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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 30, 2015

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 17:19

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 30, 2015

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2:21 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Welcome, everybody, to the State Department. Sorry to be just a wee bit late. I know some of you were watching what was happening at the Treasury – Department of Treasury, so I wanted to give you a little bit more time for that. But also --

QUESTION: I was actually trying to figure out how big a cubit is.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I have no idea. Don’t ask me that. I’ll have to take that question.

Just before I get into your questions, I just wanted to – a very brief statement at the top to say that we strongly support President Poroshenko’s call to sign an agreement on the withdrawal of heavy weapons under 100 millimeters in caliber in eastern Ukraine, and we urge all sides to implement such an agreement immediately. We welcome Ukraine’s recent steps to ensure Mariupol’s defense and stabilize Shcholkine and we commend Ukraine’s extensive efforts to implement the Minsk agreements.

We call upon Russia and the separatists it supports to cease their aggression and implement their Minsk commitments, including a full ceasefire, unfettered access to the OSCE special monitoring mission, as well as the withdrawal of foreign troops and equipment and the establishment of Ukrainian control of the international border and the release of all hostages.

That is all after, believe it or not, how many days that we were dark here that I have to --


MR TONER: Three days. So I’ll take your questions. Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, just on the – on your opening statement --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The call – Poroshenko’s call for the withdrawal, is that not already covered under Minsk or is this something (inaudible)?

MR TONER: It’s not. The Minsk agreement, I believe, covers larger-caliber heavy weapons over 120 millimeters, which I would add that is still the separatists and the Russians have not complied with that, but this is extending that, is my understanding, to smaller-caliber weaponry as well.

QUESTION: So it’s extending it to some --

MR TONER: It says extending it – right – extending it to --

QUESTION: Extending it to something that also is not going to be complied with.

MR TONER: Point taken.


MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, point taken. We want to see --

QUESTION: From 120 to 100?

MR TONER: We want to see – yeah. We want to see 120 to 100. Yep.

QUESTION: So you want to see everything over 100 --

MR TONER: Well, let me --

QUESTION: -- over 100 caliber out --


QUESTION: -- but they haven’t even gotten to the point where the 120 are out yet, right?

MR TONER: Correct. They have not – they have not fully complied with the withdrawal of those heavy weapons.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make sense before – wouldn’t it make sense to have them comply with the smaller or the – with the initial part of it before expanding it to include something that includes – to include other weapons that aren’t covered by the existing agreements that haven’t been complied with yet?

MR TONER: Well, I think, again, this is President Poroshenko’s initiative and we obviously support it because it takes – it broadens the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, which is something we obviously support.


MR TONER: But you’re right in the sense that all sides need to at least comply with the initial Minsk agreement.

QUESTION: Have both sides – is it both sides that are still in violation of the 120 caliber?

MR TONER: I know that on the Russian separatist side that’s the case. I would have to get an update whether the Ukrainians have fully complied with that.

QUESTION: Just to clarify --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- you say 100. That’s artillery, right? You’re talking about artillery?

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, that’s not like, I mean, machine guns or anything like that.

MR TONER: My understanding is it would qualify as heavy weaponry, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So anything that – like howitzers or whatever artillery?

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On Ukraine?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Austrian police have stopped nine U.S. soldiers at the Vienna airport with M16 assault rifles in their bags on their way to Ukraine. Do you know why they were stopped?

MR TONER: I don’t. And frankly, I don’t have much information. I just saw the press reports, so I’d refer you to DOD on that one.

QUESTION: Well, we, in fact, confirmed with the prosecutor’s office in Austria that there is, in fact, an investigation and that the report about the detention is correct. And Austrian authorities said they informed the U.S. embassy in Austria. Has the embassy informed the State Department or --

MR TONER: I’m sure we’ve been – as we normally do, we’re in touch with our embassies. I haven’t seen any follow-up on that. Obviously, these are official Americans. I’m not sure in what capacity they were traveling. I just don’t have any more details for you, but I would probably refer you – your best bet is the Department of Defense for more information.

QUESTION: But that – U.S. citizens detained, they’re active duty, so does that – that would – does that concern the State Department?

MR TONER: They’re active – I don’t even – I, again, I don’t have – I apologize, I just don’t have the details for you. Again, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: If I come back tomorrow, will you have details?

MR TONER: I may, but again, you can contact the Department of Defense for more details since they’re – if they are active military, they would have that.

QUESTION: Change topics?

QUESTION: But it’s not just active military but also U.S. citizens, right, detained, and they --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: They – the authorities have informed the State Department – the embassy, which is effectively – so you would have a comment on that, wouldn’t you?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details of this. I’ve seen press reports. I don’t have any more information, except for what you just me that they have informed our embassy. I just don’t have anything else to say about it.


MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Your DOD colleagues have spoken to this a little bit, but do you have anything on the kidnapping of a – the leader of a U.S.-backed rebel group in Syria?

MR TONER: Yeah. You’re talking about reports that some members --

QUESTION: By al-Nusrah --

MR TONER: Right. Were – of a opposition group were kidnapped.


MR TONER: I’ve just seen press reports that some opposition leaders have been detained and I just – I don’t have much more to add. I think it’s – are you talking about the al-Nusrah’s --


MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, obviously, our position on al-Nusrah is well known. It’s publicly declared itself as an al-Qaida affiliate and it shares al-Qaida’s terrorist aims, so obviously, we condemn this act.

QUESTION: Is it a concern for you that the association with the U.S. for some opposition groups might be cause for them to be targeted by groups like al-Nusrah?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not sure that that actually applies in this case. We’ve been very clear and have been very clear for months now and years even that we’re reaching out to moderate Syrian opposition groups in pursuit of a political resolution to the situation in Syria. And also, we have a train and equip program which we’ve spoken about many times here with Turkey’s help in training up moderate Syrian opposition forces. So it’s hard for me to know what the details of this actual kidnapping were, but obviously we strongly condemn it.

Yeah, please. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Still on Syria.


QUESTION: Yesterday, the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria de Mistura came out with four points or four suggestions creating – or four committees and so on. How do you envision the United States working with this?

He also said that the deal with Iran – everybody alluded to that – is maybe a plus in going forward with the resolution to Syria. Could you comment on that?

MR TONER: First part of your question is reaction to de Mistura’s – as you said, his presentation, briefing at the UNSC yesterday. We obviously share his deep concern for the horrific violence and the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria, as well as the regional implications that this – and all this, frankly, reinforces the need for a political settlement and solution to the situation there. We support a UN-led process. We support de Mistura’s efforts and welcome his proposal to form UN-led Syrian working groups to advance prospects for a political solution to the crisis there.

And to that end, I know our new Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney is actually meeting today with de Mistura, the special envoy, to discuss further collaboration, how we can be helpful, and just to get a more thorough briefing.


QUESTION: And you still consider that the basis for any kind of political settlement or resolution is Geneva I, correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And if you recall, in Geneva II, Iran was not invited, apparently because the Saudis were not cool with that. So would you sort of welcome any kind of extension of the process of Geneva I to include Iran and Saudi Arabia?

MR TONER: I don’t want to get out ahead – in front of the process. What I would just say is and what we’ve been very clear about is we need a political process and a political resolution in Syria, and one that certainly doesn’t include Assad. And so to that end, that’s our ultimate goal. That’s who we’re working with, and we’re working with like-minded partners and allies to that end. So I don’t want to get out in front of and talk about Iran’s possible role in this or – I think we’re getting in front of the issue.

QUESTION: These committees and so on, they’re supposed to represent all Syrians.


QUESTION: Now, to the best of all data that’s available and so on, Assad – the Assad regime represents a great portion of the population. Why wouldn’t you want to model the process completely?

MR TONER: Assad?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I mean, he’s – the regime itself represents a great portion of Christians, Alawis, other minorities, and so on. So there’s a hefty minority that is represented by the regime and in fact Assad himself.

MR TONER: Said, you’ve heard me and others say countless times here, I mean, Assad’s lost all credibility as a potential leader or leader of Syria. He needs to be out. He’s killed countless innocents, brought tremendous violence, created, frankly, the conditions that we find in Syria today – that is, parts of it are lawless, controlled by ISIL. We’re beating back ISIL in those parts working with the coalition members on it, but Assad is fully culpable in creating the situation that exists in Syria today. And for that reason, he can’t be part of any kind of political solution.


QUESTION: There are some media reports, including a story in today’s edition of The New York Times, that the U.S. relationship with the Syrian Kurds, namely the PYD, had become complicated because of the Turkish bombardment of the PKK in northern Iraq. Are those reports accurate?

MR TONER: Not at all. We’ve – I mean, we did a background call the other day where we talked at length about this, but we’ve been very clear in delineating between the PKK and, as we talked, the anti-ISIL forces, of which the Kurds are some of them, but also there’s Syrian Arabs that are also engaged in this fight and this struggle, and frankly, have been very effective in bringing the fight against – in bringing the fight to ISIL, and frankly, clearing them out of parts of northern Syria. And so the coalition’s been helpful in bringing airstrikes to help these forces – these anti-ISIL forces – in their efforts to clear ISIL.

Now, you’re talking about the PKK – that’s a separate organization. We’ve been very clear that we support Turkey’s right to self-defense, and frankly, the PKK has carried out attacks on Turkish troops, Turkish soldiers, Turkish police, and so we view Turkey’s strikes against PKK elements, mostly in northern Iraq, as a form of self-defense. And our view is quite clear: We view the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization.


QUESTION: So are you saying the Syrian Kurds have had no concern voiced to you about that, and so it has been no problem as a result of this between you and – the United States Government and the Syrian Kurds?

MR TONER: You’re talking about whether the Syrian Kurds have actually told us that they have an issue?

QUESTION: Their concern about that and that might complicate your military relationship, apparently, with them. Because apparently, according to the media, according to --


QUESTION: -- the United States, the relationship between the United States and Syrian Kurds is mostly confined to the airstrikes helping them win back territory against ISIS.

MR TONER: Right. And frankly, that’s been – I mean, obviously, they’re and these other anti-ISIL forces are the ones who are doing the fighting on the ground, but these airstrikes have been very effective in supporting those efforts. But I don’t have any more to add in terms of disgruntlement or anything like that. We’ve been very clear: Our focus is on combating ISIL in northern Syria, driving them out of northern Syria, obviously in conjunction now with Turkey. There’s a separate effort by Turkey to retaliate against PKK strikes.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I have one more --

MR TONER: Yeah, no worries.

QUESTION: -- just on the issue of the abductions by al-Nusrah.


QUESTION: I was wondering if you view this as a setback or a potential setback in your efforts to identify groups that you can work with to create this ISIL-free zone that you guys have talked about.

MR TONER: No, I wouldn’t put it that way. As I said, I mean, for specific questions about the train and equip program, first of all, DOD’s really the go-to place for that. But we – it’s a fact of the matter that many of these opposition – moderate opposition forces tend to – or continue to be attacked on two fronts, both by the Assad regime as well as violent extremists, whether they’re ISIL or al-Nusrah. It’s a difficult situation, it’s a contentious and complex situation, but we’re going to continue training these moderate forces because we believe they can be an effective force against ISIL.

But as we’ve been very transparent about, that program – the train and equip program – has been slow to get off the ground, but we’re going to continue to build those efforts.

QUESTION: But do you have a confirmation of --


QUESTION: -- the detentions other than the press reports?

MR TONER: No, I don’t. I just have press reports.

QUESTION: Because DOD yesterday refused the allegations and said that there have been no abductions of this train and equip --

MR TONER: Again, I’d just say – all I have in front of me is that I’ve seen – we’ve seen the press reports, but I don’t have anything to add in terms of the details.


MR TONER: We just don’t know. I mean, quite frankly, it’s Syria. We don’t have eyes on the ground there.

QUESTION: Okay. A follow-up question on YPG?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: John Kirby said on Monday that Turkish air bases will be used to provide air support for YPG forces in Syria. But Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson disagreed with that and said it wasn’t part of the Turkish-American understanding. Is there a misunderstanding in here or --

MR TONER: Not at all, and I wouldn’t – I think you’re putting words, perhaps, into John’s mouth. I think he was very clear saying in support of anti-ISIL forces, of which Kurdish forces are a part, but it’s a much broader group of people.

QUESTION: He exactly said, “The fact that we now have access to bases in Turkey will allow for that support to be more timely and perhaps even more effective. So I would expect that that kind of air support will continue.”

MR TONER: For anti-ISIL forces in northern Iraq.

QUESTION: But the question was related to YPG.

MR TONER: All I know is he was referring to – again, I don’t want to – I mean, he was referring to, more broadly, anti-ISIL. You’re right that that includes Syrian Kurds as part of that group, as well as Syrian Arabs, but it’s not fair to say it’s just one group.

Please, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Matt. Or why don’t we do you, Pam.

QUESTION: Staying with Turkey --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- you indicated earlier – you said the U.S. believes that Turkey’s attacks against the PKK are a form of self-defense. Overall, is there U.S. concern that if these types of attacks continue that it’s going to be destabilizing to the overall U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State?

MR TONER: Well – and thank you. I can’t reinforce that enough, that the recent PKK attacks, and, of course, the Turkish military response, have nothing to do with our counter-ISIL efforts. And I know that there’s a tendency to lump them together. We’ve been – we can’t be more clear about that. That said, it’s PKK that’s initiated this violence; Turkey’s retaliated in self-defense. But we want to see, obviously, that situation calm down. We want to see the PKK cease violence and return to negotiations, and we would urge the Turkish Government, obviously, to respond proportionately.

QUESTION: Is there a concern that they have not responded proportionally so far?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t – these are longstanding issues. This was the PKK that carried out attacks against Turkish military. They have carried out a series of airstrikes in retaliation. I think what we want to see generally is the PKK to stop these attacks so that the situation can calm down.

QUESTION: Yeah, but do you think that the Turkish airstrikes have been disproportionate?

MR TONER: No. I would say it’s been in self-defense, and we would --

QUESTION: So so far --

MR TONER: -- and that’s been very clearly our line.

QUESTION: So thus far, at least, what the Turks have done in terms of the airstrikes against the PKK is okay and is in accordance with the U.S.-Turkey understanding on how to go about business, the business of countering ISIL?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to – I want to separate the two out. Because what we agreed to in terms of our coordinating closely with Turkey on anti-ISIL efforts is a different thing altogether than these PKK attacks and the strikes carried out by Turkey.

QUESTION: So you’re saying in conversations with the Turks about this the PKK has not come up once?

MR TONER: Oh, I don’t necessarily think that. In fact, we – look, our position’s clear. We’re – they’re a foreign terrorist organization. We consult with the Turks a lot on PKK issues. But I think we want to see – just to be clear, we want to see the PKK stop these provocative attacks, and we want to see the Turkish Government respond proportionately.



QUESTION: -- but is there anything having to do with attacks on the PKK that is contained within this understanding that you reached with Ankara?




QUESTION: Okay. So as far as you’re concerned, the Turks can do whatever they want with the PKK in terms of airstrikes, as long as they don’t hit the YPG, the other Kurds?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think --

QUESTION: The non-FTO Kurds?

MR TONER: Right, but I think that we want to see – we want to see this settled down.

QUESTION: I understand what you want to see, but you’re not going to complain if the Turks continue to attack the PKK.


QUESTION: Is that right?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t know “complain,” but we’ve been very clear that these are separate and that Turkey does have a right to defend itself.

QUESTION: From a policy perspective rather than a --


QUESTION: -- on-the-ground military perspective --


QUESTION: -- how does one tell the difference between the PKK and the – how do you tell the difference between a good Kurd and a bad Kurd? And how should the Turks make that distinction? Do they have to wear uniforms that say “FTO” on them, the PKK? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Look, Matt, in all honesty --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, how does this work? It seems like you said “no, not at all” --

MR TONER: In all --

QUESTION: -- in response to a question about whether or not this complicates things there.

MR TONER: We know --

QUESTION: And I would submit to you that regardless of whether you think it complicates stuff standing in Washington right now, on the ground there it does complicate things.

MR TONER: Yeah, but there’s – anyway, they’re located geographically in different areas. Again, I don’t want to get into the details about how you tell them apart, but it’s very clear that they are separate entities.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: So your alliances are based on geography? I’m sorry.

MR TONER: I apologize. That’s --

QUESTION: You form your alliances based on geography?

MR TONER: No, no. We just know that the PKK, where they hang out. That’s all I’m clarifying. They’re in northern Iraq mostly is where they base their operations.

QUESTION: Right, but they’re mobile. I mean, people move, so you can’t – it just can’t be a geographic thing, especially in an area which --

MR TONER: Understood.

QUESTION: -- where the lines of the map have become completely blurred.

MR TONER: I understand – I understood your question, but again, I would refer you to the experts who are following these kind of movements on the ground and can delineate.

Yeah, please. Go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Just two questions. The U.S. ambassador in Iraq and General Austin met with President Barzani yesterday. And according to local media reports, they discussed the Turkey-PKK conflict. Do you have anything about the content of those meetings to share with us?

MR TONER: I don’t, frankly. So I can try to get more of a readout. I don’t know what we – we consult, obviously, all the time with the Kurdish region. But I don’t have any specific readout of that meeting.

QUESTION: One more question. The PKK claimed responsibility for blowing up the Kurdistan-Ceyhan pipeline that carries Kurdish crude from northern Iraq to Turkey. Don’t you see that Turkey-PKK conflict almost getting out of control, not between just – as a conflict between the Kurds and Turks but also between the Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish Kurds – the PKK? Because now the Iraqi Kurds are kind of --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I --

QUESTION: -- going against the PKK for blowing up that pipe?

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, without belaboring it, I think I’ve been clear that it is problematic that the PKK is carrying out attacks against the Turks. The Turks are retaliating in kind, as is their right – it’s a foreign terrorist organization. It killed Turkish soldiers and police. It’s problematic in the sense we want to see the PKK stop these attacks and return to the reconciliation process.

Yeah, go ahead. Hey.

QUESTION: Can we move to Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Been back – you’re back on – from vacation? Great.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. From my long vacation. (Laughter.) My French vacation. (Laughter).

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on PKK?

MR TONER: Oh, sure. Please. I’ll just – then I’ll finish. I’ll get to you. Thanks. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: If PKK calmed down and wanted – and said that they wanted to return to negotiations, will the Turkish Government return to negotiations? Do you know anything?

MR TONER: What I said is – and what others have said --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) going to negotiate (inaudible)?

MR TONER: What we said is we would urge the PKK to stop the violence and we would also urge Turkey to respond accordingly – or proportionately, I think, is the word I used.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So on Afghanistan and the now confirmed death of Mullah Omar.

MR TONER: Yes. Oh, I’m not breaking that news right now? Is that right? No, sorry. Joke – bad joke.

QUESTION: So do you believe it would be – it will have an impact on the emerging talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government? And second question: Are you concerned about the fact that more and more Taliban commanders are joining the ranks of the Islamic State?

MR TONER: Sure. First question, it’s clearly – without being able to predict the future and what this, frankly, will mean – it’s clearly a moment of opportunity and we would encourage the Taliban to use this time of opportunity to make genuine peace with the Afghan Government and to rebuild their lives in peace in Afghanistan. They can accept the Government of Afghanistan’s invitation to join a peace process and ultimately become part of the legitimate political system of a sovereign, united Afghanistan supported by the international community, or they can choose to continue fighting Afghans and destabilizing their own country. So again, it’s just – clearly, it couldn’t be a more clear moment of opportunity for them to really embrace this reconciliation process.

You had asked – your second question was about ISIL. I mean, we’re aware that there are – the presence of ISIL-affiliated militants in Afghanistan and obviously we’re monitoring that very closely, whether their emergence will have any kind of meaningful or significant impact on the threat environment in the region. But that’s all I can really say about that.



QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the postponement of the next round of talks?

MR TONER: Again, just that – just to say – reiterate the fact that we think the time is right for these reconciliation talks to move forward, and there’s an opportunity here.

QUESTION: Is it --

QUESTION: So you would have preferred if the Pakistanis had not postponed it?

MR TONER: We want – we think they should go forward. I mean, we – that’s our --

QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that --

MR TONER: But again, we also – I mean, sorry, just to – I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I mean, Pakistan has played a helpful role in these reconciliation process and we continue to want – want to continue to see them play that constructive role.

QUESTION: I just wanted --

MR TONER: Yes, Said.

QUESTION: -- to follow up quickly on this point.


QUESTION: Are you aware of any – of reports that say there is an internal struggle between the new leader Akhtar Mansour and, apparently, the son of Mullah Omar and so on, and that’s why it was postponed? Are you --

MR TONER: No, I’m not. And I’m not going to wade into those kinds of political situations that are so fraught I don’t know – not my role here. (Laughter.)

Yeah, please.



QUESTION: Do you have any information – or can you confirm that Secretary Kerry’s still meeting with minister Lavrov? Is it August 3rd? Are they going to meet Monday?

MR TONER: I believe so, and I believe that’s – has that been formally announced, he asked quizzically.

QUESTION: He announced it.

MR TONER: He did. I’m almost positive he did. But anyway, yeah, I believe it’s going to take place – or at least it’s planned to take place in Doha.

QUESTION: And any information on what they’re going to discuss?

MR TONER: These guys meet frequently, obviously in the context of the Iran nuclear deal most recently, but also to talk about a panoply of other issues, importantly, as we discussed earlier, Syria and a resolution of the conflict there, but also Ukraine and others.

QUESTION: Because he’s talked about – U.S. officials have talked about U.S. and Russia cooperating on anti-ISIL campaign, chemical weapons, and even the political settlement. Has anything changed? Are there new wrinkles or new proposals from either side that might be brought to light, or has anything changed since the last time they met on these issues?

MR TONER: On Syria specifically?


MR TONER: Sure. We’ve had – and we’ve said this, I think – we’ve recently had conversation with the Russians at various levels on the urgency of moving forward on a genuine and sustainable political transition in Syria, and so – one that’s consistent, as we said earlier, with the Geneva communique. And those discussions we hope will continue.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry, do you have one on Syria or no?

QUESTION: Not on Syria. Different topic.

MR TONER: Okay. You and you, please.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. On China, the ministry of defense had some rather strong words about U.S. activities in the South China Sea, saying that the U.S. is militarizing it and that U.S. actions raise the question of whether the U.S. wants nothing but chaos in the region. Do you have a response to that?

MR TONER: Sure, I’ll take a measured, historical response. And that is, since the end of the Second World War, the United States has consistently played a helpful and constructive but a critical role in supporting peace and stability in the Asia Pacific. Through our alliances and our security partnerships we have helped to sustain a rules-based maritime regime that safeguards for all nations the freedoms of navigation and overflight and other related issues and uses of the sea. And this system has frankly been instrumental in creating the regional stability that’s allowed Asia, the region’s, remarkable growth.

So we continue to call on all South China Sea claimants to peacefully manage and resolve their disputes in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: Does the timing of this rhetoric concern you at all, given that it’s coming right before the ASEAN Forums where you guys were hoping to make progress on these issues?

MR TONER: I mean look, I mean obviously, that’ll be a topic of discussion there. But other than that, no.

QUESTION: But these kinds of public remarks seem to suggest that the Chinese don’t really intend to engage; do they not?

MR TONER: This is an ongoing debate, and our positions – we hope, I hope – has been very clearly stated. We want to see the claimants in the South China Sea work together, peacefully resolve and manage their disputes. Obviously, it’s a topic of discussion, but I don’t want to try to speak to whether this is some kind of omen.

Please. Oh yeah, I’m sorry, apologize.

QUESTION: That’s okay. Fine.

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s about Egypt, please.


QUESTION: Do you have any readout for the Secretary meeting with Egyptian members of civil society, as you called them, this morning?

MR TONER: I honestly don’t. I’ll see if I can get to you some more. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason for this meeting? I mean, it’s like a – it’s a part of this strategy dialogue that it’s going to take place after three days or four days?

MR TONER: I’ll try to get – I don’t have any visibility on it, so I’ll try to get you some more information on it.

QUESTION: So can I ask some about the dialogue --

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: -- the strategic dialogue. You mentioned in strategic dialogue main headlines, which is security, politics, economy, culture, and all these issues. Do you have any specific details about what kind of issues the Secretary is going to discuss specifically with Egyptian counterparts and --

MR TONER: Well, we’re still a little bit ways out from that. I know we’re going to do some background briefings on Friday to brief you – not just this part of the trip but the entire trip the Secretary is taking. So I’ll let – I’ll wait for that.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Which is tomorrow?

MR TONER: That’s correct. Sorry. So you don’t have to wait long at all.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I mean, when you’re taking the question about the civil society meeting, can you find out why you chose to do that here? Are these people based in the U.S.? If so, why are they based in the U.S. and why not do it in Cairo? Is it a timing thing or is it a fear factor?

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get – I simply don’t know. I’m not aware. Yeah, I’ll find out.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?

MR TONER: Sure. Sorry, I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: So the Secretary and his colleagues took a bit of a beating up on the Hill this week in successive hearings. And one of the things that lawmakers were expressing a lot of concern about – one of several things – was the access for the IAEA access to resolve the PMD question. And either this morning or yesterday, Senator Corker said that he had invited the head of the IAEA, Dr. Amano, to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on what one presumes to be precisely this topic, and that Dr. Amano had not accepted that invitation.

And I’m just wondering if the Administration had any position on whether he should or should not testify, because it would seem that the questions that lawmakers were asking would be best able to be answered by him.

MR TONER: Well, I don’t have a specific answer to whether we believe he should testify. What the Secretary and others have been very clear about is that there’s no secret deals, and we heard that expression thrown out constantly over the last couple of days. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The IAEA, which is the one that verifies – will verify this deal, does create arrangements with countries under what’s called the Additional Protocol. And Under Secretary Sherman has already had a secure briefing with the House leadership talking about this arrangement, and we’ve continued to provide or we will continue to provide those briefings in a classified setting, as needed.

QUESTION: That was when?

MR TONER: I think it was yesterday.

QUESTION: Yesterday morning?

MR TONER: That’s correct. And told them frankly what was in the arrangements made between the IAEA and Iran. So the perception that this has somehow been – that Congress hasn’t been looped in on this, and what we know about these arrangements is, frankly, incorrect. But they’ve had to take place in a classified setting, as we’ve explained before.



QUESTION: But the notion – you said the notion that Congress hasn’t been looped in, but you haven’t been looped in because you guys haven’t read it.

MR TONER: We haven’t received a written copy of it, but we have been briefed on the contents.


MR TONER: And Secretary Moniz --

QUESTION: So someone with a photographic memory has looked at it and copied everything down in their brain and then repeated it up on the Hill?

MR TONER: Well, let’s put it this way: Nuclear experts with much bigger degrees than I can ever attain have looked at this and their comfort level with it is good.

QUESTION: But the issue is --

MR TONER: But the question is whether – yeah.



QUESTION: Well, the question is you say that it’s not a secret deal, but in fact, if the deal is – if there is a written version of this and it’s not being made available, whether that’s standard practice --

MR TONER: Exactly, yeah, okay.

QUESTION: -- for the IAEA or not, I don’t see how you can say there’s no secret deal because the – “secret” means – that’s almost the very definition of “secret.” But at any rate, what is the --


QUESTION: -- does the Administration have a position on whether Dr. Amano should come and tell the Senate as much as he can about this deal to allay any concerns that they might have? Or is it – well, that’s --

MR TONER: No, I mean, ultimately it’s Dr. Amano’s decision to make and an IAEA decision to make.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, do you have a – don’t you think it might be a good idea since a lot of these questions that were being asked of the Secretary and Secretary Moniz and Secretary Lew would seem to be better answered, given the circumstances, by the head of the IAEA?

MR TONER: I’m also unclear. I would need to check on – it’s not exactly common to have --

QUESTION: No, I’m – I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that he has to or that he could be forced to or even that the Senate or Congress has any control over the IAEA as a UN body --

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: -- independent UN body.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: But I mean, just for the sake of clarifying, clearing up what appears to be a rather high level of concern about this, doesn’t the Administration think that it would be a good idea for him to come and answer questions, at least as much as he can, about what this agreement actually is and does and --


QUESTION: -- why he has confidence in it going forward? Because as we know, there aren’t going to be any Americans on the team.

MR TONER: Understood.

QUESTION: And Secretary Moniz said it’s going to be the IAEA who determines whether these questions --

MR TONER: But --

QUESTION: -- are resolved. So wouldn’t it make sense for the IAEA director to answer some questions about it?

MR TONER: Well, again, we have made every effort to explain, inform Congress about these arrangements, these agreements in classified settings. I’m not sure what restrictions he would be operating to go and have those kinds of discussions with our Congress, frankly. But we’ve explained that we’re comfortable with it; the IAEA is comfortable with these arrangements. We’ll continue to try to, obviously, explain these and reach out to Congress. But I don’t have a specific answer to that.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I’ll stop after this.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: But you’re comfortable with it; you say the IAEA is comfortable with it.


QUESTION: But there are a lot of people on the Hill who are not comfortable with it, right? I mean, even after these briefings, right? So wouldn’t it make sense, then, for the IAEA, which is actually going to be doing these inspections, to speak for itself as to whether it is comfortable with the agreements that it has with Iran?

MR TONER: I’m not going to decide that for the IAEA.

Please, Said.

QUESTION: Would you oppose if – in the event that the IAEA and Dr. Amano agree to appear before the Senate here, would you oppose that or would you advise him not to?

MR TONER: I don’t – I mean, I – again, I don’t see why we would oppose that. But that decision hasn’t been made, so --

QUESTION: Right. But you do think that, actually, if he did, it would make – it would facilitate the case that --

MR TONER: Again, I would just put it within the framework of, obviously, we want congressional support going forward. It’s an important deal; it’s a good deal. We believe that. We believe this is the best option in preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapons capability. So anything we can do to convince Congress and to win that support we’re willing to do. Whether it’s holding classified briefings where we talk about this arrangement or the panoply of issues and the hearings that have taken place over the last couple days, our engagement with Congress is going to continue. I think it’s been, frankly, extraordinary in the sense of the hearings that the Secretary and obviously Secretary Moniz and Secretary Lew have engaged in – Secretary Carter yesterday. This is a full court press and we’ve been very aggressive, I would say, in trying to get out there and explain and make the case.



MR TONER: Oh, I’m so sorry. No, I --


MR TONER: No, it’s not your fault; it’s my bad. Go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: Just there’s an emergency message out for the U.S. citizens in Erbil City, saying there’s a credible threat. Do you have any further information on that?

MR TONER: In Erbil?


MR TONER: I don’t, actually. I mean, I know more generally a worldwide caution was put out yesterday, but that’s a very standard update on the kind of general security situation around the world. I don’t know of a specific security threat.

QUESTION: Specific to public places in Erbil.

MR TONER: Yeah. I’ll take the question. I don’t know.


MR TONER: Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Two quick questions on Israel.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Following on your clear – pretty clear statement yesterday night on the settlements, are you aware of any candid and direct conversation between the U.S. Government and the Israeli authorities?

MR TONER: So I know we have raised – sorry, I just want to make sure I check – but obviously, yes, we were very straightforward in condemning, as we – and our clear policy states – condemning settlements and viewing them as illegitimate. We obviously, as the statement made clear, oppose steps to advance construction in the West Bank in East Jerusalem. Why? Because settlement expansion threatens the two-state solution and calls into question, frankly, Israel’s commitment. And we have some – to clarify that, so we have made our profound concerns about continued settlement construction clear to Israel’s leaders, obviously publicly, but also privately.

QUESTION: So you don’t just express concern; you’re also condemning the settlement activity?

MR TONER: We – no, we view them --

QUESTION: I mean, I’m just using your words.

MR TONER: Sorry, I apologize. Yeah, just to clarify, we – and we’ve been very clear about this, there’s no change in our policy – we oppose steps to advance construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and we view settlements as illegitimate.

QUESTION: Let me ask you – I mean, you --

MR TONER: Thanks, sir.

QUESTION: You have issued this statement time and again. Every time there was a settlement, you issued similar statements and so on. But the Israelis seem to not care at all about your expressions of concern and so on. Will you ever take a step, sort of a practical step, that maybe can convince them to really cease these settlement activities and perhaps give peace a chance?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, we – we’re constantly in dialogue with the Israelis about getting a peace process back on track, which is why, as I said, we were – we take these kinds of activities with – review them with concern, because we feel like that impedes any forward momentum we might have or might be able to get. So we’re very clear and clear-eyed in our assessment and clear with the Israelis when we talk to them about the effects of those.

QUESTION: You know there’s been an uptick in --

MR TONER: Yeah, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, there’s been an uptick in the repression of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation forces – three young men have been killed this week so far and so on. Are you concerned that this may blow out of control? Are you cautioning the Israelis to sort of scale back this level of repression?

MR TONER: I would just say we continue to urge a peace process to get back on track, to get – and to that end, we don’t want to see any provocative actions by either side.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, can I just --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, that’s okay. Yeah, sure thing.

QUESTION: Are you aware of – at least recently, in terms of the past several days or the past week – of at least two, and there may be more, cases of Palestinian Americans being – or at least complaining or alleging that they’ve been harassed or mistreated by Israeli officials upon entering?

MR TONER: I am not, Matt. I apologize.

QUESTION: All right. Could you --

MR TONER: I have reams of paper about it, but not that specific thing, so I can check.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah. Could you check and --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- find out what you’re able to say, if you’re able to say anything about it and quickly.


QUESTION: And if you’ve – and if there has been any contact with Israeli officials about it.


QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.


QUESTION: Amnesty also issued a statement saying that Israel’s war on Gaza last year amounts to a war crime. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Just our position is well-known. Obviously, we made clear during last summer’s conflict that we support Israel’s right to self-defense. At the same time, we expressed deep concern about the welfare of civilians and urged all parties to do what they could to protect civilians. But as to this current report, I don’t have any comment on it or reaction to it.

QUESTION: So you disagree with Amnesty’s report designating Israel’s --

MR TONER: We’re aware of the report. I’m not going to make that type of judgment from the podium.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: And then you, I’m sorry. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, I’ve got a question --


QUESTION: -- about where the State Department thinks U.S.-Japan relations should evolve beyond August 15th, beyond the 70th memorial of the end of World War II. Specifically, the question is: Does the State Department think that the work of the Japanese and American foundations that work with each other – for example, the Hitachi Foundation, the Toyota Foundation, the Mitsubishi Foundation, or the American counterpart like the Mansfield Foundation – are going to play an important part in the next chapter of U.S.-Japan relations? And specifically, in other words, do you agree that these are very important aspects of our bilateral relationship?

MR TONER: What a sweeping question, by the way. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR TONER: Thank you. But just to clarify, you’re talking about the role of foundations in general, or those foundations specifically and how they might --

QUESTION: Foundations – relationship between the two countries --


QUESTION: -- beyond those countries – those --

MR TONER: I mean, generally speaking – and I’m by no means an expert on the specific foundations that you mentioned – but generally speaking, we want to see our strong bilateral relations with Japan continue to be strengthened going forward. We believe they’re on the path to do so. And this is a relationship that’s obviously been pivotal to the peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region, and we continue to want to grow those ties. And speaking more narrowly to your question about the role of these kinds of foundations and the work that they do in terms of fostering people-to-people growth, exchanges, and interaction – absolutely that work is vital, not just specifically to U.S. and Japan, but all around the world. So we do believe that that kind of work is vital to growing a really healthy bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Sorry, you were next. Yeah, apologies. Yeah, go ahead. And then the back.

QUESTION: As I understand, this is just in from the Treasury. The Office of Foreign Assets Control has updated sanctions against Russia. They’ve added new individuals, new companies. What events on the ground in Ukraine have warranted such an update of sanctions?

MR TONER: So this is – this was a – and I would urge you to, obviously, to talk to the Department of Treasury for in-the-weeds details, but – to ensure the efficacy of existing sanctions, the Department of Treasury designated and identified a range of individuals and entities under four executive orders related to Russia and Ukraine. But let’s – today’s action is not – there’s not new sanctions. This is designed to strengthen existing sanctions, counter attempts to circumvent our sanctions, and further align U.S. measures with those of our international partners – obviously, in Europe – and to provide additional information to assist the private sector with sanctions compliance. And just --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) related to specific events on the ground, changes, anything?

MR TONER: So what we’re – we’re actually strengthening the existing sanctions regime – again, because without these kinds of – I call them maintenance actions, the impact of these sanctions can erode over time. Sanctioned entities can find ways to work around restrictions, et cetera. So this is a fairly common practice with sanctions.

But let’s be clear: These sanctions are related to compliance with the Minsk agreements and full implementation of the Minsk agreements. So once the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, we can talk about those sanctions being rolled back.

Please, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, on Japan. It was reported last week that Governor Onaga of Okinawa will likely be speaking before the Human Rights Commission in Geneva --


QUESTION: -- likely in September, I think. Do you have any comment or – on that?

MR TONER: I don’t. It’s a long way off, but I don’t have any comment on it.

QUESTION: Do you have any assertion to the – response to the assertion that the Futenma relocation facility is a violation of the Okinawan people’s human rights?

MR TONER: I think the – Futenma’s been – has been worked out between the U.S. and Japan. We’ve reached an agreement on that, and we continue to have ongoing dialogue. But I don’t have anything new to say.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Do you have any response to Iran’s deputy foreign minister saying that they would not – they will only allow inspectors from countries that have diplomatic relations with their country to inspect nuclear facilities?

MR TONER: I mean, I’m not aware of those comments. I think that that’s – I don’t have anything particular to speak to that. That’s – you’re saying it’s – who was it who said this?

QUESTION: Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas --

QUESTION: Araghchi.



MR TONER: I don’t have anything to --


QUESTION: But what – this is a --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- this goes to the issue of the IAEA and the inspections. And wouldn’t it be a good idea to have the director general of the IAEA – (laughter) – come and answer some questions about – I just don’t understand why --

MR TONER: Look, I --

QUESTION: I mean, I realize that you don’t control the IAEA --

MR TONER: Exactly.

QUESTION: -- and I realize that the IAEA doesn’t report to Congress. But still, it would seem to make sense to me that if you wanted to explain and have questions directly – that directly relate to the IAEA’s monitoring and verification, that you would encourage or even maybe proactively suggest to Dr. Amano that he answer questions maybe even in written form to allay or to try to allay the concerns of the lawmakers. Anyway --

MR TONER: Your point is well made, Matt, and well taken. I just don’t have anything to add other than to say we’re going to continue to – our outreach with Congress, explain the deal, advocate for the deal, and leave it at that.


QUESTION: On China, so China is having a military parade next – not next month, in September.

MR TONER: You’re talking about the 70th – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, of the World War II.

MR TONER: Right, exactly.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. received an invitation, and will the U.S. be sending a representative?

MR TONER: We have not yet received an invitation, but I don’t --


MR TONER: That’s right. But – and so I can’t speak to what our delegation might look like once we do receive an invitation. That would be getting out in front of the process, which we rarely do here at the State Department. In any case, I’d say more generally, obviously, we believe constructive relations – constructive relations between all the countries in the region is the goal here, and so we would encourage Beijing to make their September 3rd commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II a forward-looking event that promotes reconciliation and healing.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I follow up on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: You said you haven’t received an invitation, but if you do, would you accept it?

MR TONER: Yeah, but that’s a hypothetical, so we don’t answer those.

QUESTION: Okay, fine.

MR TONER: No, I’m just kidding. I mean, we’ll talk about that once we do. But I don’t want to get ahead and talk about what delegation, who might be in it. I mean, that’s all to be decided. We just haven’t received an invitation yet.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Michael Ratney for a second?

MR TONER: Yes, I love Michael Ratney.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, will he be going to Syria anytime soon or to the region? Where will he operate out of – the State Department or maybe Amman or something like that?

MR TONER: I believe he’s traveling to the region, and if that’s incorrect I will correct that. But he was just announced the other day. Obviously, he’s getting up to speed on the issues, or the issue. And as I said, he’s speaking with de Mistura today about the UN’s efforts. I don’t know exactly where he might be going. I’ll try to get more information.

QUESTION: Is he required to be confirmed by the Senate?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the sanctions very briefly?

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah.

QUESTION: About – it’s about the timing. My question is about the timing. Why now? I mean, new names, new companies added to the list.

MR TONER: Again, no specific date or anniversary. It’s just we do this all the time as part --

QUESTION: This comes – yes.

MR TONER: Sorry, I don’t mean to --

QUESTION: -- a day after Russia’s vote at the UN Security Council. Could it be in any way related?

MR TONER: No, this is – I’m not – it’s just a way to strengthen existing sanctions. It is unrelated to any other things other than the fact that we constantly look at this, and frankly Treasury but also in working in conjunction with our sanctions people here at the State Department, to look at ways we need to strengthen these sanctions in order for them to continue to have the maximum impact.

QUESTION: What is the regularity of such updates?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have a – I don’t have that level of detail. It’s just something we do periodically. But I don’t have – I can’t say we do it every three months or six months. I just know that to understand sanctions, there’s workarounds, there’s – in order to keep them as strong as possible, you constantly need to freshen them and make sure that the gaps are filled.

Is that it, guys? Go ahead, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Hillary emails.


QUESTION: Do you have any response to an article that came out a few days ago saying that there was a conspicuous two-month gap in the emails that were submitted to the Benghazi committee, specifically May and June of 2012, where they said there was a lot of escalating violence in Libya at the time?

MR TONER: Just to say a couple of thoughts or a couple of things to say about that. One is that a two-month gap doesn’t mean that she was somehow not informed about ongoing events. I mean, the Secretary of State receives – and we can’t make this point often enough – receives information from a variety of sources, not just through periodic emails or emails in general. There’s updates provided to her, obviously, verbally but also via paper, cable, et cetera. So I wouldn’t conclude the absence or presence of a particular issue or a gap in the emails to indicate that there was somehow a lack of awareness of an issue.

I would also say that only Benghazi-related emails have been sent to Congress – or have been released from the Clinton – sorry. So only Benghazi-related emails have been released from Clinton – from Secretary Clinton that had been sent in 2011 and 2012, so we haven’t gotten up to – we may not have been able to release these particular months yet. It’s still ongoing. And the way the process is, without getting too confusing, it’s not necessarily in chronological order. So --

QUESTION: So tomorrow’s tranche is – will be what? Is there any way to characterize them in terms of the dates or subjects or anything? Or is it just going to be like a hodgepodge of stuff that’s thrown online with no rhyme or reason?

MR TONER: No, I mean – I mean, we try to move in a chronological fashion. The only reason I made that point is that just the way this – the way this works and these emails were received – again, without getting into the nitty-gritty details – some of them are – there’s some disconnects that we need to – but we’re trying to go forward – move forward on them in a semi-chronological fashion, and just going through them. So the next tranche is due out tomorrow, as we said – or as you’ve said. And I don’t – frankly, I don’t have in front of me the specific date range.

QUESTION: All right. Do you have anything to say to the – yesterday in court there was another production of a large quantity of emails accompanied by remonstrations of the judge who, again, is – I don’t know, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, to use a – that this is taking so long from the State – do you have any response to him?

MR TONER: I mean – you’re talking about the FOIA --

QUESTION: Correct.

MR TONER: -- the AP case? I – I’m – I’m limited in what I can say in matters – on matters of ongoing litigation. But I would say that we take very seriously our records management responsibilities. And just, as I think I’ve said before or John has said, we’re working hard to stretch our resources to respond to the backload in FOIA requests. But just some quick stats on this: In 2008, the department received 6,000 new FOIA requests. By the end of FY2014 we had received nearly 20,000 new requests. So that’s a pretty massive increase. And this year we’ve been on pace to exceed that. We’ve already received more than 16,000 new requests since October. So obviously, the workload has increased on this, but we’re making every effort to comply with our FOIA obligations.

Please, go ahead.


QUESTION: One more on that --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead – sorry – Matt. Finish, then I’ll --

QUESTION: On this?

QUESTION: Yeah, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I just – I mean --


QUESTION: -- I’ve asked this question before.


QUESTION: Between – to what do you attribute this jump of 14,000?

MR TONER: You have asked that question before --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR TONER: -- and I don’t have a good answer for you.

QUESTION: And you didn’t.


QUESTION: And when you say that they --

MR TONER: I didn’t get the question before, but now I don’t have a good answer for you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. Right. Well, now you know how it feels to get the same – (laughter.) Since October of last year, I presume, since we’re not at October yet, there have been 16,000?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: And all of those were – do you know, do the majority of those go – are – they’re asking for documents from Secretary Clinton’s time, or from current --

MR TONER: No, not necessarily; no, not at all. But, I mean, they’re – but it’s just a massive increase in FOIA requests that we’re obligated to fulfill. But let me see if I can – I mean, I don’t have any reason to – just that the workload has increased voluminously.

QUESTION: There was a --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: There was another report out today --


QUESTION: -- a lot of which I think was covered on Friday in discussion of the --


QUESTION: -- IG’s reports. But it asserted that classified information from five different intelligence agencies was contained in these emails. Do you have any response to that? Do you --

MR TONER: No. I mean, we talked a lot about this last Friday, and the fact that we don’t know some of the – these emails that were shared with the IG, our IG – our Office of Inspector General as well as the ICIG. We’ve been very clear and diligent about process. We have intelligence community folks who help us go through these emails and look at them, and again, to assess whether they need to be upgraded in classification. And that continues.

QUESTION: Yesterday at the --


QUESTION: -- White House, your colleague over there said that Secretary Kerry was going to meet this week with the IG, State IG to discuss the --

MR TONER: Met. Yeah, he met already. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no. He said he was going to meet. So, one, why is the White House spokesman talking about a meeting between Secretary Kerry and the State Department inspector general that happened the day before – right?

MR TONER: Because we didn’t brief --

QUESTION: Because if it happened on Wednesday, was he just misinformed that it was going to happen later --

MR TONER: Oh, I think --

QUESTION: -- this week or next week, in fact, was what he said at one point? And I believe unless the inspector general is going to be on the plane with Secretary Kerry, that meeting would be impossible.

MR TONER: I think – actually, I looked back at the transcript. I think he said this week. I don’t think he said next week. But I think he was responding to a question, a direct question about it.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: So I don’t think it was anything nefarious --

QUESTION: But that meeting actually took place on Wednesday?

MR TONER: It did. Yeah, it did. And these are – as we discussed, it’s not unusual. They last met in April, so --

QUESTION: All right. And I have one last one that is --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- wildly not related to anything. And it – apropos of whatever you want to take it, the extradition treaty that the United States – that Secretary Albright signed with Zimbabwe in 1997 and took effect in 2000. Are you aware that that is still in full effect? Has it been amended or revised in any way, since post-2000 the U.S. relationship with Zimbabwe has, shall we say, been on a downward slope – a precipitous downward slope? Is it still in – is it still, to this day, in effect with the same provisions that it was in 2000 when it came into effect?

MR TONER: My understanding is that it is still – I mean, it’s still in effect. That it still exists. I’m not aware that it’s been changed in any way, shape, or form.

QUESTION: Are you aware if it has ever actually been used?

MR TONER: I’m not.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)

DPB # 130

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 27, 2015

Mon, 07/27/2015 - 17:27

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 27, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:38 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Couple things at the top. First, I want to announce the Secretary’s upcoming travel. Secretary Kerry will be in Cairo, Egypt on the 2nd of August to co-chair the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. The bilateral dialogue reaffirms the United States’ longstanding and enduring partnership with Egypt and will provide a forum to discuss a broad range of political, economic, security and cultural issues to address – issues of importance, I’m sorry, to each side, and to further our common values, goals, and interests.

On the 3rd of August, the Secretary will travel in Doha to meet with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council. There he will engage with them on a wide range of security issues throughout the region, not to – of course, to include the Iran deal itself.

Next, the Secretary will travel to Singapore on the 4th of August to meet with senior government officials and leaders there to discuss bilateral and regional issues as Singapore marks 50 years of independence. The Secretary will also deliver a speech on the importance of U.S. trade and investment to prosperity in both the East Asia region and the United States.

He will then visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from the 4th to the 6th of August to attend the ASEAN regional forum. At the regional forum, the Secretary will participate in four multilateral meetings, including the Lower Mekong initiative, U.S.-ASEAN East Asia Summit, and the ASEAN Regional Foreign Ministers meeting.

From there to Hanoi from the 6th to the 8th of August, where the Secretary will meet with senior Vietnamese officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues, he’ll also participate in an event marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

I also want to just make mention that today the Secretary will welcome 12 high school students from the Peshawar Army Public School in Pakistan. These young leaders are traveling to DC and New York State on a two-week international visitors leadership program on science, technology, engineering, and math. The Pakistani students are survivors of the December 2014 terrorist attack at the Peshawar Army Public School, and this program underscores our U.S.-Pakistan cooperation in educational exchanges.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we start with – not the trip, although – you have any questions – about the – what’s going on right now with the Turks? And it seems like a really bizarre situation has unfolded over the course of the past week with them joining the air strikes against ISIS, but at the same time also bombing PKK positions. And there’s been some pushback on the suggestion – I noticed that Brett McGurk tweeted about it – that these are related, and that the United States – he saying that there was no deal done with the Turks, in other words. A lot of people find that really hard to believe. So what exactly is going on here, and doesn’t this just make an even bigger mess out of the situation then you had originally?

MR KIRBY: I think – so let’s unpack. There’s an awful lot there, so let’s just unpack that. I don’t think that I could say it any better than Ambassador McGurk did. We are grateful for Turkey’s cooperation against ISIL to include now use of some of their bases for coalition aircraft to go against targets – ISIL targets, particularly in Syria. So we’re grateful for that support. The – so separate and distinct from that, Turkey has continued to come under attack by PKK terrorists, and we recognize their right to defend themselves against those attacks. And it was in retaliation for recent attacks by the PKK that Turkey conducted these most recent strikes.

As for ISIL in Syria, we continue to discuss with Turkey ways at which we can go after this particular threat. Again, we value their cooperation thus far. They have a vested interest, obviously, because of its – it’s their border. And while there’s nothing new to announce with respect to what kind of cooperation may come in the future, we’re going to continue to talk to them about that.

I understand the coincidence of all of this, but it is just that. The attacks against the PKK were in retaliations for attacks they, the Turks, endured, and what they’re doing against ISIL in Syria I’ll let them speak to. But obviously, we welcome all coalition members’ efforts against ISIL, particularly in Syria.

QUESTION: All right, well, one: Are you suggesting then that the Turks – the attacks on the PKK are going to – are over now and that the Turks have retaliated enough for the attacks on them? And secondly, are you not concerned that these attacks, while they are directed against a group that you have designated a terrorist organization – the Turks certainly believe are a terrorist organization – and I’m talking about the PKK – are you not concerned that that is going to hinder or hurt the fight against ISIS/ISIL?

MR KIRBY: I understand the second one. Am I concerned that their attacks against the PKK will detract from the fight against ISIL? Is that --

QUESTION: Yeah. They’re killing people that are killing ISIL.

MR KIRBY: The attacks against the PKK.



QUESTION: Right? I mean, am I wrong?

QUESTION: I mean, the PKK has been very effective against ISIL. They helped rescue Yezidis on Mount Sinjar. They’ve been fighting ISIS in Syria --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No. I think I got it.

QUESTION: So there’s two in there.

MR KIRBY: Is it over now?

QUESTION: Have you been assured – or have you been told by the Turks that they’re – that this against the – the strikes against the PKK are limited duration and solely in retaliation for the attacks on them, and are going to stop?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And secondly, I mean, how does this not make it a big – it’s – how does this not hurt the fight against ISIS/ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Okay, so two questions. First of all, is it over now? I don’t know. That’s a question that you have to ask Turkish officials. They retaliated against the PKK for strikes that they received from PKK terrorists. We have long recognized the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, and we recognize Turkey’s ability – or, I’m sorry, Turkey’s right – to defend itself against this group. So is it over now? I don’t know. And that’s really not a question that we can answer from this podium.

Two, does it hinder the fight against ISIL? What we’re trying to focus on here is a coalition to go after ISIL, counter ISIL. I recognize that, in some cases, the PKK have fought against ISIL. But they are a foreign terrorist organization. We designated them that, as an FTO. And our fight against ISIL is not in cooperation with, coordination with, or communication with the PKK. Our fight against ISIL is with 62 other nations in this coalition who are helping us go after these guys, and in Syria specifically. And again, DOD is working a train and equip program to get a moderate opposition capable enough to go after ISIL inside Syria.

So the fight against ISIL will continue. We are grateful for the contributions of Turkey and other coalition members. And the pressure that we are going to put on them, regardless of what Turkey is doing against the PKK or will do in the future, that’s not going to diminish.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Turks --

QUESTION: Well, wait, wait. I’ve got just one.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Turks not to go after PKK in Syria?

QUESTION: I have – hold on Ros, Ros. Ros, I have one more here. So you’re saying that it doesn’t trouble you at all that the Turks are going after people who have been very – perhaps the most effective on the ground against ISIS/ISIL? You don’t have a problem with that --

MR KIRBY: First of all, I think I would –

QUESTION: -- and there’s no coordination, but there – so you’re more comfortable with working alongside Iran in Iraq than you are with the Kurds. And don’t – is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Matt, we’re not working alongside Iran in Iraq against ISIL. We’ve made it clear there is no coordination on the ground in Iraq with Iran. I would take issue with your characterization that the PKK has been the most effective force against ISIL in Iraq.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we would share that. This is a foreign terrorist organization. They attacked Turkey. Turkey has a right to self-defense. We’re recognizing that.

The fight against ISIL is broader than this, broader than one group’s efforts against ISIL. It’s much bigger, deeper, and broader than that, and that’s where our focus is.


QUESTION: Is the U.S. telling Turkey not to go after the PKK if the PKK in Syria are going after ISIL, yes or no?

MR KIRBY: The PKK in Syria?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: Well, the PKK, as we observe them --

QUESTION: Right --

MR KIRBY: -- are in northern --


MR KIRBY: -- or operating in Iraq and inside Turkey to –

QUESTION: So you don’t know that they --

MR KIRBY: -- conduct attacks.

QUESTION: So you don’t know that they are fighting inside Syria, as well?

MR KIRBY: I have no specific information --

QUESTION: She’s referring to (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I know what she’s referring to. I’m getting there. I have no information specifically about where the PKK may be inside Syria. In Syria, largely the counter-ISIL fighters are members of the YPG. Right?


MR KIRBY: And the attacks that they rendered were against PKK, not the YPG.

QUESTION: Okay. Could I follow up?

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re telling the Turks – because now we have this complication inside Syria. Who is shooting at whom at this point?

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about this recent –

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

MR KIRBY: -- this recent claim of attack –


MR KIRBY: -- that the Turks –

QUESTION: That the Turks –

MR KIRBY: -- fired on YPG.


MR KIRBY: So let me – so the Turks have said they’re going to investigate that. And they have reiterated and clarified that their purpose against ISIL – or their purpose inside Syria is against ISIL, not the YPG.


MR KIRBY: They’ve said that themselves.

QUESTION: Now, since we’re inside Syria, and we’re talking about groups who may or may not be favored or endorsed by the U.S., what about Jabhat Al-Nusrah, which the U.S. sanctioned back in 2013? Is the U.S. basically ignoring them as they continue fighting against ISIL inside Syria, or is the U.S. using this opportunity, since they’re also a FTO, to go after them?

MR KIRBY: The fight inside Syria is largely almost completely against ISIL. Al-Nusra we consider an offshoot of al-Qaida, therefore a legitimate terrorist organization. And to the degree that – and I think we’ve been – it’s been clear through the last several years, to the degree that we have information that leads us to be able to go after terrorists that are targeting our interests or the interests of our allies and partners, we’re going to continue to do that. I’m not sitting here announcing strikes against al-Nusrah, but nothing protects al-Nusrah from the long arm of the United States of America, as did nothing protected the Khorasan Group and the strikes that we took against the Khorasan Group inside Syria. But to be clear, the fight inside Syria is largely about ISIL, and the Turks themselves have acknowledged that that will be their aim inside Syria too.

