do so, I believe. We, on other cases, have found or had disagreed, and there’s lots of reasons for those disagreements that are based on just looking at the material from a different viewpoint.

QUESTION: And just a yes-or-no question: Does the State Department have the ability to change the classification of other agencies?

MR TONER: No, I don’t believe so.


MR TONER: Turkey.

QUESTION: An interim government consisting of independent and opposition members formed in Turkey which will take the country to early elections. Would you give us any comment on this?

MR TONER: You’re asking – I’m sorry, what was the question again? I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay. An interim government consisting of independent and opposition members formed in Turkey which will take the country to early elections.

MR TONER: Well, again, I mean, we’re not opining on the political process underway in Turkey. We have confidence in Turkey – the strength of Turkey’s – Turkish democracy. We would just ask that it adhere to its already strong standards.

QUESTION: Something on Russia?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: There are some reports on Israeli and Arab media saying Russia deployed an expeditionary air force in Syria near Damascus. The reports say Russian jets and helicopters will target ISIS and Syrian Islamist rebels. How do you see this Russian – reportedly Russian reinforcements in Syria?

MR TONER: I’m frankly not aware of those reports. I’d have to look into them. More broadly, we have looked for many different countries to play a greater role in combating ISIL. We view it as an extreme threat to the region and to many countries in the West as well. But specifically to your – I haven’t seen those reports.

Last question, please.

QUESTION: Sorry, on Japan: Do you have any reaction to the massive protests that took place over the weekend against the security bills being pushed into – in the Diet?

MR TONER: Well, it’s security legislation that you say is – it’s under discussion right now. It’s a question – rather, it’s a domestic matter for Japan. For our part, we welcome Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in the new guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation that were approved in April.

QUESTION: Do you think that the U.S. support for these laws because of the protests, do you think that it sort of undermines the current administration’s, like, role and power?

MR TONER: The current Japanese administration’s? Or --

QUESTION: Right. I mean, that – you’re seeing the Japanese administration trying to push these bills and the reaction from the public. Do you think that the U.S. support – do you think that there’s a concern that --

MR TONER: Look, I mean, I’m not going to opine on the politics and public support for this or that initiative in Japan. I spoke clearly where our policy is and certainly that’s a matter for Japan, the Japanese to decide.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:44 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - August 27, 2015

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 16:03

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 27, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. I do not have anything to open us up with, so with that, we’ll go to you, Brad.

QUESTION: I don’t have too much, but I wanted to ask you if you had any comment on the IAEA quarterly report on Iran, what you thought of it if you’ve had a chance to review it yet.

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, Brad, as our standard practice, we don’t comment on IAEA reports that have not yet been publicly released by the agency. So we’re going to let the IAEA address any of the specifics of their reports.

QUESTION: There was just one element I wanted to ask you about. I think the report – without getting too much into the details, I mean, it confirmed broad compliance. But there was some mention of the Parchin base again and about construction or other activity that was going on there. Independent of the report, is that something the United States has noted and is also concerned about?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say, without getting into the specifics here – as I said, we’re not going to do that – I think it’s important to remember that when you’re talking about a site like Parchin, you’re talking about a conventional military site, not a nuclear site. So there wouldn’t be any IAEA or other restrictions on new construction at that site were they to occur.

QUESTION: Which begs the question why it would be in the report then.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I – again, I’m not going to confirm details in a report that hasn’t been publicly released, and I would refer you to the IAEA for any contents that may or may not be in there.


QUESTION: Are you able today to confirm the reports about the Saudi capturing of the al-Khobar bombing?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything new to update you with the – from yesterday. I mean, obviously, as we said yesterday, we want to see the perpetrators of that attack brought to justice. And certainly, any detention of one or more of them would be a welcome development, but we’ve seen the reports and I would refer you to – since the reports are claiming that the Saudis have him, I would refer you to the Saudis.