QUESTION: Now, I asked this on Friday: Is there a no-fly zone agreed upon by the Turks and the U.S. inside northern Syria, yes or no?


QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: Why is that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve talked about this as well before. I mean --

QUESTION: But in light of current reports and current suggestions coming from Ankara that this has been agreed upon, I’d like to give you the opportunity to explain exactly from the U.S.’s position what is going on there.


QUESTION: Is there a no-fly zone or not?

MR KIRBY: No. I – no. It’s the same answer you asked a few seconds ago. No, there’s no imposition of a no-fly zone, and we’re not considering one. But what is under consideration – and I talked about this to Matt’s question – is deepening cooperation with our Turkish allies to counter ISIL in northwest Syria. We’re going to continue to talk with them about how to do that.

I should also note – and I really don’t like to get into military matters, but you’re kind of dragging me there – there is no opposition in the air when coalition aircraft are flying in that part of Syria. The Assad regime is not challenging us. ISIL doesn’t have airplanes. So in a sense, what’s happening over northern Syria is only coalition aircraft flying, and it’s not a no-fly zone and I’m not characterizing it that. But it’s almost having the same effect as if there was one, because only coalition aircraft are occupying that airspace. They’re not being challenged, they’re not being shot at; there’s no other aircraft up there other than coalition aircraft which are focused on going after ISIL.

QUESTION: One more: What about creating some sort of safe zone for Syrian refugees who had fled to Turkey? The Turks have been saying that they would like to see some of those refugees go back and that part of their discussions includes setting up some sort of perimeter where these refugees would be safe from attack. Is that under consideration? Would that require U.S. troops going in to help preserve the boundaries of such a safe zone?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak to the military aspect of this. We continue to talk to the Turks about how to better cooperate – I got you, I got you. Hang – sorry, just hang on a second. We continue to talk to the Turks about how to better cooperate along that border and against ISIL, and we’ll continue to do that. I don’t have any announcements today about what that’s going to entail, but we are certainly cognizant of the fact that 2 million some odd refugees are in Turkey and the Turks are carrying a heavy load in trying to deal with that.

I can also tell you that, again, without trying to – I’m not signaling some decision on a safe zone, not at all, but to the degree any of those refugees return home – and obviously, we’d like to be able to see them return home too; that’s really – that’s the long-term answer here – we want to make sure that that’s voluntary.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the effectiveness of the Turkish participation in the fight against ISIL and so on. It seems that it has been scaled back tremendously today, because they are going after PKK positions and villages and so on inside Turkey. They are devoting a great deal of resources and assets to do that, and consequently they scaled back. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, this is – we’ve said that Turkey has a right to defend itself against terrorists and we recognize that – as do we, as does any country. And I’ll let the Turks speak to how they’re going to go after terrorists inside their borders. I’m loath to give battlefield assessments even of U.S. military. I’m certainly not going to do that for the Turks.

QUESTION: So you deny the allegation that Turkey basically used its part in fighting ISIS as a ploy just to go after the Kurds?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize Turkish motives. We don’t observe a connection between what they did about going after PKK and what we’re trying to do as a coalition against ISIL.

QUESTION: Then you remain the only one.

QUESTION: And finally, today there is --

MR KIRBY: Okay. I’m comfortable with that.

QUESTION: And finally, there are reports today that the Kurds – Kurdish fighters of all groups and so on – they have taken vast areas in the Aleppo area, taking it away from ISIL --


QUESTION: -- due to your part, the coalition bombardment and so on. Could you comment on that, or could you give us more information?

MR KIRBY: Could I comment on what?

QUESTION: That they have been able – the Kurdish forces have been able to liberate a lot of areas that were under --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, they’ve been very effective in --

QUESTION: That’s in the Aleppo area. In the Aleppo area, with support from --

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I’m not going to go through every spot on the map, okay? I really – I don’t want to get into battlefield assessments. But yes, and I’ve said this before, that the counter-ISIL fighters in northern Syria have been effective. There’s no question about it. I would also add, Said, that one of the reasons they’ve been effective is because of coalition air support, which will continue as they continue to press the fight against ISIL. It’s not like they’re doing this all on their own. There has been some coalition air support as well.

QUESTION: John, you said that Turkey’s response to the – Turkey’s bombardment of the PKK hideouts in northern Iraq --


QUESTION: -- are retaliatory, are in retaliation to what PKK had done. But now there are two questions. First, ISIS – the PKK attack killed only two Turkish officers, but you’ve seen two major ISIS attacks inside Syria. Why haven’t we seen such a retaliation against ISIS from the Turks? Secondly, and the Turkey had --

MR KIRBY: Before you get to the second one let me just kill the first one.


MR KIRBY: You’ve got to talk to the Turks. I cannot speak for another nation --

QUESTION: Well, but because I’m saying --

MR KIRBY: -- or the decisions that they’re making.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the Turkish position that it’s in retaliation? One could ask why would you agree with that, with the Turkish assessment that it’s in retaliation to PKK, while ISIS has been killing many more Turkish citizens and that Turkey has done pretty much nothing to --

MR KIRBY: I think I would – so I’m not going to characterize Turkish motives. They suffered an attack by the PKK; they retaliated. What comes next? That’s for them to talk to. As for ISIL, one of the reasons why we continue to have discussions with the Turks is to explore ways that we can work together with them through the coalition to go after ISIL. This is a country that has a border they’re concerned about, they’ve got 2 million refugees, they’ve allowed – they’ve agreed to host a train and equip site inside Turkey, and now they’ve allowed us to have access to some of their bases to conduct airstrikes and missions against ISIL inside Syria. It’s not like they’re not doing anything, and your question almost implies that they’re just sitting on the sidelines, and that is not at all our assessment.

QUESTION: They have certainly poured more bombs over the past 24 hours on the PKK hideouts than on ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, every day is different in a war like this. I mean, there are some days where our pilots don’t drop all their bombs either. I mean, every day is different and every member of the coalition contributes what they can, when they can, where they can. It’s a coalition of the willing, we’re not mandating it, and the Turks are cooperating and they’re coordinating and they have agreed to do more. And we’re just going to have to see where this goes in the future. As I said at the outset, we’re going to continue to talk with them. We’re going to continue to try to explore areas where that cooperation can improve. And we’ll get there.

QUESTION: My last question, sorry. Wouldn’t you be worried that the Turkish contribution, the military aspect of the contribution to the fight against ISIL might actually complicate the situation further instead of helping the fight against ISIS? Because the Kurdish people inside Syria, whom you see them different from the PKK, they are like practically an affiliate of the PKK, and they have said that they would not welcome a Turkish intrusion inside their areas. Wouldn’t that really complicate the war? I mean, wouldn’t – because the only – one of the very – one of the most effective ground partners you have in northern Syria are the Kurds. If they don’t welcome Turkish contribution, wouldn’t that --

MR KIRBY: Right, and that’s – so that’s one of the reasons why we’re going to continue to talk to the Turks about how to move forward here so that the mission can be achieved and the complications are kept to a minimum. I think everybody understands, and we’ve talked about this before, that the – how complicated the situation is in Syria. We’re not blind to that. That’s why we’re having these discussions and that’s why we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve the cooperation.

Margaret, you’ve been patient.

QUESTION: Thank you. Kirby, when you – you made clear: no-fly zone off the table, not being considered.

MR KIRBY: I said it’s not being considered.

QUESTION: Right. But can you help me understand: When Turkish officials say that their understanding of what this ISIL-free zone would require would be air cover to protect refugees and the Free Syrian Army --


QUESTION: -- is that part of the conversation being entertained by the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: We are, again, looking for ways to talk to the Turks about how to get after the ISIL threat better in northern Syria. We’re not using the phrase “ISIL-free zone.” We’re going after ISIL wherever they tend to go. Right now they seem to be gravitating along that border, gravitating to the west. So I think it’s fair to say you can expect to see more coalition effort and energy placed against that area, because that’s where ISIL is, and we want to hit them where they are.

What the military components of that look like I’m just not able to say right now. We’re still in very early stages here of talking to the Turks about what that would look like and how it would play out. But as I said to Ros, I mean, the coalition aircraft are not being challenged in that area of Syria. We don’t expect that that will change. And so right now, for right now, a no-fly zone is not under active consideration. But as we’ve always said, we’re going to continue to talk to the Turks, we understand their concerns, and we know they share our concerns about where ISIL is operating there along that northern border with Turkey.

QUESTION: But when you say no-fly zone not being considered, that is not the same thing as saying any use of air cover is not being considered?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s already air power being used in northern Syria --

QUESTION: Against ISIL, right.

MR KIRBY: -- against ISIL. I think you can expect to see that --

QUESTION: But to protect the refugees and the Free Syrian Army, which is what the Turks want.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t – now you’re drawing me into specific tactical things that the Pentagon’s better to speak to. On the moderate opposition, I think we’ve always said we know once they get into the fight, we – that we’re going to have to support them in some way. What that support looks like and how it’s actually produced are decisions for the Pentagon to speak to, and I don't know that even those decisions have been made.

But air power – again, I want to just stress air power over Syria in that area of Syria where we’re fighting ISIL is not being challenged.

QUESTION: Right, but if the – as you say, if forces are brought in there, the Western-trained forces are brought in there and refugees come in there, there would be a change in circumstance and making clear to the Assad regime not to do that.

MR KIRBY: And we would have to make decisions then – it’s a hypothetical, so if that all were to occur, I’m sure that particularly Pentagon leadership would have to make some decisions about what that does, how that changes the situation tactically, but I wouldn’t be in a position right now to speak to that.

QUESTION: A couple more on Turkey?


QUESTION: Incirlik base. Will the coalition jets – manned or unmanned planes will be also helping PYD forces, the ones that take off from the Incirlik base? Is this --

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about the YPG? These are the counter-ISIL fighters --


MR KIRBY: -- in northern Syria.


MR KIRBY: They have already benefited from coalition air support.


MR KIRBY: The fact that we now have access to bases in Turkey will allow for that support to be more timely and perhaps even more effective. So I would expect that that kind of air support will continue.

QUESTION: Great. Do you have any update on the numbers of the train and equip – are there new recruits there? Can you say?

MR KIRBY: I’d have to refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, President Assad gave some talk and talk about the shortcomings of his army for the first time as recorded since the war. Do you have any comment on that, whether – some argued that --

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, I’m not going to – I saw those comments as well. I mean, it’s not my place to speak to Mr. Assad’s military woes. I mean, nothing’s changed about our position. He’s lost legitimacy to govern. He needs to go. What needs to happen is a political settlement inside Syria that produces a government that is responsive to and respectful of all Syrians. That’s what we’re after here. It’s not going to be solved militarily, but I’m not going to make comments based on his characterization of his own military.

QUESTION: My final question: In light of the new reports that’s showing that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons still with the barrel bombs and other means and hundreds of them since the March within last few months, do you still find your agreement with the Assad chemical weapons are successful?

MR KIRBY: Well, yes, but what we know is that 100 percent of the declared stockpiles were removed and neutralized. So yes, that was an enormous success to get all that declared stockpile material out of Syria and to get it neutralized so that it could no longer be used against human beings.

We’ve also said and we recognize he continues to brutalize his own people, and including the potential use of chlorine gas against his own people. And when chlorine is used in that way, it’s still a violation, even though it’s an industrial agent. And so those concerns – while we’re glad we got all those declared stockpiles out, we’re certainly cognizant of the fact that he continues to find brutal ways to kill and maim his own people, and another reason why he’s lost legitimacy to govern and needs to step down.

QUESTION: What discussions are underway between the U.S. and other countries about trying to get to that political assessment? Last week, the Secretary said that he would soon be meeting with Sergey Lavrov, ostensibly to talk about Iran, but I would imagine Syria might come up as well.

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, look, these are discussions Secretary Kerry has routinely with his counterparts all over the region, and I would fully expect that when he meets with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the next opportunity here in a week, that Syria will certainly come up, as it does almost every time he talks to Mr. Lavrov.

QUESTION: Is there any new push, any new initiative to try to get to a post-Assad Syria?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have like an announcement to make today, Ros. This is a – what’s going on in Syria with respect to Mr. Assad and ISIL is a constant topic of conversation and discussion and consideration. And I mean, I don’t have – again, I don’t have a formula here for you. It’s a very complicated situation, but it is one that occupies a lot of Secretary Kerry’s time.

QUESTION: Well, may I?


QUESTION: I mean, we’re not looking for some announcement, but I don’t think most of us have seen a kind of concerted, new effort, given that Assad is facing some battlefield losses. His regime looks increasingly wobbly, and we have heard a recognition of this from you and some of your coalition partners. So you say that there’s no formula and I understand that, but should Assad fall tomorrow it seems that there are absolutely no pieces in place for what would happen. And I think the question is: Are there new efforts being made to try and find some political solution for the inevitable day that he would fall?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d answer you, Elise --

QUESTION: Because it could become sooner rather than later.

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speculate about the sooner versus later. What I could tell you is there’s been continuous efforts here in the interagency in the U.S. Government as well throughout the interagency to try to get at the very complicated situation in Syria and to get at potentials for a negotiated political settlement that leads to a government that’s more responsive to the Syrian people. So it’s not about new. It’s about continuous. And --

QUESTION: I understand continuous. But given the changes on the battlefield, you would think that there may be more of increased or enhanced efforts.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s fair to say that – I think it’s fair to say that --

QUESTION: Is there a new urgency about this?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s fair to say that everybody shares the same sense of purpose about what’s going on inside Syria, and the situation changes all the time there. To say that recent reporting that --

QUESTION: It’s not just reporting. It’s – you’ve said it yourself.

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, I – to say that recent developments would lead to something new I think would sort of under-sell the amount of energy and effort that’s already being applied to this problem.

QUESTION: On the opposition, on getting the opposition ready for a transition --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, again, we’ve very committed to this train and equip program for the opposition, but I’d let the Pentagon --

QUESTION: Not talking about the train and equip program. If Assad were to fall, there’s zero political opposition ready to take over. I mean, there’s been – when this first started five years ago, there was like a demonstrable, concerted program to work with the political opposition, and we barely hear about that anymore. So I know you’re training and equipping and the numbers are very small, but if Assad were to fall, politically there’s – there would be a complete vacuum.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to make predictions about how soon, if, or when he falls. The work with, coordination with partners, to include leaders of the opposition, continues. And we’re going to have – I mean, nobody’s lost a focus on this.

QUESTION: Is it your assessment that Assad’s fall is imminent?

MR KIRBY: I’m not prepared to make --

QUESTION: Is it your assessment that he is --

MR KIRBY: I’m not prepared to make that assessment.

QUESTION: That he’s lost a lot of ground --

MR KIRBY: I’m not prepared to make that assessment.

QUESTION: Can I ask two really brief ones on this? One, does the United States – does the Administration still believe that the whole chemical weapons deal was a success? You said that 100 percent of this declared stockpiles were – are gone. But in fact, it’s become clear that he didn’t declare 100 percent of his stockpiles. So say he only declared 75 percent of his stockpiles and 100 percent of the 75 percent is gone, but he’s still got 25 percent. I don’t see how that’s a success at all. I mean, I see that you got rid of some of it, but he’s still using it.

So, one, is it still a success? Is that your position?


QUESTION: And then I – okay.

MR KIRBY: And there weren’t weapons. It was chemical material. There’s a big difference.

QUESTION: Well, I’ve seen reports that say – that suggest it’s not just the chlorine that wasn’t declared, as – and I know that --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, if he’s not declared it --


MR KIRBY: -- I mean, it’s difficult to get into a percentage.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you basically trusted the guy to declare everything that he had, and he didn’t and now he’s using it, and you’re saying it’s a success?

MR KIRBY: A success to get 100 percent of the declared material out and get it neutralized --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Yes, that was successful. And Matt, come on, it’s never been – it’s never been done before on that kind of a scale.

QUESTION: All right, fine. But still, if he didn’t declare --

MR KIRBY: Nobody is turning a blind eye to the fact that he still has potential capabilities in this regard.

QUESTION: Right. But if he didn’t declare 100 percent, then I don’t see how it’s – saying that he – saying that 100 percent of what he declared is gone, it’s not a 100 percent success.

Anyway, the second thing – and very briefly: If it is okay for the Turks to go after the PKK, why aren’t – why doesn’t the Administration also go after the PKK to help defend its NATO ally, Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Look, it’s a foreign terrorist organization. We --

QUESTION: You go after foreign terrorist organizations. Al-Shabaab you go after. Why not – why isn’t the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a dossier on how and what, to what degree, or when or how we’ve gone after the PKK. It’s an FTO. We recognize them as such.


MR KIRBY: And the United States reserves the right, as we do with all FTOs, to go after them where and when we can.

QUESTION: Okay. But could it be that the Administration believes that going after the PKK is actually harmful to the anti-ISIS/ISIL effort?

MR KIRBY: We’ve never defended the PKK in that regard.

QUESTION: I’m not saying you defended them.

MR KIRBY: No, but I mean – but the question sort of implies that we’re sort of turning a blind eye to the PKK because they fight ISIL, and that’s just not true --


MR KIRBY: -- any more than it’s – go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m not saying you turn a blind eye to them, but I’m saying that you have – you haven’t targeted them militarily.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I don’t have ready access to military targets. PKK is an FTO. We reserve the right to go after terrorists, as we do all over the world.


QUESTION: Yesterday President Barzani said three years of peace is better than one hour of fighting. He wants to help Turkey and the PKK get back to dialogue. We know that before, the USA agreed to the peace process with Turkey. Are you helping them in this process and are you helping Turkey too against, like, PKK?

MR KIRBY: Am I – are we helping who in this process?


MR KIRBY: Are we helping Turkey --

QUESTION: Peace process in Turkey, yeah.

MR KIRBY: We obviously want to – I mean, we would agree that peace is better than conflict. I don’t have anything to share with respect to the degree that we’re – what we’re – we’re helping Turkey in the peace process. Certainly, we want to see peace as well. And as for helping Turkey go after the PKK, I’ll say it again: These strikes against the PKK were done by Turkish forces in retaliation for the attacks that they received.


QUESTION: Don’t you call them – call upon the Turks to halt the airstrikes and start negotiation, or you just don’t have --

MR KIRBY: I said it before. We recognize Turkey’s right to defend itself against terrorists.

QUESTION: So you’re okay with Turkey bombing PKK forever?

MR KIRBY: We recognize the right of Turkey to defend itself against terrorists.


QUESTION: Was there – during the negotiation to use the base, did this come up, this issue of attacking PKK? Is it the U.S. can use this base and then --

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, as I said --

QUESTION: -- we’re not going to pose --

MR KIRBY: As I said to Matt, even though he thinks I’m the only person in the world that believes it, there’s no connection between what they did against the PKK --

QUESTION: Well, no. I think there may be three or four, but they’re all inside the Administration.

MR KIRBY: There’s no connection between that and the discussions that we continue to have with Turkey about how to get – go after ISIL.

QUESTION: So it never – it was never raised?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of discussions that we have with the Turks. What I’m telling you is there’s no connection between what they did against PKK and what we’re going to try to do together against ISIL.


QUESTION: Follow-up on Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. John, yesterday, to answer one of my questions, the Pentagon Press Office, they told me that the Turkey’s counterattack on ISIL in Syria is not part of the coalitions. It’s not under the command of the joint cooperation that the other --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I think tactically that’s correct.

QUESTION: They do it independently.


QUESTION: Is that true?


QUESTION: Okay. Don’t you think this is – number one question is: Don’t you think this is going to backfire the entire efforts you have made to help the fighters on the ground to – because if they do it independently, who they are going to coordinate? As a matter of fact, the United States --

MR KIRBY: Well, these attack – these specific strikes were done in a extra-coalition manner. In other words, they weren’t part of the coalition air campaign for that day. That doesn’t mean that that might not change in the future. Again, I would let Turkey speak to the way in which they’re going to contribute to coalition efforts.

QUESTION: One more on that. Are you – you mentioned that PKK is still in the U.S. – United States terrorism list. So are you willing, as Turkish Government is willing to do so, to extend the war on terrorism beyond ISIS and fighting PKK on the same side of ISIS, or you do different shade between the two groups?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve talked about this before. So our concern, our larger concern for the coalition is against ISIL. The Turks have agreed to improve their cooperation as part of the coalition against ISIL, and talks will continue to see where that cooperation can even get better over time. PKK is an FTO. We talked about his before. Turks retaliated with strikes against the PKK for strikes that they suffered as a result of PKK violence.

PKK is a foreign terrorist organization. The Turks have a right to defend themselves against it. That was separate and distinct from the fight against ISIL, which the Turks have now agreed to even more cooperation on.


QUESTION: Is that why – is that why they’re doing extra – operations outside of the coalition, because you don’t want them – you don’t want their military actions against the PKK to be seen as --


QUESTION: -- part of the coalition efforts?

MR KIRBY: No, Elise. And again, these are two separate things. I understand --

QUESTION: I understand. But did you ask them specifically to do their operations against ISIL outside of the coalition --


QUESTION: -- so that the other operations aren’t seen as part of coalition?

MR KIRBY: No. There was no such request.


QUESTION: May I change topics?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. A change of topic would be great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can we go to another one of your favorite topics, the Palestinian-Israeli?

MR KIRBY: Oh, you’re killing me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But before that, could you comment on the reports that Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is getting set to be released in November as – there is a mandatory parole or anything? You have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Our view is he needs to serve out his sentence. I would point you to the Justice Department for any further comment on that.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: That’s not my place.

QUESTION: But are you aware of these reports that --

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen media speculation about it, but again, you should talk to the Justice Department.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, last week you issued a strong statement – or the week before – against the demolition of Suwisa (ph) – or Susiya, I’m sorry, Susiya --


QUESTION: -- the village of Susiya.


QUESTION: Well, today, apparently in response to documents like 1881 document that prove ownership of Palestinians, the Israelis are holding back. Are you urging them to stop the demolition altogether?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, Said. But as I said in my statement, I think our policy has been very clear and consistent on this, and it’s not going to change. But I’m not able to speak to the specific report.

QUESTION: It seems that their ministry of justice came up with documents proving ownership of land by the Palestinians – or the Israelis --

MR KIRBY: I just – I can’t --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Said, you’re going to have to let me take it for you. I just haven’t seen that report.


MR KIRBY: But again, large – writ large, our position on settlements has not changed.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the resumption of negotiations between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli negotiator Silvan Shalom in Amman?

MR KIRBY: I’m not, no.

QUESTION: Are you in any way sponsoring that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of it, so I would be terrible – I couldn’t speak for sponsorship of it. I’m not – I’m simply not aware of it.


QUESTION: This morning, 125 members of Congress released a letter urging the State Department to deny visas to spouses of foreign diplomats from countries that refuse to issue visas to same-sex spouses of U.S. Foreign Service personnel. Have you seen that letter? And if so, does State have a response to that?

MR KIRBY: I have not seen the letter, but if it is as you describe, I’m sure that we will respond in appropriate time in detail to members of Congress.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. be able to deny visas to those who would be qualified for those visas?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t – let me look at the letter, Roz, and – I just don’t know. I’m not an expert on visa applications and how they’re administered.

QUESTION: Do you know if this is an issue that has come up at all without – quite apart from the letter?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of it coming up, Matt, no.

QUESTION: Can I move to Iran?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. Would you --

QUESTION: Unless there’s more on this.

MR KIRBY: Is there more on this, or are we going to a separate topic?

QUESTION: Separate.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Let me go to Matt here on Iran and then we’ll come back to you guys.

QUESTION: I just want to clear up one thing, because there’s information coming out about the documents that you guys sent up to the Hill about the nuclear deal, and particularly related to the PMD issue, which I know we’ve gone over and over and over and over many times, but I just want to make sure I understand. Is it the Administration’s position that the Iranians can resolve or address the concerns that the IAEA has about the possible military dimensions of their nuclear program without actually making an admission that they did in fact have a military dimension? In other words, is it the Administration’s position that, to use the phrase that was used over and over and over again, that Iran can come clean about the PMDs without actually coming clean about the PMDs?

MR KIRBY: Well, as we’ve said before, Matt, this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not about the past. It’s about their nuclear program and what it’s going to look like in the future, and about Iran taking the steps – proper steps to show that they are not undertaking current or future nuclear weapons work. So that’s really important. It’s a forward-looking document. However, the document also spells out a very clear process to get to implementation day, which includes Iran having to address specific items in its – and this is the title of the document – the roadmap for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program with the IAEA. If those items, past and present, are not addressed, we don’t get to implementation day and there’s no sanctions relief.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is it the position of the Administration that the IAEA can resolve its concerns without Iran actually coming clean about what it did in the past?

MR KIRBY: Well, what we want, and we’ve said before, is that the IAEA’s concerns, past and present, have to be addressed. Now, how that is done is largely between the IAEA and Iran. As Secretary Kerry said, we know a lot about their past.


MR KIRBY: So it’s not about a coming-clean statement, it’s about them making sure that they’ve addressed past and present concerns with the IAEA to the satisfaction of the IAEA so that the PMD can be --

QUESTION: Right. But what I’m asking you is whether the Administration believes that the IAEA can resolve its concerns without Iran actually coming clean about what it did in the past?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the IAEA about what they believe and what they need.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but – yeah, but look, there are disagreements between the Administration – there have been in the past – and the IAEA all the time. Iraq was a great example of that. I want to know if this Administration believes that the IAEA can do its work and resolve its concerns, address the questions it has about PMDs, without Iran actually coming clean about what it did in the past.

MR KIRBY: They have to – you’re not going to like this answer because it’s very much the same as what I’ve given you – that Iran has to --

QUESTION: But it’s not an answer.

MR KIRBY: I know what you’re asking me. Iran has to resolve issues of the past and the present with the IAEA to their satisfaction. That’s what has to happen. What form that takes or who says what about it is – that’s between Iran and the IAEA. We know from intelligence, we have a good sense of what their past nuclear weapons program looked like. What needs to happen as part of this plan, which isn’t just a U.S. plan --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- is that Iran has to address those concerns satisfactorily with the IAEA.

QUESTION: But it is not a requirement for this Administration that Iran actually own up to what it did in the past?

MR KIRBY: As Secretary Kerry said, we know what they’ve done in the past.

QUESTION: So they don’t need to --

MR KIRBY: They need to address the IAEA’s concerns.

QUESTION: And they can do that without owning up to what they did?

MR KIRBY: They – that’s what the IAEA needs to determine whether that’s --

QUESTION: No, but forget about what the --

MR KIRBY: We know what they did.


MR KIRBY: This isn’t about the past for us, it’s about the future. But it is about the past for the IAEA. They have to satisfy the IAEA’s requirements with respect to past military dimensions.

QUESTION: Okay. But the whole idea of addressing this and resolving it is a – it goes to the matter of trust and whether Iran can be trusted in the future. It – you all say and have said for some time that Iran was in noncompliance with resolution after resolution after resolution of the UN Security Council. And so one would think that if you were going to be able to trust them – and I realize this is not about trust; it’s about verification. But if you’re going to take the step that you’re going to get to the point where you even have something to verify, that they would have to show what they did in the past. Because otherwise it’s just – it’s like – I don’t know what it – it’s like punishing a child or something, telling a kid that he can apologize or not apologize for past bad behavior --


QUESTION: -- without actually admitting that he did anything wrong.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: So I don’t understand why it is that you’re saying now that the Iranians can address the whole issue of PMDs without admitting to what they had done or owning up to what they had done in the past.

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: And for it to be credible.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve said we don’t need them to admit it. We know what they’ve done. I can’t speak for the IAEA.


QUESTION: Very quickly, I wanted to ask a technical question on the status of the agreement now. What is going on now? I mean, after it was – the agreement was reached on the 14th, what is going on? Are there any kind of consultation on the phone between the P5+1 with Iran? What is going on in terms of pushing this thing forward on the diplomatic level? Or is it everything is on hold until Congress decides one way or the other?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, our Congress has 60 days to review that. That’s the period that we’re in right now, so there’s not any implementation of the deal, at least not right now. We have to get through the 60 days. Where Secretary Kerry’s been focused is on working with and he’ll continue to work with members of Congress. He testified last week; he’s got another hearing this week. And he’ll continue to make himself available, as will Secretary Moniz, to members of Congress to address their concerns. And that’s where we are right now. We’re in this 60-day review period and the Secretary is very much focused on helping Congress as they work through that review.

QUESTION: So there is absolutely no, let’s say, diplomatic activities related to the agreement ongoing now?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, he’s in touch with his counterparts.


MR KIRBY: They’re all in touch with each other.


MR KIRBY: But I mean, they too have taken the deal back to their host governments for consideration as well.


QUESTION: I was wondering if the Department could respond to criticisms from Senator Menendez about the TIP Report. He has said that it is a product of political manipulation and that he’s going to use all the means at his disposal to reverse upgrades to Malaysia and Cuba. So first question, a response.

Second question --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the senator’s comments. I would just point you to what Under Secretary Sewall said today. She got a question about the political motivations behind the reports, and I thought she was quite eloquent about the rigorous analysis that – excuse me – goes into the report and that we stand by it. And the report’s online for everybody to see and to read, and we think it speaks for itself. But I haven’t seen the senator’s remarks.

QUESTION: Could I go back to Iran? This will be very quick. I just want to know if you guys have any response – everyone else has been asked about it, including the President today – but I wanted to know since it’s this building that was primarily in charge – or most – took a lead in the negotiations with Iran, if you were aware of the Secretary having any reaction to his being compared to Pontius Pilate by Senator Cotton – and whether you have any response to former governor Huckabee’s comments about what this deal might mean to Israel.

MR KIRBY: I think what I would – the way I’d answer that question, Matt, is to say – and look, the Secretary was in New York City Friday talking about this quite a bit with Jewish leaders, as a matter of fact. He is extraordinarily comfortable with the role he played in helping being about this deal. He is also extraordinarily comfortable with the deal itself and the details in it and the degree to which it will make not just the region safer, but Israel safer, as well as our own national security interests.

QUESTION: Is there a reason he’s not going to Israel, since he’s going to be right next door in Egypt on this trip?

MR KIRBY: It’s just not part of the parameters for this trip. It’s not – it wasn’t a deliberate decision not to go. There’s an awful lot to cover in eight days, as you can see. It’s literally – it’s an around-the-world trip. He has been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu many, many times over the last several weeks in terms of discussing the deal and the parameters of it. So it’s not as if we aren’t in constant communication with Israeli counterparts about this.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MR KIRBY: Again, this is a pretty aggressive agenda for a one-week trip.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time he was in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu or any other – or any other Israeli officials?

MR KIRBY: Let’s see. The last call that I see to the prime minister took place on Thursday the 16th of July.

QUESTION: So over a week ago, yeah. Right?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, but that’s not that long ago.

QUESTION: No, no, I know. I’m just – but that was the last one.

And then you said before – after his experience up on the Hill last week, would you say that the Secretary is looking forward to tomorrow’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Yes, I think he is. I think he is. He --


MR KIRBY: I said he was looking forward to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, and he was. And he’s looking forward to meeting with House Foreign Affairs Committee members tomorrow.

QUESTION: Is he personally angered or annoyed or insulted by terms like “fleeced,” “bamboozled,” and “naive,” things like this that were --

MR KIRBY: No, look --

QUESTION: -- just thrown about without --

MR KIRBY: He’s not insulted by that. He understands that there’s --

QUESTION: He doesn’t agree with it, though.

MR KIRBY: I know he doesn’t agree with it, but that wasn’t the question. The question was whether he was insulted by it. As I said to Matt’s question, which was a really good question, he is extraordinarily comfortable with the role that he and the State Department have played in achieving this deal and just as extraordinarily comfortable with the deal itself. And he does look forward to continuing to have discussions with members of Congress about this. He recognizes that there are concerns on both sides of the aisle and he’s going to continue to address those concerns.

I think what the Secretary would like to see is that the hyperbole come down and that people read the deal for the deal itself. If you take time and go through it and you read it and you attack it objectively and factually, its logic stands for itself, and I think that’s where he really wants the discussion to go – into a fact-based, objective analysis of it.

But he’s not shrinking from the debate or the discussion. He recognizes there’s concerns. He simply disagrees with the criticisms of the deal, and as he pressed it last week, so too will he press his views this week.

QUESTION: But John, hyperbole aside, the – many of the people, although not all, of the critics of this deal have done a fact-based – perhaps you would argue not objective, but certainly fact – they’ve gone through it --


QUESTION: -- and found a lot to be critical of and found a lot to oppose. So your position is that these people are just plain wrong, right?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary’s position is that many of the criticisms of the deal – the 24 days, the 10 to 15 year sunset, the $100 billion windfall of cash that Iran’s going to somehow pump into nefarious activities – I mean, the Secretary’s view is that those criticisms are not well-founded. He’s expressed his answers to those last week and he’ll do it again this week.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: We’ve got time for just – I’ve got – really, I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to get going.

Yeah, Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks.

MR KIRBY: You feeling better?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you for your concern. I was just – I was wondering if you could respond to the new Russian doctrine that was released over the weekend, if you have any response to that.

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen it. I mean, obviously, every nation with a navy publishes these kinds of documents outlining the policies, the strategies that they are going to pursue. I would let the Russian Government speak for themselves about this doctrine. We have a national military – I’m sorry – a national military strategy of our own which has a maritime component of it. And look at – the oceans are big and vast. There’s lots of challenges out there at sea. Ninety percent of all trade travels by sea. And there is no reason for the seas to be an area of conflict.

QUESTION: This doesn’t concern you? In other words, that they’re calling –

MR KIRBY: Does it concern us that they have a naval doctrine? No.

QUESTION: Or that they’re calling for an expanded military presence in the Atlantic specifically.

MR KIRBY: The Atlantic is a big ocean. I mean, freedom of the seas doesn’t just apply to whales and icebergs. And – (laughter) – it doesn’t. But it’s how you operate on the seas that matter, and it’s the posture, it’s the threats, it’s the challenges. And the United States Navy, the United States military, is the most powerful in the world. And we look for – we look, as we continue to do with all nations, areas where we can cooperate better on the oceans. That’s always welcome. But we’d have to pick apart this doctrine to – and I’m sure the Pentagon is doing that.



QUESTION: Thank you, sir. A couple of questions, South Asia. Mr. Tariq Fatemi, the special advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, was in Washington, and he was addressing the Heritage Foundation, where he said that he was knocking the doors of the Administration and the U.S. Congress that they should intervene between India and Pakistan’s conflict. Any comment from that?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, I don’t have anything more to add, other than what we’ve said before, Goyal, that we want to see the conflict and the tension reduced, that this was – these are issues that need to be worked out between Indian and Pakistan.

QUESTION: And second, he was also saying that, as far as press freedom in Pakistan is concerned, that journalists in Pakistan can trust the prime minister. But now, according to The Washington Post yesterday front page story, journalists are being killed in Pakistan, and also they are running – especially one Mir – his name is Mir, Hamid. He is running right – a very famous and well-known TV journalist in Pakistan, and he was attacked because he spoke against the military and ISI and his show is a capital show on his TV.

MR KIRBY: I think I would just say we’ve made our deep concerns about freedom of the press very clear and known all over the world and in all manner of places. And that includes – certainly includes Pakistan. We are very, very clear about the importance of a free press and reporters able to do their jobs unintimidated and not harassed.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)



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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 18:04

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 24, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:04 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Welcome, everybody, to the State Department on a beautiful Friday afternoon. Happy Friday and Happy Weekend.

I don’t want to forget I have a brief topper, as we say. The United States intends to continue training Ukrainian security forces this fall in western Ukraine. And this is going to be small-unit training conducted by U.S. Army Europe for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense personnel to help strengthen Ukraine’s internal defense capabilities. It is similar, quite frankly, to our ongoing training of the National Guard, which we announced, I think, last March.

This training is part of our long-running defense cooperation with Ukraine and is taking place at the invitation of the Ukraine Government. And this additional program brings our total security assistance committed to Ukraine since 2014 to over 244 million. That’s it.

QUESTION: Two forty-four?

MR TONER: Two forty-four million, that’s correct.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: It’s the military, not the National Guard?

MR TONER: That’s – this is – yes, Ministry of Defense personnel. But, yeah, what’s --

QUESTION: Is this a Pentagon program?

MR TONER: -- what’s been going on – that’s correct.

QUESTION: I thought you guys didn’t want to speak for the Pentagon.

MR TONER: Well, the Pentagon is not briefing today.

QUESTION: Oh, okay --

MR TONER: So, on behalf of my colleagues over there, I thought it would be –

QUESTION: So is there a particular geographic location within Ukraine that this is going to be happening?

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s – as with the training that’s just concluding with the National Guard, it’s going to be in western Ukraine, near Poland, near the Poland border.

QUESTION: So it’s not going to be in the east --

MR TONER: No, not at all.

QUESTION: -- where the trouble is.




QUESTION: Anyone else have any?

QUESTION: Would that be contemplated --


QUESTION: -- doing any training? Why not?

MR TONER: Look, this is part of – and I think we talked about this at the National Guard training as well. We’ve been providing this kind of assistance training program to Ukraine, I think, over the last 20 years. This is not unique to the – obviously, the very current situation there happening in eastern Ukraine. But this is part of our ongoing partnership with the Ukrainian defense.

QUESTION: All right, let’s go to the other --

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Yeah, go ahead. I’m sorry, I apologize. One more question. Apologies.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ukraine for a minute?

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Overall, is there a shift in the U.S. strategy in Ukraine? And I am referring to reports that the U.S. is moving toward giving the country more sophisticated, longer-range radar to counter equipment that Russian-backed separatists have been using. I know some of that is sort of a Pentagon question, but since as you mentioned they are not briefing today, can you comment?


QUESTION: And would this also constitute a step toward giving Ukraine lethal aid?

MR TONER: Well, your first question, I don’t have anything to announce in terms of any types of new equipment or new weaponry. We obviously – our focus is on, as you mentioned, non-lethal aid. And there is no plans to change that.

QUESTION: Can we go to the story that has been driving last night and this morning?

MR TONER: Certainly. Which one is that, Matt?

QUESTION: I don’t know. Which one do you think? I think it’s assistance to Vanuatu.

The IGs and the Clinton emails. First of all, can you explain to us what your understanding is of the situation with the referral or non-referral, or whatever it was, to the Department of Justice?

MR TONER: Well, so speaking to that, there is not a lot I can say about that, because that falls under the State Inspector General. And the Secretary actually spoke to this to some extent on the Today Show this morning in the interview. And he --

QUESTION: Well, to some extent.

MR TONER: To some extent.

QUESTION: To no extent. He said he didn’t know what was going on --

MR TONER: Well, what he said was the OIG, or the Office of the Inspector General, is an independent entity. So we don’t know – so we don’t have any kind of purview over them or any kind of authority over them. That’s how their structure is – works.

And so what we’ve been doing on our part – and this has been discussed many times from the podium – is we’ve been working extremely hard, we’ve got 55,000 pages of email to go through, and we’ve been diligently working on them to publish them. But obviously, there is a team at work on this, and they have been processing them for publication. We’ve done several tranches so far, and the one coming up next week. And we’ve been processing them for public release, but that process has been consistent with FOIA criteria and also consistent with the court order.

So I’d have to refer you to the OIG. What I can speak more broadly about the process is that in March the Secretary wrote to the State Department Inspector General, and he asked him for recommendations on department practices on document retention and – as well as our FOIA process. And the inspector general’s assistance, obviously, was welcome as part of efforts to improve our policies with respect to the preservation of records in this digital environment that we live in today.

So, obviously, Secretary Kerry is committed to seeing this process – that process through, appreciates the efforts of the inspector general. And as part of that, he’s going to get updated on the findings and recommendations to date from the inspector general next week.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but what do you --


QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what actually was referred, if anything, to the Justice Department? Are you saying you can’t speak to that because it was the IG --

MR TONER: I can’t. I was an IG referral, and the Department of Justice would have to speak to the --

QUESTION: But wasn’t, in fact, the State Department – did the State Department IG sign off on this referral of whatever kind it was? Because we’re being told, or I’m being told, that it wasn’t, that you didn’t, that it was the ICIG.

MR TONER: The ICIG, right. That’s correct.

QUESTION: That is correct.

MR TONER: That’s my understanding as well.

QUESTION: So the State Department did not refer anything or join in a referral to Justice?

MR TONER: My understanding is that it was the ICIG. But if that’s wrong, I’ll correct that.

QUESTION: All right. And --

QUESTION: No, not the – just the ICIG?

QUESTION: Yes. That’s what you’re saying, right?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding.


QUESTION: Can I have one?

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask specifically – I mean, what the IG is saying – both IGs really – is that several of the emails that they’ve gone through so far contain classified information that wasn’t marked classified.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: That was – and the implication here is that the State Department is not properly handling material and marking material that should be classified. So I mean, I understand this is a wider probe about Secretary’s Clinton’s use of emails, but it’s also kind of pointing the finger at you that you are not marking or considering sensitive material as classified when it should be.

MR TONER: So we’ve seen those reports. Again, I have to refer you to the OIG specifically about what specific emails they’re referring to. We don’t know that. We don’t have access to that. We don’t know they picked the four. As I said, we’ve been very clear about our role. We got 55,000 pages of emails that we’re going through. There’s a team at work on this. It’s being processed in a manner consistent with FOIA criteria, and with an eye towards upgrading those portions that we deem should be upgraded to classified.

But in terms of – I can say and highlight that there was a July 14, 2015 letter that was released today by our inspector general, and that – I would refer you to that in terms of how we looked at these emails that I believe speaks to the four out of five emails that they’re referring to.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, they --

MR TONER: But we don’t know specifically.

QUESTION: I mean, both IGs were pretty critical about not only your handling of classified information at the time, but also about how this review process is not having enough of a careful scrub to see whether the information is classified. So basically, the concern here is that you’re going to release information that could be classified because it’s not marked as such.

MR TONER: Right. Again, the department’s Freedom of Information Act review process is very similar to what’s used by other federal agencies. It is done in a manner that also allows outside reviewers to review those emails and identify emails that might contain, for example, IC equities. All this is done in a process that’s very similar to other federal agencies. We do look at these with an eye towards what needs to be or what might need to be upgraded as classified as we go through these, and you’ve seen this in some of the emails that we’ve published that have redacted portions in them.


MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: The IC says you’ve already published an email that wasn’t properly redacted and that contains classified information as part of the first Clinton document dump. Do you dispute that?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re in contact with the IC, working with them and other federal agencies, to try to review and see what specifically they’re --

QUESTION: But do you dispute that you’ve released a classified email already?

MR TONER: Well, again, I would just refer you to the July 14th letter that – where we talked about some of these emails that were in question and why we felt certain portions need to be redacted, but not the entire things needed to be classified.

QUESTION: Can you dispute the idea that Secretary Clinton used her private email account on now more than one occasion to send or deal with classified information? Do you maintain that she did not use that email account for classified information, to handle classified information?

MR TONER: Again, I would refer you to Secretary Clinton to comment about that, but from --

QUESTION: But you have the emails, so that’s why I’m asking you.

MR TONER: We have the emails. What we’re looking at and as we go through them is what needs to be redacted according to what we now know and looking at these again, what equities, what sources, again, need to be protected. And that’s what we’re doing – redacting, frankly, on a line-by-line, in many cases, basis. But – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: But just to the heart of the matter, she said she didn’t use that email account for classified information. It now appears that that’s not true. Do you dispute that?

MR TONER: Well, again, it’s unclear to us whether – you’re saying that that’s not true. Again, we haven’t agreed – or seen, rather, the emails that have been – that the OIG, the ICIG has deemed should be classified. So again, at this point we don’t know what they’re referring to. We have gone through these emails. We’ve classified what we deemed should be upgraded. And again, I’m stressing upgraded --

QUESTION: Right. But so you don’t --

MR TONER: -- not at the source.

QUESTION: So you don’t believe anything that she sent at the time was classified? Because again, the intelligence community believes that emails she sent were classified at the time she sent them and are still classified today.

MR TONER: And again, that’s a question really for her and her people to answer. We don’t believe that in the sense of we’ve received these, she’s handed us over these 55,000 pages, and we’re going through them and upgrading them. Again, but we’re not – to our knowledge, none of them needed to be classified at the time and we’re passing through --

QUESTION: Your position has been, especially with the first tranche, that nothing that was classified at the time of the original correspondence – that nothing was released that was actually classified at the time of the initial correspondence. Is that still correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: So you do dispute the IC – the intel community’s inspector general when it says that one of the emails that you posted on the website contained classified information?

MR TONER: Again, I’d refer you to the July 14th letter where we talk about --

QUESTION: Well, that’s what the July 14th letter says.

MR TONER: Right, exactly, that lays out --

QUESTION: And it also says --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And you also disagree that these four emails, four of the 40 that they looked at, had information in them that was classified at the time they were sent? That’s – is that correct?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, one more time your question. I apologize, I was --

QUESTION: The four out of 40 emails --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- that they looked at, that they say have classified information, you – this building would argue that whether or not that information is classified now or should be now, it was not classified at the time it was sent?

MR TONER: No, it was – again, my understanding is that it was – it would have been upgraded, or some portions of it.

QUESTION: Yes, at the time it was sent it was not classified?

MR TONER: Not at the time it was sent, right. That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Okay, so I think that answers your question, yeah?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, no it does – well, but it’s --

QUESTION: But Mark – but Mark, I mean, what do you --

MR TONER: Please, go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: How do you respond to the intelligence community’s – how do you respond to the intelligence community’s accusation that some of this information should have been handled as classified, appropriately marked, and transmitted via secure network? I mean, I think it --

MR TONER: This is the intelligence community as --

QUESTION: They’re making a larger – it seems like they’re making a larger criticism of the way --

MR TONER: But they passed --

QUESTION: -- the State Department handles classified material.

MR TONER: They’ve – look, they’ve passed this on to the DOJ. I would refer you to them for comment.



QUESTION: They also --

MR TONER: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, they also say that the – and you guys have said repeatedly that this is a multiagency effort and that all agencies are involved when we’re going through this stuff.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: And they’re essentially saying, according to what’s been released today, the intelligence community is saying, well, we weren’t brought in on this process properly. And now you’ve made adjustments and that they’re now in the room, in the State Department, looking over shoulders as these things are being read. Did you indeed have to make a change in the way you review these emails to bring the intelligence community in?

MR TONER: Again, my understanding of the process is that they’re reviewed internally and then those emails or those portions that might have equities beyond the department are then shared with those other entities.

QUESTION: Can you explain --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- how this is – if it is – if this is anything more than a fight between two bureaucracies about what should and shouldn’t be classified and what should and should not be redacted from a FOIA review process?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Can I explain --

QUESTION: Is it anything more than that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to why the IG is doing what they’re doing. That’s --


MR TONER: The ICIG or, frankly --

QUESTION: Okay, so there's --

MR TONER: -- our own OIG.

QUESTION: -- a dispute. So you acknowledge that there is a dispute between the State Department and DNI, essentially, over what is classified or what should be classified?

MR TONER: I’m not going to speak to that. All I’m going to say is that we have made a determination on the emails that we’ve released and redacted on what should be updated – upgraded --

QUESTION: So you disagree.

MR TONER: -- and then redacted accordingly.

QUESTION: Because they say that one of them had – they say that one of them had – one of them had classified information. You don’t think that’s true. So there is a dispute between the two agencies here. Is that not --

MR TONER: I’m just not going to --

QUESTION: -- correct or no?

QUESTION: But Mark --

MR TONER: That’s for them to explain.

Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean these are pretty serious accusations that they’re leveling at you, that they’re criticizing your understanding of what it means for something to be classified, that you should have classified it at the time. I mean this is a pretty – it’s a pretty weighty charge that they’re leveling at you.

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean this is all – again, I would refer you to the Department of Justice over what they’re actually – what they want to be addressed.

QUESTION: They’re saying that you compromised classified material; that’s what they’re saying.

MR TONER: But we have had a very rigorous process internally and, frankly, sharing with other agencies when their equities are involved and clearing these emails and redacting them as necessary. That’s all I can really say about it.

QUESTION: No, but I’m saying about, like, before that, like, even before these emails were sent or archives or anything, the information that was contained in them should have been classified in the first place. I mean do you think that they have too high of a level of what should be classified?

MR TONER: I’m just not going to address that. That’s for them to speak to.



QUESTION: No, hold on.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: So it’s pretty clear from the documents that the State IG put out today –


QUESTION: -- pretty clear from the State Department’s responses to the IG that you do not – that the State Department does not agree with all the recommendations that they made or agree that all of the problems that were identified by both State and the DNI Inspector General. And I’m not sure I understand why it is that you can’t say that you don’t think that there is a problem here and that DNI does.

MR TONER: Again, I’m not – it’s not for me to assess. This is between different inspector generals to sort out and to make whatever recommendations that they want to make looking at the situation. All I can say is on our part we’ve had a process in place. We feel it’s a solid one that’s in accordance with all the other federal agencies.

QUESTION: Okay. You feel that it’s a solid process, despite what the ICIG had said, yes?



QUESTION: And you can’t ultimately defend former Secretary Clinton in saying that she didn’t send classified information on that email address.

MR TONER: That is what she has said to us when she handed over the --

QUESTION: But you can’t corroborate that.

MR TONER: -- 55,000-some pages.

QUESTION: That’s the bottom line.

MR TONER: That’s how we – and then we have taken that information and looked at it and analyzed it and updated it – upgraded as necessary.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- hold on a second.

MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: In the first batch, the first tranche that was released, not the Bengazi-related –

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Or actually it was the Bengazi-related stuff.

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s right, (inaudible).

QUESTION: There was one redaction in there because something had been retroactively classified; is that not correct?

MR TONER: I’d have to look back at that.

QUESTION: Well, it is correct. There was. (Laughter.) So I – the question that you can’t – of course, you can’t because you haven’t gone through them all yet. If and when you find stuff that you agree that is or should be now classified, you’re redacting it, correct?

MR TONER: Correct. Yeah.

Yeah, go ahead. Turkey.



QUESTION: There have been a lot of reports regarding the stance of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. First of all, is there any way you can tell us whether there was a pact agreement signed between Turkey and U.S. on the Incirlik base or broader sense regarding the anti-ISIL coalition?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, thanks for bringing this up. There was actually I think – I believe the Turkish Government also put out a statement not long ago on this very issue. We’ve talked a lot about our ongoing consultations with Turkey on ways that we can jointly counter ISIL’s efforts in the region and respond to the threat that ISIL poses. Turkey is obviously a strategic NATO ally, a strong partner in the coalition to defeat ISIL, and that was only underscored – frankly, the threat of ISIL was only underscored this week by the horrific attacks in Turkey this past week and underscored, frankly, the importance of strengthening our mutual efforts to defeat ISIL and bolster Turkey’s security in the region. So from that, we’ve decided to deepen that cooperation, and that includes a train and equip program, intelligence sharing, and operational coordination. So as part of that, I can say that Turkey has granted clearance for the deployment of manned and unmanned aircraft from the U.S. and other coalition members participating in air operations against ISIL. And to answer your question – specific question, that includes Incirlik Air Base.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. regret that it took the apparent incursion of ISIL fighters into Turkish territory as well as this week’s attack at Suruc for the Turks to finally fully join the coalition fight against ISIL in Syria?

MR TONER: I wouldn’t necessarily specifically – although horrific and terrible, I wouldn’t tie this to that specific event – that attack. This has been long – our ongoing consultations that have been carried out since last year. Turkey’s a critical partner, strong ally. They’ve already been doing a lot, as we’ve talked about a lot from here, in terms of refugee support from – refugees coming from Syria, in terms of train and equip of Syrian opposition forces to fight ISIL, and also in limiting the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.

So they’ve taken steps. This is additional steps. We’re looking to cooperate, obviously, more where we can with Turkey and with other coalition members to really add pressure on ISIL in the region.



QUESTION: So much of --

MR TONER: Yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: So much of what the Turks had resisted on was on the very reason why there should be closer cooperation. The Turks had been saying for pretty much the past year that they felt that the efforts in dealing with what’s going on in Syria needed to include dealing with the government of Bashar al-Assad, not just dealing with the threat from ISIL. What was it that the U.S. said to the Turks that made them change their mind?

MR TONER: Again, I think it’s – and recognizing some of the points you just raised about Turkey’s concerns, this has been an ongoing dialogue that we’ve had for many, many months now on how best to address ISIL in the region and defeat and dismantle it. We have a shared interest in defeating and destroying ISIL. We obviously understand Turkey’s broader security concerns, and that includes something we obviously also support, which is a political transition in Syria. So I don’t want to speak to – there was some lightning bolt of revelation here. We have been talking about deeper cooperation with Turkey for some time.

QUESTION: But clearly, there had to have been something that persuaded the Turks to back away from their insistence that there be a more robust engagement against Assad as part of this fight. I mean, this is something which the Pentagon has said that it did not see would be advisable in any way to try to expand this fight, to complicate the fight – that the mission needed to be focused just on ISIL.

So I guess to put it bluntly, did the U.S. offer new weapons systems, did the U.S. offer new training, did the U.S. offer money to Ankara in order to, one, gain access to Incirlik, but two, to actually get Turkey willing and, as we have seen today, able to put its fighter jets in the air and start striking targets?

MR TONER: Right. Again, I think this is the result of or the product of sustained dialogue – of shoe-leather diplomacy, if you will. Recently – and we spoke about it from the podium – there was an interagency delegation, I think, just about a few weeks or a month or so ago led by Special Presidential Envoy General Allen --


MR TONER: -- that met with senior Turkish defense and political leaders. That was the most recent engagement. But we’ve been engaged with Turkey on these issues all along. We’ve been continually assessing ISIL on the ground and how we can look at augmenting our strategy on defeating ISIL. So I think this is – I don’t want to, again, speak to what we may be offering or that there was some – as I said, some kind of revelatory moment where Turkey agreed to broader cooperation. This is part of a sustained effort. We’re looking for deeper cooperation with Turkey and with the members of the coalition, and this is another step in that process.

QUESTION: Well, this is my final --

MR TONER: Sorry, I want to get to Dave, please.

QUESTION: Well, this is my final question on this.

MR TONER: Okay. Sorry, Dave.

QUESTION: Okay. It begs the question, Mark, because this fight against ISIL has now been going on for almost a year – we’re coming up on August – and the start of the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIL in Iraq and then September inside Syria. The Turks have been resistant for pretty much almost all of this period up until the last 24 hours when we started hearing that there was some kind of deal afoot. The U.S. has been giving hundreds of millions of dollars to help it and other countries in the region deal with refugees. The U.S. has been willing to provide training assistance to the Turkish military not just because they’re partners but because they’re both NATO members. What changed that made the Turkish Government decide to relent and allow U.S. fighter jets, as well as unmanned surveillance aircraft to fly out of Incirlik, that couldn’t have been done six months ago, nine months ago?

MR TONER: I mean, the honest answer is that’s a question for the Government of Turkey to answer, but – or speak to. All I can say is that this has been the product of continuous negotiations, talks, consultations, dialogue for the past six months and even before to look at ways we can broaden, strengthen, deepen our cooperation with Turkey. Turkey’s a strong ally, a vital partner in this fight, and they have stepped up in many ways, as I said, including assisting with refugees coming over the border. But there’s a recognition that its borders – security is threatened by ISIL and we continue to look – we see ISIL as a common enemy and there’s no disagreement on that, so we’re looking at ways that we can strengthen that cooperation.

Please, (inaudible).

QUESTION: In terms of what the agreement on access to bases will entail, could you explain a little bit --

MR TONER: I don’t have a tremendous amount of detail. I frankly would – I mean, other than using, as I said, I mean, what I just talked about – the deployment of manned, unmanned aircraft from Incirlik, rather; looking at how we can deepen the train and equip program, operational coordination and intelligence sharing, but I don’t have much detail or depth beyond that.

QUESTION: Is there any talk or possibility of some sort of buffer zone? I understand the Turks have been interested in a no-fly zone.