QUESTION: Because there are some reports saying that this is – came as a result to the increased cooperation after the Camp David summit, like to increase security and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and the Gulf countries.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I would refer you to the reports. The reports talk about Saudi involvement here, so I would refer you to the Saudis on this. I just don’t have anything more to add today.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Saudi foreign minister announced that the king will be visiting the White House.

MR KIRBY: And I believe the White House has spoken to that as well today.

QUESTION: They did?

MR KIRBY: They did. They put a – they put something out about that, so I would – on visits like this, obviously we would refer you to the White House to speak to it.


QUESTION: Can you at least confirm that there’s been some discussion with the Saudis on the possibility of this being the main suspect?

MR KIRBY: We – what I can tell you is we certainly have been in contact with the Saudis, with Saudi officials concerning these reports, but I won’t go beyond that right now.

QUESTION: Why won’t you confirm that they actually got the person or somebody who might be him?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, if – the reports are that the Saudis have him. I would – I think it’s appropriate if – for the Saudi Government to speak to those reports, and it just wouldn’t be appropriate for us to talk about it in any more detail here. We are in contact, have been in contact with Saudi officials about these reports, but I just – I’m not going to go any further than that today.


QUESTION: New subject?


QUESTION: There was an arrest of a Russian national in Finland at the request of U.S. authorities. His last name is Senakh, I think, but frankly I’m not sure.

MR KIRBY: An arrest of --

QUESTION: Of the Russian citizen, of the Russian national – of a Russian national --

MR KIRBY: There’s reports of an arrest of a Russian citizen in Finland?

QUESTION: -- national at the request of – in Finland at the request of U.S. authorities. A) I was wondering if you have something on that, why he was arrested, what is he charged with here. And secondly, Russian Government said that they consider this continuing practice of U.S. authorities trying to detain Russian nationals in the third countries as sort of hunt. Are you going to carry on this practice? Do you talk about – the Russians about this?

MR KIRBY: Look, I don’t – I don’t have anything on these reports that you’re speaking of, and I’m not going to speculate or comment on law enforcement matters one way or the other from this particular podium. I just don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And can you speak a little about this practice of yours where you – the U.S. Government --

MR KIRBY: Well, your question assumes there is such a practice, and I’m not in a position to --

QUESTION: Well, this is not the first case. There has been numerous instances like that.

MR KIRBY: I think your questions are better put to the Justice Department, but I’m certainly unaware of any practice the way you’ve described it.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?


QUESTION: You must have seen the recent reports, actually a number of reports, by the United Nations that the future of Afghanistan is not really very bright because almost 1,600 innocent civilians have been killed by the Talibans, the violence there and violence continues. And what the report is saying – or United Nations special representative – that the government is not doing enough and the military or the police and some people in the government have corrupt – or corruption is the main cause, and the people of Afghanistan, they don’t have much yet confidence or faith or trust in the government or the military forces. So what – and the Taliban of course keep saying that they are still waiting when the international community or NATO leaves so they can move in. So what – where – what’s the message for the people of Afghanistan? They thought that the U.S. and the international community was there to help them and the future will be bright and they will be free of violence and free of terrorism and Taliban.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody ever said that Afghanistan was going to be free of violence. Nobody’s ever talked about a violence-free Afghanistan. Obviously, what we want to see and what we’ve been working toward for going on 15 years now, or close to it, is an Afghanistan that is secure and stable, a good neighbor in the region, and prosperous. And that remains the goal. But the way that gets done is by healthy, strong institutions inside Afghanistan, to include security forces, which is of course the focus of the Resolute Support Mission right now, is to help Afghan National Security Forces continue their leadership of the security mission inside Afghanistan.

Nobody’s under any illusion of how difficult that’s going to be, and President Ghani – back to institution-building – has been working very hard at this to try to strengthen Afghan institutions for just such an end. And as I said, militarily we are contributing to the NATO mission that’s designed to help Afghan National Security Forces continue to advance, and they are. But I think – and I’m not minimizing at all our condemnation of the continued attacks that we’ve been seeing, certainly in the last week or so. And I think it’s – we ought to be mindful that just this week, Resolute Support – two Resolute service members were killed – two more.