MR TONER: Right, right, right. That’s been a point of discussion for some time. I would just say on that, we continue to have discussions with Turkey, evaluate options for the best way to counter ISIL along its border. We’ve spoken from this podium and elsewhere about some of the logistical challenges that would be inherent in a buffer zone, but we obviously take threats to Turkey’s border seriously. They are a NATO ally. So we’re looking at options.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Turkish reports, which is credible reports, saying that one of the articles or understandings of the pact is that it’s going to be 90 kilometers no-fly zone or buffer zone kind of thing, and the Incirlik is going to help imposing the no-fly zone. Isn’t that correct?

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: North Syria.

MR TONER: -- I don’t have anything to announce in terms of a buffer or no-fly zone.

QUESTION: Is there any kind of limit --

MR TONER: Yeah. Sorry.

QUESTION: -- imposed on the Incirlik base, such as is there a region that the fighter jets can bomb or not? Is there --

MR TONER: I don’t have any of those kind of operational details. I would refer you to the DOD.

QUESTION: Is it fair to describe what’s happening as a no-fly zone?



MR TONER: I wouldn’t – I just wouldn’t term it that. And again, I don’t have – I would refer you to the DOD for how to characterize it.



QUESTION: Follow-up on the same thing. I believe Turkey has the concern other – the main – Turkish main concern was Assad and secondly was the YPG and maybe third was ISIS for them. A lot of analysts say that, no my assessment. But has this agreement had any – sort of any limitation or any restriction that this Incirlik base should not be used to help YPG or your support for YPG and the other forces on the ground in Syria that you call them your partners will be continued still after this agreement?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, one more time, the last part of your question. Does this arrangement or deal or whatever you want to call it involve specifically --

QUESTION: Specifically like any restriction on certain regions. For example, not bombing areas that YPG are fighting.


QUESTION: So at least that’s the concern, that Turkey --

MR TONER: Right. This is, again, as I explained at the top, part of our counter-ISIL efforts, so that would include anywhere where ISIL is embedded.

QUESTION: Do you think this agreement will help change the dynamics in Syria?

MR TONER: I mean, I think we’re always hopeful in terms of changing the dynamics in Syria, which is, as we’ve said countless times, really become a horrific battlefield with tens and hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk or killed already. We want to see a political transition take place that doesn’t include Assad. We want to see moderate Syrian opposition come together and a political process emerge that brings about a political solution and a more democratic Syria. And along with that effort, we need to see ISIL destroyed and degraded within Syria and also within Iraq. This is all part of those continuous efforts, and I think in that respect we hope that it brings about greater progress, certainly.

QUESTION: One more on --

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Two major Syrian opposition parties reach an agreement today on a roadmap to – for a post-Assad transition.

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: Are you aware of that? Do you have a reaction?

MR TONER: Yeah, I do. I – so you’re right, today’s agreement – it’s between two major Syrian opposition groups, the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the National Coordination Committee. And we would applaud this; it shows that Syrian opposition parties can unite around a common vision toward a democratic transition in Syria. That’s obviously positive and consistent with the Geneva communique, and we’re going to continue to support these – this moderate opposition that we’ve talked about so much as they seek to end the fighting in Syria and bring about a peaceful democratic transition.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more follow-up on this one.


QUESTION: Is this Incirlik base going to be used to target ISIS wherever they are or just in Syria? I mean, in Iraq?

MR TONER: I actually don’t know. I would you refer you to the DOD about where – what specific – all I know is it’s counter-ISIL, but I can’t speak specifically to the --

QUESTION: I mean, because you fight ISIS in Syria and also in Iraq. So it’s --

MR TONER: I understand that. That’s why I’m saying to you I can’t speak to what – specifically what areas these missions will address.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: One final one.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is that your understanding also – Turkish air forces will be joining coalition forces to strike inside Syria and ISIS targets?

MR TONER: That’s a question for the Turkish military – defense ministry.


QUESTION: Turkey conducted four rounds of airstrikes against ISIS positions for the first time last night. Do you have any comment --

MR TONER: You answered his question, I think. (Laughter.) Do I have any comment?


MR TONER: I mean, again, I spoke to this – the fact that we’re now cooperating more deeply about bringing the fight against ISIL using Incirlik as a base. Obviously, that has many operational benefits that we welcome.

QUESTION: So you are not aware of this foreign ministry statement that Turkey will be part of the coalition strikes from now on? This is also another --

MR TONER: I am aware of the statement. I just don’t want to speak on behalf of the Turkish Government.




QUESTION: A couple days ago, I think Martin Dempsey was in Baghdad, and then today – yesterday Ashton Carter was also there in Baghdad and he visited Erbil. I’m not going to ask you about what meetings they have done, but there were also meetings between the U.S. diplomats and the Iraqi officials in Erbil in the Kurdistan region and also in Baghdad. So there were, like, reports that these meetings conducted because there are disagreement among Erbil and Baghdad, and also Baghdad with the Sunnis, over the several operations, and U.S. is concerned about this disagreement. Do you have anything to share with us, especially the province of – Anbar province and then Mosul?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, I can speak to the fact that, as you noted, Secretary of Defense Carter was – has been in Iraq for the past couple days, where he’s met with Iraqi political, military leaders, as well as Anbari tribal leaders. He was in Baghdad yesterday and Erbil, as you stated, today to discuss progress and challenges that remain in the counter-ISIL fight. And I’d refer to Department of Defense for details of his meetings. Specifically, you were asking about --

QUESTION: The disagreement they – between the Sunnis over the operations in Anbar, and also the Mosul operation, which the Peshmerga – in the beginning they said that they will be part of it, but we have heard different kind of statements that they haven’t got enough weapons. And then the U.S. is now involved in the talks with – between Erbil and Baghdad and also the tribes.

MR TONER: Yeah. I don’t have anything about talks we may or may not be having. I mean, obviously, we consult all the time with the Iraqi ministry of defense and military as well as the government, obviously. This is Iraqis’ fight – Iraq’s fight, rather, and it – the Iraqi Security Forces, as we’ve talked about, are working in conjunction with the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces, and those include both Sunni and Shia. And that’s all under the command and control of the Iraqi military and government, and that’s what – that would be right and proper and fitting, and that’s what we would support. We believe that the Iraqi military has command and control over the entire operations.

QUESTION: According to your assessment – because General John Allen and also Brett McGurk, they are the people – State Department people and also they are on the ground – these forces, are they ready for the operations that you are willing to be conducted anytime soon in Anbar and also in Mosul?

MR TONER: I think in terms of Anbar province, as you mentioned, those operations continue. I don’t really have any battlefield assessments to offer. Obviously, we’ve been working very hard to train and equip some of these forces, continue to do so with the idea that – especially some of the local forces can really take the fight much more effectively to ISIL, but again, under the command and control of the Iraqi military. But I don’t have any kind of update or assessment to give you today.


QUESTION: Yeah, Mark.


QUESTION: Thank you. On sanctions against North Korea --


QUESTION: -- do you have information about any country has any violation on sanctions against North Korea? Do you have any particular --

MR TONER: Any – I missed the word – any what on sanctions?

QUESTION: Any countries have violations, this --

MR TONER: Oh, violations on sanctions? I don’t. I don’t have any updates or any information on that.

QUESTION: Because it is reported that a company in Singapore had violations these sanctions.

MR TONER: I’m not aware of those reports, so I can look into it, but I don’t --

QUESTION: You cannot confirm this?

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have any --

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR TONER: I’ll try to, yeah. I’ll try to look into it.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR TONER: Please. Anybody else? Oh, sure, go ahead. You’ve been – yeah.

QUESTION: There are some reports about the FBI looking into tens if not more cases of Chinese espionage on corporate entities here in the U.S. Can you – just broadly, how concerned are you that China seems to have ramped up its level of corporate espionage?

MR TONER: I actually can’t speak to those reports. I’d refer you to the FBI. We talk to China about many different issues, including stronger economic ties and trade, and the need for transparency, both for businesses operating in China and certainly Chinese companies operating here. But I don’t have anything specifically to address the allegations of corporate espionage. I just don’t.




QUESTION: Yesterday, Senator Rubio said that U.S. companies are taking a major risk by doing business in Iran because of the potential for the sanctions to snap back. What is your – do you agree with that sentiment? And have you been in close contact with business or industry leaders? What are their thoughts on that? Have you warned them or have you encouraged them to pursue opportunities in Iran?

MR TONER: I’m not aware that we’ve done much outreach to U.S. businesses or companies interested in doing business with Iraq. I think we still have a long way to go for Iraq to --


MR TONER: Did I say Iraq? I apologize. Thank you, Matt. Sorry, with businesses regarding Iran. Obviously, we have a long way to go, really, even for Iran to meet the – its obligations with the JPOA, and at that point, where even the first tranche of sanctions might be – or sanctions relief might take place. So I think we’re still a ways from that.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran for a second?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: This morning, the Secretary was up in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations --

MR TONER: Yeah, right.

QUESTION: -- and I missed this part of it, but I’ve seen since – or I seem to have missed part of it because I didn’t hear it, but there have been some reports that he said – at one point during his discussion, he said that if Congress goes ahead and rejects this deal, the world will blame Israel for it. And I’m wondering, one, are you aware that he said such a thing? And secondly, if he did say it, what exactly does that mean?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, one more time, the – in what setting was that? I apologize.

QUESTION: At the Council on Foreign Relations this morning --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- there are reports – and like I said, I didn’t see this; I was watching most of it but I didn’t see this – but he apparently, according to these reports, he said if the deal fails, if Congress rejects the deal, the world will blame Israel for it.

Can you – did he say that, one? And secondly, if he did say it, what exactly does that mean?

MR TONER: I honestly – I also missed that. We’re obviously going to publish the transcript. I’m sorry?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the transcript.

MR TONER: No, I said that. I – there’s going to be a transcript released, so I don’t want to parse the Secretary’s words without having seen them.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: And then just on another subject, real briefly, Cuba.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There were some calls, or at least one call – very vociferous call in Congress for the street – the part of 16th Street where the Cuban – the now Cuban Embassy is located to be renamed after a Cuban dissident. Does – the State Department has weighed in on similar kinds of things before. Do you guys have a position on whether --

MR TONER: I’m aware of their request, but I’m not sure where we’re at in terms of whether we’ve got a position on it or have – actively pursuing it or whatever. I think we’re looking at it and considering the request.

QUESTION: Because I can recall several instances in the past --


QUESTION: -- when there have been similar --

MR TONER: I don’t – yeah.

QUESTION: -- proposals like that, not just --

MR TONER: I’ll check into it.

QUESTION: -- in Washington, but also for U.S. embassies abroad --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check into it. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible). Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, please, Pam.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Iran?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: In – also, Kerry at the Council on Foreign Relations this morning mentioned that Zarif had a weekend visit with officials in the United Arab Emirates.


QUESTION: How much prior knowledge did the U.S. have about this meeting? And secondly, is the State Department aware of or anticipating other such visits between Zarif and Gulf officials?

MR TONER: Well, again, I can’t speak to whether – how much prior knowledge of these meetings we had. I mean, Iran is able to conduct its own foreign policy as it deems fit or foreign relations, I guess, with other regional countries, neighbors, without necessarily informing us. Unclear to me what – about what the visit was about. So I don’t really have any comment to it.

QUESTION: Can I just stay on Iran for one --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- second? This has to do with one of the Americans who is imprisoned there. The Secretary mentioned again this morning that he raised that at every opportunity he could --


QUESTION: -- these cases.

MR TONER: All of them, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know, specifically in relation to the Amir Hekmati case, if the State Department has made a request with the Iranians for him to get medical tests, TB tests, that kind of thing?

MR TONER: You know what, I’d have to look into that. I’d have to ask specifically about that. I’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: The Secretary said that he will be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Qatar, in Doha.

MR TONER: I don’t have anything specific to announce in terms of --

QUESTION: He said --

MR TONER: I’m aware of what he said. I was – I’m aware of that.

QUESTION: I’m trying to see if he is --

MR TONER: But I don’t have specifics on it, I guess, but – beyond the fact that he does meet regularly with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They talk about a wide range of issues. Obviously --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) coincidence --

MR TONER: -- Iran, Syria. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that they are together in Qatar after Iran deal. He said he’s going to talk with him about Syria.

MR TONER: Again, I’m not up to speed on Foreign Secretary Lavrov’s travel plans. I do know that they are going to be in Doha at the same time and – but I don’t have anything specific to announce about that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Topic is about Futenma relocation plan. Japanese Government offered a conference to the Okinawa prefecture yesterday.

MR TONER: Sorry, what are we – in Japan, we’re talking about what specifically? I apologize.


MR TONER: My hearing is going. (Laughter.) Old age.

QUESTION: Futenma relocation plan about --


QUESTION: The Japanese Government offered conference to Okinawa Prefecture yesterday because our Japanese Government wanted to start to landfill to constructing new U.S. military base in Henoko. And the ex-Okinawa governor Nakaima, who applauded the landfill, he set a condition to the – before start landfill and then construction --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- and that the Japanese Government have to hold a conference with the Okinawa. So how you think that the Japanese Government is – will be start to landfill for --

MR TONER: How would the Japanese Government be --

QUESTION: I mean start to the landfill – yeah, in --

MR TONER: Start to – yeah. I think this is something we’ve addressed previously, and I know our policy hasn’t changed in terms of those discussions and working with the Japanese Government and especially the Okinawan Government. I don’t have anything new to say about that.

Is that it, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks.

QUESTION: Have a good weekend.

MR TONER: Yeah, you, too.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)

DPB # 128

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

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 15:33

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 22, 2015

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2:03 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Don’t really have a topper today, but I do want to welcome a group of fellows that we have in the back there – the Pickering Fellows. Thanks for coming, everybody. It’s good to have you there, including Oriana -- where are you?

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: There you are – who works for us. The Pickering Fellowship funded by the Department of State and administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is designed to attract outstanding individuals from all ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds who have an interest in pursuing a Foreign Service career. Upon successful completion of this two-year graduate school program, the fellows will make a commitment to a minimum of five years of service and an appointment as a Foreign Service officer. So congratulations to all of you. We’re glad to have you here. Looking at your backgrounds – just briefly – it was pretty clear to me that I would never have qualified for this program, so it’s good to have you here. (Laughter.)

And with that, we’ll go to questions. David?

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. I wondered if I could just start with the OPM issue – report in the paper this morning was saying the Administration has decided not to publicly apportion blame for this attack. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen the press report. It wouldn’t be for the State Department to speak on that matter one way or the other. Where our focus is on – Secretary Kerry’s focus is on making sure that the State Department systems are as secure and as protected as they can be in cyberspace. But again, this is all principally a law enforcement matter and I would refer you to – that question to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up, if a decision were made not to identify the perpetrator, is it still possible that action could be taken against the perpetrator?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about actions that may or may not be taken here. What I can tell you is that in terms of actions, we’re always looking for ways to improve our cybersecurity, and obviously a breach of this magnitude naturally forces you to take a look at that and to try to do that. So we will, but as I think you can also understand we don’t talk about too much of the details when it comes to cybersecurity and the actions that we will or won’t take.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. Can you talk about whether you guys are looking at this and considering actions in a very different manner because this was an attack on a government institution? That was one of the points raised in the report. I mean, we talked a lot about the five PLA operatives who were named and indicted however long ago it was now, but that was a very pointed response. So I mean, is that – and that was economic espionage. So are you treating this case differently as a whole of administration response?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s really a – the outcomes here – the investigation and the outcomes are really more for the Justice Department to speak to, and I just won’t – it wouldn’t be prudent, wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speculate now one way or the other what, if any, actions would result here from this.

QUESTION: But the State Department does play a role in responses to – in cyber --

MR KIRBY: Sure, we play a role but this is really for the Justice Department to speak to.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Pam.

QUESTION: Iran nuclear.


QUESTION: Do you have any additional information concerning these reports, and also concerns raised by some lawmakers that there are some secret side deals from the Iran nuclear agreement – one dealing with inspections at Parchin and the other one dealing with how information is shared concerning possible military dimensions.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure. I think I addressed a little bit of this yesterday, but Congress has what we have, and what’s being asked for here are IAEA documents or material that is not in our possession. There’s no side deals; there’s no secret deals, between Iran and the IAEA, that the P5+1 has not been briefed on in detail. These kinds of technical arrangements with the IAEA are a matter of standard practice, that they’re not released publicly or to other states. But our experts are familiar and comfortable with the contents, which we would be happy to discuss with Congress in a classified setting.


QUESTION: Has there been any outreach to the lawmakers who raised these concerns initially with the additional information that you just provided?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the concerns were raised in a press release that was put out last night by Senator Cotton. As you know, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz, Secretary Lew will be briefing members of Congress today in closed briefings – both the House and the Senate side – and there will be ample opportunity there to talk about this issue. But as it – as I said, it’s primarily these are issues between Iran and the IAEA. These technical agreements are never shared outside the state in question in the IAEA, but we have been briefed on them and are more than comfortable in a classified setting discussing that. And should that be of interest today, I’m absolutely certain that Secretary Kerry would be willing to talk about it, as well as Secretary Moniz.


QUESTION: Yes, please. Just to clarify, you mentioned that the Congress has what we have. And in the same time you mentioned yesterday and today in a TV appearance that you transferred to the Congress all the documents that you have regarding this issue. Can you describe it? I mean, what is it? I mean, it’s like it is detailed or it’s just – I assume it’s not --

MR KIRBY: It’s the entire set of documents that go along with the deal to include the annexes and a verification assessment.

QUESTION: It’s all the technical, the financial part and everything?

MR KIRBY: It’s – everything that we have about this deal has been provided to Congress. And I would point out that much of it is already available to all of you online.

QUESTION: It’s not the 158 pages, right? It’s more than that, right?

MR KIRBY: There is some additional information provided there, yeah, but a lot of it’s already been made publicly available. But yes, everything is up there. It got there on Sunday.


QUESTION: On Nigeria?

MR KIRBY: Nigeria.

QUESTION: The Nigerian president this morning was at the U.S. Institute of Peace and he gave a talk, and his country’s LGBT rights record was not something that was discussed. So I’m curious to know if the Secretary raised that issue with his meeting with President Buhari, which I think was today, if I’m correct, right? Or was it yesterday?

MR KIRBY: The meeting was yesterday.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: It was a lunch specifically with the Secretary, but there were other discussions here at the State Department. And I can tell you that this issue, the same-sex marriage prohibition in Nigeria, was raised with members of the delegation yesterday. We made clear then, as we have made clear publicly, our concerns about this legislation and the degree to which it criminalizes in particular homosexuality. We’ve been very clear that human rights are gay rights, and gay rights are human rights. And again, we’ll continue to raise this issue going forward.

QUESTION: And as a quick follow-up to that question, how much aid does Nigeria receive from the U.S. each year? Do you have an exact figure on that? Foreign aid.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an exact figure. Let me take that for you. I don’t have that available to me. But this is – aside from the dollar figure, and I talked about this yesterday after the lunch, that we want to do what we can to help President Buhari as he begins to form his government and set the priorities and goals for his administration. The discussion yesterday also included economic support, energy sector support, certainly security support with respect to counterterrorism, particularly Boko Haram. He has already taken some steps, particularly in the security sector, to try to improve their ability to go after a group like that. You know he basically hired all new chiefs of staff for his military services.

So there’s a lot of work to do, and he was very frank yesterday that he knows he has a lot of work to do. And he does want the support and help – again, I just – I can get you the dollar figure later. But I suspect that that support will change too over time as the needs in Nigeria are better defined going forward under his leadership.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yes.

QUESTION: The Japanese Government recently released photos that in the East China Sea China has been developing a natural gas field. Does the U.S. government have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: A natural gas field.


MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that particular report, so I would defer comment on this. What we have made clear is that we want all the destabilizing activities there to cease, and we’re not going to take a position on the claims but we want competing claims to be worked out peacefully and diplomatically.

QUESTION: In 2008, Japan and China created a bilateral agreement agreeing not to – agreeing to jointly develop gas fields. Does the U.S. Government have any comment on the breach of that bilateral agreement?

MR KIRBY: Well, the question presupposes there’s been a breach. I haven’t seen the report that you’re referring to, so I’m not in a position to answer that specific question. As I said, we want competing claims, whatever they may be, to be worked out between the parties and to be done so peacefully. We’re not going to take a position on competing claims, and I don’t suspect that we would do in this case either.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Ethiopia. There are reports out of Ethiopia today of mass arrests of an opposition party group, Ethiopian Unity Party. And this is presumably in advance of President Obama’s visit to ensure that the demonstrators do not make an attempt to disrupt his visit. I wanted to find out first of all if State was aware of the arrests, and if so, if there had been any contact between embassy officials in Ethiopia and the government about it.

MR KIRBY: I think beyond press reporting, we’re certainly aware. I’m not sure that there’s been any specific outreach about this. I mean, obviously, our position on proper regard and respect and treatment for opposition members anywhere is longstanding and consistent, that we value pluralism, we value the right of opposition members and civil society citizens to be able to speak their minds and represent their views in an inclusive, representative political process. And so we obviously take a dim view – excuse me – when those rights are being violated. But I don’t have anything more specific on that case.


QUESTION: Did you see the one on Cambodia about the jailing of 11 opposition party members for insurrections?

MR KIRBY: Did you just get that on your Twitter feed?

QUESTION: No, no, I saw it earlier, but --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the report.


MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the report.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: An update on the situation in Yemen: There’s a report today that the forces loyal to President Hadi took over the city of Aden.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think what I’d say, Samir, is the same we’ve been saying. It’s a fluid situation there, and I’m not in a position to confirm whether – the degree to which Aden has been retaken or not. We do understand that anti-Houthi resistance fighters have certainly taken over some parts of Aden. I’m not prepared to give you a battlefield assessment about what percentage that might be. It’s a very, very fluid situation.

We did note, I think, and welcomed the report yesterday that a World Food Program ship was able to dock in Aden. That’s a helpful thing. Now it’s really important that everybody, all parties, make sure that that aid gets to where it needs to go.

So we’re watching it real closely, and again, just too soon to tell exactly where this is going to go. What we really want to see – and we’ve said this from the outset – is a political process led by the UN that gets all parties to the table and achieves a political solution to the violence there.



QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out, I mean, between what you want to see and what is done regarding political process. Is there anything done, any steps in the last few weeks or few days? Or we just – we are waiting till the battle is settled and somehow the new reality is there?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, we talked about this earlier, that the first UN-led meeting was an important first step. But we --

QUESTION: But it failed, I think.

MR KIRBY: Well, it didn’t resolve the – all the issues. I have to tell you that I’m not sure that not everybody expected that it would. This is a complicated issue. What we were glad to see was that the meeting was held, and we encourage there to be more such meetings. That requires the necessary people coming together and sitting at the table, all the parties, and working it out.

So I still think we want to see that process continue. As for what you’re talking about in Aden, again, it’s very fluid right now, and we’re just not in a position right now to be able to judge in which way this is going to go.

QUESTION: Are you – I mean, a while ago, Under Secretary Patterson met people from Houthis in Muscat, I think. Are you still in touch with them, or are you trying to be in touch with them, or it’s like that was the deal for to get one of the hostages?

MR KIRBY: I can’t rule out that there won’t be additional such meetings. I don’t have any to read out to you, any additional contact to read out today. And again, I won’t – I wouldn’t rule it out going forward. What we really want to do in everything that we’re doing is make sure that we’re in support of the UN process, and that’s really – that’s the vehicle that we believe is best suited to deal with political progress there in Yemen.


QUESTION: It’s been reported that North Korea has upgraded some of its missile towers and that there will be a possible launch in October. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports. Nothing has changed about our call for what North Korea’s commitments ought to be and should be, and we continue to stress that destabilizing activities, whether they’re shows of force or otherwise, are unhelpful to peace and security on the peninsula.


QUESTION: Yes, please, regarding Iraq.


QUESTION: I mean, I don’t know if you say anything about the F-16. They received a set, a new set of F-16 --

MR KIRBY: Four of them, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, do you have anything to say about that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I can acknowledge. I think they had arrival – they had an arrival ceremony for these four F-16s.

QUESTION: And the ambassador was there, I think.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We talked about this before, that they were on the way to Iraq, that they’re – it’s Iraqi property. And I’ll leave it to the Iraqi Government to speak to when and if these aircraft might be flying combat sorties, but they’re there for the defense of sovereign Iraqi territory. Our role was, of course, meeting the procurement need but also doing some of the training in Arizona.

QUESTION: So the other question regarding the news report today in Washington Post front page that Haditha than any other city can be one of the having the highest dam, and hydroelectric project may fall to the ISIL. Do you have anything? Do you have any assessment of --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m reticent to get into battlefield assessments here from this particular podium. I would refer you to DOD to speak to conditions on the ground and threats and challenges in that regard. That wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speak to here.

Okay. Well, this will be the shortest briefing in history. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just one quick question following on his question in terms of the F-16s in Iraq. Is there any agreement that stipulates that – or limits their use in different parts of Iraq, i.e. the Kurdish region or other regions that are – people concerned about their use?

MR KIRBY: I mean, there’s restrictions that are placed on these kinds of sales in terms of how it could be used, but I’m not aware of any restrictions in terms of geographically where it can be used. They are – they belong to the Iraqi Government right now and they’re designed to help the Iraqi Government defend itself and its sovereignty. And what exactly mission parameters that are put on that would be up to the Iraqi Government to pursue. They’re not to be used for sectarian purposes. They’re to be used for the defense of Iraqi territory. And Prime Minister Abadi certainly knows that and will observe that. We’re not worried about that. As for geographic limitations, I’m not aware of any.


QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Turkey?


QUESTION: Two Turkish police officers today killed by pro-Kurdish PKK militants in retaliation to latest ISIS bombings in Turkey. Do you have any comments on that?

MR KIRBY: You guys are seeing reports I haven’t seen. If it’s true, obviously, that’s very, very troubling, and our thoughts and prayers will go out to the victims and the families. Turkey is, again, a stalwart ally in this fight against ISIL; been very, very supportive, very cooperative. We’re always looking for ways to deepen that cooperation. I don’t have any specific details on this, but obviously, if it’s true, it’s heartbreaking for those families, for one, and certainly concerning with respect to ISIL and the threat that it continues to pose.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 17:12

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

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2:07 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I’ve got a few things at the top and then we’ll get right to it.

It’s been a few days since we had a press briefing, and as you know, there’s been some important developments in our progress towards implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran deal, so just a few updates.

As many of you saw this past Sunday, we delivered the documents to Congress. The 60-day congressional review period began yesterday, Monday, the 20th. The Secretary, as you know, will be making his way up to Capitol Hill this week in some closed briefings tomorrow and then open testimony on Thursday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He very much looks forward to these engagements and to addressing the concerns that so many members of Congress continue to have about the deal, answering their questions. He continues to believe that this is the right deal for not just U.S. national security interests but the interests of our allies and partners in the region, to include Israel. So he’s looking forward to having these engagements and answering their questions.

We also welcome this week the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which shows that the international community remains united in our shared effort to prevent Iran from acquiring enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon. Nothing in this resolution will in any way impact on the Congress’s authority and ability to review the deal. And we purposely built in, as you may have noticed, a 90-day waiting period into the resolution to allow precisely for that review. Important to remember that Iran will get no sanction relief until the IAEA verifies that Iran has met its key nuclear steps, period. The passage of the UN Security Council resolution doesn’t change that for U.S. sanctions, for UN sanctions, or otherwise.

And then, finally, I think while we’re on the topic of Iran I think it’s important to note that today marks the one-year anniversary of Jason Rezaian’s unjust detention in Iran. And as I think you heard the Secretary talk about this yesterday in various interviews that he conducted, he never misses a chance on the sidelines – never missed a chance on the sidelines of the nuclear talks to raise Jason’s detention with Iranian officials as well as the detention of Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini and of course, never missed a chance to continue to ask for Iran’s help in locating Robert Levinson. And we’ve been very clear that until they’re home, we’re not going to stop in our efforts and pursuit to see that outcome.

Speaking of anniversaries, today is – this past weekend, I’m sorry, marked the 10th anniversary of the Framework of U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Partnership. That joint statement between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Singh paved the way for the unprecedented cooperation between our two countries that we continue to see today. Our cooperation in civil nuclear energy, space exploration, defense technology serves as the core of a growing U.S.-India relationship, as underscored by President Obama’s recent visit to India.

I’m looking around for Goyal. I don’t see him here today. I put that in there today specifically for Goyal, and I don’t see him. (Laughter.)

I also want to just – you saw my statement this morning on the elections in Burundi, but I want to take an opportunity to once again note that the U.S. warns that this presidential election in Burundi cannot be credible because the electoral process there has been tainted by the government’s continued harassment of opposition and civil society members, closing down media outlets, and of course, their intimidation of voters.

We believe that the election today risks unraveling the Arusha Agreement, which states clearly that no Burundi president shall serve more than two terms in office. The Government of Burundi’s decision to deny its citizens the ability to choose their leadership freely forces the United States to review all aspects of our partnership. We strongly urge all parties to recommit themselves to upholding the Arusha Agreement and its power-sharing arrangement, which has been the cornerstone of peace and security over the past decade in Burundi.

And then just two final points. As you saw on the Secretary’s public schedule, he had lunch today with President Buhari of Nigeria and his delegation. Lunch lasted about an hour, just wrapped up around 1 o’clock or so. Very fulsome discussion about a broad range of issues of things that the United States stands willing and able to help President Buhari deal with as he puts together his government and starts his administration. Everything – we talked about everything from economic development to the energy sector to, of course, security. And as you might expect, everybody had the same shared sense of concern about Boko Haram, particularly their attacks in the north.

So it was a good, full-ranging discussion. The Secretary was delighted to host him here at the State Department. And more critically, he made it clear that he would continue, we would continue, to have a dialogue with President Buhari and his government moving forward.

And then lastly on a program note, I got asked a lot last week about the Trafficking in Persons Report. I can tell you now that that will be released on Monday, Monday morning. We’ll roll that out beginning at 10 o’clock. I’ll have more details on that a little bit later in the week, but I know that that was something everybody was interested in, so I wanted to go ahead and get that out there.

With that, Matthew.

QUESTION: Right. Well, quite apart from your suspect use of the word “fulsome,” which we can go into off camera a little later – (laughter) – let me just start with Burundi because I think it’ll be very quick, before I want to go to Iran.

You say that this election lacks all credibility. Well, it’s begun. People are voting, such as it is. So what would you have them do? Call it off? Nkurunziza is probably going to win.

MR KIRBY: Not probably.

QUESTION: Well, he is going to win. Right? So --

MR KIRBY: It’s --

QUESTION: What do you want them to do? Do you want him to say, okay, I won, thanks but no thanks, I’m gonna – I’m not gonna --

MR KIRBY: What we wanted and made clear that we wanted --

QUESTION: No, no. But that’s in the past.

MR KIRBY: You mean what we want them to do today?


MR KIRBY: Look, Matt, I mean, I think we understand there’s nothing that we’re going to be able to do to affect an election that is ongoing as we speak. We understand that. But there’s no international observers. There’s routine intimidation of voters. There’s been a sustained effort to silence freedom of speech by media and by opposition members. So this is in no way, shape, or form can this be considered a free, fair, or credible election.

And so what we’re going to do – I mean, we can’t do anything to stop what’s going on in the polls right now. We recognize that. What we can do is review all our aspects of the partnership with Burundi that --

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: Those items that even haven’t been suspended.

QUESTION: But what can they do to prevent you from going ahead with your review? Is there anything, or is it too late? I mean, when he wins – which he will – you want him to say, “I’ve been elected but I refuse the honor, I won’t accept a third term.” Would that be okay? Is there anything that they can do to stop you from reviewing your cooperation, whatever it is?

MR KIRBY: Short of – short of observing the Arusha Agreement, which they’ve already violated; short of intimidating opposition members and citizens, which they’ve already done; I can see very little outcome here other than we’re going to have to review all aspects of the relationship.

QUESTION: So there’s nothing. All right. Unless anyone has more on Burundi, I just want to briefly on Iran --

QUESTION: Quickly on Burundi?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, sorry. The special envoy is supposed to travel there. Is that still happening? Will he be meeting with anyone from the government?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you, but I’ll get you that.

QUESTION: And yeah, that’s it. Thank you.

QUESTION: You mentioned you’re sending the documents for the JCPOA up to the Hill on Sunday.


QUESTION: Is it your understanding or have you gotten confirmation back from the Hill that they have received all the documents that they need for the review to actually begin?

MR KIRBY: They have received all the documents in our possession to provide them.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that all of the – at least the unclassified parts of what was sent to the Hill are available for members and staff to review?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if you’re trying to get at something with the word “unclassified,” but let me just go back to what I said. All of the relevant documents in our possession on this deal – and there’s a lot of them – were all provided to the Congress.

QUESTION: All right. And as part of the law that the President signed, the Corker bill that the President signed into law, is that there was, in addition to the actual JCPOA – in addition to the actual deal, the agreement, there were other parts, annexes, separate quite apart from, that were supposed to be sent to the Hill, some of which unclassified --


QUESTION: Which could have then classified annexes to them. This is U.S. documents.

MR KIRBY: So the documents that we sent do include the verification assessment report and the intelligence communique – intelligence community’s classified annex to that report. And everything else that’s in our possession coming out of Vienna has been provided, unclass or class.

QUESTION: And your understanding is, is that the unclassified is available for any – for anyone up there to see?

MR KIRBY: I know of no restrictions that would be placed on unclassified access to the documents.

Okay. We good? More on Iran?

QUESTION: No, different --

MR KIRBY: Different topic?



MR KIRBY: Well, she had her hand up for – you’re on Iran? All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

QUESTION: So Khamenei’s advisor --

MR KIRBY: I’m still getting used to this process that we all do here where we stay on the – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei’s advisor, Velayati, has told today that the American diplomats are trying to have conversations with Iran regarding Syria.

MR KIRBY: Regarding what?


MR KIRBY: Syria?

QUESTION: On Syria, yeah. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I missed the --

QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Velayati, Khamenei’s advisor from Iran.

MR KIRBY: How many --

QUESTION: So American diplomats are engaging with Iran regarding Syria.

MR KIRBY: There are no engagements with Tehran on what’s going on in Syria. Just to be crystal clear, the engagements with Iran were on this nuclear deal and only on this nuclear deal. We’ve said from the very beginning and continue to say that there’s no coordination or communication with Tehran on the fight against ISIL, which would include anything going on in Syria. Okay?


QUESTION: I just want to go back to – if it’s still on Iran, I want to go back to the Hill issue, not the documents.


QUESTION: On the Secretary going up there.


QUESTION: You said the Secretary very much looks forward to these engagements on the Hill. Does he really?

MR KIRBY: He does actually.



QUESTION: Does he think that he’s actually going to be able to change anyone’s mind?

MR KIRBY: He certainly hopes so.

QUESTION: He does?

MR KIRBY: He certainly hopes so, and I wasn’t exaggerating that. I mean, he is looking forward to this.

QUESTION: So he’s --

MR KIRBY: He believes that this is the right deal, that it’s solid, that it achieves the objectives that we sought out to achieve, in fact, in some cases exceeds some of our expectations, and that if you look at it logically and you examine all of it, really read it and try to understand it, he’s convinced that he can convince others as well. That’s certainly his hope and expectation.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I guess that remains to be seen. But I mean, he’s raring for a fight obviously. You said in some cases this exceeds our expectations. In which cases would that be?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was afraid when I said that that you were going to ask me that follow-up. Let me get you an answer right after as I don’t have the Lausanne agreement right in front of me. But we’ll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Can you think of one instance in which what you ended up with is better than what you were seeking?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think – remember the – on the arms embargo and the missile program sanctions, under the UN Security Council resolutions which put those sanctions in place and drove Iran to the negotiating table, it was always understood that all of those sanctions would be lifted at once when Iran complied with their requirements under Lausanne. We held out for more. I mean, interesting that some of the criticism on this deal is, well, some – the arms embargo goes out to five and then it’s lifted and the missiles out to eight and then gets lifted. That was actually extra measures put in place by the negotiators at the table, certainly led by Secretary Kerry, because at least two members of the P5+1 wanted the intent of the resolutions to be met --


MR KIRBY: -- in word, which was “immediate.”

QUESTION: But it was never the position of the Administration that the arms embargo and the ballistic missile sanctions should remain regardless of whether there was a deal? I mean --

MR KIRBY: Well, that wasn’t the – our sanctions will remain in place. But the UN --

QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the UN.

MR KIRBY: -- Security Council resolutions, which put those sanctions on, did so with the intent of driving Iran to the negotiating table specifically over their nuclear program.


MR KIRBY: So it was always understood by all the members, P5+1 members, that as part of – to have a deal. Without the sanctions relief, all of them, there would be no deal.

QUESTION: Right. The problem that exists there is that those UN Security Council resolutions to which you refer, which are now – been superseded by yesterday’s, didn’t – are stronger. They call for Iran to suspend or halt enrichment altogether. So when you say that, well, Russia and China wanted the arms embargo and the ballistic missile stuff to go immediately, they wouldn’t have gone immediately because Iran wasn’t in compliance with the terms of the previous resolutions.

MR KIRBY: They wouldn’t go immediately --

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: -- until they had met their requirements with their – with the --

QUESTION: Right. You’re casting this as you – it’s a U.S. victory or something that exceeds your expectations that you kept the arms embargo in place for five years when, in fact, I believe the Administration wanted it in place forever, but maybe I’m wrong on that, and the ballistic missile sanction – ballistic missile stuff for eight years.

So while you might be able to make the argument in your own – the Administration might be able to make the argument that you got five and eight as opposed to zero, why does it not make sense for critics to look at this and say, well, it went from forever or keeping them in place indefinitely to a set time period --

MR KIRBY: Because --

QUESTION: -- which could even be shorter if --

MR KIRBY: Because the only way they stay in effect indefinitely is if Iran never comes to the negotiating table and we never get a deal.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the --

MR KIRBY: The whole reason they were put in place was to drive them to a --

QUESTION: Right, but --

MR KIRBY: -- place where they would negotiate for the relief.

QUESTION: I get that. But the previous Security Council resolutions called for Iran not to have any enrichment at all, and now you’re allowing them enrichment and yet you’re giving them this arms embargo and ballistic missile --

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, Matt --

QUESTION: All right, I’ll – okay. But you say that those are two things that --

MR KIRBY: I’m saying that that’s --

QUESTION: -- you exceeded your – better than what you --

MR KIRBY: -- better than – yes, that’s one example. And if you need more, I’m happy to --


MR KIRBY: -- I’m happy to provide that for you. (Inaudible) who can help with that.





MR KIRBY: Iran? We’re still on Iran.



QUESTION: So John, after the deal, how do you define your relationship with Iran? Is Iran an enemy or what is the status of your relation with them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we’re going to put them in a nice little neat rhetorical box for you, but there’s no diplomatic relations with Iran. Iran continues to fund, and participate, encourage, and incite destabilizing activities in the region. Nobody is turning a blind eye to that. Would we call Iran a friend? No, I don’t think we would. But look, we focused on removing this one very key, very important destabilizing activity, which was their pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. That was the focus. We achieved that through this deal. And now dealing with an Iran that doesn’t have that capability is going to be easier – not easy, but easier – than dealing with an Iran or pushing back on an Iran which either is on the threshold of that capability or in possession of it.

QUESTION: But you didn’t answer my question. Like, is it --

MR KIRBY: I know I didn’t answer your question because I’m not going to.

QUESTION: I mean, it’s an enemy or --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I --

QUESTION: It’s not a friends but is it an enemy?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’ve told you, I’ve described the relationship with Iran, and while you might like a nice little neat box for us to put this in, I’m not going to do that.


QUESTION: John, just to follow up on that point. I mean, sure it’s not a friend, you don’t have diplomatic relations with it, but two of your closest allies – France and Britain – are sending their top diplomats, some with businessmen and so on. Isn’t that sort of paving the road to bringing Iran into sort of the friendly camp, so to speak? I mean, these are your closest allies, right?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for --


MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for what our allies may be doing or thinking about in terms of a new relationship with Iran. I can just point you to what Secretary Kerry has said from the time he got back from Vienna, and actually before then, was that our focus is on this deal, achieving this outcome, and not necessarily through this deal trying to drive some change in Iran’s behavior. Now, if it leads to that – to a more constructive, productive set of behaviors out of Iran in the region – well, that’s all to the better. But that wasn’t the goal here.

QUESTION: Do you believe --

MR KIRBY: And because it wasn’t the goal here, we’re not going to turn a blind eye and we’re not going to stop using the tools at our disposal, unilaterally and multilaterally in the region, if need be, to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities.

QUESTION: But the fact that both of these top diplomats from England and France are going there, does that make the case or does that make the argument for Secretary Kerry better on the Hill when he makes that argument as to why this is a good deal?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that their travel to the region necessarily enhances the quality of the deal. I mean, and I don’t know that he would speak to his counterparts’ travel there. I think the Secretary – my answer to Matt, that the Secretary is very comfortable with the details of the deal and the product itself and looks forward to explaining it.

QUESTION: Iran’s representative at the United Nations had some harsh words to say yesterday about the United States of America. He said that you should not be giving lessons on interference and so on, the fact that you invaded two countries, as he put it, and so on, you should be the last to do such a thing. Is that the kind of language that you did expect the Iranian ambassador to be saying at the UN?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody here was necessarily surprised --

QUESTION: Surprised, okay.

MR KIRBY: -- by his comments and the anti-American rhetoric that we see from government officials over there. Look, this isn’t about lecturing.


MR KIRBY: This isn’t the United States getting up and lecturing Iran or lecturing anybody. I think we’re pretty good at leading by example and proving the power of our example around the world. And I think we’re very comfortable standing on our reputation in that regard. This, again, we’ve got to – it’s really important that everybody kind of draw back into what this was. This was about achieving one outcome, and that was stopping their ability to get – cutting off their pathways to get a nuclear bomb. This deal does it. And that alone helps make the region safer, because it’s a huge – one less, but a huge problem less, that we would have to deal with long-term.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Well, wait, are we going to – we’re off Iran?


MR KIRBY: So go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: North Korea. Today North Korea has said different on Iran and North Korea nuclear negotiations. And North Korea announced would not have any dialogue or give up their nuclear programs. What is your comment on their --

MR KIRBY: Say that last part again.

QUESTION: North Korea announced that would not have any dialogue or give up their nuclear program.

MR KIRBY: North Korea said there’s no dialogue about their --

QUESTION: Yes. Future programs and --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think that’s true. There isn’t. I mean, I think I would agree with that assessment. And what we’ve said before, Janne, is that we’re open to dialogue with the North that would lead to authentic and credible negotiations that get at the entirety of the North’s nuclear program and result in – and this is not a small point – concrete and irreversible steps towards denuclearization. But the onus is on North Korea and they haven’t picked up that ball.

QUESTION: Do you think the United States acknowledges North Korea is nuclear state? Because they are ambitious to – and proud of having nuclear weapons. Right now they wanted the U.S. acknowledge to they’re a nuclear state.

MR KIRBY: What I would say is we acknowledge their continued pursuits in that regard and continue to warn about the threats and the dangers that those pursuits cause to the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: When you say acknowledge, you’re not suggesting that you accept it, though. You’re just acknowledging the fact that they are doing it.

MR KIRBY: Acknowledging the fact that. Yes, thank you, Matt.


QUESTION: Does the U.S. have --

MR KIRBY: I did not mean to say that we were accepting it.

QUESTION: Yeah, but do you – does the U.S. have or plan to bilateral talks with North Korea for a nuclear --

MR KIRBY: There’s no such plans.

QUESTION: No such plan, yeah?

MR KIRBY: We have long said that resumption of the Six-Party Talks we would support, but the onus is on North Korea.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Turkey.

QUESTION: Thank you. There was an explosion in Turkey earlier this week --


QUESTION: -- killing as many as 50 people. Do you have anything to tell --

MR KIRBY: We put out a statement about that right after.

QUESTION: Yesterday.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, yesterday. I’m happy to repeat our deepest condolences to the victims, to the families of the victims, to those who were injured. And I’ll reiterate once again, regardless of responsibility, this is just more evidence of the common terrorist threats that we face – we and our allies. And then the third thing I’d say is that this – it’s a very grim but it is a reminder of the seriousness of this challenge and the degree to which we’re going to continue to stand with Turkey as Turkey continues to confront it.

QUESTION: Has any U.S. official talked to the Turks after the explosion about that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific conversations out of here. We – of course, our representatives in Ankara of course conveyed our condolences and thoughts to the Turks at the time.

QUESTION: Because there’s a fear that this attack in Turkey, which is the first bloodiest attack since – in a few years in Turkey is – comes at a time when Turkey has taken a more assertive position against the Islamic State. Do you think Turkey might become a major target for ISIS because of it has taken apparently a bolder stance against ISIS?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know what is in the ISIL playbook with respect to Turkey. What I do know is they remain a lethal, deadly enemy that we all, as a coalition, need to stay focused on defeating.

QUESTION: John, technically, ISIL didn’t claim this attack. What is your understanding about the responsibility? Are – is there any reason that you don’t believe that it’s – it wasn’t anybody else?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s not about believing or not believing. I just – we’re not in a position to call it right now. I mean, we’ve seen the claims of responsibility. Is this something that they’re capable of? Absolutely. I mean, we’ve seen brutal violence from this group before in all manner of ways. But the Turkish Government’s investigating it. I think we want to let that investigation move forward, and I wouldn’t want to say anything one way or the other that would prejudice the outcome. It’s a – as I said, a grim reminder of the counterterrorism threats that we face regardless of whether ISIL’s responsible or not.

QUESTION: Are you cooperating on this investigation with the Turkish officials?

MR KIRBY: As always, we’ve – we certainly offer assistance if it’s needed. I’m not aware of any specific thing that we’re doing with respect to this.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the use of Incirlik Air Base (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I’m having a hard time hearing you.

QUESTION: There was an agreement to be announced soon on this use of Incirlik Air Base for the anti-ISIL attacks with the Turks.

MR KIRBY: Says who?

QUESTION: According to some sources in this building and also according to the Turkish officials. How this incident will affect this upcoming agreement?

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, let’s – I’m not going to speak to – I have nothing to announce today and I’m certainly not going to speak to decisions that may or may not have been made yet with respect to the cooperation with Turkey. And this attack, deadly as it was, again, it only reinforces our commitment to working with the Turks to deal with counterterrorism challenges. And how that’s going to manifest itself – it’s just too soon to say right now.




QUESTION: What’s your reaction to reports that the EU may sanction individuals such as General Hiftar, who they consider like opposing the political process – threatening the political process?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’d say we share the EU’s concern about the threatening statements and actions by some Libyans that are meant to undermine peace and stability. We continue to strongly support the UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon, as his efforts – in his efforts to achieve an inclusive political agreement in Libya. We also think that all of Libya’s partners should use all of the tools at their disposal to help him achieve this balanced and comprehensive political agreement. For our part, the U.S. will consider – continue to consider, I should say – targeted sanctions under the UN Security Council resolution against those engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten Libya’s peace and stability.

QUESTION: I have a question about – there was a statement made recently by a U.S. district court judge, Rudolph Contreras, at a status conference continuing a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit for State Department records. And this federal judge said, “If documents are destroyed” – and he’s talking about Secretary of State Clinton emails – “if documents are destroyed between now and August 17th, the government will have to answer for that. And if they don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary to preserve those records, they’ll have to answer for that.” My question is solely: Do you have a reaction to that, (a)? And (b) are you doing something out of the ordinary to make sure these are preserved? Are his concerns unwarranted? Where is all this coming from?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re getting me a little unawares, because I hadn’t seen the statement. So I’d ask you to let me go take a look at this before I go into any great detail. But just to remind on process and sort of where we are, that former Secretary Clinton turned over some 55,000 pages – in paper – of documents, comprising that email traffic that she believed represented her work here as secretary of state. We’ve taken pains to properly secure that material and to scan it in electronically so there’s an electronic record of it. And then we’re going through it, as you know, every month and releasing those emails under – using a Freedom of Information Act standard.

I’m aware of no destruction of this material; far from it. In fact, we’re, as I said, making strides to go through every single document to make it publicly available and to have a record of it that will be for the American people to see. So I know of no effort or designs or desire to destroy any of this. Again, quite the contrary. But I’ll tell you what, let me – because I haven’t seen this statement, let me take that question and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.




QUESTION: I don’t know if you have seen the op-ed by the PYD’s co-chair, Salih Muslim, on Huffington Post. He was sort of showing the appreciation for the United States support and the coalition for the support the YPG fighters in fight against ISIS in Kobani and Tal Abyad and other areas. But he was asking for like a broader cooperation for humanitarian assistance and also rebuilding Kobani. Is there anything like you want to take into consideration helping those areas liberated from ISIS? Like you do it in Iraq, you have a working group there, but in Syria you don’t have such a thing.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any plans to create such a group. As I’ve said before, we continue to try to assist them on the ground, mostly through the use of airstrikes, and that support will continue as needed. But I’m not aware of any additional efforts with respect to that.

QUESTION: What prevents you not to do it, to do so, like in Syria? Those areas you take credit for the liberation and also for defeating ISIS, so these --

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we were taking credit for liberation. I think we’re pretty good at giving credit where it’s due, and some of that credit does go to U.S. air power and coalition air power as well. This is a – and you’re getting me into military matters that I’m not comfortable speaking to.

QUESTION: No, I’m talking about --

MR KIRBY: But just – but I’m going to let you get me into it for just a second. The execution of any strategy --

QUESTION: Slippery slope. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Thanks for the reminder. The execution of any strategy is something that you’re always looking at every day. So I’m not ruling anything in or out at this point. I’m just saying – I’m just telling you where we are now, and that the support for those fighters, counter-ISIL fighters inside Syria right now, predominantly exists through the use of coalition air power. And again, strategy is something you look at day in and day out. I just don’t have anything to tell you in terms of announcements or anything for it.

QUESTION: Like, the question was about – you know this area have been destroyed as a result of the fight.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And there are people returning from Turkey, and you always encourage the people that can live inside their own country instead of going to the second country or like creating a humanitarian crisis. So these people, they need assistance and they are looking at you as one of the partners part of the coalition. So what is the problem? Is there anything like that you cannot do the same thing that you do it for humanitarian support for the Iraqi?

MR KIRBY: You’re getting me to stake a claim now, and as I told you, strategy is something we’re constantly executing. I have nothing more to say about the support that they’re getting militarily than what I’ve talked about. And again, I’d point you to DOD for more details on that.


QUESTION: John, when it comes to the strategy, this, I mean, supposed allegedly ISIS attack in Turkey is the second attack over the last month. It was – it happened just before the elections in Turkey as well in June, and this is that second time that they hit Turkey. Do you – what is your understanding about this kind of bombings in Turkey? Is there any strategy change in ISIS vis-a-vis Turkey? Because before, the organization was very cautious to Turkey, so do you sense any strategy change in ISIS vis-a-vis Turkey?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on ISIL strategy or what they’re trying to achieve in any particular attack other than fear, intimidation, and brutality. So I’m not – again, I’m not going to speak for what their strategy is or, if they’re responsible for this latest one, what that portends for the way they’re thinking. What I can tell you is our strategy remains sound. We continue to execute it. And it’s a multilateral strategy, 60 some-odd countries. And it’s not just military. There’s a financial component to it, there’s a diplomatic component, there’s a law enforcement component to it, and we’re going to keep chipping away at this.

We’ve also said that this is a group that – and we’ve seen this over the course of the last year and a half, quite frankly – this is a group that continues to modify. They’re agile, they’re nimble, they’re still well-funded. They’re still attractive to a whole population of young, disaffected men for whatever reasons. And we’re not blind to the kinds of activities that they continue to want to pursue, and we’re going to continue to adapt our strategy as needed. But the core of it – multilateralism, good governance, which is really the – what has to happen to defeat – long-term, sustainable defeat of ISIL, all that remains in place.

As for what they’re thinking on any given day, I’d have to point you to them and their propaganda to try to help you out with that. What we’re focused on is taking them off the battlefield, trying to limit their ability to sustain themselves financially or through human resources, and eventually helping defeat their narrative through political gains on the ground in Iraq and eventually, hopefully, in Syria.

QUESTION: John, might they try to prevent Turkey to be more active in anti-ISIL coalition with these kind of attacks? This is the comments coming from the experts in (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I mean, you could come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories here. I’m not in a position to do that. This most recent attack is still under investigation. I’m not going to get ahead of that. And whatever outcome it might have for Turkey is for the Turkish Government to speak to. I know you’d love for me to talk about what the Turks are willing to do or what they’re not going to do, and I’m just not going to do that.

Every member of the coalition brings to this fight what they can, when they can, where they can, and we’re grateful for that support, including Turkey, which is not just a coalition member but a NATO ally. But as for what these attacks might do to change any calculus in Turkish thinking, I think you’d have to talk to Ankara about that.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can I just make the follow-up question? Are you satisfied with the degree or level of support that the Turks have offered you in the fight against ISIS?

MR KIRBY: We are grateful for every contribution that every coalition member is making.

QUESTION: Is it enough?

MR KIRBY: It’s a coalition of the willing, which means every member has to be willing to contribute what they can, where they can. And we’re grateful for that.

QUESTION: John, a follow-up on this? Just to follow up very quickly on the strategy --


QUESTION: Okay. By all accounts, ISIS runs its territory like a state. They collect taxes. They issue stamps. They control traffic and so on. They are functioning like a state. Doesn’t that call for a change in your strategy or the coalition’s strategy to attack them?

MR KIRBY: I think they want to function as a state. Just calling yourself one doesn’t make you one. And look, one of the things that we’ve said from the very beginning, Said, is that what makes this group a little different is that they do have aspirations of state-like functions and their tactics on the ground aren’t just common terror tactics such as bombings, if they were responsible for this one, but almost in some ways – now, they haven’t done this in a while but at the outset were operating their – their forces almost sort of paramilitary-like in terms of the formations, the way they were moving and maneuvering and some of their tactics on the ground. Now, that’s changed because of all the pressure that’s been put on them by the coalition. But, I mean, this is an evolving group. But just calling yourself a caliphate or a state doesn’t make you any one, any more than it makes me an alligator. So we’re just – we’re going to keep the pressure on them and it’s, as I said at the outset, a multilateral approach along multiple lines of effort, not just military.

Governance – it’s funny you should ask this question, because it’s governance, good governance, that’s really going to be the long-term answer here. I keep saying it and I know it may sound like the same old saw with you guys, but it’s true. But good governance takes time, and it’s hard. In Iraq, things are moving in the right direction. In Syria, in terms of good governance, it’s not. And so what they think or what they’re telling people they’re doing is providing an element of governance. But I think all you have to do is look at the way they’re behaving and seeing how most of the resources they get are from theft and corruption and extortion. That’s not governance. That’s theft. That’s corruption. That’s extortion. And their tactics are brutal and violent, and it’s terrorism.

QUESTION: John, actually, a follow on Turkey. As a result of these recent attacks, like my colleagues also they asked maybe Turkey became a target for ISIS attacks, but do you increase any security measure for your diplomats in Ankara or in Turkey in general, or you’re taking --

MR KIRBY: We never talk about security precautions that we take around the world, and I think you can understand why we don’t do that. The safety and security of our facilities overseas and our people is paramount. It’s the number one concern for Secretary Kerry wherever he has diplomats. But we never talk about the details of that.




QUESTION: Now that we’re building relations, has there been a discussion about the pro-democracy programs in Cuba? Does the U.S. – are you going to plan any changes, increased or decreased activities?

MR KIRBY: Our plan is to continue those programs. We believe they’re important and we believe that the restoration of diplomatic relations and the engagement that our diplomats will now be able to have inside Cuba will help us --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) some of them have raised that in the issue in some reports, complaints about it. So you haven’t had discussions with them yet about addressing some of their issues?

MR KIRBY: We plan to continue these programs, yeah. I think I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry on counterterrorism, he said – he mentioned that as a collaboration area. Meanwhile, Congress is pushing legislation to cut off funding to Cuban defense. Do you see Congress hindering collaboration on --

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope not. I mean, we’ve certainly seen some of the threats to do that by members of Congress. Again, Secretary Kerry is willing – remains willing to discuss this new relationship that we’re building with Cuba with members of Congress, but that would be counterproductive to a restoration of diplomatic relations in a place and with a people that we want to work to improve, both the relationship and their quality of life in Cuba. And so standing in the way of this engagement – I think the Secretary said it really well yesterday when he said we’re moving from estrangement to engagement. And that’s true. An engagement offers you the footing to be able to make a difference there, and without that footing, you can’t. And all – what you’re left with then is what we had for 54 years, which clearly didn’t really work.

QUESTION: Do you envision like military-to-military dialogue, establishing relations at that level, too?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want – let’s not put the cart before the horse. I mean, we’re just now starting. There’s a lot – I mean, we’re not – relations are not normalized. That’s going to be a lengthy process. I think we all can understand that, and I have no specifics with respect to what a defense relationship could or would look like in the future. We’re just getting started, and we need to walk before we run.

Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: John, change topic. The Chattanooga shooting and these reports in the last couple of hours and statements by Mohammad Abdulazeez’s lawyer that some of his family members have been detained in Jordan. I was wondering if you could confirm U.S. involvement in that operation and lend a little bit of insight or guidance on what – whether that’s true, that this guy’s family is being taken into custody.

MR KIRBY: No. No. I am afraid I don’t have anything to – I don’t have anything to say about that right now. Again, you guys got your iPhones, I don’t. So I don’t have an update for you on that.

QUESTION: The Jordanian Government said five or six hours ago that --

QUESTION: Right --

QUESTION: But just in the last few minutes there’s some – the lawyers made a statement that --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, understood.

QUESTION: The initial statement is hours old.

MR KIRBY: I have – I don’t have anything for you on that right now.

QUESTION: If such a thing occurred, would there be any U.S. involvement? Would it be law enforcement or would it be like State Department would be involved in any way?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t know, Said. I mean, I --


MR KIRBY: I’m just getting this. I just don’t have anything for you, I’m afraid. I can’t help you on that right now.

Okay --

QUESTION: Well, I’ve just got one more. Can I – I want to go back to your rather unusual analogy from a few minutes ago. It may be true that you don’t consider ISIS to be a state, but they certainly aspire to be a state and they have some trappings of a state. In other words, they have a flag, they collect taxes – whether you want to call it extortion or whatever, they certainly do steal, but there are governments – there are states that do that as well, North Korea being one example. They have that aspiration. Do you really aspire to be alligator? And the reason that I ask is not to make it --

MR KIRBY: Right now I do. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: -- is not to make a joke, but yes, you can call it anything. So why – I mean, just because you call something something does not make it so, and I want to extrapolate that. Just because you, the Administration, call the Iran deal a good deal does not make it so. Does – do you – does the Administration, the Secretary for whom you speak – I won’t go to the President or Moniz or anyone else like that – do you believe that you’re not just calling this deal a good deal because that’s what you want it to be?

MR KIRBY: Yes. We believe this is not just a good deal, but it is the best deal that could be achieved, which achieves the outcome that we wanted to achieve and will further secure our national interests as well as the national interests of our allies and partners. I think by any measure – and you want to pick apart aspects of the deal, fine, let’s get past that for a second. By any measure, I think it’s just common logic that we can all agree to that an Iran without a nuclear weapon is better for the region than an Iran with a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: You’re saying it’s the best deal that we could have achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good deal. It just means it’s the best that you could have gotten --

MR KIRBY: It can be both, though, Matt.

QUESTION: And you’re --

MR KIRBY: It can be both a good deal and the best deal we achieved, and we believe --

QUESTION: And you get – it’s both.

MR KIRBY: -- it is a good deal, and it is both, yes.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 17, 2015

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 17:14

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 17, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:34 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. You all just come in right at the buzzer, aren’t you?

All right, couple things at the top here. As you know, today is the anniversary of the day that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, taking the lives of nearly 300 innocent people from 11 countries. And I think it’s – you may have seen Secretary Kerry put a statement out. On behalf of the entire State Department, I know I can add that all our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones, the families, the friends, certainly with those who perished, in honoring their memory. And we continue to support the work --

QUESTION: I think microphone --

MR KIRBY: Is it on? Sure it is. Can you hear me? No? Is that okay? Okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: All right. You broke my momentum, man. I was right in stride. (Laughter.) We support the work, obviously, being done by the Joint Investigative Board and the Dutch Safety Board, and for that reason we continue to urge full cooperation by all those in assisting their effort – cooperation by all in assisting their effort to uncover the full truth.

A program note for Monday. I know many of you have been asking about Monday. And I won’t speak for the Cuban Government and what they’ll be doing, but here at the State Department at 1 o’clock, Secretary Kerry will meet with his Cuban counterpart, their foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla right here at the State Department. And then after that meeting, there will be a press availability with the two of them. You’ll get more details about this as it comes out. But he will be meeting with the Cuban foreign minister here in the building.

Some of you have asked also about the Cuban flag. It will be hung in the atrium on the C Street entrance of the building. It will be done early in the morning so as to allow for the give-and-take of the people coming in and out of the building, and to – for safety purposes, you’ve got to use a scaffold to get it up there. So it will be done in the early morning, and it will be placed in its appropriate place in alphabetical order with the flags. There won’t be a ceremony accompanying it; there never is. We do this routinely. So just so you know that that will be happening.

QUESTION: Will that be open to the press?

MR KIRBY: It’s going to be done very early in the morning. It’s not going to be a press event, Justin, but if you want to come on in early in the morning and watch it, then we’re certainly not going to stop you from doing that. But there’s no ceremony arrayed behind it.

QUESTION: How early are we talking?

MR KIRBY: Very early.


QUESTION: Like a minute past midnight?

MR KIRBY: Way earlier than you even think about getting up. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You don’t know anything about us.

QUESTION: Just how early is that?

MR KIRBY: For early, for Justin is like ten. (Laughter.) It’s going to be done early in the morning, again, to accommodate the flow of personnel coming in and out of the building and because they need some equipment to get it up there and raise it and make space for it. So we’re going to do this before so it doesn’t impede daily operations here at the department.

And then finally before I go to questions, I want to take a moment just to recognize Jo Biddle. This is probably – this is her last – I think probably your last briefing, right, that you’re going to be –

QUESTION: No, I’ll be here on Monday.

MR KIRBY: Oh, okay. Well, I was going to give you the first question, but now I’m not. (Laughter.) Anyway, we all know Jo is leaving soon, moving on in her career. And I just – even though I haven’t had the chance to work with you for very long, your reputation preceded you before I got here. I heard all kinds of great things about you. Everybody in the press operation here has great respect for you and for the quality of your reporting, and we’re going to miss you. You certainly – in just the six or seven weeks I’ve been here, I have learned a lot just from listening to you and trying to answer your tough questions and spending time with you. And so, again, we wish you all the best. As we say in the Navy: Fair winds and following seas to you. And we’re going to miss you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Hear, hear.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I might also add – if I could get you to come up here, I might also add that Secretary Kerry is going to miss you as well. And he wanted you to have this.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: Here you go.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: You bet, my pleasure.

QUESTION: Show it, Jo. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s an AFP photographer, Brendan Smialowski, who won a prize with this picture. And it was when we were going into Baghdad sometime last year.

MR KIRBY: Would you like to finish the briefing?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Then get off my podium. (Laughter.) Okay. Jo, with that, I’m going to have to give you the first question.

QUESTION: Oh. I wanted to ask about Cuba, please.


QUESTION: When was the last time you actually added a flag, do you know, to the –

MR KIRBY: I think –

QUESTION: Was it South Sudan?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s South Sudan, and that would have been 2011, I think is right. I think that’s the last time. We tried to do the research here. Let me double-check that because we just recently asked that question, but I’m pretty sure it’s South Sudan 2011.

QUESTION: And has a Cuban foreign minister been received in the State Department before?

MR KIRBY: Not – certainly not since the early ‘60s. But I would refer you to the Cuban Government for their historical records. But we looked at this and couldn’t see anything, certainly at all in the recent past.

QUESTION: And I guess everybody’s wanting to know: Have you any announcement yet on when the Secretary might travel to Havana?

MR KIRBY: I do not have travel to Havana to announce, but I’ll just repeat the Secretary is very much looking forward to going down there and formally opening up our embassy in Havana. I think that’s going to happen soon, and as soon as we have dates we’ll certainly announce that.

QUESTION: What about the embassy in Washington on Monday? Will he be there?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary is not planning to be at the formal opening of the Cuban embassy. The senior State Department official, as I said yesterday, will be Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson.


MR KIRBY: There will be other – there will likely be other representatives from the State Department and from the interagency, but Assistant Secretary Jacobson will be the most senior person.

QUESTION: What’s the reasoning behind that decision? I mean, that seems odd.

MR KIRBY: What’s odd about that?

QUESTION: That he wouldn’t show up for that. I mean, it’s sort of a momentous occasion in relation to --

MR KIRBY: Well, he’s receiving the foreign minister here and they’re going to do a press availability. He’s looking forward to that. And he’s also looking forward to going down there and formally recognizing and opening our embassy in Havana.


MR KIRBY: It’s – there’s no great significance behind this. I mean, he – again, his role in this is to welcome the foreign minister here at the State Department.

QUESTION: Can I just one – sorry. Do you believe that you have all the assurances necessary that your diplomats will be able to work freely in Havana as they do in other countries?

MR KIRBY: Well, every country is different, Jo, and I think you heard Assistant Secretary Jacobson talk about this. I mean, our ambassadors and diplomats work all over the world in environments – some are more restrictive than others based on the security situation in a given country and our relationship with the country.

What I can say, to repeat what she said, we’re comfortable that our diplomats will be able to do the work they need to do in Cuba. It is not a restriction-free environment, as I think you can understand, but we’re comfortable that through the negotiations that we had with Cuban authorities that they will be able to do the job that they need to do.

QUESTION: John, I know it’s never a formality when the Secretary of State of the United States meets with any of his foreign counterparts, but in this particular case is it just a formality or will they have like a substantive issue to discuss and so on, as you would with meeting any other foreign minister?

MR KIRBY: I suspect it’ll be a substantive discussion. I mean, this is a country now that we are restoring diplomatic relations. There is still a lot of work to do and still a lot of issues to discuss. I fully expect that it’ll be a meaningful discussion. I mean, as I said, they’re meeting at 1 and they won’t be coming out to talk to you until 1:45, so it’s going to be more than just a passing handshake and a photo. They’re going to actually sit down and talk.

QUESTION: John, could you give us a sense of what the outstanding issues are for the States? Cuba has raised a couple, including Guantanamo, but on the U.S. side what remains to be resolved?

MR KIRBY: I think we continue to have discussions about lots of different issues. We’ve had a series of conversations about telecommunications.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR KIRBY: About access to telecommunications, conversations that have expanded the discussion on coordination on health issues. We began a conversation that I suspect will continue on human rights, which we know is going to be a part of this new relationship. We’ve had conversations about migration. And I think we’ve made it clear publicly that going forward we both agree – both countries – to have conversations about fugitives in law enforcement.

So there’s many, many issues that are still very much active in terms of discussion. We fully expect that there will be – there will continue to be issues that we don’t see eye-to-eye on. That’s not unusual with any relationship we have around the world, particularly now with a country that for the first time we’re going to be re-establishing diplomatic relations. So again, Secretary Kerry is very excited about this, this opportunity, and to having these discussions and to trying to work through these issues.

QUESTION: Now, beginning Monday – forgive me – American citizens can go to the embassy and get a visa to go to Cuba?

MR KIRBY: There are still – as you know, there are still restrictions on travel.


MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on the legal restrictions so I’m – I don’t – our interests section down there will become an embassy on Monday, but there are still restrictions on travel and business arrangements in Cuba. There’s still an embargo that can only be removed by congressional action. So it’s not quite so simple, Said.



QUESTION: Now that the nuclear deal is concluded at first stage with Iran, and two days ago President Obama stated that Iran should be part of the Syria conversations, have you had a chance to start some kind of talks on Syria with the Iranian Government?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, this deal just got signed earlier this week – sorry, just got finalized this week. So no, there have been no forum – fora through which talks on Syria have occurred with the Iranian Government. So no, I don’t have anything new to announce in that regard.

QUESTION: But do you think that going forward, the climate is good for such talks?

MR KIRBY: It’s too soon to tell right now. This deal was about the nuclear program and about stemming their ability to acquire nuclear weapons capability, and that was it. And there’s a lot of speculation out there right now about the door opening and what this might do to regional behavior. Certainly, we want to see Iran’s behavior in the region change. There’s no doubt about that. Because even without this deal, they’re still doing things that are destabilizing in the Middle East in particular, whether it’s support of Hizballah, or the Houthis, or Shia militia, to human rights issues. Nobody is turning a blind eye to that, and nobody is able to predict right now what impact this deal might have on changing their behavior long term. If – and we’ve seen comments by President Rouhani that would indicate that they’re willing to have those kinds of discussions, and if that’s what they’re willing to do, I think a positive change in their behavior is a welcome thing. But nobody is able to predict that right now.

Our focus on this deal was on stemming their ability, cutting off their pathways to fissile material and a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Since you a little mention about it, many of your allies in the region, including Turks and the other Arab countries, are very much worried that this deal is going to actually lead a way that Iran is going to take even more responsibilities in the region with your blessing. So what do you say to these comments?

MR KIRBY: I’d say the same thing I just said on the previous answer. I don’t think I could say it any better than that. This deal was about stemming their ability to acquire nuclear weapons, and that was it. Nobody is taking their eye off their other destabilizing activities or the options that we have to continue to pursue unilaterally and with our allies and partners to try to stem that activity.

QUESTION: But (inaudible) the deal, seeing how Iran’s role in the region, whether real or imagined, is suggested to be huge, shouldn’t it – isn’t it logical to have Iran be part and be involved in any kind of process that might end the violence? Just to follow up on my question yesterday, isn’t it logical to have them in any kind of process that can bring the Syria crisis into some sort of a --

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s no question that Iran is playing an unhelpful role in Syria. There’s no question about that. We want that role to end, of course, as we want the Assad regime to step down and to move towards a negotiated political settlement that results in a government that’s responsive to all the Syrian people. There’s no question that those things need to happen and that change needs to occur. But nobody went into this deal with that being the outcome desired specifically with respect to the deal. The deal was about stemming their ability to not attain nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: But I mean, it sounds like you’re just talking in, like, a – in what you’d like to have happen. Like, you’d like Iran to be more helpful. You’d like Assad to step down. But it doesn’t seem like it’s based in any kind of reality where – I mean, even your allies are acknowledging that in order to have a solution in Syria, Iran is going to be – have to be part of the solution. You’re going to just have to bring in the Iranians – like, you may not like it, but you’re never going to solve the problem in Syria without the acquiescence of the Iranians.

MR KIRBY: Is that a question?


MR KIRBY: I mean, we’ve said all along there has to be a negotiated political settlement in Syria that leads to a responsive government for all the Syrian people. I’m not able at this point to hypothesize exactly what that political settlement’s going to look like or who’s going to be a party to it. We – no question Iran’s playing an unhelpful role – as is Russia, quite frankly. And --

QUESTION: Right, but the President said the other day that you’re never going to solve the problem in Syria without the Russians, and many of your other allies are saying that you’re never going to solve it without the Iranians. I just am wondering --

MR KIRBY: I understand the logic. And – but if you’re trying to get me to say that we anticipate sitting down at a negotiating table with Tehran over Syria right now, I – we’re just not there.

QUESTION: Well, why would you be negotiating with Iran if the Syrians – if you kept saying this has to be a negotiated settlement among Syrians?

MR KIRBY: I’m just not --

QUESTION: But you have --

MR KIRBY: I’m not able to quantify exactly what this negotiated political settlement’s going to look like in Syria. But that’s the long-term answer. Everybody is well aware of the complicated nature of what’s going on in Syria. But nothing’s changed about the fact that it has to be solved through a political settlement, and I’m not at a point now where we can talk specifically about what that’s going to look like right now.

QUESTION: No, I understand. Well, first of all, everyone has always said that it’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement among the Syrians. So I don’t know why you think – I don’t know why I would suggest that you would be negotiating with the Iranians over it. What I’m talking about is when you talk about getting all the stakeholders together – whether it’s Russia, whether it’s yourselves, like, friends of Syria or whatever you’re calling it these days – I mean, to suggest that you’re going to be able to solve this without Iran, I just don’t understand.

MR KIRBY: What – Iran’s assistance and support to the Syrian regime is allowing that regime to continue to perpetrate violence on their own people.

QUESTION: Well, how are you going to get them to stop it if you don’t start some kind of conversation with them about it?

MR KIRBY: I have – I’m not going to stand up here today and tell you that there is a track here of negotiating with Iran on Syria. We all understand the unhelpful role that other parties are playing in the Syrian conflict. But I’m – we’re not at that point now. This deal was about stemming their ability to get a nuclear weapon. Nobody is turning a blind eye to their other destabilizing activities in the region, to include support for Assad. And we are going to continue to do the kinds of things that we have been doing and perhaps even more to try to stem that destabilizing activity.

QUESTION: But why are you – I mean, many people, including the President and the Secretary, have said that Russia’s role in Iran – in Syria, sorry – is equally as destabilizing and unhelpful. So why is it okay to work with the Russians on this when you clearly don’t share the same vision, when Iran pretty much shares the same vision as the Russians, and in fact, have even more influence on the ground?

MR KIRBY: Well, we also don’t – we have diplomatic relations with Russia, and there are no diplomatic relations with Tehran. Again, we’re not turning a blind eye to Iranian actions in the region, to include their support for Assad. We have many options and many vehicles to address that destabilizing behavior, and they will continue regardless of the nuclear deal.

QUESTION: Can I just ask on another issue around this, which is the prisoners held in Iran. The Secretary this morning on MSNBC said that he was very, very hopeful that there could be some news shortly. And he said that his last conversation he had with Foreign Minister Zarif before going out on the stage in Vienna and announcing that – and talking about the deal was about the prisoners. Is there any indication, can you tell us anything that we might have some news of one or all of them being freed in the coming days, weeks, or months?

MR KIRBY: No, I have no indications or movement to talk to today. I think the Secretary was expressing the view of everybody here at the State Department – in fact, across America – that we want to remain and we are remain – we do remain hopeful that they’ll be released. And this is something that, as he said very eloquently this morning, that he continues to raise every chance that he gets.

QUESTION: But there was no hook at all, there was nothing --

MR KIRBY: No. I have no --

QUESTION: I mean, I know you have – I know from the podium and the Secretary said that it was never linked, but there’s no --

MR KIRBY: There was no link in the negotiations over the nuclear deal to their release. They need to be released because they need to be released. They need to be home with their families. We make that case every chance we get. And I think the Secretary, again, was reflecting our – everybody’s view that we’re hopeful that that can one day happen. But I don’t have any announcement today or certainly any new indications to speak to.


MR KIRBY: I mean, it remains – the situation remains the same. So I don’t want you to think I’m being too cute by half here. There’s been no change. They remain detained and there’s certainly no change in our firm belief that they need to be released and back home with their families.

QUESTION: Do you by chance have a number of times that it was brought up during the talks in Vienna?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a number, Justin, but I think the Secretary said himself there wasn’t a single meeting that he had with Foreign Minister Zarif where he did not raise it. And as he said again this morning, it was the last thing he said to the foreign minister before they parted ways in Vienna.

QUESTION: Is there any indication – I know there’s no change, because obviously they’re still there – but is there any indication from the Iranians that the goodwill created by this deal may lead to some kind of positive outcome?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any indication here. That’s a question you could put to them. Again, our position hasn’t changed.


QUESTION: Well, still on the Iran deal.


QUESTION: A very quick question. Now, we know that Vice President Biden went on the Hill on, I guess, Tuesday or whenever it was, and then Minority Leader Pelosi is taking the lead in sort of convincing her colleagues with a deal. Is there going to be any special effort by the – by Secretary Kerry considering that he spent decades and has a lot of friends on Capitol Hill to try to convince them or explain to them the deal anytime soon?

MR KIRBY: Oh, of course. And I think the Secretary looks forward to having discussions with members of Congress. He’s already, as you might expect, talked to many on the phone. I think that will continue, and then I won’t get ahead of the Congress to speak to schedule items, but I think you can expect to see him up there as early as next week.


QUESTION: Just one more question on the Iran deal.


QUESTION: And so it’s expected to be a United Nations Security Council resolution. Does that mean that the U.S. Government, whether the current Administration or the future administration, will have to abide by that resolution, even if it doesn’t become a law in the U.S. Congress?

MR KIRBY: Well, we have to respect the prerogatives of Congress. It’s – the law of the land is that they have 60 days to review this deal, and they’ll get – that’s the law, that those 60 days will happen. The fact that it’s going up at the UN Security Council is a separate process that, in itself, provides enough time for the law of the land here in the United States, for the 60 days for Congress to review. Not that it’s designed that way. It’s a separate process at the UN, but does provide for the – ample amount of time for the 60-day review to occur.

QUESTION: I just want to ask one more follow-up to Jo’s question about the detainees in Iran. He said on Morning Joe we’re very, very hopeful that they’ll be released, that Iran will release them. And I know you just addressed this but is there any new indication – is there anything new that he’s basing that on, or is that just a general hope, or is there some movement on that issue, beyond where we were before the talks?

MR KIRBY: I think I answered this, but I’ll do it again.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just --

MR KIRBY: There’s no new indication, there is no new movement.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to be sure.

MR KIRBY: He’s expressing his earnest desire to see them returned.

QUESTION: Well, but – can I just unpack a little further? Did the foreign minister – he’s made some comments about particularly Jason Rezaian before. Did he give any indication that this was being seriously considered, like that there was any talk about this in Iran? Or did he – some people feel that the foreign ministry doesn’t really have control over these individuals, that it’s more of an IRGC thing. So I’m just wondering, like, what is the Iranian response when Secretary Kerry continues to make these entrees?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. You should ask Foreign Minister Zarif. Secretary Kerry’s made it clear what our hopes and expectations are.

QUESTION: Well, what impression did the Secretary get? What impression did the Secretary take from those discussions?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize personal conversations that he’s had with Foreign Minister Zarif. I could just tell you that, again, he raises it every time. He’s made that very clear, and we remain hopeful that they can get home with their families, but I don’t have anything specific to read out from their conversations and no new movement to discuss.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to ascertain whether he’s just bringing it up and he’s – obviously, he will continue to bring it up. Is he getting a brick wall from the Iranians, or is --

MR KIRBY: I think I’m going to let the Iranians to speak to their reaction to our continued press.


QUESTION: Sorry for (inaudible) this. You might have answered this question before. But as you know, the President met today with the Saudi foreign minister and also the Defense Secretary is going to Saudi Arabia.


QUESTION: But just tell us more about the Secretary Kerry trip to Qatar to meet with the GCC partners to brief them on this deal. Who – I mean, all the foreign ministers going to be there? Is it a one-day trip? Can you just give us some --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – what I – I don’t have much on this trip to talk about today. I can – again, I confirmed it yesterday; he is going to go in early August to meet with – to Doha to meet with the GCC foreign ministers. I don’t have more details to read out in terms of duration of that, agenda items. But obviously, clearly this deal is the main agenda item, but I mean, I’m sure they’ll discuss other regional security and foreign policy issues. I just don’t have a full readout right now.

And you might expect there might be other stops on a trip that goes that far. And so when we have more details about the Secretary’s travel, I’ll be happy to announce that, but I’m not able to right now.

QUESTION: Sure, okay. But you’re obviously trying to reach to the GCC countries to assuage their fear about Iran with more cash is – as they’re more worried about than Iran – nuclear Iran. So what more is the Secretary supposed to tell them that we haven’t heard before? I mean, ever since the deal was signed, you been reaching out and you – I mean, the President called King Salman himself and other members.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. He spoke to the foreign ministers over the phone on the way back from Vienna, as a matter of fact. And as you rightly pointed out, he met with his Saudi counterpart yesterday. They had a chance to talk face-to-face about this. Just like members of Congress here in this country, many of our allies and partners have a lot of questions about the deal. And the Secretary looks forward to having the discussion on Capitol Hill, and he looks forward to going into the region and answering any other questions that they might have. I’d leave you – I’d point you to them to talk about what questions they specifically want answered and what issues they might have.

But I think it’s safe to say that one thing the Secretary will make clear is that nothing has changed about our security commitments in the region and our commitment to our allies and partners to deal with a range of challenges there, to include the destabilizing activities that Iran continues to pursue. And we have – we’re committed to improving their capabilities, building partner capacity. We’re still going to have a military presence in the region. That’s not going to change. And unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran that deal with these destabilizing activities remain in place, and we’ll continue to re-evaluate those going forward.

QUESTION: Will Turkey be on that list to visit after GCC countries?

MR KIRBY: I said I don’t have – other than the stop in Doha, I don’t have anything else to announce. I know you all really want to know exactly what his travel is going to look like here, and when we have something more detailed I’ll be happy to provide it. I’m just not able to today.



QUESTION: Do you believe the fears of the Sunni Arab countries about this deal, that it will make Iran a more destabilizing actor in the Middle East, are justified? Are their fears justified?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to characterize their attitude towards the deal. So you called them fears. I’m not going to call them fears. We understand that there are concerns in the region about the implications of this deal. That’s point one.

Point two – and I think the Secretary has made this very clear, as early as his interview this morning but certainly over the last week – that an Iran without a nuclear weapon capability – this is a fact; an Iran without a nuclear weapons capability is easier to deal with than an Iran with that capability, or pursuing it aggressively and on the threshold of it. So it is the Secretary’s firm belief that this deal, by taking away that capability from Tehran, inherently is good for security and stability in the region, and therefore inherently good for the security interests of our allies and partners.

QUESTION: So – but why isn’t it reasonable, for example, to assume that once Iran gets a lot more money because the sanctions are going to be lifted, it will contribute a huge chunk of that money to help non-state actors such as Hizballah, such as Hamas, such as other groups in the Middle East such as Assad regime, and that will be destabilizing, that would be worrisome for the Arab – Sunni Arab countries. That would be worrisome for the Kurdish – Kurds in Iraq and in Iran in the region.

MR KIRBY: We’ve heard this argument before. I can’t stand up here and tell you that none of the money that will be unfrozen once they comply with their agreements – it’s not an immediate thing; they have to comply with their end of the deal in order to see sanctions relief – I can’t sit here and tell you that none of those dollars could be devoted to further destabilizing activities.

What I can tell you is that regardless, there – if those destabilizing activities continue, we have means – the United States, and our partners and allies do as well – but we have means to continue to thwart them and deal with them, whether it’s sanctions or improving partner capacity of our allies and partners in the region. All of that’s going to continue to happen.

And I think it’s also worth noting that this is an economy that is in need. There are other needs President Rouhani has to deal with. I mean, I can’t speak for how he writes his checks, but there’s a lot of infrastructure – to the tune of almost a trillion dollars – that the country needs and other domestic spending issues that they have to deal with.

So a wise leader would want to use whatever extra cash is available to him to deal with the needs of his people. I can’t speak for how that will bode, but I can speak for our commitment to security in the region and to our commitments to our allies and partners through a variety of means. And all the options that this commander-in-chief has available to him, future commander-in-chiefs – commanders-in-chief will have available as well going forward, to include military options if that’s what’s required.


QUESTION: Just to clarify, you mentioned regarding the UN resolution or the UN Security Council resolution that it’s a separate process. So why do you think that there is a concern about Congress members to discuss it, even to raise the issue over there, before being completely discussed --

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for why other people have a concern with that. The law of the land says Congress gets 60 days to review, and so that’s going to happen. And there’s enough time built into the UN process for that to be taken into account.

QUESTION: So what, from your perspective or perspective of the – what is the significance of getting UN resolution if you are going to discuss --

MR KIRBY: Because this is – as Under Secretary Sherman said yesterday, this isn’t just a deal between the United States and Iran. It’s a deal with the international community and Iran. We’re a party to it. And so it makes sense for all the other nations to use – under this process to go through the UN here and to build this new resolution, and that was always part of the deal from the outset. It is an international agreement with Iran, not just a U.S. agreement with Iran. We have our own legislative processes to observe here, as do many of the other countries involved. Ours now requires – again, the law says 60 days, and we’re going to obey the law. We have to.

QUESTION: Yes. And regarding the Secretary and the Congress, it’s already reported that he is going to be on the Senate side – Corker committee – on Thursday. Is it right, or still you are discussing the possibility?

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, no, as I said, I’m not going to speak for Congress and their – and if they put it out, then yes. I did not see this – I did not see that, but yes. I mean, as I said, you can expect to see him up there next week.

QUESTION: And they are saying that he is going to be – I think it’s going to be accompanied by Secretary Lew and Moniz.



QUESTION: Can I ask you about a different topic? The UNGA --

MR KIRBY: Are you sure?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sure. I’m ready to move on – wrap it up in general.

UNGA this fall. The President, by the way, is going to New York this weekend. He’s not going to stay at the Waldorf. This is now a Chinese-owned hotel. Can we – have you made any decision – this was asked about a month ago. Have you made – has the State Department made any decision not to keep its staff there during UNGA? And further, with Samantha Power be looking for a new place to stay in general based on this purchase by the Chinese?

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is no, I have no decisions about venues to read out or to announce today.


QUESTION: Is there a longer answer?

MR KIRBY: No. That’s a good answer.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: A Russian arms manufacturer offered again to recreate the incident of the Malaysian explosion with a decommissioned analog aircraft. They want to blow up an 9M38M1. Are you interested in this experiment, willing to participate, or would you support it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen reports about this experiment. What we support is what I said at the outset, which is support to the – both investigations that are going on right now, and as I said, we’ve got members of the NTSB supporting the crash investigation. There’s also an accountability investigation going on. We’re supporting both of those, and that’s what we believe is the right path forward here.

QUESTION: And the UN resolution that’s been drafted about a tribunal, do you support this, or do you think it’s premature? Do you think it will be effective?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean it’s – I think it’s too soon to stake – for a position on that. Again, our support is to the two investigations that are ongoing.

QUESTION: On this topic. Both the Russians and the Ukrainians say that it was – the airliner was brought down by a Russian missile. But isn’t it true that the Ukrainians also – the Ukrainian military possess those kinds of missiles?

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said nothing’s changed about – and you saw this in the Secretary’s statement, that we believe it was brought down by a missile fired from separatist territory inside Ukraine.

QUESTION: So there is no doubt that it was brought down by pro-Russian --

MR KIRBY: I’ve said what – we believe it was brought down by a missile fired from Russian separatist-held territory. There is an investigation going on, too, as a matter of fact. We need to let those investigations continue. We continue to support those, and we need to let those investigators do their work. Was there something wrong with that answer?

QUESTION: Hence a scientific experiment might be --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- useful to clarify or --

MR KIRBY: Next question.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s on the human trafficking report.


QUESTION: Today 160 members of the Congress call the State Department not to upgrade the Malaysian status. How does the department respond to this concern? And before that, there are so many members of the Congress and Senate to kind of express the same concern, and they issued a letter to the Secretary. So did --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Okay. There’s so many members – as of today, 160 members of the Congress issued a call not to upgrade the Malaysian status on the human trafficking report.

MR KIRBY: Oh, the Trafficking in Persons Report.


MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, I missed that.

QUESTION: How does the department respond to these concerns?

MR KIRBY: The report is still being finalized, and it hasn’t been released yet, and I am not going to get into discussing the contents of the report while that work is ongoing. So we’re aware of the concern expressed, obviously, and the Secretary will respond appropriately to those members and their concerns, but the report is not finalized yet. And when it is and it’s made public, then we can have a discussion about the findings for each and every country. The only thing I’d add is that those rankings are done through a vigorous process here at the State Department based on pragmatic analysis, based on an objective view of what those individual countries have or have not done to improve their trafficking in persons situations. And it’s not based on political decisions or political factors at all.

QUESTION: So far the – Secretary Kerry didn’t respond to the letters from the senators and the Congress to show the same kind of concerns.

MR KIRBY: Are you asking me, or are you telling me that we haven’t responded?

QUESTION: I’m asking you.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if a response has been drafted yet, but the Secretary, as a former senator himself, takes communications with Congress extremely seriously, and we respond to all that correspondence, and he will do it appropriately. But I don’t have any correspondence specifics to read out to you.


QUESTION: Can I change the subject to Yemen?


QUESTION: The government in exile has announced today the liberation of – what they’re calling the liberation of Aden after there was a push by forces loyal to the government of President Hadi. I wondered if you – if the United States was in a position to confirm that independently, and if you had, what reports you were getting from the ground.

MR KIRBY: No, we’re not able to confirm specifically how much of Aden’s territory has been reclaimed by anti-Houthi fighters. And yeah, I’d refer you to the Yemeni Government to speak to that more specifically. We’re not in a position to independently confirm that.

QUESTION: And at the moment, the U.S. ambassador is based in Jetta, if that’s correct, I believe --

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Is – are there any plans for him to visit, similarly to the fact that some of the government – the Yemeni Government is also planning to go back into Aden?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen reports of the various cabinet ministers traveling to Aden. We can’t confirm that either. I’m aware of no plans at this time for our ambassador to travel back to Yemen. I think it’s worth reminding, Jo, that it’s still a very fluid situation, still very dangerous situation. And again, we’re just – we’re monitoring as closely as we can. But I have no updates to provide in terms of our diplomatic presence.

QUESTION: Do you have any announcement on the reports that the first batch of U.S.-trained Syrian fighters have arrived? Fifty-four of them are now fighting the fight in Syria.

MR KIRBY: Shouldn’t you be asking this of your --


MR KIRBY: -- Pentagon colleagues?

QUESTION: -- they’re U.S.-trained; it’s part of the U.S. strategy.

MR KIRBY: I’m – I – as I’ve said before, I’m not going to get into battlefield updates here, and that’s a DOD program, and I think they’re best placed to speak to that.


QUESTION: A quick question, a follow-up on yesterday’s statement, or whatever you said on the settlement activities by the Israelis on the village of Susiya. Have you heard – you issued a very strong concern or denunciation of the Israeli plans to demolish some homes and so on. Have you heard back from the Israelis? Did they say, “We’re going to go ahead and do it,” “We are not going to do it as a result of your statement”?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any communication from the Israeli Government based on the position we took yesterday. But our position remains the same.

Yep. Okay, I’ll take one more.


MR KIRBY: You’re ready to go, huh? (Laughter.) You’re just heading off, huh?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Just a follow --

QUESTION: It’s Friday.

MR KIRBY: It’s Friday. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on the train and equip program. So you cannot confirm that about 60 U.S.-trained Syrian opposition forces did not get in Syria? You cannot confirm that?

MR KIRBY: No. I would ask you to look to the Defense Department to confirm the status of the train and equip program. It’s their program.

QUESTION: But General Allen --

MR KIRBY: And I’m not in a position to confirm numbers from this podium. That would be inappropriate. We obviously still support the program; it’s an important part of, as we’ve talked about, getting at the problem of ISIL inside Syria. But it’s a DOD program and I would point you to them to speak to the specifics of it. Okay?

QUESTION: They refuse to comment.


QUESTION: They refuse to comment.

MR KIRBY: They refuse to comment?


MR KIRBY: Well, okay. Sorry. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:18 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 16, 2015

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 18:10

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 16, 2015

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3:50 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Okay, I do have just one thing at the top, and then we can get right at it.

Today we congratulate the Ukrainian parliament for approving the first vote on draft constitutional amendments on decentralization of powers for local and regional governments, as well as passing legislation necessary for the next IMF disbursement. We applaud Ukraine as it continues to take steps like this to implement its Minsk commitments and make crucial reforms. We call again upon Russian and its separatist proxies to live up to their obligations.

With that, yeah. Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions. One, as far as this Iranian nuclear deal is concerned, from the very beginning when this started, Israel was worried about that what – in the past, Iranian president said that Israel will be wiped off the world map. Are they going to turn back this and – this as far as this renouncing Israeli – Israel’s existence?

MR KIRBY: Are they – is who going to turn back what?

QUESTION: If they are going to denounce terrorism and also what they said in the past that Israel will be wipe --

MR KIRBY: Will Iran? Well, I think you’d have to – I mean, that’s a question for Iran’s leaders. I think we made very clear that we’re not going to turn a blind eye to Iran’s other destabilizing activities in the region, to include the state sponsorship of terrorists and terrorist networks. Nothing’s going to change about our commitment to continuing to press against those kinds of activities through a broad range of methods, whether it’s our unilateral sanctions, UN sanctions which will stay in effect, or U.S. military presence in the region.

QUESTION: And second, as far as India-U.S. relations are concerned, so much has happened last week, including Vice President was speaking at the Willard Hotel at the 10th anniversary of U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, and also U.S.-India relations. He laid out all the future of U.S.-India relations. If Secretary had been following this and – as far as these developments in Washington? And also Indian companies have now invested in the U.S. $15 billion in creating close to 100,000 jobs here.

And second, there is a – the talks between two prime ministers in Russia, between Prime Ministers Modi and Nawaz Sharif, failed because now there’s a tension on the border. And a drone made in China was shot inside Pakistan, and Pakistan is blaming India, but India is saying that to create tension and blame India was shot by themselves. What’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly the Secretary has obviously been following all the issues and events regarding India and Pakistan and their security relationship. And as I think he said himself just a couple of weeks ago, we want to see the tensions reduced, we want to see the two countries bilaterally work their way through this. The violence, such as we’ve seen press reports today, certainly do not contribute to security along that border and in that region. So yes, the Secretary’s been following this very closely.


QUESTION: Different topic?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to reports that Israel may demolish part of a village called Susiya in the West Bank for expanding settlements?

MR KIRBY: I do. We’re closely following developments in the village of Susiya in the West Bank, and we strongly urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from carrying out any demolitions in the village. Demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative. Such actions have an impact beyond those individuals and families who are evicted. We are concerned that the demolition of this village may worsen the atmosphere for a peaceful resolution and would set a damaging standard for displacement and land confiscation, particularly given settlement-related activity in the area. We urge Israeli authorities to work with the residents of the village to finalize a plan for the village that addresses the residents’ humanitarian needs.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. In the back there?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Can I ask on Iran?


QUESTION: Can I ask on --


QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.


QUESTION: About the inspection of military site. Foreign Minister Zarif told a number of foreign media organizations right after the announcement of the deal that Iran is not going to accept inspections at military sites. How are you – and what do you think about this statement? Do you think it’s based on the understanding – your understanding of the deal, that Iran can say no to inspections to military sites? And if still the IAEA wants to visit those sites, how are you going to persuade them to accept the inspections using --

MR KIRBY: Well, I would point you to the deal itself and all the documents. It’s all laid out in there very, very clearly. The IAEA will have under this deal the opportunity and the access they need to visit sites as they deem appropriate, to include military sites if need be. That’s part of this deal, and it’s right there in black and white. So I mean, it’s pretty clear. And we’ve said it all along that they’re going to have the access where necessary and when necessary.

Yeah, Nicole.

QUESTION: A new subject?


QUESTION: Azerbaijani officials have told their hospitals to prepare for war and have started intense military exercises. I don’t know if you’ve seen these reports. I’m just wondering if they have reached out to the U.S. for any kind of support or if this agency has any comment on what’s going on there.

MR KIRBY: No. We’re just briefly aware of press reports to that effect, Nicole. But I don’t have anything for you to confirm. I’m certainly not aware of any requests for assistance or help. But we’re watching the situation closely.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Said.

QUESTION: Yes, very quickly on Syria. Yesterday, the President basically gave a nod to participation or future participation of Iran and Russia, obviously, in resolving the Syrian issue. Is this deal likely to lead to sort of more types of engagement? Is this something that came up today between Secretary of State Kerry and his guest?

MR KIRBY: Well, yes and no. The issue of Syria and what’s going on in Syria --


MR KIRBY: -- absolutely came up in the discussion with the Saudi foreign minister today, as you might expect that it would. It’s also something that Secretary Kerry has spoken many, many times with Foreign Minister Lavrov about it, including talking to him about it while they were in Vienna. But as we’ve said before, Said, this deal was – and I think Under Secretary Sherman said it very clearly – this deal was about stemming, stopping Iran’s ability to pursue nuclear weapons capability, and only that. And it wasn’t tied to or viewed with larger regional implications. That said – and we’ve said this all along – should the deal itself at some point lead to a change in behavior in Iran, that – more constructive behavior in the region – well, that’s a good thing. But that wasn’t the purpose for the negotiation. It wasn’t the outcome of the deal specifically desired. The outcome was stopping them from getting a nuclear weapon. But yes, Syria routinely comes up. It’s something Secretary Kerry is very concerned about and he did talk about it with his counterpart today.

QUESTION: I understand. But I basically want to go to, let’s say, the Geneva conference – Geneva II – which failed – or not – or some say because Iran was not involved in the process, the regime stuck to its guns and the opposition did the same thing. If Iran is brought into the international community, the fold of the international community, wouldn’t – would it be expected or would it be encouraged or invited to play a role in resolving the Syria bloodshed?

MR KIRBY: It’s a bit of a hypothetical at this point, Said. I mean, this deal wasn’t designed to solve all the problems that the international community has with Iran, and it doesn’t signal their automatic return to the international community writ large in terms of security issues throughout the region. So it’s a hypothetical that I would be ill prepared to answer at this point. We all recognize Syria is a complicated issue that requires a multilateral approach and one that can only be solved politically. We’ve said that all along. Iran’s support to the Assad regime certainly is – continues to be unhelpful in that regard, as we’ve said, frankly, Russia’s continued support for the Assad regime. But this is a tough issue that we’re going to continue to work through with the international community.



QUESTION: Can you give us an update on when – if there is one – the Secretary might be going to Havana to open the U.S. embassy, as well as who is going to be representing the U.S. at the embassy opening here next week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional details for you today, certainly with respect to the Secretary’s travel schedule. I don’t have any announcements on that. He obviously will go to formally open our embassy at some point in the near future.

We all know that on Monday the diplomatic relations between our two countries is officially restored, and I’ll let the Cuban Government speak to their plans in terms of opening their embassy. I don’t have a specific list of attendees for the Monday ceremony here, but I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson is planning to attend. She may not be the only one. I don’t have a full readout of the delegation, but she’s currently planning to attend.

QUESTION: So you don’t know if Secretary Kerry is going to be attending on that day?

MR KIRBY: I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Jacobson is planning to attend, and if the delegation changes, I’ll – we’ll get you more information. I just don’t have any more than that right now.


QUESTION: Can you give us a further readout of the conversation with Netanyahu that Wendy Sherman referenced?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m – I don’t have much more detail on it.

QUESTION: It was a long conversation, I believe she said.

MR KIRBY: It was a substantive conversation, and I – again, without getting into too much detail, I think you can understand that the prime minister expressed his concerns, many of the same concerns that he has expressed publicly. He expressed them to Secretary Kerry and Secretary Kerry walked the prime minister through the reasons why we believe this is the right deal, it’s a good deal – not just for our national security interests, but the national security interests of the Israeli people and the Government of Israel, as well as our allies and partners in the region.

QUESTION: And is there any travel planned to the region?

MR KIRBY: Yes. The Secretary is planning to go to Doha in early August to speak to GCC ministers. We’ll have more details about that trip. It’s likely that that trip will include other stops; I just don’t have additional details on the trip to read out.

QUESTION: What about Egypt?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ll have more details on the trip later on, but they did talk about – today with the Saudi foreign minister they did talk about the trip, going to Doha early August to meet with the GCC ministers.


QUESTION: Were you in the room when the Secretary and Wendy were briefing?

MR KIRBY: I was not, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Did you get any readout from them or anyone else about the tenor of the --

MR KIRBY: The tone and tenor? No, I --

QUESTION: Yeah. Like, were there lots of questions? Could you take that?

MR KIRBY: I’ll take it and get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: No, I did not go to the briefing.

QUESTION: In the future, could we have a picture or a photo op of something that important?

MR KIRBY: We’ll see what we can do. I think there was photography of it. I’ll see what we can do about that. (Laughter.) Yeah, I’m sure there --

QUESTION: Selfies were taken.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure we – if we have imagery – and I think we do, Andrea – we’ll make sure we make that public.

QUESTION: We would love to have press coverage of some of these major events in the building.

MR KIRBY: This one – I understand that. This one was closed press, as they typically tend to be. And I guess it was widely attended, more than previous ones, but this one was closed press.

QUESTION: Recently, Ambassador Sung Kim, the special representative for the North Korean policy, visited Seoul and Japan, whatever, China. Does the U.S. have any plan to resumption of Six-Party Talks?

MR KIRBY: We have always said – I don’t have any plans, specifically agenda items or schedule, to announce today. So the short answer to your question is no, but we’ve always said, as Under Secretary Sherman said to you just a few minutes ago, that resumption of the Six-Party Talks is important and we still favor that. The onus is on North Korea. They have yet to show any desire to return to that forum to discuss the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what six years we still are – we don’t have any resumptions. We don’t have any (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: As I said, the onus is on North Korea to change the dynamic.

QUESTION: Within this year, you don’t have – you think this year?

MR KIRBY: I have no – I have no resumption of talks to announce today or speak to today.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.


QUESTION: Are you aware of the report by the third-party panel on saying that the landfill authorization for the Futenma relocation facility had legal flaws? Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: It had what?

QUESTION: Legal flaws.

MR KIRBY: Legal flaws.


MR KIRBY: Here’s what I’ll say about that. Our understanding is that the construction of the addition to Camp Schwab is proceeding in accordance with Japanese law and procedures, including those associated with the landfill permit which was approved by the Okinawa prefectural government. And for any more details, I would refer you to the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that this would be a setback and that the governor would rescind the authorization?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is that both the U.S. and Japanese governments remain committed to continuing to implement the existing arrangements on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan just as soon as possible.

QUESTION: To follow on this quickly --

MR KIRBY: You’re going to ask me about Japan? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: Holy cow, mark this day down.

QUESTION: U.S., India, and Japan triangle of relations. (Laughter).)

MR KIRBY: Had to get India in there, didn’t you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Triangle – there is a triangle of relations now.

MR KIRBY: Now, if we can throw Alexander the Great into this – (laughter).

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. I’ll do my best.

QUESTION: Any comment for the first time in 60 years that now Japanese parliament is considering a defense bill or security bill and there’s – there are demonstrations in Japan, throughout Japan against it? And that means --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, look, I talked about this yesterday. I mean, this is a democracy. And in a democracy people are allowed to express their views, whether they’re favorable or not favorable against a lot of government actions. We aren’t going to comment on draft legislation in the Japanese Government. That would be completely inappropriate.

What I said yesterday I’ll say again today: Japan is an important ally in the region and a long friend, and we are always interested in looking for ways to improve our partnership and cooperation, particularly on the defense side of things, as we did with working through these new guidelines. But I’m not – we are not going to take a position on draft legislation.

QUESTION: Just quickly follow – why they are doing this – Japanese Government is saying that because now things have changed in the last 50 or 60 years in the region because of Chinese – the tension between – in the region because of China, China’s security threat, and that’s why they had to consider this now that Japan had to stand up on their own to – for their own security.

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to Tokyo to speak to the legislation that the Japanese Government is considering. I think that’s the most appropriate place.




QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any – can you confirm reports that government forces have – or the Houthis were pushed from the southern city of Aden by government loyal forces or forces that --

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you, Said, is that we understand that certain Government of Yemen cabinet ministers are planning to return to Aden following anti-Houthi fighter efforts to take back some portions of the city. I can’t confirm specifics about which parts of the city remain contested, but our understanding is that fighting continues. And I would refer you to the Yemeni Government for further details on their cabinet travel and the situation on the ground.

I’ve got time for maybe a couple more. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: In couple of weeks, it will be the fourth anniversary of President Obama’s call for Bashar Assad to step down. I was wondering – the companion talking point to it at the time was, “His days are numbered.” I don’t think it’s been asked in a few months, and I was wondering: Is that talking point still operational? Do you still feel his days are numbered? And if you are still calling for his immediate stepping aside, who do you see as filling the immediate leadership after him?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d characterize our policy about Assad as a talking point. But the short answer to your question is, yes, we still believe Assad has lost legitimacy to govern. One of the reasons why a group like ISIL has been able to fester and grow and sustain itself inside Syria is because of the ungoverned spaces that now exist and the instability that exists inside Syria because of Bashar al-Assad. So nothing’s changed about our policy that he’s lost legitimacy and he needs to go.

What we’ve also said is that what has to happen here is a negotiated political resolution to this crisis. It’s not going to be solved militarily, certainly not by U.S. military forces. It needs to be a negotiated political settlement that brings his – that brings an end to his leadership in Syria and creates instead a government that is responsive to the needs of all Syrians.

Okay? Thanks, everybody. Thanks for coming.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:09 p.m.)

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

Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 13, 2015

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 16:10

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 13, 2015

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2:21 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple things at the top here:

Today, Deputy Secretary Blinken met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. During their meeting, they discussed Ukraine’s reform efforts, U.S. support for Ukraine, prospects for U.S. investment, and of course, the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The Deputy Secretary encouraged continued progress on reforms and reaffirmed our strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In that same vein, we want to welcome today’s U.S.-Ukraine Business Forum co-hosted by the Department of Commerce and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This Washington event is an opportunity for high-level government and business leaders from both countries to emphasize our important bilateral commercial relationship, and discuss ways to improve trade and investment opportunities between the U.S. and Ukraine. U.S. private sector leaders will have the opportunity throughout the day to discuss efforts to improve the business climate, and Ukraine and Ukrainian Government leaders will also share their progress on the implementation of their robust economic reform agenda and detail their vision for Ukraine’s economic future.

On Libya, the United States Government welcomes the July 11th initialing of the final draft political agreement at the UN-led talks in Morocco, which is an important step toward the creation of a government of national accord. The agreement offers the Libyan people the best path forward to peace and stability. We call upon all Libyans to unite now and to join in supporting this agreement in the interest of their country and in Libya’s common future. The United States stands ready to support the implementation of this agreement to help ensure a government of national accord and the new institutions that comprise it function effectively for – and to – and the new institutions that comprise it function effectively and for the benefit of the Libyan people. We express our deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco for its leadership hosting the UN talks and to all of those participating in this process.

Just a statement on Boko Haram: The United States strongly condemns this Saturday’s horrific and indiscriminate Boko Haram suicide attack on the Grand Marche in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena, as well as attacks in Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria over the past two days. Boko Haram’s targeting of defenseless men, women, and children highlight the group’s savagery and total disregard for the sanctity of human life. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the soldiers, government officials, and civilians killed, and we hope those who were injured recover quickly. The United States also praises the security forces of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria for their timely responses to these cowardly attacks on innocent civilians. The United States continues to support the governments and people of the Lake Chad Basin region in their ongoing struggle to degrade and defeat Boko Haram.

And with that, take questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to start with Iran. Obviously, it’s been done in some detail at the White House, but if there is a need to extend the talks, how long would the JPOA be extended? And is there a limit to the number of extensions that we can expect in this process?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d put it to you is that it’s our expectation that the JPOA will remain in effect. And I don’t have a time limit on that for you, but our expectation is it will remain in effect.




QUESTION: The Russian --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.


MR KIRBY: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple more on Iran. First of all, was there any change today? It seems like much earlier in the day, there was more optimism about a possible announcement today. There was the initial tweet from President Rouhani which mentioned the deal as a victory for diplomacy and then later, that even changed to “If there is a deal.” Was there something that happened in Vienna during the day that caused negotiators to pull back? And then I have a second question.

MR KIRBY: I don't know that I would characterize negotiators as pulling back. I can’t speak for President Rouhani’s Twitter activity. That’s for him to speak to. But we’ve been nothing but pragmatic about this from the very beginning, Pam, and that’s that we’re taking this day by day. So I’m not aware of any pullback. I can tell you there’s been genuine progress made. I think Secretary Kerry believes that – and he says as much – that we’re close. But there still remains some sticking points, some issues that still need to be resolved. And so we’ll just – we’ll see where they go. But our focus is on what’s going on inside the negotiating room.

QUESTION: What’s State’s reaction also to President Netanyahu’s decision to Tweet in Farsi in what appears to be an effort to persuade people in Iran that this could be a deal that would be bad for them in the long run. And also, has there been any effort to reach out to him directly concerning these responses?

MR KIRBY: You mean his Twitter activity? Look, I – again, I wouldn’t speak for President Rouhani’s Twitter account. I won’t – and how he uses it, and I’m not going to speak for Prime Minister Netanyahu and how he uses it. We have said from the very beginning that there’s going to be many voices in this process. There has been – there is today, and if we get a deal, there will be many voices on all sides going forward. I think it speaks to the importance of the deal itself and the significance of it. So I – we’re not taking a position on any one other leader’s particular Twitter activity with respect to what’s going on. Secretary Kerry is focused very, very keenly on what’s going on in the negotiating room and on working through these issues that still – that are still outstanding.

QUESTION: John, you said that the JPOA continues. This was another day for which it was supposed to expire. And this might be a technical question, but how long can the JPOA stay in effect, or does it actually expire at some point?

MR KIRBY: It can stay in effect for as long as the P5+1 and Iran need it to stay in effect.

QUESTION: And then in terms of what happens if there is a deal, one thing that both the P5+1 and the Iranians have said is that the document would need to be returned to all relevant capitals, and officials would have to analyze it. And I know that there’s an interagency process here that would want to look at the deal. Would the deal be announced before that review, or could people stay in Vienna while the review is happening, and then once everyone agrees that they agree on the language, then there would be an announcement?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get too much into the specifics and the weeds of announcements yet. We don’t have a deal right now, as you and I stand here and talk. There is going to need to be, as you would expect in something of this significance, a review in the capitals of the nations involved. And that’s an important component of this, and I --

QUESTION: But it would also --

MR KIRBY: I would not anticipate --

QUESTION: But would all sides announce before that review happens?

MR KIRBY: I would not anticipate announcements until the capitals have had a chance to look at this. But I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty here of how something’s going to be rolled out when we don’t have a deal right now.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary had consultations with the President about how much longer the U.S. and other members of the P5+1 might want to continue with these talks?

MR KIRBY: He has spoken to the President a couple of times since he’s been out in Vienna, and certainly he stays in touch with the national security advisor as things have been progressing. I’ve – I wouldn’t read out those conversations but he has certainly been very good about keeping the White House informed of progress.

QUESTION: Can you say whether he spoke with the President in the last 48 hours?

MR KIRBY: I have no calls in the last 48 with the President to read out.

QUESTION: Can you give us any more clarity on – kind of where they stand on this deal? I mean, some of us we’re losing our weekends over this, and we’re wondering – even for planning purposes, what’s – where do they stand, how many days away are they? Are the just kind of going through the fine print and changing a word here or there, or are there actually major issues that they’re still trying to resolve?

MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into the details, which I’m just loathe to do here and that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to, as I said at the outset, a lot of progress has been made. There are still some issues outstanding that need to be resolved, and I’m not going to characterize what they are or how detailed they are. But they’re obviously significant enough that negotiators still have work their way through it.

So again, real progress has been made. I think Secretary Kerry has been clear that we’re close – closer, certainly, than we’ve ever been in what’s now three years of work – even longer if you go back to 2003 when the effort first got started. And we’re just going to have to see where it goes.

QUESTION: John, can I just clarify a technical point on the JPOA?


QUESTION: It’s – it’ll last as long as the P5+1 and Iran need it to, but do you need to go through any formal renewal process or is it just sort of good indefinitely now?

MR KIRBY: It’s – I mean, it’s – you don’t need a formal – we’ve done this now. You’ve seen us extend the parameters of the JPOA a couple of times in just the last couple of weeks. As long as everybody in the room agrees to that – to that – those extensions, temporary though they may be, then that’s all that’s required. And it keeps things in place, the JPOA is – it keeps – this interim agreement stays in place while they continue to negotiate. And I think everybody understands that because we are close and because there’s – we’ve come so far on this that I think everybody is of a mind to keep the parameters in place while these negotiations continue.