So it’s a work in progress. I think President Ghani would tell you that as well. But it’s work worth doing, and work that we are going to – that we’re going to stay at. It’s just going to continue to take some time.

QUESTION: Some people or experts are asking, are you relying only on between Afghanistan and Pakistan, or also relying on or getting engaged other governments? How much role do you think China will be playing, or India?

MR KIRBY: I think, as I said, we want Afghanistan to be a good neighbor in the region, and they have many neighbors, and China and India are some of them. And India has played a constructive role over the last several years inside Afghanistan, and we would look to other nations like China to do the same. I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous, and I – and our message to the other partners is the same as it’s always been, which is we want to make sure that we’re all pulling on the same oars here to get Afghanistan to that better future.

QUESTION: One more on the region if I may.


QUESTION: India-Pakistan. Whenever the talks are planned between the two countries or leaders are ready to meet, either at the prime minister level or at the secretary level and all that, there are always tensions between the two countries and people are get scared what they talk about. Now, after the talks failed last week, and some generals in Pakistan – not first time, many times – they have been threatening that Pakistan is ready to use nuclear weapons against India and it would take only 15 minutes to destroy India because we have – we are a nuclear-weapon state. Now, also one of the first – one of the civilian – one of the officials said that it would not take much time to proliferate those weapons, that means to the Taliban and others might get it.

My question is here, that one official said – a general last week, after the talks failed – that they are ready to use now tactical nuclear weapons – tactical – if there is a war; not the nuclear which is maybe against the law or whatever, but they have now tactical nukes to use, and you know because you have come from the military. I don’t know because I’m a civilian person and not very educated on this issue. But that’s what he said, that tactical weapons will be used against India. What the U.S. you think is going to do about this? Because if they are ready to use tactical weapons against India, then that means they can probably to the – to the terrorists also.

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen those comments, Goyal, so I’d be loath to specifically address them. Obviously, what we want to see are the tensions decrease. And speculation about the potential use of nuclear weapons certainly isn’t doing anything to help decrease tensions, if in fact those comments were made. What Secretary Kerry has said repeatedly is that he wants the two nations to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their issues. And we understand that there are issues longstanding. But that’s what really needs to happen, is sitting down, dialogue, cooperation, talking through these things, and trying to work through some meaningful solutions.

QUESTION: Still on that --



QUESTION: We have a story about a British citizen who was a hacker and recruited for the Islamic State who was apparently killed in an airstrike, Junaid Hussain. I’m not going to ask you to talk about the military aspects, but have you had any discussions with your British counterparts about this occurrence?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any discussions with UK counterparts about this issue to read out or to discuss today.

QUESTION: Is it general practice to inform allies when citizens of their country are killed, be they good or bad individuals, in U.S. military operations?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’re not in a position to confirm these reports about this individual, so I really don’t want to go much further than that.

Separate and distinct, if you’re a terrorist and if you’re threatening our interests, the interests of our allies and partners, you make yourself a target. And as I said the other day talking about ISIL, I mean, this is a career choice with a short shelf life, and you need to realize that if you’re going to take it on.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria? First, let me ask you about the UNHCR report last week. They listed the figures and numbers on resettlement and other forms of admission for Syria refugees; it’s in the thousands. It’s in Western society – in Western countries, sorry. But under the United States it says open-ended resettlement. There are no figures. Could you help clarify that? How many have been resettled here or how many are applying? The figures fluctuate between, like, 2,000 to 70,000 applications or something.

MR KIRBY: Well, all I can tell you is there’s about 15,000 refugee referrals in the pipeline from UNHCR. I don’t have more numbers today to provide you, but the United States continues to welcome Syrian refugees, and we have and we’ll continue to do that.