QUESTION: Related.

MR KIRBY: Are we still on Iran?

QUESTION: Related to Iran, yes. The court case of the Washington Post correspondent, there was another – there was another session Monday.


QUESTION: Do you think – would you call it – the timing of that noteworthy considering that there’s also these negotiations going on in Vienna?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the judicial process in Iran and how they schedule things on the docket. Certainly, we’re aware of the reports of this latest court appearance. And for privacy reasons, I’m just not going to have more details to share. I do think it’s worth noting that about a year ago, almost exactly a year ago, when – Jason was in Vienna covering the Iran talks. So he’s very much – very much on our minds and we repeat our calls for his immediate release and for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati and for Iran’s cooperation in locating Robert Levinson.

Are we good on Iran? Iran? No?


MR KIRBY: I promised this man.

QUESTION: Yeah, the --

MR KIRBY: Another Iran question?

QUESTION: Slightly Iran-related. In relation to Fallujah, wondering if the United States detects any evidence of Iranian involvement or direction of Shiite militia trying to take back Fallujah?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Iraqi Government – this is an Iraqi-led operation – to speak to the participation of these Popular Mobilization Forces and certainly Tehran for the degree that they are or are not facilitating. I do think it’s important to remember a couple of things. This is an Iraqi-led operation, as it should be. And so we’re going to let them speak to the progress of it. And then on the Popular Mobilization Forces, and I mentioned this a week or so ago but I think it bears repeating: About 80 percent of these Popular Mobilization Forces, or Shia militia as they are otherwise known, are not at all connected to Tehran or the Iranian regime. They’re Iraqi citizens proud of their country and wanting to chip in and fight. And what we’ve said from the very beginning is that all the forces arrayed on the ground against ISIL in Iraq need to be under the command and control of the Iraqi Government. And that’s what we’ve seen with the vast majority of these Shia militiamen.

So I think it’s just important to keep a little context in here. When we talk about Shia militia fighting here or fighting there, there’s this automatic sort of connection drawn to Tehran, and that’s just not the case mathematically.


QUESTION: Iraq? The same topic.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I promise that I won’t forget you.


MR KIRBY: I know you want to talk Russia, but --

QUESTION: Thank you, John.

MR KIRBY: -- he got me on Iraq, so we’re going to stay on Iraq for just a second. I won’t forget you.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. Today four F-16 jets were delivered from the United States to Iraq.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: That’s what Iraqi Government announced it. If I remember well, it was like last week or two weeks ago you told us that because of security concerns, Iraq wasn’t ready to receive those jets. What happened in Iraq that it is ready now to --

MR KIRBY: Well, you should talk to Prime Minister Abadi and his government. I mean, these are his aircraft. And you’re right, when we talked about it last time, I think there was still – there was still no final decision to move them out there. But they have been moved; you’re right. The Iraqi Government has announced that and I think it’s for them to speak to their issues.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the security situation, that these advanced aircraft might be taken by militant groups such as ISIS, or aren’t you concerned about that?

MR KIRBY: Of course we’re concerned about the security situation on the ground, and not just with respect to aircraft but any other equipment that could be damaged or absconded with by ISIL. F-16 jets are a little bit different. I mean, that’s – ISIL has no air force and has no capability or ability to fly advanced fighter aircraft, but the security situation of course remains a concern to us throughout Iraq. And that’s why we’re working so closely with the Iraqi Government to assist them and advise them in this effort. But the decision to return them and to have them rejoin the – or join the air fleet in Iraq is for Iraq to speak to.

QUESTION: Are Iraqis flying the aircraft or Americans?

MR KIRBY: I’d just – I can just tell you that the aircraft are there. I’d point you to Iraq to – in terms of how they’re being manned. They’re not being – they are Iraqi aircraft and they will be – if they are going to be flown in combat over the skies of Iraq, they will be flown by Iraqi pilots.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: That make sense?

QUESTION: Staying on Iraq?


QUESTION: On the F-16, if you remember a couple years ago during the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – that the Kurds were concerned about delivering these aircraft to the Iraqi Government due to the concerns that this is going to be used for the internal conflicts. Is there any assurance attached to this deal with Iraq that this is not going to be used against any internal conflicts, or it is on Iraqi Government to do whatever they want to do?

MR KIRBY: Well, these are – these aircraft belong to the Iraqi Government to be used for their self-defense, and that’s certainly our expectation that that’s what they’ll be used for.

QUESTION: There’s not any assurance that this is not going to be used for any internal conflicts? Because that was the --

MR KIRBY: The internal conflict in Iraq right now is ISIL. That’s the internal conflict inside Iraq, and I’m going to let Prime Minister Abadi speak to how he’s going to use his security forces to combat that threat. And that’s what these aircraft are designed to do and that’s what – that’s why they were provided.

QUESTION: But John, that means 100 percent Iraqi Government in control of how they’re going to use this. I mean, it is – there is not anything, any restriction by the United States.

MR KIRBY: I think – look, I – you’re asking me to get into – as, again, you always do – try to get me into the machinations of Iraqi Government. The aircraft are designed and were purchased by Iraq for their self-defense. The fight inside Iraq right now is against ISIL, and that – our expectation is that if and when they start flying missions and combat sorties in Iraq, that’s what they’ll be used for, not to go after – not to contribute to any sectarian issues inside Iraq.

QUESTION: One more on that. Couple minutes ago you mentioned that the Popular Mobilization Forces, that they are Iraqi citizens, of course they are Iraqi citizens, and most of them, they are under control of the Prime Minister Abadi. Does that mean that you are not concerned by the reports talking about that they have the U.S. tanks and all of the other equipments you delivered to the Iraqi Government being used by the Popular Mobilization Forces? Is there any restriction that they are not allowed to use the equipments you delivered to the Iraqi as assistance?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to refer to the Iraqi Government for the --

QUESTION: But there’s no restriction --

MR KIRBY: The support that we’re giving to – I’ll say this again – Iraqi Security Forces is done through the Government of Iraq in Baghdad, by Prime Minister Abadi. That assistance, which continues to flow, is getting to Iraqi Security Forces as they see fit. And I’ll let the Iraqi Government speak to how they’re distributing and apportioning it, okay?


QUESTION: I’d like to ask you about the progress or where we’re at with basing agreements with North African countries. There was an article in The Wall Street Journal suggesting that this was a priority or becoming a priority.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to detail ongoing efforts to counter ISIL. We continue to cooperate closely with countries in North Africa, the Sahel, and Europe, which share our concerns about threats that are emanating from Libya specifically. Our security efforts against ISIL prioritize mutual cooperation with our partners and are based on full respect for their sovereignty.

We’ve also always said we’re concerned about the growing threat from terrorist groups inside Libya, to include ISIL and ISIL-affiliated groups, which underscores only more the importance of reaching a political solution. Going back to what I said at the outset, we welcome this July 11th political agreement so – and that’s really where the long-term focus is going to be. But I’m not going to get into detailing all the manner in which we are working with countries in the region to combat ISIL.

QUESTION: But overall, I mean, recently President Obama declared that Tunisia was a non-NATO ally, which is seemingly a move towards greater cooperation. So in the region more generally, can you speak to the move towards – apparent move towards greater engagement on the military front?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, being declared major non-NATO allied allows for some training opportunities and for some foreign military sales of a limited nature. So it will help us improve our cooperation and coordination with Tunisia, and so we look forward to that. We look forward to that.

Wait, I promised this gentleman. He has been very patient. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Russian military forces recently marked new boundary line with breakaway South Ossetia, and the portion of a BP-operated pipeline is now out of Georgia’s control. I wonder if you have any comment on that, please.

MR KIRBY: Well, our position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain clear: These regions are integral parts of Georgia. We reaffirm our strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. We once again urge Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement to withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, to reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and to provide free access for humanitarian assistance to these regions.


QUESTION: Mexico. Has the United States ever sought the extradition of Mr. Guzman?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Justice Department for matters of law enforcement. I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: But with respect to the extradition, that would still go to Justice?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I would refer you to the Justice Department for this. Obviously, we’re deeply concerned by the escape of Mr. Guzman. As you know, he faces multiple drug trafficking and organized crime charges here in the United States. His swift recapture by Mexican authorities is a priority for both the Mexican and the U.S. governments. And reflective of that shared purpose the U.S. and Mexican attorney generals discussed the matter on the 12th of July and agreed to focus all available resources on his recapture. But as for specifics, I’m going to refer you to the Justice Department.


QUESTION: Can we go back to ISIL?


QUESTION: In Afghanistan there are reports that the leader of ISIL in Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan, may have been killed in a U.S. drone strike on Friday. It’s not confirmed. Has the U.S. Government confirmed whether or not Mr. Khan is alive or dead?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing to confirm and I would point you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Then a larger question. Given that the Afghan military is still in the process of trying to fully take control of its own security, how concerned is the U.S. Government about the fact that a branch of ISIL may have actually taken root inside their country? And what guidance, advice is the U.S. Government providing to Mr. Ghani’s government on dealing with this additional threat?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Well, look President Ghani has made very clear his concerns about the potential growth of ISIL inside Afghanistan. They are concerns that we share with President Ghani. And as a natural outgrowth of or an integral part of our advise and assist mission inside Afghanistan is to help them further develop their ability to conduct counterterrorism operations. And I’d – I think it’s worth reminding everybody that they are in charge of the security situation inside their country. They are fully in control of security operations. But we’re going to – we’re obviously – the Resolute Support Mission is about helping them improve and sustain themselves particularly in a counterterrorism environment, and we continue to work with them on that, to include the threats posed by – potential threats posed by ISIL inside the country.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government looking at trying to provide other supports through the lines of effort that General Allen has repeatedly described to try to demystify or debunk the message that ISIL inside Afghanistan may be trying to deliver to the Afghan people?

MR KIRBY: Well, a big part of – I mean, one of the lines of effort and a big part of it is, of course, the messaging aspect of it. We just opened the Sawab Center in UAE which we believe will be an important arrow in the quiver here on the communications side. We also are mindful of the challenges inside the communication environment to counter this brutal propaganda of theirs. It is a – while ISIL continues to focus mostly on Iraq and Syria, we know they want to metastasize to other places. We talked about North Africa a little bit ago and Afghanistan. And so certainly, the line of effort and the effort in communicating against this narrative certainly extends to places like Afghanistan.


QUESTION: What – back to ISIL efforts – anti-ISIL efforts, John. Last week, you said that you cannot confirm on the – any agreement which will – which was reached with the Turks on the use of ��ncirlik Air Base for the – conducting attacks against ISIL. Is this still the case? Do you have any update that you can --

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: -- share with us on this issue?

MR KIRBY: I do not have anything new to talk about.

QUESTION: Because the meetings last week – it lasted two days, it was huge U.S. delegation – so I’m wondering what was the concrete result of this meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to remember that we’ve had a continuing dialogue with the Turks about their contributions in the counter-ISIL effort. And these meetings were a simple outgrowth of that continued dialogue. And I don’t have any announcements to make as a result of it. But General Allen and those of the U.S. delegation that were there found the discussions fruitful and constructive, and we continue to want to partner with the Turks as they continue to contribute to the coalition. And as I’ve said before, we’re not unmindful of the sacrifices that they have made, the work that they have done, particularly handling so many refugees from across the border.

QUESTION: So when you say constructive talks, do you mean the Turks have made you concrete promises that they will take on ISIL, they will be a more active participant --

MR KIRBY: They --

QUESTION: -- a more active one?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Because they haven’t been as active as, say, other powers like Canada, like your NATO allies, or even UAE or – they haven’t flown jets to bomb ISIS or --

MR KIRBY: So I’m not going to get into – I don’t have any announcements based on the meeting that was – that had just occurred. As I said, this meeting was an outgrowth of a continued dialogue with Turkey.

The other thing I’ll say is their contributions haven’t been insignificant at all. They’ve agreed to host a train and advise site there inside Turkey, and they’re trying to do more to deal with the flow of foreign fighters across their borders. And as I said, they’re lifting a pretty mighty hand when it comes to taking care of refugees inside the country. The other thing I’d say is every coalition member has to bring to the coalition what and when they’re willing – every single member. It’s not a coalition of the willing if contributions are being legislated from this capital or any other capital. So it’s for the Turks to decide and the Turkish Government to decide their contributions. And they are contributing and we are grateful for that.


QUESTION: Again on Islamic State, the Syrian Observatory is reporting this morning that two senior ISIL leaders were killed in a strike in northeast Syria. It gives their names as Abu Osama al-Iraqi and Amer al-Rafdan. Do you know anything at all about them?


QUESTION: Do you know, have you heard of these people?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on that, and again, I’d point you to the Pentagon for those kinds of updates and assessments. Once again, you guys have your iPhones and I don’t, so – (laughter). Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s the – what’s your assessment of the breakdown of the humanitarian pause in Yemen over the weekend?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly disappointed by that, by the fact that this humanitarian pause wasn’t able to be effected. There was, I think, some humanitarian aid that was able to get in and to get distributed, so obviously, that’s a good thing, but certainly not anywhere near as much as what needs to happen. And as I said, Secretary Kerry is disappointed that this humanitarian pause wasn’t able. And as I said, that Secretary Kerry is disappointed that this humanitarian pause wasn’t able to be effected.

QUESTION: Was there any effort made by the U.S. to try to persuade the Saudis to observe the ceasefire given that they were – they seemed to be unwilling to observe it from the outset?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think there wasn’t – the humanitarian pause really didn’t take root on either side, and again, we’ve made clear two things. One, this is a UN-led process, as it should be. We support that process. And we also have repeatedly called for restraint on all sides, by all parties. So again, Secretary Kerry is disappointed to hear that the pause didn’t – wasn’t effected. And while we are glad to see some humanitarian aid get it, it wasn’t near enough to deal with the real crisis on the ground.

QUESTION: Given – more broadly, given the length of how long this conflict has gone on and the failure so far of UN-led efforts to stop it, I mean, is there any discussion within the building to either put more pressure on the Saudis to change their tactics or to be a little more willing to negotiate, or is there any kind of, I don’t know, talk about, in that case, scaling back U.S. assistance with the Saudis, either?

MR KIRBY: I’ll say it this way, that senior U.S. officials remain in close contact, and close and regular contact with the Saudi Arabian Government on a wide range of issues related to Yemen. Our ambassador to Yemen, who is currently based in Jeddah, continues to actively engage with a wide group of Yemenis and international partners about Yemen. So there is regular, constant dialogue with the Saudis. And again, we’ve continued to call for restraint and a humanitarian pause so that what really needs to happen is getting this humanitarian assistance in, and nothing has changed about our intense focus on that.

QUESTION: John, can I just follow up on Yemen?


QUESTION: Given that the UN has declared the humanitarian crisis there sort of – that they have graded it at the worst possible level, is there any concern in this building, given that people are starving, that the U.S. is going to be seen as complicit in what’s happening, given that you are providing such a great level of support to the Saudis – intel, refueling, that sort of thing?

MR KIRBY: There’s some limited support that continues for Saudi air operations, but as I said, we continue to want this to be resolved politically and peacefully. And the U.S. continues to provide financial support to humanitarian organizations as they continue to try to get aid where it can go. What needs to happen is a humanitarian pause, like the one that was called for on the 10th, to actually be observed by all parties – by all parties – so that the assistance can get in. And again, we’re going to – nobody’s losing focus on it here. We’re going to continue to monitor this as closely as possible.

QUESTION: Separate from the question of perception out there of U.S. complicity, and we’ve heard many officials in this building talk about radicalizing factors and this is sort of a textbook situation for that, so my precise question was: Is there concern about that?

MR KIRBY: Concern about?

QUESTION: The potential for radicalization and the prospect that the U.S. will be seen as complicit in the suffering of ordinary Yemenis.

MR KIRBY: There’s certainly concern about radicalization. I mean, that’s – we held a Countering Violent Extremism Summit here a couple of months ago. That’s obviously a key focus here at the State Department, a concern about that. And we’re not unmindful of the fact that extremism can tend to grow in areas where – which are ungoverned or unstable. And certainly, in this case you’ve got millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance. And again, the United States is a leader in terms of humanitarian assistance operations and support, and we have been a stalwart supporter of the UN process to try to bring about a political solution here in Yemen, which is what really needs to happen.

QUESTION: John, does the Administration though not see any kind of contradiction at all between your support for a political peaceful solution and – on one hand, and on the other hand your close support for the military operations of one of the aggressors in this conflict?

MR KIRBY: A couple of things to point out. One is the Saudis were requested by the Government of Yemen – they were asked to come in to conduct these kinds of air operations. The support that they’re getting from the United States is limited in nature; yes, it continues.

QUESTION: But it remains consistent since the beginning of operations. It hasn’t --

MR KIRBY: But also what also remains consistent is our constant call of support to the UN process of political dialogue and political solution on this and urging all sides to observe restraint when it comes to – and certainly when it comes to the violence.

And in – as I said before, we’re one of the largest donors to the international nongovernmental aid agencies that are operating in Yemen. We provided approximately $188 million since fiscal 2004 in support of 18 different humanitarian organizations. So I think quite to the contrary, we’ve been very consistent – very consistent – about what we want to see happen in Yemen and what all parties really need to do to bring that about.

QUESTION: So you do not see a contradiction?

MR KIRBY: Not at all. We have been very, very consistent about our support for the Yemeni people and a political process here to solve the crisis inside the country.


QUESTION: Still on Yemen. So the Pentagon said that the U.S. is still refueling the planes, but I was wondering can you update us or remind us what are some of the other forms of assistance?

MR KIRBY: I would point you to the Pentagon when it comes to military support to Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, the Saudis had agreed to fully fund the flash appeal that came out. They didn’t do that, and there’s concern amongst some of the international NGOs about the lack of Saudi humanitarian support. Do you have anything to say about that? Have you noticed that? And meanwhile, while that flash appeal was seen as – recorded as fully funded, others weren’t funding it and now apparently there’s months of backlog of humanitarian assistance.

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re one of the largest donors, and that support continues. We’re even evaluating the potential for additional contributions to the Yemen regional response. We certainly urge other nations under and through the UN certainly urge other nations to continue or to increase their ability to provide humanitarian assistance inside Yemen, but obviously these are national decisions that every country has to make. We urge others to contribute more, but again, they have to speak for those decisions themselves.

I’ve got time for a couple more.

QUESTION: International aid. Malala Yousafzai said that the international community has been “stingy” in terms of providing assistance to the more than 14 million Syrian refugees. Does the Obama Administration agree with her assessment? Can she be someone that the Administration works with the try to get other countries to step up their donations to help these people who have been displaced because of the civil war?

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly welcome Malala’s efforts to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis and all her good work, of course. We will continue our commitment to help international organizations, NGOs, and host governments to respond to the needs to these millions of refugees, as you noted, Roz. Our $4 billion in humanitarian assistance, including $360 million we announced just late last month on the 25th of June is helping keep millions of civilians alive right now. We remain the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Syria. And as I said the same for Yemen, we urge all countries to contribute to the UN’s appeals for this crisis.

But I’d like to close on this one thought: While we’re going to continue to be a donor here and we want other countries to increase their contributions, what really needs to happen inside Syria is a negotiated political solution to the crisis that stops the violence and brings an end to all the suffering. I mean, that’s what really has to happen and we’ve said that from the very, very beginning. There’s got to be a political – negotiated political solution inside of Syria. That’s the real answer to meeting this desperate need by so many millions of Syrians.

QUESTION: And I take your point, but what is it that the U.S. sees is not happening by other countries? Why haven’t other countries stepped up and tried to match what the U.S. has been doing in order to try to help people. Why has it seemingly fallen on the Turkish Government and on the Jordanian Government to try to get --

MR KIRBY: And Lebanon and Egypt, too, have also --

QUESTION: Yeah, right. And Lebanon, too.

MR KIRBY: Did – yeah. I mean, look, we applaud those efforts by those four countries in particular.

QUESTION: But there’s so many other dozens of countries that aren’t doing anything. If anything, what we see in Western Europe is people looking at people who somehow have made it onto an excuse for a boat --


QUESTION: -- and are trying to cross the Mediterranean. Because many of them end up dying trying to find a place of safety. There seems to be a global lack of concern beyond what the U.S. is doing and beyond what the four countries you just mentioned are trying to do to help the Syrians.

MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly can’t speak for other nations on decisions that they’re making with respect to this, but we have been – we very much have put our money where our mouth is when it comes to support for the Syrian people, and that will continue. And the – certainly, we hope our good example will be followed by others. But ultimately, this is a decision they have to make. We will continue on our part to contribute, but also to urge other nations to do so as well.


QUESTION: I just wanted to go to Nigeria. You mentioned earlier the sympathy for the attacks and the praise for the militaries in that region dealing with Boko Haram. We’ve got the president coming to Washington in about a week’s time, so presumably a lot of work is going into that visit. Can you sort of characterize the preparations, and with a new administration in Nigeria, the sort of sense of whether you’re getting traction, a clear focus on the agenda for that?

MR KIRBY: Well, the Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken was in Nigeria just a week or so ago. I think his view was that there is progress being made, that things are on a healthy track. But this is an important relationship we’re going to continue to work at. And clearly, the threats posed inside the region by groups like Boko Haram isn’t going away anytime soon, so it makes it all the more urgent that we continue to work with governments like that in Nigeria to try to assist them as they try to deal with these threats inside their countries, and we’ll continue to do that.

That’s why, quite frankly – one of the reasons why the deputy secretary made the trip: to reinforce our commitment, the United States commitment, to helping them as they deal with this threat.

I’ve got time for just one more. Yeah, I’ll take you.

QUESTION: Have these issues – the Yemen, Syria, the conflict in Iraq – have any of these come up in the talks, in the nuclear talks with Iran? Because they have, obviously, interests in these – the same issues as well and they’re involved in supporting different factions in all those conflicts.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific sideline conversations to read out. I mean, as you might imagine, when you get a group of foreign ministers like that together for as long as they’ve been together, it’s safe to assume that on the sidelines of discussions specifically about Iran’s nuclear program, they have an opportunity to discuss all manner of security interests around the world. But I don’t have anything specific with respect to that.

Okay, I’ll take you and then that’s it.

QUESTION: I’m grateful, because you’re only giving us 40 minutes – not to give you a hard time.

MR KIRBY: I started at 2:20. It’s now five after 3:00.

QUESTION: Give or take a few minutes. So I had six questions for you.


QUESTION: I’ll whittle it down to four. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Can they be four easy ones?

QUESTION: Yeah, you give them an inch, they take a mile. Yeah. One is a question that Jeff took in June about whether State had any concerns about engaging diplomatically with the president of the national assembly, Cabello, given that he is under investigation for drug-related activities. And this – it’s not a question about the investigation; it’s a question about engaging with him diplomatically and whether there are any concerns about that. That’s number one.

MR KIRBY: Do you want me to take these in turn or you just want to give them all to me?


MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on the current – no, hang on a second. Let me finish now. Refer you to the Justice Department on any specifics about the investigation. But he is an elected official in his country. This is a country which we are beginning to have a dialogue with. When Mr. Shannon met with him, it was on the sidelines of a meeting in Haiti about economic development in Haiti. Doesn’t mean that that’s any less important, I’m just trying to put it in context. And so – and the other thing I’d say is these discussions are still at their beginning and there’s much work to do.

QUESTION: Where do things stand on the diplomatic presence issue? There was a back-and-forth with Venezuela about the number of diplomats each of you have in each other’s country.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on that.

QUESTION: Okay. The conversations, the talks, as you say, are nascent. To what degree are they prompted by concerns about Venezuela’s stability? And how are they related to the talks with Cuba?

MR KIRBY: Not related to the talks with Cuba.


MR KIRBY: And I’m sorry, the first part of it was --

QUESTION: It was just wondering how much of this initiative is prompted by concerns about Venezuela’s stability.

MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d answer that is the – I mean, we’re certainly, as a general rule, concerned about stability and security all over the world, not least of which is in the Western Hemisphere itself. And look, we recognize that Venezuela is a country where we – there can be common purpose on some issues, like drug trafficking, and we want to try to explore those opportunities. But these are – these talks are at their beginnings and I don’t want to overstate them either. It’s trending in a good direction and we’re going to see if we can’t keep the momentum going.

QUESTION: But you’re not answering my question about stability.

MR KIRBY: I think I responded to your question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: I got to go, guys. Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 10, 2015

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 16:12

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 10, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:01 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everyone. Happy Friday. I’m willing to make this a brief briefing if you’re all in accord with me. Or obviously, take all your questions. Welcome to the State Department. Just a very couple of brief things at the top. Quickly, just an update on what’s happening in Vienna. As you saw this morning no doubt, we’re going to continue negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program through Monday. All of the terms of the JPOA will continue while we work with our P5+1 partners and the EU to see if we can reach a final deal with Iran. The Secretary obviously will remain in Vienna through the weekend with his team and continues to meet with other P5+1 members as well as the EU in Iran.

And as the Secretary said yesterday, we believe we’re making real progress toward a comprehensive and – or a comprehensive deal, and we’re not going to let ourselves be rushed through any aspect of this. So some tough issues remain, obviously, unresolved, which is why we’re continuing to work on this through the weekend.

Just also wanted to note, I spoke a little bit – or no, apologies. I wanted to welcome the meeting that took place earlier today between Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif and their announcement of future engagement between India and Pakistan. We also welcome the announcement that India and Pakistan will discuss a range of bilateral issues, including security, people-to-people ties and expediting the Mumbai trial. And we support all steps between the Governments of India and Pakistan to strengthen their dialogue and cooperation.

And with that, I’ll take your questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, just on Iran, you mentioned that the talks are extended through Monday. What happens if there isn’t an agreement on Monday?

MR TONER: Well, okay. (Laughter.) I mean obviously, look, if there’s an agreement, that’s what we’re striving for – a good deal. We’ve said this numerous times. We’re not going to be driven by deadlines. We’re rather going to be driven by getting the best possible deal we can.

QUESTION: So what I mean is Monday is not a deadline. It could go into Tuesday or Wednesday, Thursday?

MR TONER: Well, look, again, I just – right, in the sense that we’re going to continue talking. I mean it’s – look, the parties are all there, they’re engaged, they’re working through some tough issues, there’s still work that needs to be done, but they’re going to continue working through the weekend. They’re going to be working at this every day. They’re working on it right now as we speak, or as I speak. But the emphasis here is on getting the best possible deal we can, and the Secretary said this as much yesterday when he said, “I’m willing to stay here and negotiate, but also willing to walk away.”

QUESTION: At what point does the U.S. walk away from the talks, and does that mean that the other members of the P5+1 would also walk away and allow Iran to basically walk away from the terms of the JPOA?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re not there yet, so I’m not going to speculate on what might happen next. All the parties there in Vienna are working on getting a good deal.

QUESTION: But why even say we’re not going to negotiate forever, we’re prepared to walk away unless the U.S. truly believes that the Iranians are not negotiating in good faith? Why even put that threat out there?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we’re – look, the emphasis here is on working through these tough issues that remain, and we’ve been very upfront about saying that there are issues that remain unresolved, and we have to work through them. So we’re going to continue to do that. But, as we’ve continually said throughout this process, we’ve got to get the best possible deal, one that passes scrutiny, one that prevents Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon or acquiring a nuclear weapon, and we’re going to keep at that.

QUESTION: How much of this extension of the deadlines – and we’re now in the second round of deadline extensions – how important is it to prevent Iran from doing whatever it had been doing before the JPOA took effect in order to head off some sort of broader arms race across the Middle East?

MR TONER: I’m not quite sure I understand the question, how important --

QUESTION: Well, because Iran, according to the U.S. and others in the P5+1, hasn’t done anything more with its nuclear program because of these talks --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- and because some analysts have suggested that if these talks fell apart and Iran were then free to do whatever it wanted to do, that it might inspire other countries in the region to try to have similar – to have parity, to try to develop their own nuclear weapons, how much is that scenario playing into the U.S.’s commitment to keep talking regardless of what deadlines are on the table?

MR TONER: Well, again, I just would say that the focus on our part and obviously our P5+1 partners remains on getting a good deal, and that’s where the emphasis is, and those talks continue in Vienna.

As to what the broader implications of Iran’s nuclear ambitions might be, we’ve spoken to that many, many times, and the implications that that might have on the region. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to prevent that from happening through a good deal.

QUESTION: And my final one on this: Are you getting any sense from the delegation that they’re very close to working out these issues? Or are they just saying, “Let’s just try to get through the weekend and then Sunday night, Monday, we’re going to review with the President and figure out what our next step will be.”

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to speculate other than to say they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t still working – hard at work and with an expectation that they can work through these issues.

Next issue? Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned India and Pakistan.


QUESTION: I understand that India and Pakistan began a session process for – to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. I wonder how the United States views that, especially – but also, I mean, to combine that question and to follow up on the questions on Russia yesterday, where General Dunford referred to Russia as the biggest national security threat. Does the United States State Department share that assessment with him?

MR TONER: Well, first on the Shanghai cooperation agreement or group, I’d refer you to India and Pakistan for a reaction to that or for the reasons why they’ve chosen to join that group.

With respect to your question about General Dunford’s remarks yesterday, I think John, when he was here yesterday, was very clear on this issue that General Dunford is expected to provide his views, his assessment on which nations or entities pose a threat to the United States, and that’s his job. We certainly, as John spelled out yesterday, recognize the challenges that Russia, primarily through its actions in Ukraine, poses to the region. And as John spelled out, we’ve taken many steps, from reassurance with our NATO allies – reassurance measures, rather – to pursuing a peaceful diplomatic solution in Ukraine via the Minsk commitments and implementation of them to address those challenges.

But I would add that the Secretary doesn’t agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, they basically went in and took Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since 1954, just took it back, even though the U.S. doesn’t recognize it --


QUESTION: -- and it is continually stirring up trouble in the eastern part of Ukraine, so much so that the Baltic states have appealed to the U.S. and the U.S. has responded by shoring up its commitment under Article 5 of NATO. So why shouldn’t the U.S. regard Russia as an existential threat?

MR TONER: Existential threat – well, let me finish, first of all. And I included China as well. These are major powers with whom we engage and cooperate on a number of issues despite any disagreements we may have with them. And those issues include, frankly, Iran and others – Syria, other issues around the world.

I would just say what the Secretary does consider an existential threat is the rapid growth of extremist groups like ISIL, particularly in ungoverned spaces. But to return to your specific question, we’ve been very frank about our assessment of what Russia is doing in eastern Ukraine and the need to address the threat that it poses there. And that includes other borderline states, including the Baltics. And as I said, we’ve addressed that through our reassurance efforts with our fellow NATO allies, and we’ll continue to do that. And we’re also helping, obviously, Ukraine through a variety of assistance as well as working, as I said, to help it and as well as Russia and the separatists implement the Minsk agreements. We need to find a peaceful diplomatic solution to Ukraine, and that’s where our focus has been.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: But we’ve been – but again, just to finish, we’ve been completely frank, I think, in calling out Russia for its involvement in eastern Ukraine in terms of troops, in terms of command and control, in terms of heavy equipment.

Where I think I tried to specify the difference is the word “existential.” Certainly, we have disagreements with Russia and its activities along or within the region, but we don’t view it as an existential threat.

QUESTION: And this may be --


QUESTION: -- an academic question, but I’m a little confused here.

MR TONER: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: Is Russia not an existential threat because there are these international mechanisms through which the U.S. and other countries can show their displeasure through the UN Security Council, through NATO, through fill-in-the-blank, whereas with ISIL being at most a proto-state, as General Allen has suggested to us, there is no regular way of engaging and trying to compel ISIL and similar groups from doing the damage that they’ve been doing? Is that the difference?

MR TONER: Well, we do talk to Russia as well as China. We do talk about the range of issues that we have with them and the areas of disagreement that we have with them. And so in that sense, yes, I mean, we do have dialogue with them. We raise issues. And again, we’re very frank with Russia on where we disagree, including its actions in Ukraine. And yet we also – there are areas where we cooperate, such as preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So in that sense, yes, we do have dialogue with them.

QUESTION: What about the fact that, as General Dunford specified during his confirmation hearing, that Russia is a fundamental existential threat because it has a nuclear arsenal? By the same argument, why isn’t India an existential threat? Why isn’t Pakistan an existential threat? Why isn’t France an existential threat? All three of these countries are nuclear powers.

MR TONER: Again, that was General Dunford’s assessment. And we said we don’t – that’s his job: to give that assessment, a frank analysis, a candid analysis of how he views the world and the security situation and the security threats. And he did that. I’m just pointing out that we don’t necessarily disagree – or we don’t necessarily agree with his assessment of Russia as an existential threat.

QUESTION: Have you heard from the Russians about General Dunford’s characterization? What was your response, the U.S. response, to any concerns the Russians may have raised about this description?

MR TONER: That’s a fair question. I’m not aware that we’ve had any – that they’ve raised those remarks with us in particular. I can check, but I don’t have any – yeah.

QUESTION: If you could take the question, that would be helpful.

MR TONER: Sure. Sure. I’ll see what I can find out.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: So you’re saying now that ISIL is an existential threat? Is that correct?

MR TONER: Well, I used them as an example, but one of the points – or one of the challenges that we view as truly existential is the threat of these groups like ISIL and their existence, their growth in these kind of ungoverned spaces where they can thrive.

QUESTION: Is that a difference in --

MR TONER: And we’ve been very clear about that as well. I mean, look, ISIL in particular but also al-Qaida pose real and tangible threats to the United States.

QUESTION: I think – I mean, previously the position seemed to be sort of downplaying the ability of ISIL to present a threat to the U.S. – I mean, saying that I think in Admiral Kirby’s words that they’re not, like, 10 feet tall, right? And so is that a new assessment --

MR TONER: They’re not. I would agree with Admiral Kirby or John Kirby, they’re not 10 feet tall. But they are – their – as I said, their ability to attract foreign fighters – this is all things we’ve talked about and are trying and taking specific steps to address. But they are a threat, absolutely, a security threat.



MR TONER: Yeah. I’m sorry --


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Yes. We’ve heard several times from this podium, you and John and others also, have said that the nuclear – this is a nuclear deal, and we are focusing now with Iran --

MR TONER: Right. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- on a nuclear deal and we are not talking about other issues with Iran. Does that mean if you have a nuclear deal, Iran will still be able to do their job in destabilization the regions and also sponsoring terrorism? Or is there anything else that – if they are doing that, so what is the benefit of a nuclear deal?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, as we – as I just said to Rosiland – to Roz, rather – that if you view a good deal on – that prohibits Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon is – if you think Iran – are of the mindset that Iran is open to change, it’s a good deal because it would, obviously, encourage that kind of exchange and engagement. But it’s also a good deal if you think Iran poses a regional threat and you want to prevent it, obviously, from acquiring a nuclear weapon that would only increase the threat that it poses to the region. So I think on both aspects you could say certainly achieving a good deal that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is a huge priority.

That said, and specifically to answer – or to respond to your other question, we’ve been very clear that these talks that we’re engaged in now in Vienna are about that task of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and – achieving a nuclear weapon, rather. And that’s the focus, but we’ve been – also been very clear that there, as you noted, Iran is still a state sponsor of terror, there are very real concerns about their involvement and their actions in the region to destabilize the region, and we’re going to continue through sanctions and through other means to try to work to prevent that with our friends and allies.

QUESTION: So that means the deal will not lift the sanctions – any of the sanctions related to the – their destabilization efforts and their sponsoring terrorism, that is --

MR TONER: I’d just – I would leave it at that and say that certain restrictions sanctions will remain in place that don’t have to deal with the nuclear program. But again, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s let the agreement happen – or if it does happen, if we get there, all that will be – sorry – all that will be made clear.

QUESTION: Any reaction to demonstrations in Iran today?

MR TONER: Well, just that we’ve seen this before. It’s not uncommon for these kinds of public demonstrations to take place, the “Death to America” chants, the Quds Day marches. We’ve seen the same rhetoric, frankly, coming from Iran for many, many years. Obviously, we condemn it – especially the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments that we hear. But we’re also not going to be deterred or swayed by these comments. And we’re going to – as again, we’ve got a diplomatic process in place happening right now in Vienna, and that’s where the focus is, not on what’s being shouted on the streets in Tehran.

QUESTION: Is the assessment that the Quds Day demonstration and other recent comments is the regime allowing the more conservative elements to have their say, that this is about domestic politics and not so much about how Iran is trying to engage with the West?

MR TONER: Look, it’s hard to say and hard for me to say from here. I would encourage you to ask others who are probably more appropriately positioned to comment on what public sentiment is in Tehran and how that plays into Tehran’s over – or Iran’s overall strategy. As I said, our focus is on diplomatic process.




QUESTION: So the U.S. is pushing a – this draft UN resolution to investigate chemical weapons usage. In the past, the U.S., when these incidents have happened, they’ve seemed to point repeatedly the finger at Assad. Now, is this – is it the objective of this to test that hypothesis and kind of use the UN to bring charges against Assad? Or does the U.S. legitimately think there are other – other people might be --


QUESTION: -- other perpetrators?

MR TONER: A couple of comments to make on this. First of all, we’re still really at the outset of any kind of resolution process, so I can’t really speak to it in much detail. It’s still in draft form. But Ambassador Power spoke to this, I believe, not too long ago, put out a statement that given the – I think she actually spoke yesterday, I apologize – given the frequent allegations of chlorine attacks in Syria, the absence – and this is key – of any international body to identify the perpetrators of these chemical weapons attacks, we feel it’s critical for the UN Security Council to find consensus and set up an independent, investigative mechanism. And so that’s the goal of this draft resolution that we’ve circulated.

So what we wanted to try to here is, again, is just to create a – or establish a joint, investigative mechanism that would allow the UN to build on the technical expertise of the OPCW. And then the goal of being able to carry out an independent, credible investigation to identify those involved in chemical attacks – or use of chemical weapons in Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have suspicions of who’s responsible --

MR TONER: Well, we’ve said and the Secretary’s also spoken to this that the vast preponderance or the majority of – is the Assad regime. But again, we’re trying to put in place a mechanism that can independently look at these – look at the – and assign, frankly, assign blame.


QUESTION: Yeah. Can you update us on General Allen’s meeting in Turkey with the Turkish officials? Is there any developments?

MR TONER: Right. You’re talking about the – sorry, the meetings held over the last couple of days. So that was with, obviously, as you said, with Special Presidential Envoy General John Allen, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth, and an interagency delegation. They have departed – today is the 9th, isn’t it, or is it – 10th. So they had departed on the 9th, I apologize. They had constructive meetings. I don’t really have anything to add to whatever readout John gave yesterday, but discussed our mutual efforts as part of a broad coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL, but I don’t have any specifics, really, to get to.


QUESTION: There are reports that are talking about that he again urged the Turkish officials to help the coalition to use the Incirlik base. Is there any response from that, or has he ever discussed this with them?

MR TONER: No, I don’t have anything to announce or anything to add to that.

QUESTION: One more on – there is a Stabilization Working Group – I believe Brett McGurk is part of that – to return the stability of the regions being liberated from ISIS in Iraq like Tikrit and Diyala. There are report talking about that only 20 percent of those people could – able to return to the area. Some of the problem is security issues; the others is because of the international coalition and the working – the Stabilization Working Group has not been able to provide the assistance they promised to do. Is there any update on that, on Tikrit --

MR TONER: Specifically what you’re – yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. Especially on Tikrit and Diyala, that there is still problem that the people fled from Tikrit and from Diyala, they have not been able to go back to their cities. Some of them is because of the militias threatening them and the others is because of lack of service that this Stabilization Working Group, which Brett McGurk is part of that --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- was meant to solve this problem.

MR TONER: I don’t have any updates on people returning to those cities today. I mean, I know that – I can just speak broadly about the efforts of the group and within – working in Iraq and Syria, but I don’t have any specifically thing to add to it.

QUESTION: But that’s still going on, these efforts, around the --

MR TONER: These (inaudible) efforts --


MR TONER: But specifically, what are you talking about? In terms of returning --

QUESTION: Returning the residents and also providing the security for them and handing over is what was part of the kind of the bible for the group.

MR TONER: Yeah, right, right.

QUESTION: That – returning that order.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, those efforts continue, absolutely. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Syria --

MR TONER: Please, go – yeah, you want to stay on --

QUESTION: Yeah, staying on this but more focused on the refugees. UNRWA said that they are now officially 4 million refugees who have fled the civil war in Syria. And dovetailing with John’s comments last week about the World Food Program’s need to basically cut in half the value of food vouchers for these refugees, I wanted to find out whether the U.S. Government has decided to make any additional monies available to try to deal with this burgeoning crisis.

MR TONER: Well, it’s an important, obviously – and it is a crisis. We have – we spoke to this, as you said, a little bit the past week. If you’re talking about refugees here in the United States, there’s --

QUESTION: No, I mean in Turkey --

MR TONER: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: In Turkey – in Turkey and Jordan.

MR TONER: Right. We’ve given – I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but we’ve given a tremendous amount of money already – I think more than any other country – to – in terms of humanitarian relief and assistance to these refugees. We also accept more refugees than any other – for resettlement through UNHCR than the rest of the world combined. But obviously, the broader picture here is to work towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria, because ultimately, the best solution to all of these refugee crises within that region is to get them home.


MR TONER: Right, yeah.

QUESTION: But in the immediate term, you now have 4 million people who have had to leave Syria because of the fighting.


QUESTION: They’re in these camps.

MR TONER: Right. But we’ve --

QUESTION: They don’t – yeah, they don’t have the ability to --

MR TONER: No, no, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, no.

QUESTION: -- but – and so the need to feed their families is happening right now.

MR TONER: So – right.

QUESTION: So what is the U.S. doing --

MR TONER: Well, we’ve – sure.

QUESTION: -- to try to help fill in that funding gap because other countries haven’t been stepping up to the plate?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, important to note that we are the largest humanitarian aid donor. In terms of money given and for humanitarian assistance, I think $4 billion since 2011, which is, as I said, more than any other single donor to help address the dire humanitarian conditions in Syria. And obviously, we’re working, as I said, on – to advance the conditions towards a political settlement. That’s the ultimate endgame here, but completely understand your question and your – and concern, frankly, that we need more humanitarian assistance for the refugees that are now in Turkey and other countries. And obviously Turkey’s stepped up in a big way to welcome these refugees and to deal with them. But we are, as I said, the largest single donor in humanitarian relief to Syria.

QUESTION: Could you take the question of whether the Administration is considering another tranche of money to try to help the World Food Program with its efforts?

MR TONER: Sure, I can look into it. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. You’re next, I saw.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Greece?


QUESTION: Yeah. They’re having a meeting among the EU creditors on the 12th, on a Sunday, which seems to be very important meeting to strike a – decide to strike a deal with Greece or not, and the prospect of the Grexit is kind of looming now. So the two – few days ago, Treasury Secretary Lew mentioned that the financial meltdown and Greece financial situation could be a geopolitical mistake where the Greece also have stronger ties with Russia and the kind of power balance in the region could be changed. Does the department share that assessment, and is there any last-minute effort about that possibility from the Department of State?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, as you know and you mentioned, Secretary Lew has been very much involved, speaking to his counterparts in Europe, following the issues closely – as has Secretary Kerry in Vienna. We’re pleased that – to see Greece submitted a reform proposal and now its creditors are considering it. As we’ve consistently said, it’s in everyone’s interest to see Greece pursue a path that allows it to resume reforms, return to growth – all of the things that will put it on a more solid economic footing – but ultimately, it’s up to Europe and Greece to work toward a constructive outcome for these issues. So that’s where we’re at.

You said specific comments about Secretary Lew.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Do you share the assessment of the Secretary Lew that the financial meltdown in Greece will be like a geopolitical mistake?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not – I haven’t seen those specific comments, so I’m not going to comment to them, or I’m not going to respond to them directly. What we said is that clearly, Greece is an important regional player and ally, and so it’s in all of our interests to see the current situation resolved in a way that’s positive for Europe and positive for Greece.

I’m sorry, you – I apologize.

QUESTION: That’s okay. On China, yesterday OPM announced that the hack extended to 21 million Americans. I’m wondering if anyone in the department has been in touch with your Chinese counterparts regarding the latest news on the OPM hack.

MR TONER: Not on the latest news, no. As we spoke in the Strategic & Economic Dialogue a couple weeks ago, we did talk about cyber security issues writ large. Just – I have no updates to provide to you on who was behind this breach, this data breach. That investigation’s still ongoing as far as I know.


QUESTION: Just to follow up --


QUESTION: -- I realize China hasn’t officially been identified. Were it to come to pass that China was officially identified, what would be the process going on from there?

MR TONER: Well, that’s – that’s what they call a hypothetical, so – look, we’re not in a position to assign responsibility for this data breach yet. That’s really the FBI’s purview, and they’re investigating it and I would refer you to them.

QUESTION: Would it be treated differently if – from, say, a business hacking issue? If it’s a state-to-state issue, is that treated differently? It’s an issue of espionage, for example; is that treated differently from a commercial hacking event?

MR TONER: I would just say, more broadly speaking, that obviously, cyber security is a much more urgent issue between countries like the U.S. and China, but frankly, countries around the world, because it affects, obviously, security, but also business-to-business relationships and the investment climate – all that thing is tied into it.

But in terms of – again, I don’t want to get out in front of the investigation into this latest breach and conjecture on what might be done and how that might work. It’s just a – that’s – it’s in the FBI’s hands now. They’re investigating it and – so I’m going to stop there.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Tunisia?

MR TONER: We can talk about Tunisia.

QUESTION: First, the White House has just announced that it’s designating Tunisia as a major non-NATO ally, and I wanted to know if you had a little more insight into why the designation, why now; in practical terms, what does this mean for Tunisia?

MR TONER: Sure. I don’t. I can get you more information about it. We just heard. But this is a fulfillment, obviously – I think the President spoke about this in March or May, I’m not – do you guys have the date or no? That’s okay. We’ll get more information on that, but it just came out.

But obviously, it’s a major step forward in our relationship with Tunisia. We’re moving towards closer bilateral support for the government there and for the political process there, and including their security.

QUESTION: And speaking of security, given that in the past week the government declared a state of emergency and now the British Government has basically told all British nationals, “You need to leave, we will help you leave, get out of Tunisia now,” because of the shooting at Sousse, what assistance, one, is the United States providing to Tunisia as it tries to deal with extremists? And two, does the U.S. have an official position on Tunisia’s decision to try to build a 100-mile-long wall to prevent extremists from coming into the country?

MR TONER: So broadly speaking, first of all, to answer your question about the security issue, we – following the June 26th attacks, as you know, we issued an emergency message to U.S. citizens in Tunisia alerting them, obviously, to the attack and reminding them to exercise caution. And we continually evaluate the security situation there.

We – in terms of the broader issues of what we’re trying to provide to them for security assistance as they tackle the problem of terrorism, I can try to get you more information about what specifically we’re offering them in terms of assistance. But obviously, it’s a regional threat many of these governments are grappling with. I don’t specifically have any information about the proposal to build a wall or a fence. I have to look into that more.

But obviously, as we’ve said many times, especially in light of the spate of attacks a couple weeks ago, that these groups, ISIL affiliates, are posing a real challenge in the region, Libya as well, elsewhere. And it’s something that, as I said, all these governments are attempting to address.

QUESTION: Would you anticipate that the U.S. would tell U.S. persons to either leave Tunisia if they’re already there or to not travel there at all in line with what the British Government is doing?

MR TONER: No, I wouldn’t say that at all. Again, what – I’ve spelled out what we’ve done, and again, I wouldn’t speak to another country’s criteria or rationale for issuing travel warnings and alerts to the citizens. Certainly, there were many UK victims of the recent terrorist attack, and our condolences go out to them. But we continually assess our security posture and the security situation writ large. As we said many times, no – there’s no higher priority for us than the safety of and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad. We’ll – we did issue an emergency message, which is normally what we would do in the event of an attack or a very real and tangible threat. We have the no-double-standard rule that you’re aware of --


MR TONER: -- under which information on a specific, credible threat is shared with both officials, obviously, but also with the U.S. public in that country.

QUESTION: And then in the larger context --


QUESTION: -- even though the U.S.-led coalition is engaged in military operations in only two countries – Syria and Iraq – it now seems as if nearly all of North Africa is having to deal with the threat from ISIL or ISIL sympathizers. Is there any discussion about whether the U.S. should be providing any sort of military assistance in the form of advisors, in the form of airstrikes, what have you, to countries in North Africa? I mean, we’re almost to Morocco at this point.

MR TONER: Well, I just would say no, I have nothing to announce or to – even to lean towards in that area or that specific idea or thought. I would just say that it’s obviously an urgent issue in the region and one that we’re obviously working through and talking to many of these governments about as they seek to address it.

Is that it, guys? One more? Sure. Oh, please go ahead.

QUESTION: One more, yeah.

MR TONER: One more for you and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Yeah. In China – I know this came up a couple of months ago – there is a U.S. citizen who works for Radio Free Asia. He has family still in the Uighur part of western China. Three of his brothers have now been arrested. One was supposed to go on trial today. It appears that the Chinese Government is trying to make him stop reporting on human rights abuses in western China by harassing his family. What has the U.S. Government said to Beijing about the harassment of the Hoshur family, including the arrests of his three brothers?

MR TONER: So you’re talking about, if I’m correct, Radio Free Asia journalist Shohret Hoshur, and I apologize if I’m mispronouncing his name. But yes, his brothers have been detained and other family members have been harassed in apparent retribution for Mr. Hoshur’s reporting. Yeah, we’ve been following and monitoring those reports, and we’re very, very concerned. We continue to closely monitor the case and we urge Chinese authorities to cease their harassment of Mr. Hoshur and his family and release the family members who have been detained and treat them fairly and with dignity.

QUESTION: Has anyone from the embassy been called into this building to express those sentiments face to face?

MR TONER: I don’t know what, in terms of types of discussions we’ve had face to face with the Chinese, either here or in Beijing on this. I don’t.

QUESTION: What is particularly worrisome is that Mr. Hoshur is a U.S. citizen, and none of his relatives have U.S. citizenship, and it appears that he may have relinquished his Chinese citizenship. It is worrisome, as a journalist now, that if another government doesn’t like what you are doing, that they can come after your family. Has the U.S. expressed concerns to China about that? That people should be free to do whatever job they’re doing, even if it is picking up a pen and saying, “We see these problems”?

MR TONER: No, absolutely. And if I didn’t come across – if that didn’t come across in my response then I apologize. But no, absolutely we’ve said that this is – we recognize this is in apparent retribution for his reporting, and we urge the Chinese authorities to allow him to do his work and to stop the harassment of his family.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Please.

QUESTION: A different issue, human rights issue, it’s on North Korea?


QUESTION: The South Korean foreign minister yesterday mentioned that 17 people already were executed under the Kim Jong-un leadership. And it’s another kind of remark to show how serious the human rights abuse there. So how will the U.S. deal with the human rights abuse in North Korea? Kind of – do you have the option to issue the new sanction against North Korea on the basis of human rights?

MR TONER: Well, absolutely, we agree with the assessment that human rights in North Korea remain dismal. We do have sanctions already in place to address those challenges. I don’t have anything, as I said, new to announce today or even really with regard to what we’re looking at in addition except to say that we continue to try to shine a light on the problem.

QUESTION: So could you give me that kind of prospective announcement of the new sanctions against North Korea?

MR TONER: Could I give you – I’m sorry. (Laughter.) I don’t have anything to announce today other than that. It remains, obviously, a very real and very tangible concern.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep. Is that it, guys? Good. Have a good weekend.

QUESTION: You too.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 9, 2015

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 16:10

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 9, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:03 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things at the top. You probably saw the statement that I just put out about Thailand. I’d like to cover some of the high points in here as well, if I could.

We condemn Thailand’s forced deportation of over – today of over 100 ethnic Uighurs to China, where they could face harsh treatment and a lack of due process. And we are concerned for the welfare of these individuals.

We’ve expressed our grave disappointment to Thailand, and we urge Thai authorities as well as authorities in other countries where Uighurs have taken refuge not to carry out any further forcible deportations. We also urge Chinese authorities to uphold international human rights norms with regard to these individuals who have been returned to China and to ensure transparency, due process, and the safety and proper treatment of these individuals.

We also likewise condemn the violent attacks against the Thai honorary consulate in Istanbul, and we urge all parties to peacefully express their views.

A quick note on the U.S. and Switzerland. Today the United States and Switzerland signed an agreement providing a framework for cooperation on vocational education and training, and also announced new apprenticeships to be offered by 18 Swiss companies here in the United States. Secretary of Commerce Pritzker and Swiss Vice President and Federal Counselor Schneider-Ammann signed the agreement at the Commerce Department. The Swiss companies are bringing their expertise to the U.S. on a wide range of fields from aircraft maintenance to insurance adjusting, IT management, software development, and machine tooling. This kind of international cooperation has a real benefit here in the United States, helping create quality jobs and career paths.

And then lastly, the United States is pleased to welcome Burma as the 191st state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. We fully support Burma’s efforts and continue to offer our technical experts to assist Burma with its national implementation of the treaty as needed. Burma’s commitment to join the CWC serves as a reminder that the international community is one step closer to achieving the goal of completely eliminating the scourge of chemical weapons.

With that, we’ll go to questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wonder if I could ask about Russia. General Dunford told Congress today that Russia is the greatest threat to U.S. national security, and I was wondering if the State Department shares that assessment.

MR KIRBY: Well, what we’ve said all along and continue to maintain is that Russia certainly represents significant security challenges to not just U.S. national interests but to the national interests of our allies and partners in Europe. And that’s why we are taking – that’s why we are taking such significant measures in the last couple of years particularly to make sure we can reassure our partners in Europe, can reinforce our commitment to Article 5, and to try to work towards a full implementation of the Minsk agreement.

You may have seen Assistant Secretary Nuland was – met with Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin today. They talked about Minsk and how to better get the agreement actually implemented – both sides. And I think – and you may have seen the Russian side speaking to this meeting that they though it was productive, constructive, and the basis for further dialogue.

QUESTION: Could you maybe elaborate on what he might have meant by a threat to U.S. national security?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for General Dunford. I think General Dunford, a seasoned American general --


MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. I got you, I got you. I’ll get to you. I’m not going to speak for General Dunford. I mean, a seasoned American general who is expected and is paid to offer his frank military assessment, and that’s for him to speak to.

Okay, now you can go.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: You’re just jumping out of your chair.

QUESTION: So within 24 hours, two top U.S. military officials called Russia the greatest threat to U.S. national security. Is that the official position of the U.S. Government?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speak for the comments made by members of the --

QUESTION: But is it the position --

MR KIRBY: -- senior leaders of the Defense Department. I think I’ve stated – I stated very clearly nobody – I think everybody in the United States Government shares the same sense of concern over the security challenges that Russia is representing, particularly on the European continent.

QUESTION: They didn’t call it “a threat,” “a challenge.” They said “the greatest.” Isn’t it confusing that from this podium you say one thing and the top military officials say something else?

MR KIRBY: I’m – I don’t know how to answer your question.

QUESTION: But you don’t seem to be saying that – you don’t – do you agree with them?

MR KIRBY: I just told you what our position here is: that we are mindful of the security challenges that Russia continues to pose on the European continent, and nobody’s turning a blind eye to that.

QUESTION: Would you call it the greatest threat to the U.S.?

MR KIRBY: I will let the Defense Department speak to this issue – to the issue as they see it from their perspective. I think that everybody in the --

QUESTION: But what is the U.S. State Department perspective?

MR KIRBY: If you just let me finish. I promise I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sure.

MR KIRBY: Okay? Everybody in the United States Government shares the same sense of concern about where Russia is headed – their aggressive actions, their violation of Ukrainian territory and sovereignty. And everybody wants to see Minsk implemented. That is a solid position across the government. I won’t speak to what other people outside this building – their assessments. That’s – they get paid to offer those assessments and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment one way or the other.