As you might imagine, Syrian refugees, because of the situation there, go through some additional forms of security screening. And again, we continue to look for further enhancements for screening them in that process. The long-term answer there is not refugee resettlement, whether it’s in the United States or elsewhere. It’s in a better Syria where they can live peacefully and prosper.

QUESTION: Now, just to follow up on the Syria issue, could you clarify to us your relationship with Ahrar Al Sham? Are you aiding them? Are you supporting them? And this is a group that is rooted in Islamic fundamentalism. They espouse Sharia law. They never speak of democracy, they never mention the word “democracy.” And the word now is that you are supporting them. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: No, we’re not. I talked about this the other day.

QUESTION: Okay, so --

MR KIRBY: There’s no change to our position on this group that we’re concerned by some of their activities, and there’s no cooperation with them right now.

QUESTION: Okay. So you continue to – not to work with Ahrar Al Sham, much as you will not work with al-Nusrah and the others, correct?

MR KIRBY: We’re – I’m not going to compare apples and apples here. I’m just saying that we aren’t – we are not cooperating with, we are not working with, we are not supporting this particular group.


QUESTION: Okay, just a quick follow-up if I may. The quick follow-up is that you were aiding and helping during – through your train and equip program what you call the New Syria Force. What is the status of the New Syria Force now?

MR KIRBY: Great question for DOD. I mean, that’s a – it’s a DOD program. Obviously, we’re interested in the success of this program. We believe it is important. It’s an important component of the overall strategy, but it’s being administered by the Department of Defense, and I think that’s a better place to go for details about that.

QUESTION: Is there frustration in this building that DOD’s not enacting the program effectively? I mean, the entire anti-ISIS campaign is being headed by an official in this building who is a former DOD official, as are you. And that’s okay, I’m not trying to go anywhere with that. I’m just saying to just refer it to DOD --

MR KIRBY: Well, thanks for bringing it up.

QUESTION: -- every time we ask, to just say, “Oh, you got to go ask DOD,” and then they don’t say anything, when you’re in a position to – so my question is, is there frustration --

MR KIRBY: Because I used to be a naval officer, I should be – no, look, I mean, it is a DOD-administered program. It is an important part of the strategy. And obviously, Secretary Kerry supports it and wants to see it succeed, as does our colleagues at the Department of Defense. They have been very, I think, candid about the challenges that they’ve experienced here in implementing the program. Even at the time in my former life, we talked about this. We readily acknowledged that it was going to be hard, and it has proven to be hard. And so they’re going to continue to work at this.

I think your point about General Allen, who is, I think, you’re referring to, he’s not – his job is not to run the campaign. His job was to get a coalition formed, established, and functioning, and obviously, we’ve – he’s accomplished that. We have 62-some-odd nations in the coalition, and of course, Turkey has just come in recently, and General Allen and Ambassador McGurk were key figures in working that agreement with the Turkish Government. But the campaign itself is being run by the Defense Department – the military side of the campaign being run by the Defense Department, specifically U.S. Central Command in Tampa.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Has U.S. been in contact with Ahrar Al Sham in the past?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Been in contact with or had talk with the Ahrar Al Sham officials?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t tell you whether the – I don't know the whole history here. What I can tell you right now is that we are not communicating, cooperating, or working with this group.

QUESTION: And you are not planning to do in the future, for the future of Syria?

MR KIRBY: I am aware of no plans to change that posture. Their activities continue to be of concern.

QUESTION: I have other questions on Syria.

QUESTION: Still on Ahrar Al Sham.


QUESTION: When you say you’re concerned about them, are you – is this department examining whether they should be a foreign terrorist organization?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any deliberations on that, Brad. They are not an FTO. But this is something we look at all the time. So I’m not going to rule anything in or out at this point, but I’m not aware --

QUESTION: You don’t know specifically --

MR KIRBY: -- of any specific deliberations on that score. But this is something that we constantly evaluate and look at, and again, I’m not ruling anything in or out.


QUESTION: ISIS militants seized five villages around Syria’s Marea, which is located in this so-called ISIS-free zone. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR KIRBY: We don’t call it an ISIS-free zone. That’s one reaction.

QUESTION: So-called, yeah.

MR KIRBY: And then I haven’t seen the reports that you’re talking about. And again, for assessments on the ground, I’d point you to DOD.

QUESTION: Did you reach an agreement with Turkey about which opposition group on the north – in the north will receive support yet?

MR KIRBY: When you say “yet,” it means that you’re just assuming it’s coming. I – (laughter) --

QUESTION: I assume that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I know you do. I know you do. Look, I’m not going to get into diplomatic – the specifics of diplomatic conversations that we have and have had with the Turks. We’re grateful, again, for their cooperation and their support to the coalition. We expect them to be flying missions here soon, and we’re going to continue to work with them to get at this very common threat.

QUESTION: John, considering that the bombardment out of Incirlik began on the 5th of August --

MR KIRBY: The bombardment of Incirlik?

QUESTION: Out of, out of. The bombardment out of Incirlik.

MR KIRBY: Oh, “out of.” I thought you said “of.”

QUESTION: No, no, no, out of the Incirlik Air Base began on the 5th of August. It was hailed at the time as – it’s going to make a great deal of difference. Now three weeks since then, what is – has there been any marked difference in, let’s say, with the depletion of ISIS forces?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m really leery to get into battlefield assessments here from this particular podium. I’d point you to DOD for an update on how the campaign is going militarily. But – and I truly don’t have, like, stats and figures of how many strikes have been flown out of Incirlik. I just don’t have that nor would I have that information. But that shouldn’t diminish the importance of the agreement to use Incirlik and our gratitude for that ability, as well as other bases inside Turkey. The proximity to that border area makes the use of Incirlik from a military perspective much more efficient and potentially much more effective.

QUESTION: It gives coalition airplanes more time in Syrian airspace, correct?

MR KIRBY: Well, it gives you – it reduces the time on station, it allows you to stay on station longer. I mean, geography matters in war, absolutely.


QUESTION: On Turkey again, still. Your deal with the Turks has come under strong criticism from one of the strong voices in this country. That’s Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. He just wrote this op-ed in The New York Times. He said – he’s questioning the long-term effectiveness of this deal, and he really puts out – I don’t know if you’ve seen his op-ed – a number of arguments why the U.S. should not enter a deal with Turkey over Syria, because he says it’s driven by domestic considerations in Turkey, not – it’s not because the Turks are really interested in going after ISIS.

MR KIRBY: And your question is?

QUESTION: I mean, your reaction. Aren’t you worried about what he’s putting out there, like the --

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: The long-term, like, effectiveness of it?

MR KIRBY: No, no, look. I’ve seen Mr. Edelman’s piece, and he’s certainly entitled to his views. We’ve never shied away from the notion that particularly on an issue this important that there should be a multitude of views and opinions. And he has his and he’s obviously entitled and welcome to those.

So I’m not going to get into a rebuttal for every single person that writes an op-ed piece or gives a speech that has a view different than what the State Department does. Secretary Kerry is being clear and we’ve been clear from this podium about the importance of our relationship with Turkey, and just as critically, the importance of their contributions to this effort. And we’ve talked about this every day for the last couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Yes, but that what he says actually makes a lot of sense, to not just him – a lot of the people. For example, you have a --

MR KIRBY: I suspect there will be people that agree with him.

QUESTION: You have a looming civil war in Turkey, and you are saying nothing and you are doing nothing almost about it. You are seeing it as a proportional act of self-defense against a terrorist group, which is not the case. In southeastern Turkey you have young Kurds taking up arms fighting against the Turkish state, and the United States stays silent.