We all in the United States Government share the same sense of concern about where Russia is heading and what they’ve done over the last couple of years.

QUESTION: But you don’t just speak just for this building but for the foreign policy of the United States, right? So how can --

MR KIRBY: I don’t speak for Defense Department equities and what Defense Department leaders might be saying.

QUESTION: But do you agree with their position, with their statement, that Russia is the greatest --

MR KIRBY: I think we all agree – I’ll say it one more time.

QUESTION: Do you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: I’ll say it one more time. I think we all agree --

QUESTION: That it is the greatest threat.

MR KIRBY: -- and share a sense of concern about the security challenges that Russia represents on the continent.

QUESTION: But you do not agree that it is the greatest threat to U.S. national security?

MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question.

QUESTION: No, you have not.

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Is it the greatest threat --

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- to U.S. national security?

QUESTION: I wanted to go to Malaysia, if I may. I was wondering if you could comment on reports that the U.S. is planning to upgrade Malaysia from the bottom rank in the – this year’s human trafficking report?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I’ve seen these press reports about the Trafficking in Persons Report. That report is not finalized; work continues on it here at the State Department, and so it would be very premature for me to get into any characterization of what may or may not be in that report.

What I can tell you is that the analysis that the report represents is based on a very pragmatic sets – set of assessments in each case, and it’s something we take very, very seriously. And when the report is finalized and when we can talk about it and the contents of it, we will.

QUESTION: So is it fair then to say that the contents of the report will be based only on the findings made by the relevant department and the investigators and not on any considerations such as Malaysia’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, as you know, I mean, this is a report we have to do annually. We take it very, very seriously. And it is – it’s one that is done with a significant amount of coordination here at the State Department across directorates here inside the State Department, and that’s how the report is pulled together and factored in. It’s, as I said, done on a very pragmatic analysis of various factors.

QUESTION: Sure. But I think what people are wondering is there’s – independent experts and NGOs say that Malaysia has not made any kind of improvement in its trafficking in persons record, and so any upgrade by the United States State Department would smack of a effort by the Administration to bypass a provision passed by Congress in TPA that would bar TPP from being fast-tracked if Malaysia was included.


QUESTION: And I was – and I’m wondering if you can tell us from the podium that that would not be the case, that that would not be a consideration in where Malaysia winds up in the Trafficking in Persons Report.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, you’re asking me to talk about details in a report that hasn’t been finalized yet, and I’m just not going to do that and I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals. What I will tell you is that the report is put together here at the State Department, it’s well coordinated inside across the bureaus, and many factors go into the ratings that are given to countries. It’s not done from a political perspective. It’s done from a pragmatic analysis of progress or not made in trafficking of people.

QUESTION: Okay. But it’s a – I mean, it’s a simple yes-or-no question of whether the Administration’s desire to include Malaysia in the Trans-Pacific Partnership will influence its standing in the Trafficking in Persons Report. Is that a yes or no?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about – I’m not going to talk about a report that hasn’t been finalized. But to suggest --

QUESTION: It has more to do with the process of putting the report together than with the actual report.

MR KIRBY: No, I understand. I mean – but I’m just not going to get ahead of a report that’s not done yet. I know what you’d like me to say. I’m just not going to go there until this report is done.

What I can tell you is the analysis that’s done is, again, very pragmatic. It’s very focused on facts. It’s about progress made or not made, and there is a – as there should be, a rigorous discussion about those facts and that analysis before a final adjudication is made on any given country in that report. But it’s not finalized yet.

QUESTION: Just one more on that, if we can go back to --

MR KIRBY: Ma’am, if you’re going to ask me the same question again, I’m not going to have any kind of a different answer for you.

QUESTION: It is not the same exact question. Is the official position of the U.S. Government different from the position of the country’s top military generals – officials?

MR KIRBY: I’ve told you how we view the security challenges that Russia represents. I am not going to speak for the assessments made by leaders outside this department. That is not my role, it’s not my place, and it would be inappropriate. And I’m not going to take any more questions on this.


QUESTION: Yeah. Very quickly, John, I assume that you’re speaking about General Dunford’s testimony at – on the Hill? Are – is that the topic?

MR KIRBY: That was the basis of the question --

QUESTION: Okay. Now, he also said just --

MR KIRBY: -- about 10 questions ago.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just – sorry. Apologies for being late. I just wanted to ask you whether this consideration of arming Ukraine --


QUESTION: Is that something that we are likely to see in the next couple weeks --

MR KIRBY: There’s been no change to the U.S. policy about assistance to Ukraine. We continue to review and examine all Ukrainian requests for assistance as we have. The focus of the support that’s been provided has been on the nonlethal side. I’m not aware of – not that I’m not aware; there are no policy changes with respect to that.

QUESTION: Now, just a quick follow-up: There has also been reports that Chechen fighters and other Islamist extremists are actually going into Ukraine to fight against the rebels in eastern Ukraine. Are you aware of these reports?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen these reports. And what I would say, Said, is that we’ve long talked to Ukrainian authorities about the composition and the makeup of volunteer and/or militia forces that are in Ukraine, and we’ve certainly provided our counsel with respect to how adequate organization, command and control, and that kind of thing should be done.

Yeah, right here.

QUESTION: Germany?

MR KIRBY: Germany.

QUESTION: The region, yeah.


QUESTION: In the weekly Spiegel today published that U.S. is pushing to Chancellor Angela Merkel in order to Greece to stay in the euro. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, on Greece, let me just restate what we’ve been saying here. Secretary Lew is sort of leading the coordination efforts here in the United States Government on what’s happening with Greece, but essentially, this is between Greece and their creditors, and that’s where the discussion lies. I won’t speak for what Secretary Lew’s views may be on this. We’re watching this situation closely, just like everybody else, and what we want here at the State Department is a path forward that allows Greece to continue the necessary reforms it needs to return to a rate of growth and to deal with their debt in a sustainable way, and that’s really where we are focused right now.

Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Turkey. Germany-based Focus magazine published a report claiming NSA spied on a top Turkish security meeting about the possible Turkish intervention in Syria to protect the Turkish enclave in 2014. The magazine claims NSA tapped Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan’s phone and therefore collected the audio from the meeting. This story is on many front pages of today’s Turkish newspapers. Does U.S. Government spy on Turkish authorities, or do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’ll say the same thing I’ve been saying throughout when we’ve talked about these issues: We’re not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence or disclosure activity. I just – I would refer you to the National Security Council for anything more.

QUESTION: John, just a follow-up on that.


QUESTION: Can you update us on the meeting of General Allen with the Turks, Turkish counterpart? It seems that the United States Government is trying to sort of press Turkey to sort of control its border a little better and disallow against entry of foreign fighters.

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you, Said, is that General Allen as well as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth, as well as an interagency delegation, did hold constructive meetings over the course of the last couple of days with Turkish counterparts to discuss our mutual efforts in the coalition – a broad coalition against ISIL. And I believe General Allen will be returning shortly from those discussions.

I’m not going to detail all the various things that were discussed, but I think you can understand that – I mean, again, it was a pretty wide-ranging sets of discussions about all the different challenges we’re facing against ISIL.

QUESTION: But you don’t see eye-to-eye with the Turks on the local partners, because you definitely look at the Kurdish fighters in the north one way and Turkey looks at them in another. Is this a – potentially a point of conflict between you and Turkey?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before, Said. I mean, we understand the Turkish concerns with respect to fighters across the border. We’ve long said that. This is not a new topic of discussion. It’s not something that we ignore. What our focus on inside Syria is against ISIL. That’s the focus of the coalition effort. And I’d like to remind everybody that Turkey is a part of that coalition, not just a NATO ally but a part of that coalition, and they’re contributing to the effort.

They also have a significant refugee problem that they’re dealing with, and dealing with ably, considering the heavy demands that these millions of refugees are placing upon their infrastructure.

So lots of issues to discuss with Turkey; understand those concerns. But I think everybody shares a concern about where ISIL is going and about moving forward and trying to stop this group.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Turkey?


QUESTION: Is there any way you can confirm the reports that part of the Incirlik airbase is now open to coalition or U.S. forces to use more actively against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, I’ve some press reporting on that, but I’m in no position to confirm any kind of decision in that regard.

QUESTION: One more on Turkey. A couple weeks ago you were asked about these letters sent by Secretary Kerry to the Congress regarding a strategic dialogue between the Turkey and U.S. regarding the human right issues. I was wondering if you have any update on that proposal.

MR KIRBY: I do not. No.

QUESTION: You do not.


QUESTION: Any update on the – I don’t know it’s a base or it is something in Erbil that I think you mentioned in the past it would be used for the rescue mission. When you were at DOD I asked you some questions. So is there any update that this base – it’s not a base, but it is also will be used for the rescue mission. What is the update?

MR KIRBY: I love how you’re trying to get me to answer this by saying it’s not a base, and since I’m not a military guy anymore I should be able to talk to places that aren’t bases. I don’t have any update for you. You’d have to go to DOD --

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- and I’m no longer an employee at DOD. So, yeah.

QUESTION: Bolivia.


QUESTION: We spoke to President Morales this morning, and he says that he wants to restore full diplomatic relations with the United States, but he’s not received a response to a request to meet with President Obama. I just wondered what the U.S. position is and what it would take to restore full relations with Bolivia.

MR KIRBY: Our position is that we continue to engage with the Bolivian Government to discuss avenues for improving the relationship. We seek a productive relationship based on mutual respect and trust. There’s a number of areas in which we do engage cooperatively with the Bolivian Government, including commercial and environmental issues. And I mean, if you exclude natural gas, for instance, we’re the largest importer of Bolivian goods in the world. So there’s lots of issues that we can – or that are uniquely bilateral – cultural perseveration, people-to-people exchanges. And so there – we’re – there are ways we’re engaging. We’re always looking for ways to try to improve that. But I don’t have any announcements to make.

QUESTION: But specifically on restoring full relations, what – is there a conditions-based process then? What is --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates on the – with respect to the restoration of diplomatic relations. As I said at the outset, we’re always seeking to try to find ways to improve the bilateral relationship.


QUESTION: Yeah. Can we go to the Iran talks? I know we can’t improve on what the Secretary said --

MR KIRBY: No, I can’t.

QUESTION: -- but I wanted to ask you: Regarding Congress, now that they have more time, would that really sort of relieve the pressure on the negotiation, perhaps give the United States a much stronger position to negotiate over the next, let’s say, three or four weeks?

MR KIRBY: Well, the question implies that the deadline of the 9th or the time – the 9th was somehow driving the pace of negotiations, and that’s just not so. And that has not been a factor weighing heavily on Secretary Kerry’s mind over there in Vienna. You heard him say it today: These talks are not going to be open-ended, but that while progress is being made, he believes it’s important to stay at the table. And that’s, as I’ve said day after day after day, that’s where his head is, is what – is inside that negotiating room and trying to reach the right deal for the American people and for our national security interests.

QUESTION: What about congressional pressure? Does that give Congress more of a leeway to even insert more pressure on the Secretary and on the Administration on what kind of deal they ought to negotiate?

MR KIRBY: Well, the legislation as written gives them more time now to review the document. But it doesn’t – it’s not going to fundamentally change the character of any deal that’s reached. And I would remind you there’s no deal right now.


MR KIRBY: And again, I think the Secretary was far more eloquent about it today than I can be that whatever deal – if we get a deal – if we get a deal, it’s going to have to be good enough to withstand the test of time. And he put it in the terms – he put it in terms of decades. So I think he was very clear about what he’s driving at. And it’s not being driven by the clock on the wall or the date on the calendar.


QUESTION: More on Iran. The Democratic senators who met with the President came back and quoted him as saying chances of a deal are less than 50/50. Does the department agree with those odds?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak to specifics that the – about the President, what he may or may not have said to congressmen at the White House. That would be inappropriate here. I can point you, though, and I will say that the President and Secretary Kerry for many, many months now have been very pragmatic and clear-eyed about how they’ve spoken to potential outcomes here. I mean, you can go back and look for yourself. But I think the President, the Vice President as well, and certainly Secretary Kerry have made it very clear that nothing’s a done deal until there is a deal, and that – and they’ve been, I think, suitably pragmatic about what the outcomes might be. And I think – again, you heard Secretary Kerry say it again today. I mean, I think he expressed the same exact clear-eyed sense of it today that he always has.


QUESTION: Another – new subject?


QUESTION: A couple questions.

MR KIRBY: It’s not about yoga, is it?

QUESTION: No, no yoga. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I hope you are doing – you’re doing great. Anyway – (laughter) – you have done your yoga at the DOD.

MR KIRBY: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: So a couple questions. As far as these BRICS made of five nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- meeting in Russia, anything new you have that – any impact on U.S. and bilateral relations with these five countries, what they decide? And also, signing and inaugurating the development bank, this may be a challenge to the IMF and the World Bank?

MR KIRBY: Okay. Those are two different things, I think, Goyal. I don’t have any update on what’s coming out of the BRIC conference. As you know, Foreign Minister Lavrov departed – I think he’s back in Vienna now, but – or if not, will be soon, and – but I wouldn’t have any readouts from that. I mean, this is a conference that I think I’d let national leaders speak to their participation.

On the – I think what you’re talking about is the AIIB, right – the Asian Instructure Investment Bank. Nothing’s changed about our position on that – I mean, that – look, these are, first of all, decisions that nations have to make for themselves, and that what we would like to see – and I said this before – is that the same sort of procedures, process, transparency, discipline, and organization that is applied to organizations like the IMF would be used for the AIIB. That China wants to lead or help do this, I mean, that can be – that could be a productive thing. But it’s – the devil’s going to be in the details and we’re just going to have to see.

QUESTION: And the second: As far as you – India and Pakistan relations are concerned, two leaders also meeting in Russia at this meeting. But the problem is people of Pakistan and people of India both want peace – both want these two civilian leaders to meet and solve the problems and open the doors for people-to-people.

But now I understand that according to experts in Pakistan, also in India, also here in the U.S., Pakistan is being run by three governments – civilian government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, ISI, and the military. Whenever two leaders of two nation wants to meet, somehow before their meeting the statement will come – last time the statement was made by General Musharraf, and now the statement was made by – yesterday by the defense minister of Pakistan that we have bombs, nuclear bomb, and if needed we will use against India. And also it is a warning to – for India.

So what do we make? What is the future? What role you can – U.S. can play to bring these two civilian governments on a table rather than involving the – because India’s military is not involving anywhere in these talks or the intelligence agencies of India. But only it happens from Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I didn’t see those comments and I can’t speak for how leaders in either country are going to make announcements on their bilateral relationship – or, frankly, their bilateral tensions. I think we welcome the recent meeting between Indian and Pakistani leaders there on the sidelines of this – of this conference. And we also welcome any steps that both countries can take to try to reduce the tensions. That’s been our longstanding position. You heard the Secretary say it here just a couple of weeks ago. We want to see the tensions reduced, and we want to see these issues resolved bilaterally between the two countries. It’s in nobody’s interest for the tensions to rise and to increase, and for the tensions in the region to become less stable in many ways than they already are.

You mention both want peace; that’s certainly what we want as well. There’s an awful lot of kids living in that part of the world who I think everybody wants to make sure they have a better future. And I think that’s what we would hope the leaders in both countries are also trying to pursue. But this is ultimately – these are issues that we want to see them solve bilaterally.

QUESTION: May I go one more, John? Back – this on Greece, a question on Greece financial problems, please?


QUESTION: Once Greek was a major financial center, and so old, ancient, and Alexander the Great. He made money, today’s economy billions and billions of dollars by hooks and crooks, but what he said when he left the world before he died, he opened both his hands, and he said, I’m not taking anything with me, and I’m leaving all this wealth for my future generation.

My question is here – you think this impact of Greece may follow other nations in Europe because President Obama’s initiative to open the Swiss banks where all the black market money was going, including billions and billions from India, and now the banks are open, of course, thanks to the U.S. Treasury and the President Obama – you think this is the – because of this happening, all this?

MR KIRBY: Well, you got me on Alexander the Great. I – (laughter) – I got a history degree from the University of South Florida, but I didn’t learn that part of him. I guess I was – of course, my grades weren’t all that good, so it could’ve – (laughter) – I might just have been asleep that day.

I mean, look, I think – I’m not going to get into a forensics on how Greece got to the point that it’s in right now. We’re watching this closely, and I think – again, and I won’t speak for Secretary Lew or the Treasury Department, but I think it’s safe to say that from a U.S. Government perspective, what we want to see is debt sustainability. We want to see Greece work this out with their creditors and – and I would just point you to what Greek leaders have said themselves, the prime minister specifically, that he sees the future of Greece in the Eurozone.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.


QUESTION: Yeah. Very quickly on the former Secretary Clinton emails. The – apparently in an email, Secretary Clinton early in 2009 told her staff that she got a call from former Secretary Condoleezza Rice that there’s been no promises by the former administration, the Bush Administration, to okay settlement and settlement expansion and so on. I wonder if you would comment on that, or are you aware of the email?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any visibility on that specific email, Said. And I – as a – just as a matter of principle, as I’ve tried to do from here, we’re not going to get into the specific content of the email traffic.

QUESTION: Because the Israelis – and the former Israeli ambassador to this town is disputing that. And he said basically the Obama Administration broke with a promise that it had given former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the expansion of settlements.

MR KIRBY: I just – again, I’m not going to get into the content of this email traffic. But Said, you’ve – you know very well our policy on settlements hasn’t changed at all. It remains exactly the same.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it. Only 35 minutes.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 8, 2015

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 17:11

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 8, 2015

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2:05 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I’m a little off; John’s going to be disappointed in me. That’s okay. Just a couple things to mention at the top.

First of all, we appreciate the United Kingdom’s leadership in announcing today that it will continue to meet the Wales Summit defense investment pledge. Now, for all of you who are non – not NATO-niks around here, that means basically targets – reaching targets of overall defense spending of 2 percent of GDP and investment in new capabilities that’s 20 percent of their defense budget. So we applaud their leadership. We strongly urge all NATO allies to do the same. And it’s critically important that NATO be able to respond effectively to existing and future threats, and the only way to do that is for allies to make the necessary investment in their armed forces. As one of our greatest friends and our strongest allies, the United Kingdom is our indispensable partner in all ongoing NATO activities, including reassurance measures and also Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. So again, thank you to the UK.

Also briefly wanted to mention today we – the United States and the United Arab Emirates – launched the Sawab Center, which is a joint online messaging and engagement initiative that was first announced by President Obama earlier this year at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which took place – or at least a couple days here at the State Department. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel as well as the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash attended the launch. Now, the Sawab Center will use direct online engagement to rapidly and effectively counter terrorist propaganda, including messages used to recruit foreign fighters, fundraise for illicit activities, and intimidate and terrorize local populations. It’s intended to contribute to the online debate by giving a platform to moderate and tolerant voices from across the region and amplifying inclusive and constructive narratives.

As President Obama stated earlier this week, in order to defeat terrorists like ISIL, it will require the international community to discredit their ideology. And this is one of the key lines of effort in the overall campaign against ISIL. So the United States will therefore continue to do its part to support partners like the United Arab Emirates to counter ISIL’s hateful ideology and will partner specifically with Muslim communities as they work to reject some of these distorted interpretations of Islam that are propagated and peddled by ISIL.

That’s all I have at the top. Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah. I know probably a few people want to ask about these cyber attacks, but the White House –

MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: The White House and the Homeland spoke about that earlier. I just want to very briefly ask: Do you have anything to add to what they said? Is there any links to the State Department’s own outage recently?

MR TONER: Again, not that we’re aware of. I can say that Secretary Kerry was briefed on this, obviously, in Vienna. As for our own systems, we have no outages for the department that have been reported today. Obviously, the department continuously monitors our computer systems for any outages – that’s on a 24/7 basis. But they continue to operate normally, so nothing to report from this end, but we’ll continue to watch it closely.



QUESTION: And then back on track on --


QUESTION: -- to something else. I wanted to raise with you the Taliban and the Afghan peace talks --


QUESTION: -- that took place in which the U.S. and China were observers. Is there anything from these discussions that give you hope that a formal peace process can be launched, and what makes this discussion different?

MR TONER: Well, as we’ve long said, we believe an Afghan-led and an Afghan-owned peace effort and reconciliation process is really the best and surest way to end the violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region. So we certainly commend the Government of Afghanistan for initiating this reconciliation process with the Taliban, and we strongly support the government’s efforts and prioritization of peace and reconciliation. And that said, we also – Pakistan has also been involved in these, and we certainly appreciate its efforts and involvement in this as well. It’s an important – obviously important partner.

QUESTION: Is there anything – I mean, as these talks took place there were continued attacks in Afghanistan, in Kabul. Is there anything that you think that you’d like to see to come – that would come out of this process quickly?

MR TONER: Well, obviously, an end to the violence, ongoing violence, is obviously a priority in any situation but certainly in this case. And as we have always said again about the armed opposition groups that take part in these talks, we want to see as part of any outcome a renouncement of violence, we want to see them break any associations with international terrorism, and we also want to see them accept the Afghan constitution, including its protections for women and minorities. So those are the outcomes we’ve long said we wanted to see. But in general, this is a positive step, a step in the right direction – these peace talks.


MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Iran talks?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, absolutely. Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know who represented the U.S. delegation?

MR TONER: You know what? I think it was some individual or individuals from our mission in Kabul. I don’t believe I have exactly who was there – in an observer status, I believe. So – but I don’t have the exact individual’s name or position.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. (inaudible) in bringing these parties together?

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, it’s obviously something we’ve – as I said, we’ve long supported and something we’ve obviously, in our discussions frequently with the Afghanistan Government, have raised and we encouraged. But I’ll leave it at that.

Yeah, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry for being late and missing at the top.

MR TONER: No worries. You weren’t that late.

QUESTION: I mean, you haven’t --

MR TONER: I didn’t. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to ask about the Iran talks. Now, there are reports that there are more briefings than you would expect, and that is really a bad sign in many ways, some people are saying. Could you comment on that? Is that true? I mean, I’m following our colleagues here and so on.

MR TONER: Sorry. To clarify, you said more briefings --

QUESTION: The more briefings there are by both – by all sides.



MR TONER: So you’re saying more engagement with the U.S. spells --

QUESTION: Exactly. The more engagement with the media, according to these reports, spells out sort of a very difficult situation.

MR TONER: I frankly don’t have overall a lot to say about the talks other than that they’re obviously ongoing. Secretary Kerry and his team remain there.


MR TONER: The Iranians remain there. I think the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers left to attend a BRIC summit. But they remain hard at work on the ground in Vienna. I’m not going to gauge the number of briefings as a barometer for how well the talks are going. Obviously, difficult issues, as we discussed yesterday and the day before, remain. They’re trying to surmount those issues and work towards a comprehensive agreement. But we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: So let me ask you, from your experience and from your conversations with those --


QUESTION: -- your colleagues in Vienna and so on. Now, do we have, like, one issue that is a problem, a number of issues that are a problem? Any particular issue, or there’s a whole gamut of things that need to be renegotiated, so to speak?

MR TONER: Well, good question but not a question I’m going to answer in any depth or detail from here, because these are all issues that are being discussed right now in the negotiating room. And as we’ve often said about many different negotiations --


MR TONER: -- we don’t want to do that from here, from the podium, in public. We want to let our team, the Iranians, P5+1, other parties there on the ground, negotiate these details. But you’ve gotten, as you’ve said, from some of the briefings on the ground, you’ve gotten a sense of some of the issues that remain that need to be worked through. Fundamentally, again, we’ve said – the President has said, the Secretary has said multiple times – we would rather walk away than not get the best agreement we possibly can that prohibits a nuclear weapon – or Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: And my last question. In this sort of setting, was it wrong to set deadlines? Perhaps they should have set some target dates or something like this that would give you more flexibility, because with every passing deadline the deadline element seems to lose its essence or its importance. So what happens, let’s say, if they miss this deadline? Will we have another target date, or what will go – I mean, what is likely to happen?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to get too far out ahead of ongoing negotiations and talk about additional deadlines or what might happen next. Not really for me to speak to at this point. We’re still intent on trying to reach a deal over the next 20 – or 48 hours, and that’s where the focus remains. From that point, we’ll assess what additional steps need to be taken.

We’ve talked a lot about deadlines. You know, they’re motivational factors, and it can help drive the negotiations forward, but what we’ve said throughout is if we need to negotiate further we will. And we – and they – the goal is a good deal, not meeting some deadline.

QUESTION: And I promise this is my final question on this issue.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Now, if it doesn’t happen on Friday the 10th, Congress gets an additional 30 days. Could you explain that? I mean, instead of just 30 days in which they review and have whatever input and so on, they have like a larger period of time – maybe 60 days and some. Could you explain that to us?

MR TONER: Well, I mean just – just as you rightly note that, I believe it’s the 10th, that Congress would then, yes, get an additional 60-day review period.


MR TONER: But again, as we’ve said before, if we reach a deal, which we’re all striving towards, you know we expect it to stand up to and pass congressional scrutiny regardless of the length of any review period. So that’s not again our focus. Our focus is getting the best possible deal.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: Yeah, please go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the Iranians have made a new proposal?

MR TONER: I cannot, no. Not from here.

Please, yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go to Colombia?


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the FARC. They announced today a unilateral ceasefire from the 20th of July on. Do you welcome this step? Is this positive in the peace talks?

MR TONER: Well, I think without having seen those reports myself, we all obviously would welcome any kind of sincere and credible ceasefire and cessation of violence. But I’ll leave it at that and see if we have anything additional to say later.


MR TONER: Please. Yeah.

QUESTION: Mark, what can you tell us about Ambassador Kennedy’s role in the releasing of the former Toyota executive, Julia Hamp, who was released from jail today?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. You’re talking about Ambassador Kennedy over --

QUESTION: In Japan, yes.

MR TONER: -- in Japan, of course.

QUESTION: Caroline Kennedy’s involvement in getting this former executive released from jail today.

MR TONER: Well, I don’t have any comment, frankly. I don’t know that – what, if any, role she played.

QUESTION: It’s been reported in several newspapers and such and wire reports that she did have some involvement. Can you take the question and --

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m sure she was engaged at some level, but in terms of concretely what role she played I’ll see if we have anything to add to that.

QUESTION: All right, thanks.

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to go to a new topic.


QUESTION: Okay. Today – or yesterday – marks the one-year anniversary of the Gaza war, and I have a couple questions on that. First of all, Israeli soldiers are saying that – standing order, they were on CNN, a group who call themselves “Breaking the Silence,” and they’re saying that standing orders were actually to shoot to kill – no civilians, no innocents, nothing. Anything that moves – if it’s a male, shoot – and so on. Do you have any comment on that? I mean, Israeli soldiers went around collecting testimonies from dozens and dozens of soldiers who were in combat.

MR TONER: Said, I’ve seen some of the reporting. We were very clear at the time that – before calling on Israel – both sides, frankly – to show restraint, especially in targeting civilians. The Government of Israel has conducted its own review and, again, we stand by in that conflict what we’ve said publicly before in statements from the podium and elsewhere about the need to show that restraint regarding civilian populations. But as to these new allegations, I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: It’s been a year, yet the aid that was promised – a huge amount of aid last October was promised. None of it went in. The situation is really very desperate. Is the United States doing anything on its own to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza?

MR TONER: Sorry, when you speak of aid, are you talking specifically about (inaudible)?

QUESTION: I’m talking about the donor – the donors they had a meeting Cairo, including Secretary of State Kerry, who attended and some – and something like $4 billion were --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- sort of pledged in aid to Gaza that up to this point none of it has gone in. I was wondering, while we for the donors to sort of fulfill their obligation, is the United States doing anything on its own to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza such as perhaps pressure on Israel and Egypt to sort of open the entry points and exits and so on to Gaza?

MR TONER: Yeah, specifically as to the assistance, I don’t have an update on that to share. You know, we’ve long said that we recognize the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and you know as we’ve spoken before there are legitimate avenues to get assistance into the people of Gaza. Certainly, there are security considerations as well. But, you know, it’s something we’ve long recognized. It’s something we discuss, obviously, with all the key players in the region. And I don’t know if we have a specific update on that plight of assistance to Gaza but you know, again, we recognize the situation and the need.

QUESTION: And finally on Gaza.


QUESTION: Last night I met with a Gazan whom you guys lifted out of there because he has two kids that are U.S. citizens. They were born in this country, so he was able to come on the 21st of July last year. But his wife – they only allow one of the parents. His wife had to remain behind and since then she had a baby. What is the U.S. policy in this case? Would you bring in the other parent, or would you keep them, you know, sort of trapped where she is? What’s the policy in this case?

MR TONER: Said, again, without having all of the casework in front of me and, frankly, without having a Consular Affairs expert to adjudicate it, I can’t really speak to these kinds of individual cases. And not to mention, there’s privacy considerations here.

QUESTION: So, but you do – you are aware that you can only – one parent could leave, right?

MR TONER: I’m generally aware of some of the parameters that you talk about, but I don’t – I can’t specifically address that case. I’m just – sorry, but I can’t.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Sorry. Lesley, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a new subject?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you for any comment on the – Myanmar set an election date for November 8. Do you have any comment on that? And how do you see this vote going ahead?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, we welcome the announcement of an election date. We think that a credible parliamentary election will serve as an important step in Burma’s democratic transition. And the United States is providing some technical support to the Union Election Commission as well as some of the political parties and civil society groups and stakeholders, other stakeholders to ensure that they are able to conduct inclusive and transparent elections.

QUESTION: So the U.S. is an observer or just providing funding?

MR TONER: So we are providing funding and technical assistance. I do know that in terms of the observer status, members of The Carter Center and the European Union have been invited to monitor the general election process.

Now the Union Election Commission, rather – Union Election Commission – sorry – said it will also allow other domestic and international election observers, but that process is still ongoing and indentifying some of those folks.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR TONER: But we are – just to answer your question fully, we are providing election monitoring training, support to civil society, organizations, and they’ll provide or filed upwards of 5,000 independent nonpartisan electoral observers in the months leading up to the general election.


QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: The U.S. is observing that as well in Myanmar?

MR TONER: I just said we haven’t – you know, the answer is maybe because the Union Election Commission is still vetting and deciding, but they said they will invite domestic and international observers. So far The Carter Center, I think, has been invited and the European Union have both been invited.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Another topic?

MR TONER: Yeah, no worries.

CUBA1">QUESTION: On Cuba, any update on the opening of the embassy?

MR TONER: No, nothing to announce in terms of ribbon cutting. I mean as we’ve said, just to delineate between that ribbon cutting ceremony at the embassy and the actual opening of the embassy, the exchange of letters that the two Presidents shared last week, that did say – that did stipulate that on July 20th the embassies will actually reopen. So as of July 20th, we will have a functioning embassy in Havana. But as far as the ribbon cutting and all that goes, nothing to announce.

QUESTION: Not yet?


QUESTION: New topic?

MR TONER: Sure thing, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The fight against ISIS?

MR TONER: The fight against ISIS.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: I mean, now that we’ve had time --

MR TONER: Wouldn’t be a briefing without some discussion on --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: No, go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, I just wanted to follow up on some of the things that John said yesterday --


QUESTION: -- but I (inaudible). He cited that when there is a – basically, implicitly, when there is a will to fight, such as the Peshmerga and the north fighting ISIS and the Kurdish fighters also in the north of Syria fighting ISIS, then we can see the outcome on the ground, that ISIS can be pushed back. Is the implicit suggestion there that the Iraqi army is not fighting or will not fight?

MR TONER: Not at all. We’ve long said that some of these local fighters have been absolutely integral to combating ISIL. But everything we do is through the Iraqi military and the Iraqi Government, and all the equipping and supplying that we do is conducted through them and with their concurrence. So there’s a recognition, I think, that this needs to be locally owned, if you will; that we need to really build the capacity of local forces, and that includes the Iraqi military itself, to be able to push back and combat ISIL.

QUESTION: Would that implicitly suggest that you – maybe you ought to give direct aid to the Peshmerga directly – heavy equipment, I mean. Not --


QUESTION: -- just rifles and guns and so on, but things like tanks and other battlefield equipment, heavy duty that they can use.

MR TONER: Well, again, we have been providing some assistance to the Peshmerga, again, through the Iraqi Government. We feel like that’s getting into their hands expeditiously. We don’t feel like there’s a delay mechanism or anything. We feel like that the system currently is working pretty well in terms of getting them what they need. In terms of additional support, obviously, we’re always looking at that, but nothing to announce.

Yeah, go ahead, Elise.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Cuba? I mean, I know you were --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. No, please.

QUESTION: -- talking about the embassy opening.

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: But I just want to go back to the detentions over the weekend --


QUESTION: -- and any discussions with the Cubans about this. I mean, I know that we saw the comments yesterday by John and a couple of tweets. But in terms of diplomatic outreach to the Cuban Government about it and – have you heard that they’ve been released, anything – any update you could provide?

MR TONER: I don’t have a real update. We had seen reports that some of the, if not all, of the activists had been released by the Cuban authorities. But we did certainly raise it with the Cubans, and as you said, we spoke about it publicly, which we will continue to do when we see these kinds of human rights violations.

QUESTION: Well, you only spoke about it because we asked about it. I mean --

MR TONER: That’s not true. Roberta Jacobson --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, a tweet --

MR TONER: -- tweeted about it over the weekend.

QUESTION: I understand, but --

MR TONER: I understand that it’s not – or it’s a different form for --

QUESTION: I don’t think – right.

MR TONER: -- communicating, but it’s still nevertheless a public one.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m just wondering the level of – it just seems as if there’s an effort to kind of downplay this a bit because in the – playing the long game in the hopes that your outreach will eventually give you leverage with the Cubans. It doesn’t sound like a week after your announcement of restoring diplomatic ties – in many ways because of the hopes that political reforms would take place on the island – something like this happens. I mean --

MR TONER: Right. Well --

QUESTION: -- is this a backtrack?

MR TONER: I don’t know that it’s a backtrack, but it’s certainly – it’s not the progress we hoped to see through the restoration of diplomatic relations, but we have been very clear why we’re doing this and why we’re seeking to re-engage with the Cuban Government. Because 54 years of isolation hasn’t been doing us any good. And so we believe that through that engagement, through that engagement both with the Cuban people but certainly with the Cuban Government, we’re going to be able to raise all of these issues on a consistent basis, but not going away. We’re not saying, “Oh -- ”

QUESTION: No, I understand. But you say that 50 years of isolation didn’t help, but at the first sign of serious engagement, this happens. And I’m wondering, is – what’s the message you take from this?

MR TONER: I would just say this is a process. It’s – I don’t think any of us were under any illusions that this would be overnight. But we’re going to continue to engage. We’re not going to, certainly, not raise these issues. It’s – we’ve said – as I said all along, we believe that through engagement, we can actually push a more positive agenda and get the Cuban Government to change its ways.

QUESTION: I’m just – coming back to that, you said it was raised with the Cubans. At what level? Through the mission?

MR TONER: I’m not sure. That’s what I was checking. I’d have to check on that.


MR TONER: I apologize. I don’t have it in front of me.

Anything else, guys?

QUESTION: Can I ask about Africa?

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead, Lesley --

QUESTION: You – this week you named a new special envoy for the Great Lakes.

MR TONER: We did.

QUESTION: Can – what exactly is his first – I mean, when is he planning to visit the region? Is – would Burundi be the first thing he’ll try to tackle in that area, since it looks as though it’s one of the biggest --

MR TONER: Right, very good question. And I don’t have – he just began or was appointed earlier this week – Thomas Perriello. I mean, obviously, the Great Lakes encompasses – just for the other folks; I know you know this, Lesley – but the Great Lakes states of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Obviously, the situation in Burundi is of great concern and one of our priorities, one of his priorities. I don’t know of any plans to immediately travel there, but we can try to get an update for you.


MR TONER: Yeah, please, go ahead.


MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you tell us how and if the Grexit, the potential exit of Greece from the euro zone, is impacting the transatlantic treaty – the negotiations, the terms, or any U.S.-related interests?

MR TONER: Sure. As we’ve said and Lesley’s heard us say all this week, certainly Secretary Lew, other senior Treasury and State officials, obviously Secretary Kerry and the White House continue to stay in close touch with a broad array of counterparts on the situation in Greece. What you’re speaking about more broadly, about the potential impact, of course the stability and security of Greece, who is a NATO ally as well as an EU partner, is important to the United States and the transatlantic community, which is why we continue to believe it’s in the interest of all parties to get Greece back on a path whereby it can resume reforms, return to growth, and achieve debt sustainability within the euro zone.

So that’s it. Good, guys. Thank you so much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)

The Office of Website Management, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department.
External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.

Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 16:19

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

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2:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: As you saw this morning, in order to allow for additional time to negotiate we’re going to take the necessary technical steps we need for the measures of the Joint Plan of Action to remain in place through July 10th. Secretary Kerry will remain in Vienna to continue discussions with our P5+1 partners, High Representative Mogherini, and Foreign Minister Zarif. We’re taking these negotiations hour by hour, day by day, and we made substantial progress, I think, in many areas. But the work is highly technical and very, very important for everybody concerned. So again, I think this was a practical step that needed to be taken, and it was taken, and Secretary Kerry and the team remain out there doing this very, very important negotiating. And as usual, I’m going to leave the negotiating details in the negotiating room, and not get into them here.

I also want to add a note here on the anniversary of – the 10th anniversary of the attacks in London. I want to stress that our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the British people on this anniversary of those two devastating bombings of two trains and a bus in London, as you all remember from 10 years ago. It killed 52 people and injured many more. The United Kingdom is, as you all also know, one of our strongest, most steadfast partners in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and a partner in the promotion of our shared values of democracy and tolerance. So on this sad anniversary, we want to underscore our joint resolve to safeguard security and freedom for all but also to extend our best wishes to the British people and to all the families of those who fell victim on that terrible day.

And then lastly, because I forgot to do it yesterday so I’m not going to forget to do it today here from the podium, I want to welcome Liz Trudeau. She’s coming to us from the U.S. mission at NATO in Brussels. She will be replacing Jeff Rathke, who, as you all know, was the director of our Press Office. Liz started yesterday; we’re glad to have you. Delighted that you were willing to take this on. You may come to regret that decision here pretty soon, but we’re really – we’re glad to have you here, so thanks very much and welcome.

With that, Lesley.

QUESTION: We don’t know what you’re talking about. (Laughter.) She’s going to have a wonderful time. John, let me start with the Iran talks.


QUESTION: Given that some of the ministers are going home today, coming back on Thursday, the question then remains: Is it possible that there could be another extension? So I’m going to – I know that you said that out of practical – that you’re focused more on a deal than on the clock – on the – that might have been Marie who said that, but given that that – is it possible that this can really be done?

MR KIRBY: The short answer to your question is yes. And I think we – the team wouldn’t be staying out there and Secretary Kerry wouldn’t have remained in Vienna and so dedicated to this if he didn’t think it was possible. So yes, I think it’s possible. I’m not in a position where I’m prepared to, nor would I, predict that it will get done by a certain date or even, Lesley, that it will get done at all. Again, the Secretary was very clear it’s got to be the right deal or there’ll be no deal, and he’s willing to walk away from Vienna empty handed in that regard if he has to.

QUESTION: So even though the ministers are going home and coming back, I gather that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif continue to talk?

MR KIRBY: Yes, they do. Now I don’t have details about Foreign Minister Zarif’s schedule, so I can’t say right now whether he’s going to come or go, but yes, they continue to talk and our team out there has been keeping, I think, everybody informed of those meetings and how they’re occurring. But Secretary Kerry is remaining in Vienna.

QUESTION: But I mean, that begs the question: Is the – I guess it goes back to whether a deal is possible this week. I mean, we understand that you kind of went past the deadline because you want to keep the momentum, but is there enough momentum to really close this or is just the effort to not give up keeping you there?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think it’s either, Elise. I don’t – and I wouldn’t – again, I wouldn’t want to – I don’t want to predict what will happen or what won’t happen. But I think that everybody realized that, first of all, this isn’t a new deadline. It’s an extension of the JPOA parameters so that negotiators can stay at work. And there’s no specific reason for why the 10th was chosen other than that’s when the ministers together decided that it was – that that was a good date to put out there. So I wouldn’t read into this extension that we’re definitely closer to something or that we’re so far apart that we just – we had to have more work.

QUESTION: But what it – I mean, it needs to be one of those, right? I mean, look, I know you say that this isn’t a deadline, but Thursday was the deadline in effect of the congressional deadline. You’ve kind of acknowledged that you’re going to work past that. I’m not saying Friday is a new deadline or --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: That’s just the date that you extended. I think semantics – it’s a new self-imposed – it’s an --

MR KIRBY: It’s an extension to a certain date of those requirements.

QUESTION: That’s – most people would call that, for shorthand and ease of the reader, a deadline. But anyway, I think the question is: Is there enough momentum that enough time this week – is it because there’s so much progress and so much momentum that you just need a little bit of time, or are you just not there yet and you’re going to keep working until you do?

MR KIRBY: It’s that there is still a lot of work to be done and the teams are there in place largely – and I know the ministers come and go – but the teams are there in place in Vienna, and so I think everybody thought it was the prudent thing to do to stay at the job, to stay at work. And so that’s what this is really about is allowing those JPOA parameters to stay in effect, the sanctions relief to stay in effect a little longer, so that everybody can stay at the table. And that’s what this is.

But I wouldn’t – I think, again, Secretary Kerry over the weekend was very clear: There is still a lot of work to be done. There are still differences that need to be hammered out. So I’m not prepared to say – and actually I wouldn’t say it anyway here today that we – that we believe that because we now have established the 10th as an extension, a date to which we are extending the JPOA, that we now feel like there’s some absolute momentum pushing us towards a deal.

QUESTION: Well, it’s --

MR KIRBY: There’s been a lot of work done and a lot of effort. There still is a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: Okay, so I mean with the – as Lesley said, with the ministers leaving and coming back Thursday, I mean, the likelihood of a deal on Friday is also pretty unlikely. So I think the question is: Do you keep going while you see progress or is there a trigger? Have you given yourself a date – you want to call it a deadline, call it whatever you want – that says: You know what? We’ve done as much as we can do in this round and – or you know what? No more amount of time is going to make a difference. I mean, how long is he prepared to stay out there? Are you prepared to say right now he’s going to stay out there as long as it takes?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not prepared to do anything in terms of speaking to his schedule out there. We’re taking this, as I said at the outset, hour by hour, day by day. So I cannot answer your question, and I think for me to try to do it would be foolhardy. We’re working at – every day it’s a new day out there and they’re focusing on what’s in the negotiating room that day. So I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at the end of today. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow.

What I can tell you is that the team remains out there; Secretary Kerry is dedicated to this, and we’re just going to keep hammering away at it. And if by – at some point they decide that there’s no deal in sight and no deal possible, then the Secretary will make whatever decisions he has to make at that point and we’ll go from there, but it’s just too soon to say.

QUESTION: Have you closed the – have you closed some of the issues that were out there to negotiate on? I mean, have some of them just been, fine, we’ve agreed, and let’s move on to the next lot?

MR KIRBY: Again, without getting into the details in the negotiating room, Lesley, I think that, yes, progress has been made on some issues. There remains work to be done and differences to resolve on others. And I’m not going to detail what those are. But --

QUESTION: Well, I thought it was like a Rubik’s Cube; that nothing’s agreed to until everything’s agreed?

MR KIRBY: Exactly. So while progress has been made on some things, there remain differences on others. And until everything’s agreed on, nothing is really agreed on. But yes, there’s been some progress made on some of the issues, of course. Yeah.

That doesn’t mean that all that stuff is locked up in a suitcase and it’s done and everybody forgets about it, because until there’s a final deal there is no deal.

QUESTION: But John, I don’t understand why nobody just says that, look, this is just – you need to give us time to negotiate this. Why does this self-imposed deadlines keep coming up? I mean --

QUESTION: Self-imposed extensions.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, Elise. No, that’s good.

QUESTION: I know that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Let me just give you the talking points here, Elise. (Laughter.) Because you’re using those – this as well as I am.

Look, the --

QUESTION: I’m rolling my eyes though when I say that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You roll your eyes a lot at things you say. (Laughter.) These aren’t – you use the phrase “self-imposed deadlines.” I think what I would describe them as is self-imposed efforts to keep the negotiators in the room and allow them to keep doing their work. And it’s an extension of the – it’s not an – it’s not a deadline that has to be – you have to have an agreement by the 10th now. What it is is it’s we’re extending the parameters of the JPOA and the temporary sanctions relief that Iran has right now another few days so that everybody can continue the work so that the work remains under – on top of a valid foundation. That’s really what this is.

And I don’t know what it’s going to look like on the 10th. I don’t know what it’s going to look like tomorrow. We’re taking it day by day.

QUESTION: But is it possible you could be there next week then?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to speculate. It would be inappropriate and definitely imprudent for me to speculate about what the next week is going to bring.

QUESTION: I mean, I think you said from this podium in the last several weeks that deadlines were good, quote, “forcing functions.” So without a good forcing function, like, the Iranians or you guys can just – can just keep this going indefinitely until one side gets what they want. So at what point do you say this round – it’s not going to happen at this round?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the answer to that question. I understand the desire to pin down sort of a date certain at which we’re going to do like a light switch no go or go, and I just – we just aren’t there yet. And I couldn’t possibly set that out there for you.

QUESTION: So what’s the forcing function now?

MR KIRBY: The forcing function is that now we have another extension of the JPOA parameters so that negotiators can stay in the room and stay at the table, and that’s what they’re going to do. I mean, everybody – we’re getting fixated on days on a calendar, and I understand that I got up here and I said we’re all still focused on the 30th of June, and that’s true. The 30th of June represented the – what we had hoped would be the end of this round. Obviously, the round now has gone a little longer. We’re in extra innings, if you will, for a baseball analogy. And – but it’s still the same round. It’s still the same --

QUESTION: I didn’t say it wasn’t.

MR KIRBY: It’s still the same game. And so that’s what we’re focused on. And again, there’s been so much work done that I think everybody believes and everybody remains committed to that work, and so it just makes good sense while you have everybody there and there is progress being made that you want to stay at it. And I think that’s what’s going on here. And anybody that tries to predict exactly when it’s going to end and what the resolution’s going to be I think would just be foolhardy at this point.

QUESTION: Is there any calls you can – has the Secretary spoken to the President or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls with the President to read out. No, Lesley, I don’t. But he does stay in touch with the national security team, obviously.


QUESTION: How much of a concern, if at all, if this July 9th congressional deadline, whatever you want to call it, the D word, whatever? How much of it – is that actually something that was weighing on the negotiators, or is it just something that, like, well, the review period doubles and we just have to deal with that, or we’re just going to keep going for a deal?

MR KIRBY: I think the President and Secretary Kerry are both being very clear that we’re going to get a good deal that stands up to scrutiny or we’re not going to get a good deal. So we expect that if we’re able to reach a deal, it’s going to be able to stand up to congressional scrutiny regardless of the length of the time of that review. And that’s really been the mindset going into this.

As I said weeks ago, we were all focused on trying to get this done by the end of June. Everybody said that. And so here they are. They’re still at it in Vienna going on almost two weeks now. But it’s not just the Congress that matters in terms of scrutiny either. The deal is also going to have to stand up to the scrutiny of our partners and allies around the world and the larger international community. So what they’re focused on is the quality of the deal and not necessarily on the length of time that Congress or anybody else is going to scrutinize it. Okay?

You had another one?


MR KIRBY: Okay. You sure?

QUESTION: I could go on, but why bother?



QUESTION: Thank you. Just on the President’s statement yesterday at the Pentagon, he mentioned a number of battlefield victories in both Iraq and Syria. He actually pointed namely to seven areas. And what I noticed was that six out of those seven areas were in the northern regions of Iraq and Syria, where basically the Kurds are in control. Can you say the Kurds are your only effective partner on the ground?

MR KIRBY: What I can say is – and I’m not going to get into military analysis – is that when you have capable, effective partners on the ground against ISIL – indigenous partners on the ground – you can be much more effective against that group. We’ve seen that in parts of Iraq where – whether it’s Peshmerga up in the north or Iraqi Security Forces down in the south, when they are effective, they can have an immense impact on ISIL. And we have seen that in areas in northern Syria with counter-ISIL fighters there. And again, the President detailed some of that and I talked to some of that yesterday as well. They have been effective in certain places and at certain times.

QUESTION: And, like, the only example really he gave that was outside the Kurdistan regions was Tikrit, which was achieved with the help of Iranian-backed Shia forces. So can’t you --

MR KIRBY: No, that’s not true. He talked about --

QUESTION: What else?

MR KIRBY: -- Mosul Dam, he talked about --

QUESTION: Mosul Dam was with the Kurdish forces. It was --

MR KIRBY: He talked about – there’s been other – the Baiji refinery. I mean, there’s been other areas in Iraq. I know where you’re trying to go with this, and what I’m trying to tell you is that you need good partners on the ground. In Iraq, we’re building and we’re working towards helping advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can become more capable. And in some ways and in some places and at some times in this fight, they have been very capable.

In the north in Iraq, of course, there’s been some assistance provided to the Peshmerga, as they have taken the fight to ISIL in northern Iraq. And yes, we have provided some coalition air support to counter-ISIL fighters in the north in Syria. And we’re still trying to get a program stood up to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition. Now it’s going slow. We talked about this yesterday. I think we all recognize there’s a lot of work to be done. But the whole focus of that effort is to help create additional competent, effective, capable security forces inside Syria that can go after ISIL – could protect their neighborhoods, their communities, and go after ISIL.

QUESTION: Well, one more question. It’s not – I’m not going to talk – to ask you about the battlefield things, even though --


QUESTION: -- I quote Secretary Carter – he said yesterday – I paraphrase him – he said that the Kurdish forces in Syria, the refugee are, quote-un-quote, “capable,” and he says they – also they are effective. So – and he also went on to say that that’s why we are going – we continue to provide them with tactical support. So I would like to understand this from – because the State Department apparently has to give greenlight for weapons to be transferred to other forces or countries. Do you expect more support for those forces because of the most recent comments made by Secretary Carter?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made. The support – and we’ve talked about this before – the support largely has been in the form of coalition airstrikes in support of their operations in northern Syria. And those combined efforts have been successful at pushing ISIL out and back.

QUESTION: Thank you.



QUESTION: Can I have one?

MR KIRBY: More on Syria?



QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, you talked about the train and equip program, which is one of the major areas that Turkey have a role as part of the coalition.

MR KIRBY: As who?

QUESTION: In Turkey, that --


QUESTION: Yeah, because it’s conducted – I think it’s in Turkey that’s – the process of vetting and also the training going on there. What is – beside hosting the place, what is the other role that Turkey has in this program? Are they going to provide financial support or other resources for that?

MR KIRBY: You have to talk to Ankara about this. I will not – despite the many efforts here, I’m not going to speak for the Turkish Government. But they have agreed to host a train and equip site in Turkey, and again, as we’ve been very open and candid about it, that program has a lot of work to do to reach the kind of results that everybody wants to see it reach. We’re grateful for the support that Turkey is providing in terms of a site to conduct that training. I don’t know and I don’t have the – an accurate assessment here today – I’d refer you to the Defense Department – about how many are being trained at that site or how that’s going. I just don’t know. But again, we’re grateful for that support.

QUESTION: Okay. I remember I think last week or the week before, I asked you about that the YPG is not part of the train and equip program – in that specific program. Is there any problem why they are not part of that? Is it Turkey’s veto on that, or why they are not part of that?

MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Defense Department. They’re the ones --

QUESTION: But that’s what you said to me, that you – I said it’s not – they are not part of that, and you said --

MR KIRBY: They aren’t. As far as I know it, they’re still not. But you’re going to need to talk to the Defense Department about who is being vetted and recruited for that opposition force.

QUESTION: But to your knowledge, is it still the only support that you give to the Kurdish forces in the north of Syria is the airstrike? That’s the only thing that so far they have gotten --

MR KIRBY: As I said, the degree to which there is coordination and assistance provided to those fighters in the north has been largely through the coordination of airstrikes and air support.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?


QUESTION: On Cuba, Samantha Power tweeted earlier this morning or late last night about a Cuban activist that was beaten on his way to mass, and she said that dozens more were detained in a massive crackdown on civil society. Do you have anything on that?

MR KIRBY: We have seen reports of the beating and detention of a political activist by the name of Antonio Rodiles and detention of almost a hundred peaceful activists by Cuban authorities Sunday afternoon, and members of our interests section down there have confirmed these troubling reports.

We will continue to criticize violations of human rights and advocate for the rights to peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression and religion, and we’ll continue to voice our support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. And I think you may have seen comments made by Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson as well on Twitter, I think yesterday, that the U.S. was – is always going to speak out about violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: Does it concern you that now that kind of plans for normalizing – this is like – comes right on the heels of the announcement of the restarting of – of renewing diplomatic ties.


QUESTION: Does it concern you that so close to that announcement and your plans to open your embassy and the Cuban embassy here that this is going on?

MR KIRBY: Certainly, it’s concerning to us. I mean, there’s no question. Again, we’re always going to be very vocal and very candid about human rights concerns where we see them, wherever that is. But it’s not going to change the policy about the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba. In fact, it reinforces the need to move forward with re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, because opening that embassy, we believe, will advance our human rights agenda by opening up channels of official engagement through the re-establishment of those relations.

QUESTION: Have you actually taken this up with the Cubans since Sunday, other than expressing concern about it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific conversations to read out. As you know, we don’t usually talk about diplomatic conversations that we’re having. But I think we’ve certainly made our concerns very well known about these particular incidents over the weekend. There’s absolutely no doubt where the United States stands on it.

QUESTION: And these people were on their way to mass, a Sunday mass?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the circumstances, Lesley, about exactly how and why they were detained. I don’t know.


QUESTION: Thank you, John. Recently, President Obama made a decision to extending one more years for the sanctions against North Korea. Does the United States have any additional sanctions toward North Korea except existing sanctions?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any new sanctions. I’m not prepared to talk to any new sanctions here today.

QUESTION: You don’t know about President extended one more years of sanctions against North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Extension.


MR KIRBY: But that doesn’t mean new. I have nothing to announce today with respect to new sanctions.


MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have two questions on China. Philippines sent their South China Sea case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the hearing has started. The question is: Isn’t seeking this kind of legal action against – this kind of legal action against what the U.S. call to use diplomatic means and dialogue to solve the problem?

MR KIRBY: I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: The first part is Philippines sent their South China Sea case to the UN tribunal to seek further arbitration.

MR KIRBY: The Philippines are seeking – yeah. Well, I would let the Philippine Government speak to the actions they’re taking. Our position has not changed. We’re not taking a position on these claims. We do take a position on the use of force or undue pressure to exert these claims, or to change the status quo in that regard. And we want all parties to work towards resolving these claims, issues, in a peaceful, diplomatic, legal way. I’ll let the Government of the Philippines speak to their actions. I wouldn’t do that.

QUESTION: So their seeking a legal effort to solve this problem is also what you support?

MR KIRBY: Well, nothing’s changed about what our policy’s been – don’t take a position on the claims, do take a position on how they’re resolved, and we want them done diplomatically and peacefully. And I’ll leave it at that.


QUESTION: And another one. Can I go, then you?


QUESTION: Okay. After the S&ED, you showed the outcomes of the strategic track. And one outcome is that the U.S. and China are going to continue to cooperate on anti-corruption initiatives. Could you explain what specific actions you will take to strengthen the cooperation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I don’t have specific actions to read out to you today. I mean, this was a topic of discussion during the S&ED. I think we both recognize the – a sense of purpose here with respect to corruption. This is not something that, I mean, is new to the discussion between us and the Chinese. And I think we’re – as came out of the S&ED, we’re looking for ways to continue to have a constructive dialogue on anti-corruption measures.

We don’t see eye-to-eye with China on every issue, and sometimes even in this realm. But that doesn’t mean that dialogue can’t lead to greater resolution. So, again, I don’t have any specific items to read out to you today. The S&ED just completed a couple of weeks ago. But we’re certainly – it’s in our interest to move forward to work with China on these kinds of issues. Okay?

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: Could I stay on that just a little more? Just to put a – try to put a finer point on what you were saying, does the United States have any preference as to whether the disputes in the South China Sea are resolved through bilateral or plurilateral diplomacy directly, or via an international tribunal?

MR KIRBY: We – we’re not – we haven’t, and we’re not going to start dictating the vehicles through which diplomatic, legal resolution can occur. And that’s for the governments involved to determine.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say that you just want – you want to see the disputes resolved peacefully --

MR KIRBY: And diplomatically.

QUESTION: -- and diplomatically; it doesn’t really matter what the vehicle of that is?

MR KIRBY: As long as the vehicle was obviously, I mean, suitable to both parties, resolves the issues amicably, and is legal. But we’re not going to proscribe to individual nations how they should go about working with China towards resolution.

QUESTION: Okay. But when you say “suitable to both parties,” one party has made it clear that the current means of arbitration is not suitable at all. So it’s --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to – I understand. I’m not going to parse this, okay? Nothing’s – we don’t take a position on these claims; we do take a position on how they’re resolved, and we want them done legally, peacefully, and diplomatically.


QUESTION: John, can we change the subject to Vietnam? The head of the Communist Party is here. Vice President Biden had a lunch with him. Do you know if the – if he raised the issue of the arms embargo, that they (inaudible) fully lifted, during discussions yet?

MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Vice President’s office for a readout. I don’t have a readout of the private discussion that was had.

QUESTION: So there --

MR KIRBY: I was at the lunch prior to coming down here – one of the reasons I was a little bit late. In the opening comments, both leaders talked about the importance of moving the relationship forward. We’ve come a long way in 20 years, and I think there’s – it’s in both our interests to continue to improve this relationship and move it forward. But I didn’t get any specific readout on that.

QUESTION: So you did not – he didn’t have any discussions with officials at the State Department?



MR KIRBY: No. There was no – no. I mean, there were State Department officials present for the meetings --


MR KIRBY: -- but I mean, the meeting was with the Vice President before the lunch. And again, I’d point you to the White House to give a readout of that.

Okay? This was easy. Forty minutes. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:38 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 16:30

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 6, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:05 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I’ve got quite a bit of material here to start us off with, so let me start with the Iran talks in Vienna.

As you all know, Secretary Kerry remains in Vienna with the U.S. negotiating team as we work towards reaching a final deal to address the concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. To that end, all of the P5+1 ministers met today along with the EU, and then all later met together with Iran. And all of the experts continue to meet alongside to close the gaps on the remaining technical details. The Secretary met with Foreign Minister Zarif throughout the weekend, including over four hours of meetings yesterday.

As the President said last week and as the Secretary repeated himself yesterday, we will only accept a deal that effectively closes off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and it will have to be a deal that can stand up to the scrutiny of not just our experts, but experts around the world. We’re not there yet and there are some important issues still to be resolved. Again, as Secretary Kerry said yesterday, if we can resolve them this week, we’ll have a deal. And if we can’t, we won’t have a deal.

And we’ll be doing that work to resolve the remaining issues inside the negotiating room, privately and quietly, and not negotiating in public. So I’m not going to have much more to say on these ongoing negotiations, nor will I have any comments on the variety of things that have been reported in the press about the talks. As the Secretary noted, when the time is right, we’ll have more to say.

A travel note, we – I know we put this out last week, but to remind you, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs today to Nigeria and Niger. While in Abuja, the Deputy Secretary will meet with President Buhari and senior government officials to discuss expending counterterrorism assistance, such as intelligence support and additional advisors to enhance Nigeria’s efforts to combat Boko Haram. He will also discuss cooperation on our shared priorities ahead of President Buhari’s visit to Washington on the 20th of July. He will also meet with civil society representatives and alumni of the President’s Young African Leaders initiative.

The delegation traveling with him to Nigeria includes Bureau of African Affairs Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as well as senior officials from the Department of Treasury, the Department of Defense and USAID. The Deputy Secretary will then travel on to Niger on the 9th of July to meet with senior officials and civil society representatives. In particular, he will emphasize our critical security cooperation with Niger and the importance both our countries placed on countering violent extremism in the region.

And on that note, just a quick segue, you probably saw my statement last night about the attacks in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. We have learned since I put that statement out that the death toll has risen now to about 200. So a very lethal, very deadly series of attacks, and once again, we condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms.

Couple of personnel announcements here. You probably saw the Secretary announced the appointment of Thomas Periello as the special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa. Mr. Periello, who recently served as special representative for the department’s successful Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, has also served as advisor for the international court for Sierra Leone, as a consultant to the International Center for Transitional Justice in Kosovo, Darfur, and Afghanistan, and he was a member, of course, of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2008 until 2010. He worked closely with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield on a portfolio that consists of the Great Lakes states of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.

His priorities will be to strive, in coordination with local officials and international partners, to spur progress toward lasting peace, stability, and development throughout the region, including the strengthening of democratic institutions and civil society, and the safe and voluntary return of refugees and the internally displaced. And Secretary Kerry is of grateful for Mr. Periello’s continued service in this important role.

Couple more. Today in Bangkok, State Department representatives joined with the UN, the WHO, and the Thai Government and others to launch the first international society for drug prevention and treatment professionals. This society will promote professionalism of the workforce seeking to prevent and treat substance use disorders worldwide. Through this initiative, the latest research and news in this crucial field can be disseminated globally, and the training examination and credentialing process currently supported by the State Department will be used to fully professionalize this field.

And then lastly, the Department of State welcomes yesterday’s decision by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to inscribe the San Antonio missions in Texas – a series of four missions making up a U.S. national historical park, plus the Alamo – as a UNESCO world heritage site. The five San Antonio missions are the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in North America and embody nearly 300 years of history and culture. This prestigious designation is a global recognition of the site’s outstanding universal value. The missions now become the 23rd U.S. site on the World Heritage List, which includes of course the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.

With that, Lesley.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to give Iran a try. I mean, I know that everybody from the Germans to the Iranians themselves have talked about important and significant issues that still remain. Has there been any progress that gives one hope that this could even be a deal this week, whether it’s a good or a bad deal?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’d point you back to what Secretary Kerry said yesterday, Lesley. There has been progress made, there’s no doubt about that, and work continues today. But there still remain disagreements and still differences over some particular factors that have precluded, thus far, reaching a deal. So the work continues in earnest. I mean, just today – not insignificant that you saw all the ministers meeting together. That’s not insignificant at all. So everybody is still I think rowing on the oars here to try to get a deal done, but it’s got to be the right deal. It’s got to be a good deal. It’s got to meet our national security interests and those of our partners, or there won’t be one. And again, I think Secretary Kerry was extraordinarily pragmatic yesterday, the way he couched it.

QUESTION: But he also said that we’re almost there. So basically, what could there be left to negotiate in one day that they could not negotiate over a period of 21 months?

MR KIRBY: Well, Said, I’m sure you can understand that I’m not going to get into the details of what’s being negotiated, so I’m just – I’m not going to get into content. That would be completely inappropriate right now. But I think what you saw from him – and I think Minister Zarif said a very similar thing; “never been closer,” I think, was the words he used – should tell you that there has – that being able to say that now builds upon two to three years’ worth of work here. I mean, this was – a lot of effort by a lot of people over a long period of time has led us to these talks today, where we are in Vienna. But Secretary Kerry was also very candid about being able and willing to walk away if a deal can’t be reached that, again, meets the agreements as laid out in April.

QUESTION: Could the sticking point be in – basically in the language or the draft of the final communique? Could that be the problem?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into content, Said. I think you can understand. As I – as we’ve all said, that there remains a lot of work done on both the political and the technical tracks, and there’s not uniformity of opinion on some issues in both those tracks. And again, I won’t get into what exactly the issues of disagreement are, but I think it’s safe to say that both on the political and the technical side there’s still work to be done to close gaps.

QUESTION: And you just – I mean, you basically have a few – I mean, or 24 hours to do this. Would it really – I mean, if one – if this goes beyond Tuesday’s deadline, I mean, is – does this mean that there’s any harm done to that? I mean, we know that you want to do it by the 9th, but also, with Congress out – and I think the bill goes back to 30 days after September – does it really matter if this really gets extended?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what the 7th is and what it isn’t. It’s not a deadline. It was an extension of basically seven days of the parameters of the JPOA – the agreements reached in there, the sanctions relief that was an elemental part of the JPOA. So we extended that for seven days – those parameters – so that it was a technical decision to extend that so that discussions could continue to be had and our diplomats could continue to work. So you’re right, that extension for seven days ends tomorrow. I’m not going to hypothesize now about what happens tomorrow. We’ll see where we are tomorrow and where that goes. But again, I think you can just look at what they’re doing today – clearly a lot of effort, a lot of energy being applied to the talks today, and we’ll see where we go.

The – again, I’ll go back to what I said to Said: I mean just reminding that the Secretary was clear that we’re either going to get a good deal, a deal that meets the parameters in April from Lausanne, that meets our national security requirements, that prevents Iran from all the pathways to nuclear weapons capability, or there won’t be a deal.

QUESTION: John, when the Iranian diplomat said in Vienna that they are not committed to any deadline – so are you also not committed to any deadline? I mean, my question, I guess, is: At what stage you will say that’s it and we’re not going to reach a deal and we’re going to walk out?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t think we’re in a position right now where we can answer that question. We obviously all were focused towards the end of June. We said that throughout May and June and how much the end of June was sort of driving us. Now we’re beyond that. We had this technical extension for seven days. They’re still very much at work. It’s just – it’s the 6th of July, so we’ll see where we are tomorrow.

I think – and I think, again, Secretary Kerry was very clear about this. What’s driving us is trying to get the right deal. That’s what driving us. It’s not that we’re unmindful of the calendar. We’re not unmindful of deadlines that had been set before. But what he’s really focused on more than anything is getting or making sure that if we get a deal it’s a good deal, it’s the right deal.

QUESTION: Sure. But maybe the Iranians saying they don’t have a deadline, and some reports are indicating that maybe we go beyond tomorrow towards the end of the week. So is that within the parameter of what a deadline could be that we can – you can drag it for a few more days?

MR KIRBY: I just – I think I’d really rather reserve judgment and comment on that until or unless we’re at that point. I mean, right now it’s the 6th. The technical extension goes to tomorrow. We’re working on this very, very hard. It’s six hours ahead of us here, and I can tell you they’re still at work in Vienna. So I’m just not – we’re just not at a point now where I can answer that.

QUESTION: Sure, fair enough. But one other issues that are being reported, which is that the Iranians wanted to lift the UN arms embargo. Was this an issue that’s being discussed all the time in Vienna or just suddenly appeared and it became an obstacle?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, there’s lots of people talking on lots of different sides. What we’ve always said is that the sanctions relief we’re speaking about in connection with the deal that is being negotiated are those related to the nuclear program. That’s – those are the sanctions that are under discussion in the negotiating room, and only those. Okay?


QUESTION: So tomorrow, if they want to keep talking, they will have a technical extension, another technical extension?

MR KIRBY: Well, I just – I don’t know. I cannot answer that question for you. I mean, the JPOA has been effective thus far getting us this far in these talks. There’s no doubt about that. But I’m not in a position today to speculate about whether or when there’ll be another extension to the JPO going forward. Is it possible? Sure, but I can’t tell you it’s a certainty. I mean, again, I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but the teams are working real hard right now, today, as you and I stand here. They’re working on this and their focus is on trying to complete that work satisfactorily, not on whether there will necessarily be another extension.

QUESTION: John, you – I mean, you said yesterday – I mean, you just said now that the Secretary had been pragmatic in his remarks yesterday. But practically looking at the remarks coming from Vienna and diplomats from every side saying there is no agreement on any of this, and I mean, that the agreements – the disagreements are still quite vast, is it really realistic and pragmatic to think that you’re going to have a deal by 6 a.m. tomorrow morning in Vienna time?

MR KIRBY: I mean, again, I think the Secretary was very clear-eyed about it, and that’s where he remains today. I’m not going to speculate about what the chances are in the next 12 to 18 hours. As I said last week, I mean, a deal could be had quickly or a deal could be had in a few days, or we could reach no deal. And that remains the case today.

Are we still – any more on --

QUESTION: Still on Iran.



QUESTION: Yeah. When the Secretary said he’s ready to walk away in case he couldn’t get a good deal, did he mean he would walk away tomorrow, or it is open?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think he, when he said that, had a date certain in his mind. He’s more talking a qualitative decision there that if a deal cannot be reached, again, that meets all the parameters agreed to in April and accomplishes all the things I said just a few minutes ago, then he’ll walk away. He’s always had that attitude that he would be willing to walk away if we can’t achieve a good deal. But I don’t think he put, and he didn’t mean to put – certainly he didn’t indicate what time frame that would be.

QUESTION: So he’s open for extension implicitly?

MR KIRBY: I think – I’m not going to speculate about what’s going to happen tomorrow. What the Secretary’s focused on is what’s going on in the negotiating room today. Tomorrow we’ll see where we are, and if we have to have another conversation about that, we will. I’m not going to speculate.


QUESTION: So when you say July 7th isn’t a deadline, is it just a decision – what is – how would you characterize it?

MR KIRBY: It was a technical extension of the standing agreement under the JPOA that provided limited sanctions relief for Iran while negotiations were ongoing. So in order to keep the negotiations going past the 30th, they extended the JPOA for another week. And that was a prudent decision at the time, since back on the 30th or the 1st of July we didn’t know where we were going to be in a few days. So it was a technical extension of those arrangements so that diplomats could continue to work in Vienna and get things done.

So tomorrow, that technical extension expires, and we’ll see where we are tomorrow.

QUESTION: Has the President been in touch with the Secretary while he’s been on the – while he’s been on the ground? Have there been any phone calls between the two of them?

MR KIRBY: I know – I certainly know that the Secretary has talked to Susan Rice several times since being out there, and the Secretary, I mean, has stayed in touch with other national leaders. Obviously, Secretary Moniz is out there. I don’t have any calls with the President to read out.

QUESTION: Can you talk about – offer some insight into how the talks have been structured? Are they in, like, breakout groups? Are they issue by issue? How – can you just offer us a little window into the talks?

MR KIRBY: There’s – I’m not there. So I’m not – and we can certainly try to get you more context here. But there’s several levels of meetings. You have technical experts who are meeting on various technical elements of the deal, and then you have the political leaders who meet. Sometimes they meet bilaterally. You’ve seen us; we’ve been very open about the meetings that the Secretary has been having. And then again today there – all the ministers met. So there’s political meetings, there’s technical meetings, and they happen at various levels and with various members attending. But I don’t have – I don’t have the framework every day of who’s meeting in what room and when.

QUESTION: And then one last question. Has there been a side deal with Iran to lift sanctions on Bukhari Sayed Tahir, who was part of the AQ Khan network? And if so, at whose initiative?

MR KIRBY: I have not heard anything about that at all. And look, on side deals, let me just make it clear that what’s going on in Vienna is about a nuclear deal, and that’s all. Now, on the sidelines of those discussions we certainly do, every opportunity we can, bring up the case of the three Americans that are being detained in Iran, as well as the case of Mr. Levinson. But I’m not aware of any side deal that’s being – in fact, I know there’s no side deal being struck here as it relates to this – these nuclear negotiations. Does that make sense? So I don’t have anything on this individual, but I want to disabuse you of the notion that there are other side deals on other issues being constructed or discussed in Vienna. The focus in Vienna is on the nuclear deal.

QUESTION: But if Treasury, I guess – not on the side, but if Treasury lifts sanctions relating to Iran, that’s not part of the – you’re just saying that’s not --

MR KIRBY: The only sanctions that are in play are those related to Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: I just wanted very quickly to follow up. Has the Secretary spoken to the Israeli prime minister? Because he had some really harsh words about the deal yesterday.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if there’s been a call recently. I should’ve brought my reading glasses up here. (Laughter.) This thing is not in the prescribed --

QUESTION: Do you want me to read it?

MR KIRBY: -- 26 font. No, I don’t see a call recently with Prime Minister Netanyahu in this. No.

QUESTION: Just more on that. Today the prime minister, he called the negotiations not a breakthrough but a breakdown, and said it was better that there’s no deal than this very bad deal. Does State have a reaction to those comments?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, there’s no deal right now. And as I’ve said, Secretary Kerry’s willing to walk away if the right deal cannot be had. And we’ve been very clear that – we’ve – and again, I’d point you to what Secretary Kerry said yesterday, which I thought was extremely pragmatic and clear-eyed. There – he wasn’t talking in terms of breakthroughs at all. So to characterize breakthroughs or breakdowns I think would be inaccurate based on what we know of the scope and the pace and the character of the conversations that are going on right now in the negotiating room.


MR KIRBY: Greece. Are we good? Good? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. You see the referendum results, it’s no. So is the U.S. treating the Greek crisis and this referendum as a political crisis for the EU and the euro currency? Are – you are treating – is it purely a financial economic crisis for one of the countries?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not – I don’t think it’d be appropriate for us to characterize that it is or what kind of crisis this may be. I mean, this is – the referendum – we respect the democratic process in Greece, right. That was something for the Greek people to voice their opinions on. And now that it’s over – and you’ve seen this – Prime Minister Tsipras has indicated Greece’s plan – place, I’m sorry, is in the Eurozone and in Europe. And he’s expressed a desire to return to the negotiating table immediately. We look forward, as we have said from the beginning, to have all parties resuming their conversations toward a constructive outcome.

QUESTION: As it has been said from this podium or from the White House that President Obama has been in touch with the, for example, German chancellor and other leaders in the EU.


QUESTION: Have you been in touch with any of the representatives of these EU institutions or international financial institutions? Like, any readout, anything that is going on – like, what is the U.S. doing about this?

MR KIRBY: Well, Secretary Lew and senior Treasury officials as well as the White House continue to stay in close touch with a broad array of counterparts on the situation in Greece, including officials from Greece, the European Union, and the IMF. So of course, the State Department is a party to some of those discussions but this is predominantly being led by – appropriately led by Secretary Lew and the Treasury Department.

QUESTION: Does the – can I have a follow up on that?


QUESTION: Does the U.S. – and we’ve asked you before – what does the U.S. see as the geopolitical implications of this? Because it really is a big issue. I mean, Greece has played a major role not only in the Mediterranean but also in the Balkans and it stands in an interesting – its location is interesting in a region that is increasingly – you’ve got – I don’t even have to go through it – through Russia and everything. Does the U.S. have some concerns about this, and what kind of diplomatic efforts can the U.S. take – notwithstanding commenting on what’s going on in the economic prospect, but what other kinds of efforts can the U.S. take to ensure that this doesn’t get out of control?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, Lesley, I mean, first of all, you – I think you may have answered your own question. The focus right now is on the financial situation in Greece. And as I said, Secretary Lew is leading the U.S. Government response in terms of – not response, but coordination. And I won’t speak for him or the Treasury Department. But yes, clearly we’re monitoring this closely. We’re all watching developments. And what Secretary Kerry wants to see is that a path forward is found – a constructive path forward is found that will permit Greece to follow on the reforms that it needs and to restore rate of growth and to achieve a level of debt sustainability. That’s really where the focus is on now.

We’re certainly mindful of Greece’s place in Europe geopolitically, but – and nobody’s ignoring that, but again, the focus right now is on making sure that all the parties in this discussion find a constructive way forward. That’s really the best resolution to a more stable future for Greece and for Europe.

QUESTION: Well, the U.S. is basically – some critics have called it a helpless bystander because this is a European issue. But where it’s not a European issue is in the IMF, in these institutions that can actually come stand forward – come forward and help Greece. What is the U.S. – what has the U.S. said to the IMF about helping Greece?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would refer you to the Treasury Department and Secretary Lew for any discussions of that nature, and I’m not – certainly not confirming that there have been specific discussions between the Treasury Department and the IMF. But it is – this is, again, predominantly led – being coordinated through Secretary Lew and the Treasury Department.

QUESTION: Just another quick follow-up on that. That if you go back in history, like when West Germany – we supported West Germany and brought it – after the World War and all that. And then over the years we have been – how are we supporting at this point Greece or the EU? It’s – as she said, it’s a internal issue, but still it has a big impact, because if it goes out and it goes and the Russia comes to it, it’s – so how this – the State Department is looking at it from the diplomatic angle? What – is there anybody making any phone calls on a diplomatic level, any readout, anything you can have?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any readouts for you.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

MR KIRBY: As I said in my answer to you previously, certainly the State Department – State Department officials are a part of the discussions that are going on, but it is under Secretary Lew’s coordination in that this is predominantly – we’re watching it closely, but it is predominately an issue for Greece’s creditors and Greece and the Greek Government to work out. And as I – again, I was clear – very clear about what we’d like to see, which is reforms, a rate of growth restored, and debt sustainability. And I don’t – there’s simply nothing that I could – would speculate with regard to any additional U.S. assistance.


MR KIRBY: Yemen, sure.

QUESTION: Yes. On Thursday, the United Nations declared Yemen a Level 3 humanitarian disaster area. I know that you issued a statement, I think, from the State Department Press Office at the time.


QUESTION: Is there anything that the United States is doing in terms of leaning on its allies, the Saudis, to stop bombardment largely of civilian areas?

MR KIRBY: Well, we --

QUESTION: You don’t think this --

MR KIRBY: We continue to urge all Yemeni parties to prioritize reaching an agreement to end the fighting and to enable humanitarian aid to reach Yemen’s citizens. I mean, we’re – we’ve been, I think, very steadfast about that. This is, as we’ve talked about before and we support, should be a UN-led process here. And we look forward to a resumption of discussions that can lead to a better outcome.

QUESTION: Do you support the call by Ismail Ould Cheikh, the United Nations envoy, to end the fighting at least till after the Ramadan end holiday? The --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Well, he called for a ceasefire to take place between now and the end of the holiday after Ramadan. So do you support that?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve long supported a humanitarian pause here. I mean, that’s not – and you saw my statement Thursday reiterated that again. So first of all, we support his efforts, and I’ve been clear about that. And there’s – nothing has changed about our desire to see a humanitarian pause here and for – an ability for humanitarian aid and assistance to reach those most in need.

QUESTION: John, what about Said’s first question, which was: What are you doing to try to – I don't know – improve the accuracy or somehow dissuade the Saudis from hitting civilian areas? I mean, just today, there was a strike that killed dozens of civilians.

MR KIRBY: Well, look. We remain in close touch with the Saudi Government regarding a wide range of issues. With respect to Yemen, I’d refer you to them for discussion of their operational details. That’s really for – that’s really for the Saudi Government to speak to. And we take all accounts and reports of civilian casualties seriously, and again, have been very clear about our desire to see a humanitarian pause.

QUESTION: Is the United States still providing assistance to the Saudi-led campaign through ISR and other means of support?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s something you should talk to my colleagues at the Pentagon about.

QUESTION: You guys have talked about it from this room before.

MR KIRBY: There’s been a – there remains some assistance, but I’m not going to detail it from this podium. That’s something for the Defense Department to speak to.

QUESTION: I mean, you – but you’ve said before from the podium – not you, but your predecessors have said that intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance support has been provided.

MR KIRBY: As I said, there’s been some – there remains assistance being provided, but that’s a military issue, and I am not going to speak to military matters.




QUESTION: -- the same topic of Yemen?

MR KIRBY: Okay, and we’ll come back to you.


QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding this UN handling the issue of the fight or the issue of the Yemen, what U.S. is playing as a role beside urging UN and the sides to come to a political solution?

MR KIRBY: I mean, our diplomats are hard at work in – as they always are in trying to stress the desires we’d like to see, the same desires the UN would like to see. But this is a UN-led process. And while we had – certainly had visibility on the recent talks, I mean, this is a UN-led process.

QUESTION: But usually, do you notice, U.S. is having something to push forward. Do you have something to push forward? I mean, is a plan – there is a plan or an urgency to push a plan, or you think that it will take time to let the sides solve their issue?

MR KIRBY: We are supporting the UN process. That’s the process through which we believe the best chance of sustainable success in Yemen will be achieved. And so we want to be supportive of those efforts, so I don’t have – there isn’t a separate U.S. plan being developed or laid on the table here. We’ve made our desires known. They are very much in keeping with what the UN would like to see, which is, again, a humanitarian pause, a restoration of the political process and talks to resolve the issue inside Yemen; a humanitarian pause (a) because we want to see the violence stop; (b) because we want to see humanitarian aid get to the people that need it.

QUESTION: John, Amnesty International says that the Saudi-led coalition displays a pattern of attacks destroying civilian homes and resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries. I assume you wouldn’t agree with that characterization, but how would you describe the instances where so many civilians die in this campaign?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we take all reports of civilian casualties seriously, and we remain in close contact with our Saudi counterparts. Again, I’ll let you – I’ll let them speak to their operational capabilities and performance. But what we really want to see here is no civilians get hurt and the people that are in need get the help that they need. And that can only be done on a sustainable level through political dialogue and a process that allows for a humanitarian pause to be enacted and to be sustained.


QUESTION: ISIS. Your colleagues at the White House said that I think the number of attacks against ISIS targets in Syria, in particular around Raqqa area, has intensified probably to the highest level. Yet the ISIS managed to regain the town of Ain Issa which is from the Turkish fighters yesterday, I think. So isn’t this about – I mean, if militarily obviously they’re gaining, isn’t it about time that you change your strategy or look differently of how you deal with ISIS in Syria in particular?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, I want to be mindful and careful that I’m not getting into battlefield assessments here from the State Department. That would be inappropriate. But I would like to challenge --

QUESTION: I’m talking about the strategy.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: The strategy. I’m not talking about militarily.

MR KIRBY: No, no, I got that. So separate and distinct from battlefield assessments, which I don’t have in-depth knowledge of and it would be – I’d be foolish to get into a discussion about what’s going on on the ground on any given day there, I think two things I would say. One, the strategy that is being enacted is having success against ISIL. We’ve talked about this many times before. It remains a dangerous group. They remain --

QUESTION: Sorry. The strategy in Syria has had some success?

MR KIRBY: The strategy against ISIL writ large is making progress. It doesn’t mean that it’s achieved ultimate success. I think we all recognize that this remains a dangerous group who continues to want to terrorize people and to gain territory and ground and influence in Iraq and in Syria. But we’ve been – coalition aircraft, including U.S. aircraft, have been flying missions inside Iraq and in Syria now for quite some time. And the notion that ISIL just keeps gaining territory is just mathematically false. It’s just not true. They’ve lost somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the territory they had a year ago. It doesn’t mean that inside that they’re going to have tactical successes from time to time like we saw in Ramadi a little bit ago.

QUESTION: If you’ll allow me, I was just going to talk about Syria, not Iraq. In Syria in particular, can you point out to the successes of where ISIS was defeated in Syria and they lost massive amount of land?

MR KIRBY: Kobani. Right? Tal Abyad. Right? And they continue to get hit in all kinds of other places. I think you might – again, I won’t speak for the Defense Department, but I know that there’s been airstrike activity near and around and in Raqqa, which is the self-proclaimed ISIL capital city. So there’s been some success kinetically. And it’s not just about towns. A large part of the effort has been in Syria to try to help get at their ability to sustain themselves, hitting their oil capacities and training camps, their ability to – their lines of communication across the border with Iraq. So there’s been some success.

I want to be very clear though that I’m not looking at this through rose-colored glasses, and nobody else here is either. It remains a dangerous groups, remains a threat. There’s a lot of energy being applied to this that’s not military that doesn’t grab the headlines but is still going on. So everybody is mindful of the work that remains to be done. And again, I think you’ve seen that the President will be going over to the Pentagon later today to speak to military commanders about the strategy, the execution of it. And I’ll let them characterize it after the fact.

QUESTION: John, on the train and equip program, there are really conflicting reports. Some say that you guys have trained maybe in the hundreds, and some say in the thousands. Could you set us straight on this?

MR KIRBY: Which train and equip program are we talking about?

QUESTION: Training the moderate Syrian opposition.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Again, I – that is a DOD program, Said, and I really want to refer to the Pentagon to speak to that particular program. It would be wrong of me to do that.

QUESTION: And on a related issue, has there been any conversation between you and the Turks on the topics of a buffer zone or a safe haven or no-fly zone --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any --

QUESTION: -- since last week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to add since last week, no.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Confronting ISIL, I-S-I-L, or Daesh, I’m staying away from DOD programs and the assessment of military ground and all these things. You were here before with the previous spokesperson of the State Department talking about the strategy and there were five tracks, I think. What about the rest of the tracks, not the military, whether it’s relating? I’m trying to ask this question because there – it’s related to the one year after the Mosul --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- so it’s IS-established --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- or it’s working or whatever, there’s a (inaudible) considering it’s defeating or they are saying that they are gaining more grounds.

MR KIRBY: Right. So we’ve talked --

QUESTION: I’m trying to say – the question is about the other four tracks, which was, like, flow of the money, flow of the people, and the weapons; beside that, the possibility of talking to them or their message to be reached to the others or not. Are they – they are recruiting more people? It seems so. I don’t know. I mean, this department has to have a better idea than media to answer this question, right?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) Look, you’re right; there are other lines of effort here aside from militarily putting pressure on them, and General Allen and Brett McGurk are obviously working this very hard here for the State Department.

But without going into a tick-tock on everything we’ve done, you – we have put pressure on their finances. That’s why the military was hitting oil refineries and crude oil collection points less than a year ago. And so there is – and by squeezing them territorially, you’re also helping put a lot of pressure on their ability to finance themselves. Because one of the ways – frankly, one of the biggest ways they earn money is extortion and theft, and they get that from literally robbing banks and extorting it out of leaders and individuals. And so the more pressure we put them on geographically, the less opportunity they have for that.

Doesn’t mean that that is a solved problem; none of – we have not come to closure on any of these. You mentioned foreign fighters. That’s another element and another line of effort. More than 30 nations now have put in place administrative or legal programs to try to limit the flow of foreign fighters. The United States obviously has been very much a leader in this regard and focusing on this. Doesn’t mean that there – it’s not still a threat, but there is work being done. On the communications side, which is another line of effort, you heard Secretary Kerry a few weeks ago say that that’s one that we know we have a lot more work to do in terms of countering their propaganda and their agility inside social media.

So yeah, there’s – I mean, I don’t – I could go on and on, and I don’t want to do that. There’s a lot of work being applied on all the other lines of effort. They don’t get the headlines because things aren’t blowing up in those lines of effort, but it doesn’t mean that the work isn’t continuing.

QUESTION: John, just trying to follow up this, regarding the communication, for example, a lot of people at the – on the Hill, they are asking for blocking, for example, Twitter or Facebook accounts of these people. Are these – as a principle it’s accepted, or is regarded as an option or not?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know who’s saying that --

QUESTION: Some people. I mean, it’s like --

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, lots of people have lots --

QUESTION: I’m not – I don’t have the names in my mind now.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No, I --

QUESTION: But they were one of the proposed ideas on – their comments of different thing.

MR KIRBY: Without getting into --

QUESTION: Who is doing what --

MR KIRBY: -- cyber tactics which may or may not be considered, I mean, we understand that they have an agility in social media, and we’re trying to help get at that. And it’s a coalition effort; it can’t just be the United States doing this, and it’s not. But I also think you need to keep – we need to keep their propaganda success – if you want to call it that – in some perspective. I mean, they – where they’re being successful, and this gets to your question about recruiting, is in helping recruit and attract a certain segment of the Muslim population to join their effort. They certainly aren’t having some widespread success in social media across the world. I mean, they’re not – their footprint isn’t that big and that pervasive out there. It’s big enough to attract the people that they want to get in, or at least some of the people they want to get in.

So we need to keep it in perspective. Yes, they’re nimble and they’ve proven to be more modern and more capable but certainly not invincible inside social media, and we’re working at that problem very, very hard.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, any comments on the Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visiting now in a number of eastern countries, including Russia, and they will – he will be meeting with the five BRIC nations that includes that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. And they will be – he will be inaugurating this new development bank and other issues among these nations. Is this – U.S. supports this group, particularly that they’re working on number of – within their agenda, within their group, so this number of issues and all that may be affecting if U.S. is in touch with them or have been invited?

MR KIRBY: I’m aware of their attendance. We certainly know about that. But that’s really – those are – that’s a decision that the prime minister has to make for himself, and certainly we respect his decision and it’s just not for us to have a comment on.

QUESTION: The reason I was asking – because before his visit to these countries, number of Indian high-level visits took place here in Washington, including the finance minister, foreign minister --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- and also urban development minister and among others. Have they – I’m sure they must have met somebody here at the State and other – trade and commerce ministers, among others. Have they discussed about this – what’s going on there?

MR KIRBY: This attendance. I don’t know that that – the decision to attend this conference was a topic of discussion here, and even if it was, I’m sure it wasn’t a substantive discussion, because these are decisions – these are national decisions that leaders have to make about whether they’re going to attend these kinds of conferences. So I just – I couldn’t tell you that it was specifically discussed.

QUESTION: And if I may, one more quickly, going back to – on Iran. Many people are asking – the memories of 1979 are still there. Can you – how much can you trust Iran? Because they had signed all the agreements – Vienna Convention, Geneva Convention, international conventions and all that – and still they broke the international laws by what – I don’t have to go back there – U.S. diplomats and others. How much can you trust them today if they sign something tomorrow, whatever outcome will be there?

MR KIRBY: Well, Goyal, we’ve talked about this as well. I mean, this deal is not about trust. It’s about verification. And I mean, if it was all about trust, there’d be no need to sit down and to hammer out a very complicated deal. So we’re going into this – I think everybody, not just the United States – everybody’s going into this with eyes wide open. And as we’ve talked about before, as agreed in April in Lausanne, there has to be – IAEA inspectors have to be given the access they need to do the proper verifications or there won’t be a deal. It’s not about trust.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Relating to negotiations with the Turks on this buffer zone issue, John – last week when Mark was asked this question, he said that there is no any ground truth about this Turkish unilateral military intervention in Syria. Is this still the case for you after one week negotiations with the Ankara government?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, you’re taking Mark’s word? Is that what we’re – (laughter) – I’m kidding.

QUESTION: You’re bad.

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, we – look, we talked about this a lot last week. Almost every day we talked about this. We are in constant discussions with Turkish leaders about the situation against ISIL and across the border, and certainly they’ve made their concerns well known. And these are discussions that continue with them, but I don’t have – just like I didn’t have last week, I don’t have anything today with respect to announcing any change in coalition policy with respect to a buffer zone.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said that there is no need for a U.S. military and coalition perspective, but --

MR KIRBY: I said that the – from a military perspective, military leaders did not see a need for it at this time.

QUESTION: Yeah. But my question is: After these high-level contacts with the Ankara government on this issue over the last weekend, do you still – a possibility for a Turkish unilateral intervention in Syria?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the Turkish Government about that. And I have seen --

QUESTION: No, in terms of the ground troops that you are watching. I mean, also you are --

MR KIRBY: I have seen nothing that would indicate that, but you’re asking me to speak for decisions that another sovereign government might or might not make, and I won’t do that. I’ve seen nothing that would cause me to believe that that is impending, but again, you’d have to talk to Ankara.

QUESTION: Can you please share with us the levels of these contacts that you mentioned?

MR KIRBY: I think the levels have been a very high level. They’ve been at a working level, and they continue. I mean, Turkey is a --

QUESTION: The details will be very helpful. Yeah --

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: What high level? For example, according to my sources, the Vice President Biden made a phone call with President Erdogan, but there wasn’t any readout from White House – I mean on – it is when – it’s very unusual thing. I don’t know why, but --

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to that. I mean, that would – I don’t have any knowledge of the Vice President’s phone conversations. I’d refer you to the White House about that. But look, getting out of the day-to-day who called whom and what was said, we – Turkey is a NATO ally and an important partner in this particular fight. The have agreed to host a training and equip program inside Turkey. They are dealing with millions of refugees across that border. They have border concerns of their own in terms of the flow of foreign fighters. There’s a lot for us to talk to Turkey about – a lot – with respect to the fight against ISIL, and we continue to have those discussions at all various levels. I don’t know how many times our leaders have gone to Ankara, and they will continue to go to Ankara. And these are discussions that we will continue to have with them at all various levels, because this is a very dynamic, fluid, changing security environment.

QUESTION: And last one, John. So this kind of unilateral Turkish intervention – military intervention in Syria, would be a concern for U.S. Government?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to comment on a hypothetical or a situation that hasn’t happened. What we want and I think is important for everybody to remember is that the coalition is focused on the mission at hand, which is destroying – degrading and destroying ISIL and their capabilities. Turkey is a part of that coalition. Yes, there are other concerns that Turkey has, and we continue to talk to them about it. But the focus of the coalition is anti-ISIL, counter-ISIL, and that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: But the relationship between the U.S. Government and Kurdish forces seems – is a concern for the Turkish Government, because always there are some --

MR KIRBY: A good defense relationship with Turkey is a concern for us too. But --

QUESTION: No, there are some reports blaming U.S. to create some kind of corridor at the Turkish-Syrian border, and this is all the way coming from the government sources, it seems, that the Turkish Government has some concerns regarding this military partnership between U.S. and Kurdish forces on the ground. And you gave, for example, two cities as an example, as a success, in Syria – Kobani and Tal Abyad. Those are two Kurdish cities, and it was a success because of the military cooperation between U.S. and Kurds. So why all this difference between Ankara and Washington continues? How will you find a common ground to --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- to pursue this fight against ISIL?

MR KIRBY: I think the difference is that you’re getting from government sources, in our view, is being a little overplayed, if I might suggest. It doesn’t – look, you can be the best of friends with another country and it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have differences of opinion about something as complex as our campaign against a group like ISIL. Not everybody is going to agree on everything. And everybody in the coalition brings to the fight what they can for as long as they can. These are national decisions. That’s why it’s a coalition of the willing, not of the ordered.

And so we’re going to – we’re going to continue to discuss concerns that Turkey has. We understand those concerns. But this idea that there’s these huge rifts, I think, quite frankly, is being overplayed. Do we agree on everything? No. But look at execution. Turkey has again agreed to host a train and equip site inside Turkey, and they are lifting enormous weight to try to take care of millions of refugees from Syria inside their border. They have a significant humanitarian assistance mission here that they’re conducting, and they’re doing it nobly and ably, and we thank them for that.

But are we going to agree on every little aspect of it? Probably not. That doesn’t mean that – that doesn’t mean that there’s a problem, a huge strategic problem in the coalition necessarily that needs to be solved. It means that we’re going to continue to work with them because they’re an ally and a partner toward a common end.

QUESTION: Can I ask real quick --

MR KIRBY: Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: Yeah. But the two points that you gave an example for a cooperation --

MR KIRBY: No, I --

QUESTION: -- the train and equipment program and the refugees, this is again some – there are serious concerns from Ankara is on these issues. Train and equipment program is not working. There are only 50 people in Turkey, and Turkish Government is not happy with that. And the secondly, they are still blaming U.S. Government for not supporting Turkey for this refugee problem.

MR KIRBY: Who is blaming? Who?

QUESTION: I mean, the U.S. – the Turkish Government officials, if you look at the statements coming from Ankara.

MR KIRBY: Okay. I’m not going --

QUESTION: The examples that you give are not --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into it tit-for-tat with anonymous government sources in Turkey. I’m just not going to do that. Look, an important ally and partner, and we’re going to continue to work with them on a common goal here, which is countering ISIL. And those two things that you sort of – you said I just mentioned, they’re not insignificant two things. Maybe the numbers of moderate opposition isn’t what we’d like it to be. I think we’ve been pretty open and honest about that, that there remains challenges in trying to put into the field and into the training system – and then into the field – moderate opposition. I think we all recognize that that – that there’s a lot of work left to do to get that program to where we want it to be. The Defense Department, I think, has been very honest about that.

But the efforts by Kurdish fighters against ISIL in Kobani and Tal Abyad was noteworthy. And it would be wrong for us not to note the success that they were able to have – with coalition air support, to be sure. But it was successful, and it did put pressure on ISIL. Particularly in Tal Abyad, it helped cut off a major line of communication for ISIL along that border. And again, we – coalition aircraft helped contribute to that success. That’s what – back to the question here, and we’ve said this from the very get-go, that a lot of the effort inside Syria is about getting at this group’s ability to sustain itself and to maintain its viability. It operates predominantly in Iraq; it sustains itself predominantly inside Syria. Now, there’s obviously a little mix there, but that’s kind of how you have to think about it. And we continue to apply pressure – the coalition continues to apply pressure inside Syria, and I would suspect that you’re going to continue to see that.

QUESTION: John, could I ask you about your statement last week on the boycott? You issued a statement on the – telling the Israelis that you basically will not defend against the boycott of products from the settlement. Now, the day before, the President signed into law the trade bill which actually has a clause on that. How do you reconcile the practical aspect of your statement that you will not defend against the law?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, ignoring the law is not an option, okay. But the law – the language in the legislation notwithstanding, Said, nothing has changed about our policy that (a) we don’t support boycotts against the state of Israel, and (b) that we don’t recognize settlements beyond the 1967 line.

QUESTION: Then you will not do anything to sort of protect against the boycotting of products from the settlement by any group or university or company or anything like this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. But nothing’s changed about our policies with respect to settlements.

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand the practical aspect of this --

MR KIRBY: I know you are.

QUESTION: -- which came out very clear.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, no, I know. Look, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about execution of the legislation. We don’t support boycotts against the state of Israel. And again, our position on settlements hasn’t changed.

I’ve got time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: Iraq. John, have you heard about the Iraqi pilot accidentally bombed one of the Baghdad neighborhood? I don’t know if you heard of that, but my – this is not the question, but the question is about the F-16 jets, that there were communication between U.S. and Iraq that – to be shipped to Iraq in last month or this month maybe. But there are also the problem – maybe communication’s not a problem between U.S. and Baghdad, to be positioned in Jordan, not in Iraq. Do you have anything on that?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: What about any update about Baghdad and Erbil deal? There are reports that --

MR KIRBY: Baghdad and Erbil what?

QUESTION: The deal, the oil deal. That it’s not working. Do you have any updates that you have your people on the ground?

MR KIRBY: Other – look, I’m not – I won’t – I don’t have any comments specifically about the discussions inside the Iraqi Government about this. We’ve long made clear that what we’d like to see is an oil revenue sharing system that’s good for all Iraqis. But I don’t have anything beyond that to speak to specifically.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 2, 2015

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 16:37

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 2, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:01 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: For what?

QUESTION: Earlier briefing. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I got the memo yesterday. I’m happy to oblige. And thanks, everybody.

A couple of things at the top and then we’ll get right at it. Secretary Kerry has had a busy day as he and his team continue to work with the EU and our P5+1 partners towards concluding a final deal with Iran to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of that – of Iran’s nuclear program. Last night the Secretary met with the German foreign minister. Today he has met bilaterally with the UK foreign secretary, the EU High Representative Mogherini, and the Chinese foreign minister.

I’m not going to have detailed readouts of all these meetings, but obviously they were primarily focused on addressing the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. And finally, he’s meeting right now, as we speak, with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Secretary of Energy Moniz continues to meet as well with his counterpart, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, and all the teams continue to work toward trying to close the remaining gaps.

I do want to emphasize here again what the President and Secretary Kerry have both said – the President said just the other day – that we’re only going to accept a deal that effectively shuts off all the pathways to a nuclear weapon for Iran. That is the focus and that remains the focus as we work to see if we can get this done. There’s going to be a lot of outside voices, as we’ve said before, and a lot of public opinion, but our focus remains on what’s going on inside those negotiating rooms. We don’t have any further updates on meeting schedules over the next few days, but as we get them we certainly will provide them.

I also want to note, and you may have seen this, that the White House did announce that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will lead a presidential delegation celebrating our National Day at the Milan Expo 2015 on July 4th. As Secretary Kerry has noted, our participation in the six-month Milan Expo is a chance to share with the world the work that American scientists, chefs, entrepreneurs, farmers, and others are doing to feed a growing global population in a nutritious and sustainable manner. We congratulate our USA Pavilion team for welcoming the one-millionth visitor this week at the Expo.

And then lastly, as we head into the 4th of July holiday weekend, I also want to note that there’s another important anniversary coming in this month of July. On the 26th, we’ll celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, which was one of the world’s first comprehensive laws guaranteeing equal rights to persons with disabilities. Secretary Kerry as a senator cast his vote for that act and proudly did so. This year he has asked all our embassies to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ADA during their official July 4th festivities, and that those festivities be accessible, that they include representatives of the disabled communities in each country, and that our ambassadors and diplomats highlight the remarkable and continuing impact that the ADA has had, not just here in the United States but around the world, in strengthening the rights of disabled people.

With that, I’ll take questions. Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I go?


QUESTION: I’m sure we all have just questions on Iran, but for now I wanted to start off with – we’ve got reports out of Berlin saying that the ambassador – the U.S. ambassador there has been – is going to be called in this afternoon to meet with Angela Merkel’s chief of staff over new spying allegations. Can you confirm that meeting? And I thought this was over, the fact that the U.S. had guaranteed that it wasn’t spying on anybody.

MR KIRBY: Well, nothing – so first, yes, Ambassador Emerson met today with the Chancellery Chief of Staff Peter Altmaier – that’s true. And I won’t talk about the content of the discussions, but yes, there was a meeting today.

As a matter of policy, as we said before, Lesley, we’re not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations or the veracity of leaked documents, but as we’ve also said, we do not conduct foreign intelligence activities unless there’s a specific and validated national security purpose, and that applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.

And then the last thing I’d say is we continue to enjoy a long and very productive friendship with Germany based on shared values and a history of cooperating to advance our interests around the globe. Nothing’s going to change about that.


QUESTION: Well, given that this meeting is happening so quickly after the last blowup over NSA surveillance, is the U.S. using perhaps too broad a definition of defining when it’s appropriate to do this kind of work on allies?

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I completely understand the question, Ros, but as I said right at the outset, we don’t conduct foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there’s a specific national security purpose. And that applies to, again, ordinary citizen and world leaders alike.

QUESTION: Well, let me try to put it more plainly: Is the ambassador just going to have to pencil out time in his calendar every day to be hauled into the foreign ministry or into the chancellor’s offices to be yelled at by German officials about this?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to characterize the content of the conversation. I don’t know that I would, however, call it a “yelling at.” We have strong and very deep relations and a friendship with Germany, one that we value, one that the Germans value. And again, I can’t – and I can’t speak for what German authorities may or may not do in the future based on leaks that may or may not be coming out. What I can tell you is that nothing’s changed about the strong relationship that we have and will continue to have with Germany, and I think leaders from both countries have already talked to this in terms of recognizing that this relationship is important, will continue, must continue, and that our two leaders have already spoken to the fact that we’re going to continue to work past this.

QUESTION: But John, was this raised in the discussion today between the Secretary and the German foreign minister?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a specific readout of that conversation so I don’t know if it was discussed.

QUESTION: And there was just a readout now in Berlin in which – there’s a readout from the chief of staff which said that the U.S. ambassador said that German law had to be respected and violations must be punished, and that this would be investigated. Do you know anything – I mean, he seems to be saying that the U.S. will be looking into who leaked or --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigative process with respect to these leaked documents, and as I said, we’re not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations.

QUESTION: But do you think that this is – I mean, this is the latest in a, as Ros pointed out, a series of issues and that Berlin just said that it had already impacted – was putting strains on security cooperation between Germany and the United States.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, so certainly that’s not any – nobody – our desire is not to have there be any strain on the relationship. As I said, it’s a very deep and strong relationship and friendship, partnership, on a whole range of issues from natural disease to ISIL. And I see nothing that indicates that our cooperation with Germany over these very pressing national security issues of the day is going to diminish at all, and that’s certainly not our desire for any of this to affect it in any way whatsoever.



QUESTION: Thank you, John. There were – there was a report today in Telegraph newspaper that your Arab allies have wanted to send arms directly to the Peshmerga but the United States has effectively prevented them from doing so. Is that true?

MR KIRBY: We have talked about this a lot, so I’ll just say it again: The Kurdish forces in Iraq, the Peshmerga, have been getting material, aid, and assistance from the coalition – not just from the United States, but from the coalition. It is being provided through and by the Iraqi Government in Baghdad, which is how we’re going to keep doing this. And the government in Baghdad has not held things up, has not caused there to be impediments to the delivery of this material. And as I said I think last week – and I kind of went through the extensive amount of arms and ammunition that have been provided and will continue to be provided.

QUESTION: But those officials who have talking to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity – multiple officials, apparently, from different Gulf countries – they are saying – they are very critical of the Obama strategy and saying that there should be more advanced weapons transferred to the Peshmerga, and more directly. But you have apparently, according to them, effectively told them to – do not do it. Is that true?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any instructions that were given by the United States to other nations about the manner in which they would or would not arm Peshmerga forces. What I can speak to is our consistent, persistent policy of making sure they get the arms and ammunition they need quickly, efficiently, effectively, and that has – and that’s been going on. That’s been happening, and it’s been happening through the government in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: I have several Russia-related points. I wanted to follow up on the latest meeting between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry in Vienna on June the 30th. Among other things, they discussed the fight against the Islamic State, and Minister Lavrov, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said that they agreed to try to arrange broader consultations with participation of the states from the region. And he expressed hope that these talks would take place in the near future. I was hoping to hear the – if there is – if there was some movement on that, if you have a date or – and place for those discussions, if you can shed any more light on that.

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have anything in terms of schedule to announce here, or even that – agreement that those kinds of talks would be held. As you know, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov speak all the time. The situation in Iraq and in Syria often comes up, the fight against ISIL. But I don’t have any decisions to read out from a result of this latest meeting.

QUESTION: Okay. And the other point – the second point was they obviously discussed Ukraine, and the agreement, I think, was for Deputy Secretary – Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin and Assistant Secretary Nuland to meet in Switzerland. Karasin later told our reporter in Geneva that this meeting will take place on July the 9th, but that it’s not going to be Geneva; it will be someplace else. Do you have a confirmation for that and the place?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, the Dutch Government prepared a final report on MH17 crash and sent it to a number of interested parties or states, including the United States. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Department of Transportation, which is part of the technical investigation team. Our assessment here is clear and has been consistent – MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We continue to support efforts to ensure that justice – to ensure justice for the relatives of all those killed. And then I would also refer you to Dutch investigators who have the lead on the investigation for any updates in that regard.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: On Cuba, the Cuban Government announced that the opening of the embassy in D.C. would be on July 20th and the delegation will be led by the foreign minister. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Cubans to speak to their plans and their schedules.

QUESTION: I mean, but is the U.S. prepared – I mean, have they been notified, have you been notified that you will be – they will be visiting that day?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m going to – you have to talk to the Cuban authorities about their plans to open their embassies. We can talk about – when we have specific plans, we’ll talk about our plans to formally open our embassy down in Havana. As I think we pointed out yesterday, because of the – due to the exchange of letters by both presidents, July 20th begins the – that begins the start, the restoration, the resumption of diplomatic relations between our two countries. And so at that – on that date, our interests section down in Havana will begin operating as an embassy, and the same would be true for the Cuban facility here.

As to their travel plans and their plans to formalize in some way through ceremony that resumption of diplomatic relations, again, I’d refer you to Cuban authorities to speak to that.

QUESTION: Any date for the Secretary to go yet?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on his schedule to announce today with respect to that.

QUESTION: In terms of embassy operations, do you expect a staffing increase on – at the American Embassy when it opens on – or when the letters take effect on July 20th?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any staffing changes that are going to have to be made, at least not in the immediate future, Ros. I’m not aware of any.

Yeah, Lalit.

QUESTION: Change of subject, Pakistan. A few weeks ago, Secretary had called Pakistani prime minister and had expressed concerns about tensions between India and Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Now there are reports that the two prime minister will be meeting in Russia on the sidelines of SCO meeting – Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s meeting. How do you see the two prime ministers meeting there --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t happened. So that would be foolhardy for me to try to do that here publicly. But I think Secretary Kerry was clear when he spoke about this a couple of weeks ago to all of you that relations between India and Pakistan are important to us. It’s an important region with lots of challenges, lots of common challenges that both countries can continue to work on. But many of them – all of them – need to be worked on between India and Pakistan, and we’d like to see those tensions reduced.

QUESTION: So do you see the Secretary’s call has any impact on the region? Have the tensions reduced from your perspective?

MR KIRBY: Because of that one phone call?


MR KIRBY: I don’t know that Secretary Kerry would credit his one phone call for some new trend in security relations. But it is important to him to continue to have a dialogue with his counterparts in India and in Pakistan because the issues are so important to regional stability. And I think it’s safe to say that you can continue to see him engaged on this, and there’ll be more dialogue. But a reduction in tensions overall – and we’ve seen the tensions rise and fall over time. You’ve seen this. But reduction is what we’re all after and I think suits all parties.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Syria? I was a little late. I hope I am not going to repeat anything if you already talked about Syria. But --

MR KIRBY: Were you late?

QUESTION: Yes, a few minutes. Sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: Okay. We know we start these on time, right? (Laughter.) Okay.

QUESTION: I think we’re just so used to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: You’re so used to it? Well, you need to get out of your old habits. Maybe I should start a new policy that if you’re late and I’ve already addressed the issue, I’m just going to refer you to the transcript. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I hope not. On Syria --

MR KIRBY: I’ve talked all about Syria today – (laughter) – so you’re out of luck. Go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple days ago, this question was asked about Turkish buffer zone plans. Since then, it seems that some – again, the Turkish military moves by the border continues. And it’s reported in Turkish press that there is a redline by the Turkish Government that if the PYD forces go forward from Jarabulus then Turkey is going to intervene. I don’t know if you have any comment on these declarations or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specifically to address with respect to that hypothetical situation you’re proposing. And certainly, any kind of action like that would be for Ankara to speak to, not me here in Washington.

More broadly though, I would like to restate some of what we talked about before when this issue came up earlier in the week. The United States shares Turkey’s concerns about the presence of ISIL forces in northern Syria, and that that presence poses a threat to the security of the region. We continue to discuss with Turkey and other coalition partners how best to combat ISIL in the region. It’s a complex problem. It’s going to require contributions and support from many coalition partners. And we’ve talked about that many, many times that this has got to be – it can’t – it’s not just a Turkey problem and not just a problem from the other border in Iraq, but it’s a coalition issue, it’s an international problem.

And I also want to restate again that we appreciate the generosity – the extraordinary generosity and hospitality of the Turkish Government and people who – and I think it’s important to remind – who are supporting the needs of nearly 2 million refugees who fled the violence in Syria and Iraq. So they are doing a lot. All of us – and we’ve said this before – all of us can do more to try to deal with the flow of foreign fighters across that border. But again, I just don’t have anything specific with respect to that hypothetical.

QUESTION: So – but there is a big difference, it seems like. The Ankara sees PYD, Kurdish forces also, as threat and openly declares that they will not let PYD to go to west, whereas the United States is supporting through airstrikes. So is – it’s fair to say that there’s a big friction when it comes to Syrian Kurds between the U.S. and Turkey, and how do you deal with this huge difference on the policy?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, this is an issue that we routinely discuss with our Turkish counterparts. We understand their concerns, their security concerns about those groups in Syria. Again, I said at the outset we do understand the concerns they have, certainly the concerns they have about ISIL in northern Syria as well. And they’re an important ally and partner, and part of being a good ally and partner is working through some of the issues that you have between yourselves. This is – we understand these concerns and we’re going to continue to work through them with Turkey.

But it is a – there is a larger issue here, and that is the growth of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. And again, we – growth is a relative term. I don’t mean that they’re expanding territory necessarily but that they remain a lethal threat and a threat to all our partners in the region.

QUESTION: Can I go back to your strong and deep relationship with Germany?


QUESTION: I understand --

MR KIRBY: I already talked about this before you came in.