MR KIRBY: To say that we’ve stayed silent on any of this is an affront, and I take great exception to that. We have been exceedingly clear about what the goals are here and about what the coalition is formed to do. We’ve also said with respect to Turkey’s internal political evolution right now that we’re going to – as I said yesterday, we’re going to look and want to work and cooperate with whatever the new government is in Turkey. But those are decisions that the Turkish people have to make, and we’re going to respect that process.

But – and you want to talk about PKK? They have a right to defend themselves against terrorist attacks – as do we, as does any sovereign nation. But to say we’re staying silent or turning a blind eye I think reveals a little bit about where you’re coming from this journalistically. But I’ll tell you from the State Department nothing’s changed about the importance we are giving this fight and the criticality of having a coalition of the willing to go after these guys. And it is a coalition of the willing. And as I’ve said before, every member does what they can – where, when, and how much they can. And we respect that. And they can modify their involvement over time. They can do more, they can do less; and we’re seeing that in various coalition countries.

But that’s the goal. That’s the goal. The goal is about going after ISIL. And when we talk about the agreement with Turkey, whether you agree with it or not, fine. But when we talk about that, it is about helping the coalition do a better job against ISIL.

QUESTION: When I said the U.S. stays silent, just to make that clear, it wasn’t like my view. It is what I wanted to say --

MR KIRBY: It certainly came across as your view.

QUESTION: Yeah, it was – I wanted to say it’s like the view of many people for sure.


QUESTION: Because like --

MR KIRBY: I take it. Got it.


QUESTION: Syria via Russia? Special Envoy Michael Ratney is supposed to be in Moscow tomorrow. Do you have any information on that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I do, actually, have something. Let me keep looking for that because I know it’s in here somewhere, and we’ll go to somebody else.

Goyal, I already got you. I got you already, and I got you, too. How about you?

QUESTION: One on Pakistan. Today was a report has come out from two think tanks about Pakistan nuclear weapons, according to which in a decade Pakistan will have around 350 --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Today a report came out from two think tanks based in D.C., according to which Pakistan is going to have about 350 nuclear weapons in a decade or so. What do you have to say on this? And I remember a few months ago in the – U.S. and Pakistan had talks on their nuclear weapons in which U.S. said that it is working with Pakistan to mainstream Pakistan’s nuclear ambition with the international community. How you are working with Pakistan on that?

MR KIRBY: On the --

QUESTION: How to bring Pakistan into mainstream international community on nuclear weapons?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a specific update for you on the – I mean, obviously, these kinds of matters are matters we discuss with Pakistani leaders on a routine basis. But I don’t have specific talks to talk to you about today.

QUESTION: And your comment on the report itself, about Pakistan will be the third-largest nuclear stockpiles after U.S. and Russia in a decade?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’ve just seen this report and we’re digesting it. I’m not going to have anything substantive to offer on the report’s findings. This is something, obviously, that we continue to focus on, I would say consistent with the President’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Obviously, we continue to urge all nuclear-capable states, including Pakistan, to exercise restraint regarding furthering their nuclear capabilities. But we’re still going through the report. I think --


MR KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Now I got on Ratney. I did find it. It’s about how I label this book and where I put stuff that I’m still trying to figure out. So if you could, I’m going to read to you a little bit, if that’s all right, because there’s a lot here. And I don’t like reading to you all, but it’s a fair question.

So, look, as part of the – our ongoing efforts to bring about a sustainable political solution to the Syrian conflict based on Geneva principles, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney will travel from the 28th – that’s today – to September 2nd to Moscow, Riyadh, and Geneva. Following Secretary Kerry’s recent meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir in Doha and in Kuala Lumpur, Special Envoy Ratney will meet today in Moscow with senior Russian officials and tomorrow in Riyadh with senior Saudi officials to continue discussions about working toward a genuine political solution – a political transition, I’m sorry – and bringing an end to the crisis in Syria. He plans to meet in Geneva with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to discuss his ongoing efforts to create conditions for productive negotiations.

Now, if you’re asking who he’s going to meet in Russia, he will meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and other officials at the Russian foreign ministr