QUESTION: No, I said – I heard, but I want to go back – return to the strong and deep relationship. (Laughter.) The chief of staff of Angela Merkel’s office is saying that this type of revelations are putting strains on the relationship. So, I mean, while you – I don’t think any – either side would argue that the relationship is very important and strong, but what about the assertion that this is really going to impact, and not only in terms of relations or friendship, but the type of cooperation you can have with Germany?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without speaking to the allegations on these intelligence --

QUESTION: Well, they’re in the WikiLeaks documents, so you don’t need to.

MR KIRBY: I know that. Let me get --


MR KIRBY: Let me get it out. Without speaking to those allegations or the veracity of them – and I can’t, obviously, speak for the German Government or how they’re reacting to this; that’s for them to speak to – it’s certainly our hope that nothing, regardless of whether it’s these leaked documents or anything else, that nothing gets in the way of the strong cooperation, partnership, and friendship that we enjoy with the German people. And I think it’s important to remind, Elise, that there’s a lot going on. I mean, there’s a lot – we’re doing a lot with the Germans. They’ve assisted in the Ebola response and the fight against ISIL, and their commitment to Article 5 and NATO and what’s going on in Europe with Russia and Ukraine. I mean, there’s a lot of work to be done and is being done every day with the German Government and the German people, and it’s certainly our hope that nothing gets in the way of that.

QUESTION: Well, but undoubtedly there’s a lot going on, but I think what the Germans are saying – and you don’t really need to speak to the veracity of them. Not only are they in the WikiLeaks documents but the fact that the ambassador is there, obviously you’re taking these allegations or the revelations seriously. But I think what the Germans are saying is this goes to an issue of trust. And so while you may not – while you hope that nothing would affect the relationship, the Germans are saying our ability to trust you is going to be directly affected by these type of things.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that that’s – I’m not going to speak for the German Government.

QUESTION: Well, that’s what Berlin says.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that that’s what’s been stated here. We --

QUESTION: Well, what was stated is this is putting strains on the relationship.

MR KIRBY: Again, and I’ll just say what I said again: We hope that nothing could put strains on what is and will remain a very important partnership.

QUESTION: But do you think that no matter what you do to one of your strong and deep allies, like, nothing is going to put strains on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to go revisit the past here on these alleged intelligence activities. We do not conduct foreign intelligence surveillance activities that – unless there’s a specific and validated national security need. And as I said at the outset, that goes for senior leaders and for ordinary citizens alike.

QUESTION: And so when you --

MR KIRBY: We don’t do that.

QUESTION: When you say we do not, you mean in the present?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to, again, these alleged --

QUESTION: They’re not alleged, John. They’re published --

MR KIRBY: -- leaked specific intelligence allegations.

QUESTION: They’re published cable leaks.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay, but --

MR KIRBY: I’ll tell you what we’re doing now, what we’re focused on now, and the relationship – the strong relationship that we have with Germany.

QUESTION: So are you trying to say that regardless of what’s coming out now, this is an issue from the past?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to comment on the veracity of these alleged intelligence activities. I’ve made it very clear what we are not doing in the realm of intelligence surveillance activities. And again, the third point is how much we value this relationship with Germany and intend in every regard to keep it as strong and vibrant as it is right now.

I already got you, and I got you.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria and Turkey (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you later.

QUESTION: But dealing with the World Food Program funding for --


QUESTION: -- for emergency food assistance.


QUESTION: You noted yesterday that the value of those vouchers for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons is being cut in half.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Since you made that announcement, have any other countries come forward to say that they’re willing to put in more money so that people aren’t adversely affected by what seems to be just a lack of money?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any since yesterday, of any additional contributions by other donor nations. I could tell you that here at the State Department we’re actively considering whether we should increase our own donations, which, as I said yesterday, are greater than anybody else’s combined. And we’re going to continue to focus on this. It’s an important issue.

QUESTION: How quickly could a decision on additional funding be made?

MR KIRBY: It’s hard to say, Roz. I mean, since the World Food Program announced this decision to cut their budget by half in – with respect to Syrian operations, which is a very recent decision – I just spoke to it yesterday. It’s – I mean, we’ve just now started having these discussions and I just don’t have an update for you.




MR KIRBY: You want --

QUESTION: Can I move to Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: I tell you what, let’s do Syria first --


MR KIRBY: -- and then we’ll go to Venezuela.

QUESTION: Okay. On Jarabulus, back to Jarabulus, it seems like the PYD Kurdish forces may be attacking the Jarabulus to take over from ISIS. Would you be supporting that kind of operation subsequently --

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t – just as a matter of course, I don’t do battlefield updates here. So I don’t have an update on the situation on the ground today, and I’m just not in a position to speak to that.

QUESTION: The Turkish Government – one of the claims that the PYD and the Assad regime work together against the Turk. Do you have any kind of finding would support that PYD and the regime working against moderate Syrian opposition forces?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a specifics on who exactly the Assad regime is making deals with or cutting deals with. I think that’s for them to speak to. What I think is important to keep bringing everybody back to is that the fight inside Iraq and in Syria by the coalition – 62 some-odd nations – is against ISIL. That’s the common enemy. That’s the focus. And that’s the group that had – that has been allowed to fester and grow inside – to fester inside Syria, because Assad has lost legitimacy to govern and has lost an ability to have any effect whatsoever on the wide swaths of Syria to the north. That’s the focus of the coalition efforts. And again, for what Assad’s doing, you have to talk to him. But that’s what we’re focused on.


QUESTION: There was a Reuters report yesterday about the United States and Venezuela speaking behind closed doors about normalizing relationship. Allegedly Tom Shannon flew to Caracas at least once, maybe several times. I don’t remember the report accurately. I was hoping you can – you could speak to that a bit, if there was – if indeed these talks are taking place, things like that.

MR KIRBY: Look, communication with other countries is – it’s a hallmark of diplomatic efforts. As a key component of our conversation with Venezuela, whether it be the government or political opposition or others, we’ve underscored the importance of dialogue and respect for democratic institutions and elections and our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms. We – and we maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela. There’s embassies in both countries, and we have strong ties between our two people.

Ambassador Shannon was invited by Venezuelan President Maduro to Caracas in early April. They met on April 8th – not behind closed doors. There’s no – there’s nothing secretive here. And following the Summit of the Americas, Ambassador Shannon was invited again to Caracas for another conversation on May 12th. The conversations were positive and productive, and they will continue. In June when Ambassador Shannon was in Haiti, President Martelly of Haiti invited representatives of the United States and Venezuela to Port-au-Prince to discuss support for Haiti’s elections and reconstruction and development there. Those talks were productive with President Martelly identifying areas where both countries could deepen engagement with Haiti in coordination with ongoing international efforts.

So the delegations – the U.S. and Venezuelan delegations – took advantage of that opportunity to continue bilateral talks. And as in previous meetings in Caracas, that delegation, again, was led by Ambassador Shannon.

So I know that’s a lengthy answer, but there’s nothing behind closed doors here; we maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela. And as I said before, those discussions are going to continue.


QUESTION: One question on the Fourth of July preparations in the United States. It seems that the U.S. security forces have stepped up security measures this year. Does that have anything to do with the growing threat of ISIL – what seems to be the growing threat of ISIL on Western countries, and including the United States?

MR KIRBY: Well, really those kinds of questions are better put to the Department of Homeland Security. That said, I think this is no different than the kind of vigilance that we want Americans to observe around major events like this. There’s no specific critical – credible threat that has been identified.

But I think it’s just good common sense when you have large gatherings, like I expect that we’ll have this weekend, for people to just be vigilant, keep their head on a swivel. But they should get out and enjoy the holiday. It’s an important date in our history, and I know I speak for Secretary Kerry when I say that Americans should go out and enjoy that, and I think we will.


QUESTION: On the South China Sea, have you seen the report put out by CSIS that China is near completion of an airstrip on one of the reefs? And do you have a reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m aware of that report. I’d say the reaction is exactly the same as it has been – that we don’t find reclamation activities, and certainly don’t find the militarization of those outputs, to be helpful to regional security and stability; in fact, quite the contrary. And we’re going to continue to impress upon China as we do with all claimants that our interest is in lowering the tensions. We remain committed to upholding international law, including the freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the peaceful management and resolution of disputes.

QUESTION: John, are you also monitoring the movement of the Chinese oil rig that was reintroduced into the region recently? It’s the same one that raised hackles last year when it was (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen an update on that. I just don’t have anything new on that.



QUESTION: Regarding the South China Sea, do you think that this is a new normal that you’re going to have to accept, in the sense that once those artificial islands are made, you can’t unmake them? Will you have to somehow make a compromise and acknowledge that this is the new status quo?

MR KIRBY: No, we’re not recognizing the status quo as some sort of new normal. We – our position on these facilities hasn’t changed and it’s not going to change.

QUESTION: And you’re not going to have to make a compromise later on --


QUESTION: -- regarding the type of militarization that will (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: There’s no change to our policy and our concerns about these facilities.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: A couple of questions on South Asia, please.


QUESTION: Starting with – there is some warning, Nepal warning. Any reason for that Travel Warning to Nepal?

MR KIRBY: Oh, to Nepal. Yeah, we did just issue a Travel Warning update, and I got it here somewhere. But basically, the update is to recognize that conditions are better, so we’re stopping the – what had been an authorized departure of nonessential personnel. That authorized departure will now not be needed anymore in recognition that conditions are getting better there. That’s the update.

QUESTION: So there is no --

MR KIRBY: It’s reflective of the fact that the situation is getting better.

QUESTION: It’s nothing to do with any credible threat or anything --

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, if you look at the travel update, it actually talks about the improving conditions. So things are actually better there now in the wake of the earthquake, and again, we continue to want to support the Government of Nepal as they continue recovery efforts.

QUESTION: These days, we have been talking about climate change and all that, how much it will affect the globe. Upcoming in November, I believe, there is a climate summit in Maldives, and U.S. is taking the initiative and all that. But according to some experts, Maldives may change their climate, it may go down in the next 25 to 30 years because of the change in the atmosphere and all that. Is that – what the U.S. is doing about that, because since U.S. taking initiative to take this summit?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything schedule-wise to talk about with the summit, but, I mean, Secretary Kerry has been profoundly interested and crystal-clear about his concerns about the growing threats of climate change and what that does to natural resources – resource competition, security, stability, economic prosperity. He’s been a stalwart leader on this issue for many years, long before he was Secretary of State. And he’ll continue to – he just took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. I mean, this is an issue that matters deeply to him and to the United States Government. So our focus is not going to lessen on the growing threats of climate change. I’ll just have to get back to you on this. You said it was in the Maldives? Is that --

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: I’ll just have to get back to you. You always get me on something, Goyal. I can’t – every single day, I just – I have to take a question from you.

Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. And finally, as far as Sri Lanka – situation in Sri Lanka, anything update on that, sir?

MR KIRBY: On what?

QUESTION: In Sri Lanka. Any update on Sri Lanka – situation in Sri Lanka?

MR KIRBY: You got me there too. I did not prepare for a Sri Lanka question today. So that’s two. You’re killing me. You’re killing me.

QUESTION: That’s okay. We are here to celebrate now 4th of July. Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t be able to enjoy my weekend until I know we’ve gotten back to you on these answers. (Laughter.) It’s going to be just bounding around in my brain until I can --

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: No, it’s okay. No, it’s all right. That’s why I took this job.

All right, we’ll take just a couple more. Yeah.

QUESTION: Any comment on the World Cup final, U.S. versus Japan, on Monday? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s – should be obvious where our cheering section’s going to be for the game, but look, we congratulate both teams for getting to the finals. Absolutely exceptional athletic performances, and I know we’re all going to look forward to watching the game. And we’re certainly going to be cheering for our hometown girls, there’s no doubt about that. And also, just – it was heartbreaking to see how the game ended between England and Japan. I saw – just watched the video of that young player and what happened when that final kick of the game, and that’s tough. But that’s sports, and again, we’re looking forward to watching the finals.

QUESTION: Sir, just one more question on Iraq. Some health officials in Fallujah have voiced concern against Iraqi bombardments, Iraqi airplanes, by the Iraqi army that has caused a lot of civilian casualties in that town while they’re bombing ISIS positions. Have you seen those reports and are you concerned?

MR KIRBY: Nope. See, you have an iPhone and I don’t.

QUESTION: Actually --

MR KIRBY: I am not – so I can’t – I – and again, guys, I want to keep away from doing battlefield updates and assessments. I mean, our policy on civilian casualties, our approach – nobody is more scrupulous about trying to prevent civilian casualties more than the United States, and I would also expand that in this fight against ISIL to the coalition. I think all coalition members that are participating in a kinetic, military fashion are showing great restraint and care in not trying to cause civilian casualties, and I would point that the Iraqis as well have been trying very, very hard. I don’t know what happened here in this particular town, and so I’d be loath to try to comment one way or the other. But obviously, the protection of innocent civilians is a key component of this campaign – the military arm of this campaign – and it will continue to be so.

Okay, thanks, everybody. Have a great 4th of July weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:39 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 1, 2015

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 16:47

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 1, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:04 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Thanks for coming, everybody. I’ve got a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll get started.

Just an update on the EU-coordinated P5+1 talks in Vienna. As you know, they continue. The Secretary met today with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif again, and our whole team of experts continues to meet with their counterparts to work on drafting the final technical – the technical details of a final deal. Sorry. This includes meetings that the Secretary of Energy Moniz has been having as well with his Iranian counterpart, and I won’t have any more updates on that.

I think you saw Secretary Kerry had a couple of comments this afternoon after he spoke about our diplomatic relations with Cuba where he talked about the work that’s going on and how hard everybody continues to work.

On Egypt, the United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attacks in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate, in which dozens of Egyptian soldiers were killed and others wounded. We express our sincere condolences to the victims, their families, and the government and the people of Egypt. These attacks come as Egypt is mourning the assassination of its public prosecutor Hisham Barakat on Monday. The perpetrators of these cowardly crimes must be brought to justice. The United States remains steadfast in its support of the Egyptian Government’s efforts to combat terrorism in Egypt.

And then I’d like to make a statement here about the World Food Program. Today, the World Food Program announced it is making immediate cuts to refugee voucher values to hundreds of thousands of refugees as a result of a shortfall in donations to their operations. As media have reported, in order to extend the amount of time they can maintain overall operations inside Syria and for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, the WFP will halve – that is, cut by half – the value of food vouchers given to Syrian refugees in Lebanon this month. It may also cut all help for 440,000 Syrians in Jordan in August.

These shortfalls will have potentially profound consequences for the nutritional needs of the 6 million Syrians it currently reaches in Syria and throughout the region. It could lead both to increased displacement within Syria and increased social instability in countries hosting refugees.

The United States has contributed nearly $1.2 billion to the World Food Program’s operations for the Syria crisis since Fiscal Year 2012 – approximately as much as all other donors combined. We also announced more than $360 million in new U.S. funding to help Syrian – to help Syria – Syrian conflict victims last week. This included food aid and other assistance for international organizations that are providing life-saving assistance to Syrians. This brings the total U.S. Government humanitarian funding for Syria to more than $4 billion since 2011.

Real lives are at stake here. We are exploring additional contributions, but the enormous needs means that all donors urgently need to contribute not only to WFP’s operations but to all the operations of humanitarian agencies that help Syrians.

And with that, let’s start questions. Ken.

QUESTION: Thanks, John. On Sinai, how much – how credible is the Islamic State group’s claimed involvement in that attack? And then secondly, I just want to ask you more broadly about the Administration’s counterterrorism policy. There have been a lot of criticism of late from former officials. Rosa Brooks, your former colleague, wrote a blistering critique of – saying that U.S. counterterrorism policy is flailing. Mike Flynn, the former DIA chief, has been out there saying there is no policy. And the evidence they cited is the Islamic State is growing in strength; there’s an uptick in attacks across the world. Would you dispute that that uptick in attacks is somehow connected to the shortcomings in American counterterrorism policy?

MR KIRBY: Great question. Let me address the first one. I think that’s – we know that the Islamic State in Sinai province has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Northern Sinai. It’s our belief that this is a group we know as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, ABM, which the United States designated as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2014. I don’t think we’re in a position now to even, to claim the veracity of their claims of responsibility, but certainly, that’s who – this group that claims itself to be IS in the Sinai Province, that’s who we believe this is. And obviously, the attack, like the others, are under investigation and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of anything that investigators are looking into. But our condolences and thoughts and prayers obviously to the Egyptian – the families of the Egyptian soldiers certainly stand.

On your larger question, just a couple weeks ago we released country reports on terrorism, and it was a pretty candid and forthright report. If you haven’t had a chance to go through it, I encourage you to do that. And it makes plain that the lethality of attacks have increased and prevalence in general has increased, certainly, in some parts of the world. I mean, again, it was a very forthright, honest assessment.

And the other point that it made and we’ve made repeatedly here from the podium is that counterterrorism has to be, it must be a shared responsibility. So – and I’ll talk about the United States role here in a second, but the main point I want to make is that this is a challenge, a global challenge that can best be met by partners and allies around the world in more than just kinetic ways – and by kinetic you know I mean we’re talking about specific military or security-related options. There are lots of different ways to get at the growth of violent extremism, and you have to consider it all. So it has to be an interagency approach and it has to be an international approach.

I don’t think anybody looking back since 9/11 – and if you just look at the last 14 years, I don’t think anybody can claim justifiably that the United States hasn’t had success against terrorist networks and that – or claimed that we haven’t made progress against these networks and their ability to maneuver, to finance, to train, to equip, and to conduct attacks. That doesn’t mean, Ken, that there isn’t more work to be done. It doesn’t mean that offshoots of some groups are now taking root. And it doesn’t mean that anybody is turning a blind eye to the danger that ISIL still represents, particularly in the region, Iraq and Syria specifically. And I talked about this yesterday. We know that they’re trying to metastasize.

But it has been a concerted focus now for the better part of a decade and a half, and I suspect it will continue to be. What – and we talked about this too – what is the best antidote to the growth of this kind of extremism has to be good governance in the places where the ungoverned spaces where terrorists are able to find safe haven to operate and sustain themselves. And good governance, particularly in a region that is going through so much turmoil, can be a difficult thing to attain.

QUESTION: Is it still the position of the U.S. Government that core al-Qaida is on the path to strategic defeat?

MR KIRBY: We have maintained that core al-Qaida, their leadership, their abilities, their capabilities have been severely degraded and diminished. And as I said, we are also seeing offshoot organizations now coming from them. ISIL is one of those, and there are many, and there many others. But yes, I don’t think you can look at core al-Qaida today and describe it in any way near the terms that it was described back in 2001 or the way we talked about it, the way we analyzed it. There’s just – there’s no comparison to al-Qaida then and al-Qaida now. Again, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still a threat. It doesn’t mean their offshoots aren’t still a threat. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to turn a blind eye. But I think it’s safe to say that, yes, there has been enormous progress made against that group.

QUESTION: Admiral Kirby, can you talk a little bit about Secretary Clinton’s emails? The State Department has now told the House Select Committee on Benghazi that you’re withholding a small number of documents from investigators because of what is called in a letter “important executive branch institutional interests.” Is the State Department invoking executive privilege?

MR KIRBY: There is – what we’re doing, Ed, is there are a small number that are being withheld for executive privilege purposes. That is not uncommon. It’s not atypical. And I would hasten to add that you need to keep it in perspective compared to the wide swath, just an amazing amount of material that’s already been provided to the select committee – 50,000 pages or more of documents, more than 23 witnesses, and we’ll continue to provide documents.

QUESTION: But the White House has very rarely invoked executive privilege. You’re right that you’ve turned over a lot of documents in this investigation, but executive privilege is very rarely invoked. So I just want to be clear: So you’re saying that executive privilege has been invoked now with respect to the Benghazi committee?

MR KIRBY: A small number of responsive documents are not included in this production because they implicate executive branch institutional interests.

QUESTION: Okay. And how – when you say “small number,” under 10, under five --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a number for you, Ed.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you also address, then, on that point, executive privilege on some – there are also emails now that we’re being told after the fact have been deemed to be classified in nature. Is that true, and how many emails is --

MR KIRBY: Now we’re talking about the tranche that we released last night, so --


MR KIRBY: -- let’s make the distinction that this is different and – separate and distinct from --

QUESTION: Okay, and just real quick, executive privilege is being invoked on others that are – what’s the differentiation?

MR KIRBY: A small – so yeah, I think you’re getting – or maybe I’m getting confused here. You’re talking about the select committee’s – additional documents that we just provided to the select committee on Benghazi.


MR KIRBY: And there are a small number of responsive documents that we said are not included because they implicate executive branch institutional interests. I don’t know the number, but it’s small, and you need to keep it in perspective to the 50-some-odd-thousand pages of documents that have already been provided. I mean, so it’s – there is a perspective here that’s important. That’s separate and distinct from, I think, your question about some of the emails that we released last night.

QUESTION: The 3,000 pages.

MR KIRBY: Right. That is part of a separate process, has nothing to do with the select committee’s work. It has to do with the court ruling that every month, we need to do a rolling production of these documents, these emails that were turned over by former Secretary Clinton. And I would remind you again about perspective – 55,000 pages of documents were turned over, representing more than 30,000 emails alone. So of the tranche that was just posted last night through the Freedom of Information Act process, there were some 25 emails that were redacted from inclusion because of classification.

QUESTION: And they were deemed classified by the State Department in recent days as you went through it?

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, Secretary Clinton was very clear at her news conference in March that she never shared classified information --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- in her personal email. You’re now saying that was not true.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is that in the review process – and this is not, again, uncommon over time – in the review process, it was deemed that the information, or at least some of the information in that traffic, should be classified. And so it was. That doesn’t mean that at the time it was sent it needed to have been classified, or that at the time it was sent it was known that there was a classification attached to it. So again, the last time we released a tranche online, it was the same thing. I don’t think it was as many as 25; it was one.

QUESTION: There was one email, as I recall, that the FBI said --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- related to Benghazi, is classified now.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: You’re saying this is much more, though; 25 emails.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s 25; it’s more than one. But again, keep it in perspective; we turned – we released 3,300 pages of documents last night. We’re talking about 25 documents of that thousands of emails that were released last night. So again, you got to keep in perspective. That they are classified now doesn’t mean that they should have been classified then, or even if they should have been, that it would have been wrong to send them without knowing that ahead of time. So --

QUESTION: Fair point. But doesn’t that point to the fact you’ve got to be extremely careful when you’re in a sensitive position in this government about using personal email? Because on the fly you’re not sure if it’s classified or not.

MR KIRBY: Well, we all try to be as careful as possible when we send emails on the unclassified side, which I’ve been doing now for many, many years. You have to try to be cognizant. But it doesn’t – it’s not uncommon that something that you’re sending now on an unclassified network could in later years or later months be deemed to be classified, either because the passage of time made it so, or because events on the ground have borne out, perhaps, the sensitive nature of that traffic that you didn’t know was sensitive at the time. So it’s really important to understand that just because they’re classified now doesn’t mean that anybody did anything wrong back in 2009 when they were sent.

QUESTION: Do you know that they did not do anything wrong back then? Have you looked back and deemed whether it --

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to --

QUESTION: -- should have been classified back then?

MR KIRBY: There’s – I’m not aware of any investigative effort to go back and try to affix blame for that. Again, we’re trying to meet the best needs of the Freedom of Information Act now --


MR KIRBY: -- and be as transparent as possible while protecting classified and sensitive --

QUESTION: And I understand you’re not going to reveal classified information at the podium, obviously. But can you characterize – 25 emails is still a significant number. Are they about Benghazi, or are they about Russia? What’s the topic or what’s the --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not going to go into the actual content, Ed. I think, again, this was a prudent decision made to try to protect sensitive information. And again, just because it’s classified now doesn’t mean that it – that it was wrong to send it at the time.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. And last thing: Can you talk about the State Department’s rules in terms of outside advisors like Sidney Blumenthal? What are the rules of the road for somebody outside who’s not on the payroll here, who doesn’t go through the security clearances, it appears, wasn’t vetted, sharing maybe not classified but sensitive information with the Secretary of State, other officials here? What are the rules?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, back to my answer before, we all need to be careful when we’re operating on an unclassified network. I mean, it’s – and we’re all trained to do that. When you work for the government, it’s ingrained in your training and your preparation to be as careful as you can. There’s a limit sometimes to what you can do by being a receiver of information. If you received something that you know is classified, you’re supposed to make note of it and treat it appropriately, so there’s rules on how to handle. We all have rules that we have to – in fact, you have to go through periodic training to how to handle classified or sensitive information on our unclassified network. So yes, there’s procedures and policies in place, and again, everybody needs to be careful.

I think it’s also important to note that certainly when you’re a senior leader in this town, you’re, just by dint of being in the position you’re going to be in, you’re going to be in receipt of all kinds of advice and counsel from people that are not on your staff. I mean, whether you solicit it or not, in this town it’s inevitable. Lots of people have opinions and lots of people want to share that.

QUESTION: But in this case, it appears Secretary Clinton did solicit some of it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak to Mrs. Clinton’s relationship with Mr. Blumenthal. I’m just making a broad case that it is not uncommon, again, and not atypical for people outside one’s staff to provide advice and counsel and thoughts and guidance. It happens all over this town.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: John, just to follow up on that, is it the case perhaps that some of these emails that we’re not seeing were just – is it that they were completely redacted or are we going to see some that have just been removed completely? So are the ones that were released yesterday – are there some that have been removed entirely or some that have just been redacted?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t gone through the whole inventory myself, Lesley. My understanding is that the redactions are partial, by and large. I can’t rule out the fact that there may be an entire email that might have been redacted. I’d have to go back and look at the inventory. But if so – and the redactions, I think, if you’ve looked at them --


MR KIRBY: -- they’re judiciously done. It’s not – and it was done in a very educated, measured, deliberate way to protect against sensitive information, and frankly, that’s, as I said yesterday, it’s one of the reasons why we were a little late turning the homework in because we wanted make sure we got it right.

QUESTION: Do you – I know it’s early days, but do you know when the next batch is going to be released? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Well, we have another month now to work on it. I can tell you that the staff is – as we speak, they’re already working on the next tranche and preparing them and getting them cleared for release. I can’t, here on the 1st of July, give you an exact deadline of when we’re going to make them public, but we know we’ve got to do it by the end of the month, and we’ll keep everybody informed.

Yeah, Lucas.

QUESTION: As a former admiral in the U.S. Navy, did you ever send a suspected classified email over unclassified systems, like Gmail or a private account, for instance?

MR KIRBY: I don’t remember – I don’t remember ever doing that. I mean, again, you try to be as careful as possible. Is it possible that someone could do it inadvertently without realizing it? Sure. And again, there’s – to Ed’s question, there are procedures in place. When you receive something that you know from the get-go is sensitive and maybe even classified, there’s procedures on how to excise it from your unclassified network, and again, we try as best we can not to do that.

QUESTION: So would you say it’s ill-advised to ever be sending information that could be classified over an unclassified system?

MR KIRBY: Of course, it is. You don’t ever want to be sharing classified or sensitive material over a network that may not be fully protected for it. But Lucas, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t mean that people don’t try to do the right thing when it happens. And sometimes it’s just unavoidable. Because of the way email works, you’re in receipt of an attachment, for instance, that somebody sends you, and when you open it up you realize, oh, my goodness, what I got here.

QUESTION: But in this case here, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of emails, not just one little bit of slippage.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re doing – we’re talking thousands of email traffic. And again, I think you need to keep it in perspective the number of emails in this tranche, anyway, that were deemed to have at least partially sensitive or classified material in it – 25 out of thousands. I mean, I think it’s important to keep that in perspective. And again, just because it’s classified now doesn’t mean that it necessarily would’ve been classified then, and even if it would have been or should have been then doesn’t mean that the recipients or the people transmitting the information had the benefit of that knowledge.

QUESTION: Is it the view of this building that the State Department is bothered by Secretary Clinton’s relationship with Mr. Blumenthal?

MR KIRBY: The State Department is not taking a position on her friendship with Mr. Blumenthal.

QUESTION: But I mean, she was asked not to from the White House – not to hire Mr. Blumenthal, not to coordinate activities with him, yet before her trip to Germany in November of 2009, Mr. Blumenthal sent then-Secretary Clinton emails suggesting talking points, speeches for before she met with officials in Germany. Does that bother State Department officials to have this kind of outside interference, to have somebody, as Secretary Clinton said, massage his words into speeches?

MR KIRBY: I think Mrs. Clinton is best able to address her relationship with Mr. Blumenthal. The State Department is not going to take a position on that. As I said, again, to Ed’s question earlier, it is inevitable in this town that senior leaders are going to be receiving all kinds of unsolicited advice and guidance. When I get done off the podium, I will probably have an email from my mother criticizing my performance today. I mean, it’s just the way it works in this town. And I’m not defending anything here; I just think it’s important to understand that that’s the reality here in Washington.

QUESTION: And lastly, does it bother you in this building that instead of talking about – more about a shortfall in the World Food Program for Syria, that we’re not talking about more global issues, that you’re having to be a de facto spokesman for Hillary Clinton?

MR KIRBY: I don’t find my – I’m Secretary Kerry’s spokesman, and that’s who I’m speaking for and I’m representing the State Department. And I think these are – look, these are fair questions to ask about. I can’t answer them all simply because some of these questions go to Mrs. Clinton’s leadership as Secretary of State and her relationships, and that would be inappropriate for me to speak to. But the process and how and why we’re making these public and how we’re communicating with the select committee – all of that’s fair. And I mean, I’m – I’ve signed up for this job knowing that I have to answer for those kinds of questions. It doesn’t bother me a bit.

That said, I do think that my comments at the outset about the World Food Program and the need of Syrian refugees and for donors to chip in and do their part – yes, that’s important, and yes, I’d like to talk about that some more.

Yes sir.

QUESTION: A few questions on the email. In terms of the information in there, is there some reason why information would be more sensitive today than it was six years ago?

MR KIRBY: Again, without – I’m not going to go into the specifics on these 25. I suspect that in each case it was a different judgment that rendered it now classified. Sometimes information is retrospectively looked at and rendered classified when it was sent just by virtue of an assessment by the intel community. And that could have been the case in some of these. I don’t know. It doesn’t mean that the transmission of it at the time necessarily violated laws. If it wasn’t labeled as such, one would not know it was. Only in hindsight can you look back and say, well, gee, that probably should have been, and maybe the originator – maybe the crafter should have known that.

It is also true at times, because the national security environment is so dynamic and changes so much over time, that over the passage of time and with events – with the benefit of hindsight – you can say, “Well, it wasn’t classified then, and we can understand that. But given what’s happened in that part of the world since then, we probably think it should be classified now.” That’s routine and we do that all the time.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding that all the records that were released yesterday came directly from the batch of 55,000 pages that the secretary provided to the department, or were any of them reconstructed from some other source of information?

MR KIRBY: No. All the documents that we made public last night came from the original batch that were provided by former Secretary Clinton, the 55,000 pages.


MR KIRBY: And that’s – because that’s part of this court order, right? We have to do a rolling production of those documents. This is the second tranche.

QUESTION: And one final question: Back in March before you were at this podium, someone else told us that there had been a request made to a number of former State Department officials beyond the secretaries – I think the number later turned out to be 10 – to return any emails that they might have in their possession or other records they might have in their possession. Do you know if any such records have been returned by any of the staffers that got that request from the State Department?

MR KIRBY: There was a request. As I understand it, those requests are still being processed. I don’t have any update for you.

QUESTION: So some information has come in, or --

MR KIRBY: I just don’t – I don’t have the specifics on what has or hasn’t come in, but I can verify that, yes, that request was made and as I understand it, it’s being adjudicated by the individuals that it was sent to.





QUESTION: The Egyptian Government announced a few days ago that the Secretary will be traveling to Cairo on the 28th to have the strategic dialogue with Egypt. Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to confirm the Secretary’s travel schedule for July right now.

QUESTION: But are you expecting the strategic dialogue soon with the Egyptians?

MR KIRBY: Well, I know this is a dialogue that has been long planned and I believe the target is by the end of July, but I have no announcements on the Secretary’s travel to make today.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: John, can I also talk about – regarding the news today on Cuba.


QUESTION: Do you maybe have an updated – any chance that – of when the Secretary could be planning to go to Havana?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I’m not – obviously, sometime this summer, but I don’t have any more specificity today.

QUESTION: Is any of this being held up because of the Iran talks? Or --

MR KIRBY: Well, your question would sort of imply that it’s being held up, and I don’t know that I’d characterize it that way. You heard him today say this morning that he very much intends to be there for the formal opening of our embassy in Havana. He’s very excited about that, and when we have something specific with respect to timing and schedule to announce, we’ll do that.

QUESTION: What kind of tick-tock can you offer, John, about the decision to exchange letters today? We know that there were four rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and Cuban teams, and then there were a lot of lower-level meetings. What – how did we get to July 1st and this exchange of letters?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think you’ve actually kind of covered it in your question, Ros. I mean, there has been a series of rounds of discussions with the Cuban authorities at various levels, many of which included Assistant Secretary Jacobson and her team. But it was not just a State Department effort – obviously, joined in this effort by colleagues at the White House. So a series of discussions based on the President’s decision that we were going to move forward on this policy shift.

And this – what you saw today was procedurally the – driven by the decision to notify Congress; the 15-day notification of the formal establishment of diplomatic relations, which will now occur, as you saw in the letter that the President sent himself on the – which will occur on the 20th. So --

QUESTION: But coming – yeah, but coming out of the fourth round of meetings that Assistant Secretary Jacobson had with Josefina Vidal and her delegation, there seemed to be some – I don’t want to say hand-wringing, but there seemed to be some concern that some of the issues that reportedly included the ability of U.S. diplomats to be able to travel freely and to meet freely with Cuban citizens, and some Cuban concerns about the status of the embargo, the status of Guantanamo Bay, the – and some other issues seemed to be making it a little stickier to get to this point. What changed between that fourth round and today?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I mean, that’s probably a better question put to Assistant Secretary Jacobson. I wasn’t party to those discussions. But I would tell you that it’s not that there was one sort of sea change or one critical turning point here. This is, as you pointed out in your first question, a result of a series of discussions and negotiations that got us to this point. So I’m not aware of one sort of moment in time where everything pivoted on that. It was – this – these were very frank and candid discussions, and I think as we’ve all pointed out, I mean, there are still areas where we don’t share the same views on issues. But there are many issues that we can and will share interests and cooperation on.

So I can’t point to one thing, but this really – this was a lot of hard spade work done by a lot of people on both sides.

QUESTION: And then going forward, Ambassador DeLaurentis is going to become the charge d’affaires down there. From a practical standpoint, given that there are already threats coming from Congress about possibly holding up an ambassadorial nomination, how well will the new embassy be able to function on a day-to-day basis versus having someone who was nominated by the President, approved by the Senate there as the President’s representative in Havana? How – what’s going to be the impact on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, Mr. DeLaurentis has been there for many years. He’s got vast experience, incredibly talented diplomat, and Secretary Kerry has all the confidence in the world that he’ll be able to act in full capacity as charge d’affaires until an ambassador is named and confirmed. There’s many steps between now and then, obviously, but I don’t think anybody at all is concerned about his ability to act in the good faith of the U.S. Government down there.

QUESTION: Do you think that it could raise some concerns among the Cubans if there isn’t a properly cleared and vetted ambassador who is there, the person that would be able to meet with President Castro or to meet with the interim foreign minister? Because there are some issues where you need the ambassador and not just the CDA.

MR KIRBY: Well, Mr. DeLaurentis has terrific relationships there. Again, we have full confidence – Secretary Kerry has full confidence in his ability to do the job of our top diplomat down there until such time as an ambassador is installed. And I think that everybody understands, including our Cuban counterparts, that the – this is new territory, and so the procedure of nominating and installing – getting confirmed an ambassador is going to take some time. But again, it’s more important to get that process and get the right individual there than it is to try to act quickly, especially when you don’t need to because you’ve got someone of his talent already in Havana.

QUESTION: And then finally, in light of the Human Rights Reports that were released last week, how does this building envision pressing the case on political repression, suppression of journalists and bloggers, random arrests of people for whatever reason, indefinite detentions? How is the U.S. anticipating that it’s going to be able to push these human rights issues with Havana?

MR KIRBY: Well, we actually – these are issues that we – are still very important to us. And this policy shift, this re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, we believe will only make it that much better and easier for us to press our concerns in that regard. It’s much easier to make a case when you can state a case, and you can state a case in a – far better when you have diplomatic relations. So I think we believe that this policy shift actually will assist in our efforts to address those concerns with Cuban authorities.


QUESTION: On Iran. First of all, how long is Secretary Kerry – is he planning to stay in Vienna until the 1st – until the 7th, rather?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have, again, travel schedule information for the Secretary. He remains in Vienna, he remains engaged in these talks. It is – as I said yesterday, we could get a deal in two days, we could get a deal in five days, or we could get no deal. And the 7th is a technical extension of nothing more than the Joint Plan of Action agreements and parameters. It doesn’t mean that the talks necessarily are extended to that particular date.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, also there’s – I have a question about the role of sanctions relief, on billions of dollars in cash and also investment that’s going to be happening, oil revenues that will be growing in – for Iran if there’s a deal.

On Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Senator – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called – he wrote a letter yesterday calling for a pause in the talks, talking about how Iran is expanding its ballistic missile program, supporting Hizballah, Assad, Houthis in Yemen. He says that they pose a danger to Israel and the United States, and that entering into an agreement with Iran now would only make those problems worse.

Is that true? What’s the Administration’s, I guess, feeling on those – thinking on that, on how the money – specifically the money that Iran will get – is going to affect its foreign policy?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’ve all long said that whatever sanctions relief happen, it will happen around Iran’s nuclear program – that other sanctions, whether they be terrorist – support for terrorists, terrorism, or for human rights concerns – will all stay in place. They have never been, nor will they be a party to this deal.

Yes, back in the back, Janne. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So I’m sorry, I’m not quite done, I think. I mean, so is there concern in the State Department that the influx of cash will increase Iran’s ability to engage in the – I think what the Administration calls destabilizing behavior in the Middle East – in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and those type of places? Because, I mean, we’re talking about billions of dollars more that they will have in their – to work with.

MR KIRBY: Our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region remain. That’s why the sanctions related to those activities will remain, regardless of whether we get a deal or not. The discussions going on in Vienna are about Iran’s nuclear program, and only about nuclear – only about Iran’s nuclear program. So nothing has changed about the concerns about their support for terrorist networks in the region, their human rights record, or about their military program, their conventional military program – particularly, you mentioned missile defense. All those concerns remain, and as Secretary Kerry has said, that we’re focused on this. Should we get a deal and should that deal be able to lead to movement on some of the other issues that we have with Iran, well, that’s to the better. But right now, we’re focused on the nuclear program --

QUESTION: How would --

MR KIRBY: -- making sure that they do not attain nuclear capability.

QUESTION: How would getting a deal help make progress on those other issues?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know. Again, it’s a thought that perhaps if you’ve got movement in that area, perhaps there can be movement in other areas down the road. But that’s not the focus right now. Again, we’ve made very clear – nobody’s losing sight or draining focus from our concerns with Iran on a whole wide swath of other issues. All that remains.

QUESTION: A quick follow-on?


QUESTION: In the last few days, a senior Administration official un-named was quoted as saying it would be unfair – in essence, it would be unfair to open all military installations for inspection inside Iran because we would not expect the same thing here in America. Do you share that view?

MR KIRBY: Well, what we’ve said all along, Lucas, is that what matters, I mean, is that the IAEA gets the access they need to verify Iran’s compliance with the parameters set in Lausanne; that that access has to be – that has to be sufficient to provide the IAEA the verification that it needs. That will – that could very well and probably would include some military sites, but it’s about making sure they have the access they need to verify. And I think the President was very clear about this yesterday, that without a strong, robust verification protocol, there’s not going to be a deal.

QUESTION: But do you agree with the assessment that it’s unrealistic to think that all their military sites could be available for inspection?

MR KIRBY: Well, the question would imply that every military site that they have somehow is related to their nuclear program.

QUESTION: Every suspected military site.

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak for the IAEA here. They – it’s clear that in this deal, inspectors need to have the access required to verify compliance wherever and whenever that access needs to be held. And that’s been – from the very beginning, that’s been our approach in this deal.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. Regarding about North Korean issue and Special Representative for the North Korean Policy Ambassador Sung Kim visit to South Korea recently, do you have anything on what he discussed and what is result of Six-Party Talks processings and stuff --

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’m afraid you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: And do you have idea? No?

MR KIRBY: I just – you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. I just don’t.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Another subject? Another subject?


QUESTION: Two questions, related questions. One, any comments that – China has brought up 50 countries to set up a new Asia bank, and – including many of them are U.S. close friends, including India, Germany, and other countries. You think this is a challenge to the U.S. and IMF and World Bank?

MR KIRBY: What bank are we talking about?

QUESTION: The new bank by China, $100 billion bank China has just established with 50 countries on board, they brought them --

MR KIRBY: Oh, oh, the --


MR KIRBY: -- Infrastructure Investment Bank?

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’ve noted that China has expressed an interest in leading this effort. Obviously, other countries are deciding for themselves the degree to which that they want to participate in this. What’s, I think, important for us is – and we – this was part of the discussion that we had with the Chinese when they were here last week – is that we welcome the rise of a peaceful, prosperous China; a China that contributes to stability and security, which does include economic dimensions in the region. But the participation of other countries in this are obviously sovereign decisions they have to make. And we’ll just – we’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: But what message do you have for those countries or especially their allies and friends of the U.S.? They had been dealing for the last 50 or more years with the IMF and World Bank and now this is a new challenge.

MR KIRBY: Well, all – I mean, again, these are sovereign decisions that these nations have to make. It’s our hope that the same sorts of – same sort of transparency and proper management and good stewardship that is exemplified by the IMF and the World Bank would be replicated in the AIIB.

QUESTION: And just a related question. As far as the Export and Import Bank in the U.S., has been playing a big role as far as Fortune 500 companies dealing and doing business overseas, including in India, a huge business and guarantor. Now it’s in trouble in the Congress, sir. How much you think this has been helpful as far as diplomacy is concerned? How much do you think this will have a damage if Congress doesn’t approve any more in the future as far as existence of Export-Import Bank?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have much on that one. You’re going to have to let me get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: I’ve got time for just a couple more.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes, two questions on Israel – clarifying the statement that you made yesterday about language in the TPA legislation on Israeli-controlled territories. Had you made your objections know prior to the amendment sort of sailing through? And also, there was a part that said that the U.S. Government doesn’t defend or pursue policies that will legitimize settlement activity. Are – have you taken a position for or against boycott activities, the West Bank and Jerusalem there if you’re not trying to legitimize settlement activity?

MR KIRBY: We’ve long – so a couple of things here. First, yes, we made our concerns known in the drafting process. Number two, nothing’s changed about our policy of not supporting boycotts of the State of Israel.

QUESTION: Right, but this was saying that --

MR KIRBY: And nothing has changed about our policy – a policy longstanding for many, many years – of opposing Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines.

QUESTION: Can you talk about Yemen? The situation – the UN is saying you’ve got an emergency again and about a thousand prisoners, I believe, released. Sharp concerns about that? What can you say?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve seen – we’ve seen the reports about the – about these prisoners escaping. It’s fresh information that I don’t have a whole lot on – a lot on that. Obviously, if true, it is a concerning development. Don’t know that we have a lot of fidelity on who they were, but clearly, I think we have reason to believe that some of them are at least related to terrorism.

But more broadly in Yemen, what we’re really trying to drive at here is supporting the UN-led process for a political resolution. That’s really the answer.


MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Just a minute. Are you aware of the Ukrainian delegation in town to meet with the IMF, and do they have any meetings planned with the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’m – I don’t have anything to read out to you, Ken, on that. I don’t know but I can check.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR KIRBY: All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)

DPB # 115

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 30, 2015

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 19:35

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 30, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:04 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. I’ve got quite a few things here at the top, so if you’ll just bear with me.

First, on former Secretary Clinton’s emails. At about 9 o’clock tonight, the State Department will make publicly available online approximately 3,000 additional pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. These emails were reviewed using Freedom of Information Act standards for release, as they all have been. The department acknowledges the significant interest in these documents and we’re releasing them in further demonstration of our commitment to transparency, a commitment Secretary Kerry has made very, very clear to all of us. The total page count of documents released to date meets a goal set by a court ruling whereby the department is to aspire to the release of 7 percent of the total number of pages of these documents by today’s date.

I know that 9 o’clock is a fairly inconvenient time for many of you in the media, and I certainly apologize for the inconvenience that that’s going to cause, but I can assure you and I want to make it very clear from the outset that a 9 o’clock release date is not deliberately intended to make your life harder. I know that’s going to be the going assumption, but it is absolutely not the case. We worked very, very hard to try to reach this 7 percent goal and we’re working right up to the deadline. And I can tell you that there were many conversations here yesterday to try to see if we could move that time to the left and just – it’s a matter of physics and time, and there’s just no way to get it done earlier. So just let me make that very clear. I know it’s not ideal for you; it’s not ideal for us either, but you’re just going to have to bear with us and we’ll keep it – and keep the process going.

Secondly, as you may have seen, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited the White House earlier today, just completed a press conference with President Obama. She is now here at the State Department meeting with Deputy Secretary Blinken and Vice President Biden, and they’re – in fact, they’re upstairs having a luncheon discussion as we speak. And I expect that they’ll be talking about a full range of issues, much like were discussed at the White House on how we can deepen our economic, trade, and commercial ties.

I also want to offer our heartfelt condolences to the Indonesian people today, especially those in the city of Medan, where a C-130 military aircraft crashed earlier today. As we understand it, and reports are still coming in – I would certainly point to the Indonesian authorities to speak more specifically about the accident. But as we understand it, there were casualties on the ground as well as in the aircraft. So again, our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Indonesia. They remain strong friends and partners, and we stand ready to assist the Government of Indonesia with the investigation as needed.

As you’ve also probably seen today, the P5+1 and Iran have decided to extend the measures under the Joint Plan of Action until July 7th to allow more time for negotiations to reach a long-term solution on the Iran nuclear issue. This is a simple technical extension. Working towards a final deal, today the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Zarif as well as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, and all the experts continue to meet as we work to conclude a deal. We’ll continue to update you as things progress over the coming days.

And then two other personnel announcements, and then I will turn it over. Today Secretary Kerry announced the appointment of Lee Wolosky to the position of special envoy for Guantanamo closure. Special Envoy Wolosky’s appointment reflects the Administration’s commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. He brings a wealth of experience as an accomplished litigator and pragmatic problem solver – a skillset that will prove valuable as he serves as the lead negotiator for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees abroad and manages the multitude of diplomatic issues related to the President’s directives to close the detention facility there, as well as implement transfer determinations and conduct periodic reviews of those detainees who are not approved for transfer.

And then finally, I just want to make – I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that today is Jeff Rathke’s last day here at the State Department. It’s a very bittersweet day for us to say goodbye to him. You all know Jeff. You know what a professional he is, how calm and cool and collected he is up here even in the face of just bitter scrutiny – (laughter) – and sometimes ridiculous questions. (Laughter.) Those were Jeff’s words, not mine – (laughter) – just before I came out here. But Jeff’s a dedicated – has been a dedicated career Foreign Service officer. And I know I’m speaking for Mark when I say that both of us have relied heavily on his advice and counsel in just the last few weeks as we’ve been trying to get up to speed. And Jeff, we’re really going to miss you and we wish you well. As we say in the Navy, fair winds and following seas. So thanks. (Applause.)

Okay, with that – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Catherine Herridge over at Fox News. I have a couple of follow-ups on the emails. Just so I’m clear, are you still working on clearing more emails at this hour in advance of the 9 o’clock deadline?

MR KIRBY: It’s a continuous process. Remember now we had 55,000 pages to go through, 30-some – 30,000-some odd emails. So that’s a continual process. But the focus today is really going to be on getting these ready.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up again on that. When they’re posted to the website, they’re not posted in a chronological order. Is it going to be possible to do this because it would have more ease in understanding the traffic, or is this a reflection of how you’re receiving these emails from Mrs. Clinton?

MR KIRBY: It’s not a – I don’t think it’s a function of how they’re being – how they’re in receipt. And they’re going to be posted in a very similar format to the last time. So --

QUESTION: But that was a confused format. I mean, it was dates all over the place, right?

MR KIRBY: Recognize that. But you also have to understand sometimes, as you all know, in the use of email there’s forwards, there’s replies all over a spectrum of time. So they’ll be in the same format. Recognize the inconvenience of that, but they’ll be in the same format.

And I’m sorry. You had another?

QUESTION: I did have a follow-up. What we found in the last batch of emails is that there was some pretty significant discrepancies between what was released by the State Department and what was released to the select committee. For example, in April 2011 there’s an email from Mrs. Clinton indicating that she was in support of using private security contractors to arm the Libyan opposition, which was not legal at that time for the U.S. Government to do it. That line was redacted from the public email released by the State Department, but it was intact in the email that was released to the select committee.

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t – I can’t speak to specific emails that the select committee might have that may or may not be in this tranche. Let me go back to try to – because --


MR KIRBY: -- back to your chronological question. So the tranche that will be released tonight is – roughly includes emails from about March to December of 2009. So there is some chronological order to the process itself. We’re kind of going through time. Inside the tranche I can’t guarantee that they’re all going to be lined up exactly by date and time.

I also want to say that just because this tranche is, say, March to the end of 2009 doesn’t mean in the next tranche you may not see emails that are from April or May also of 2009. I mean, we’re doing the best we can to keep them bundled that way, but it’s difficult with the sheer volume of it.

To your other question, again, we can’t speak for inventories of email traffic that other people may provide the select committee or other sources they may get to it. We can only work with what we were given. In these 55,000 pages, that’s our task is to go through and redact them – redact them and prepare them through the Freedom of Information Act process. So in --

QUESTION: I don’t want to monopolize it, but this was the same email provided by the State Department to the select committee. So it’s the same document.


QUESTION: I’m just wondering why it would be redacted in the public version but not in the select committee version because it’s a very important statement that she was interested in using private contractors to arm the rebels at that time.

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to that particular issue and email, ma’am. I just don’t have the depth of knowledge on that particular note. But I can tell you it is not uncommon – again, not speaking to this case specifically – it’s not uncommon for us to release documents to Congress that have a different – there’s a different set of standards sometimes in terms of the kind of information that can be included in correspondence with Congress than you would put for public consumption on a Freedom of Information Act website.


MR KIRBY: There’s – and that’s why I stressed at the outset saying that these were all redacted and organized and reviewed through the Freedom of Information Act process. So I can’t discount the fact that in the future, with this or any other tranche, that there may be documents that are redacted differently for going to the Hill than they are online. Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Sure. This is my final question because I don’t want to monopolize it further. But the 2009 emails that are being released today are really about the furthest distance away of relevance from the terrorist attack itself.

MR KIRBY: Well, remember, don’t confuse these two things. So we are working with the select committee that’s investigating the Benghazi attack. And in cooperating with them, we have not only produced witnesses for briefings that they’ve needed or wanted, but we’ve also produced thousands and thousands of pages of documents, to include some documents from these emails. That’s separate and distinct from the task at hand, which is to make public all 55,000 --


MR KIRBY: -- pages of emails, which the vast majority have nothing to do with the work of the select committee. So those are two separate processes going on.

QUESTION: Right. Got it.

MR KIRBY: Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Lesley?

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?


QUESTION: Does anyone else have emails?


QUESTION: Another question on emails?

MR KIRBY: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: Are you a bit concerned that releasing this glut of documents at 9 o’clock will seem like something done under cover of night? I mean, it does seem like an odd time to release documents.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, were you – I don’t know if you were here when I opened up the press conference.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, I was.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I was very clear – I tried to make it very clear that is really a function of physics for us. I mean, there’s a lot of emails to get through, we have a deadline we have to meet, and it’s – we’re doing everything we can to reach that 7 percent goal for release, as ordered by the court. So that’s what’s driving the time. I recognize it’s inconvenient for you in the media, and I --

QUESTION: Well, it’s not a question of convenience. It’s a question of perception.

MR KIRBY: I recognize the optics – no, I recognize that too, as I said at the opening. I can assure you that this is not an attempt or an effort to try to be less than open and forthcoming or to try to steer away from news coverage of this. We recognize it’s an inconvenient time. We know the difficulty of posting it online at that hour. I could tell you that if we had our way, we would post it earlier. But we have a deadline, we have to meet it. There’s a lot of work between now and 9 o’clock this evening, and we’re just going to keep at it. To Catherine’s question, that’s our focus today, is really to drive at that and meet that goal. Again, recognize it’s not the greatest time of day to do it, but it’s simply – we simply have no choice today.

QUESTION: But Admiral, on this perception that you are scrambling to this deadline at 9 o’clock and you’re still working, this presumably could have been done in the last few days.

MR KIRBY: We’ve been – there’s been nothing but nearly nonstop work on this, Lucas, since the last tranche was released. You have to understand the enormity of the task here. It is a lot of stuff to go through. And it’s not just the volume of material; it’s making sure that, again, to my answers to Catherine, that they’re released properly, that the right redactions are made, that we respect the Freedom of Information Act. And we’re going to do that. And we’d rather be right than be early. And so while we all recognize that turning in our homework at 9 o’clock the night before – (laughter) – is probably not ideal --

QUESTION: You’ve never done that though, right? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m sure nobody’s ever done that. We recognize it’s not ideal, but it’s just the reality that we’re working with today.

QUESTION: And Trey Gowdy on Capitol Hill has said he wanted Secretary Kerry to appear before his select committee to discuss these emails. Would the Secretary be made available for that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that’s exactly what the congressman said. He said if it got to that point, he would make that request. And I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical request that hasn’t come in yet. What I will repeat and I think is important to say is Secretary Kerry has been very clear with all the leadership here at the State Department that we’re going to be as cooperative as possible with the select committee on their task. And he respects it and we’re working very diligently to try to produce documents that meet their needs. I also have said that the more the requests for information expand beyond the original mandate of Benghazi-related material, the harder that – not the harder, but the longer it’s going to take and the more resources it’s going to consume here. So we’re working very hard. Again, there’s two processes here. There’s trying to --

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: -- meet the needs of the select committee, and trying to make public 55,000 pages of emails.

QUESTION: And would secretary – former Secretary Clinton’s former aid, Huma Abedin’s emails be available as well?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’m not going to get into content here for tonight. I think we’ll just have to wait until they get online and you can go through them and look for yourself. I’m going to scrupulously avoid speaking to the content while we’re still processing these and getting them ready to go online.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject?

MR KIRBY: Sure. Are we done on the email thing? Okay.

QUESTION: I want to talk about the Iran talks. I know you got a team there and so have we. But I just want to be clear. You said the extension was technical. But can you give us a sense how these talks are going? Does – Foreign Minister Zarif came back today. There was a sense that maybe he hadn’t come back with everything. Is there a feeling that you can make – perhaps make this deal happen by the 7th, or at least by the deadline of the 8th or the 9th before it goes into that 60-day extension under the Corker bill?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s a lot – there’s a lot in there, Lesley. I won’t speak for Foreign Minister Zarif or his trip back home and what he came back with. As I said, he met with Secretary Kerry today upon his return. I’m told it was a productive meeting, but I don’t have more beyond that and I wouldn’t speculate.

I think this extension to the 7th is really to extend the relief period under the Joint Plan of Action. It is, as I said, a technical extension. It’s like going into extra innings here, okay, in the same game. And what I can also say, then, thirdly is that our focus remains on trying to reach a deal. And that’s where – and the work inside the negotiating room is them trying to resolve the differences that are still outstanding. Again, I won’t speak to the specifics of all those differences, but there does remain – there are differences on some issues, and again, they’re working through that.

Secretary Kerry’s also very pragmatic and clear-eyed about this, though, and as I think you heard the President say – certainly Secretary Kerry has said it before – that no deal is better than a bad deal. So it’s not about – the – I don’t – the extension is – it’s important because it provides a little extra breathing space, but nobody’s under any illusions or trying to race to that day as sort of “I got to have it by.” It’s – we could get a deal in two days, three days; we could get a deal on the 7th; or we could get no deal at all. That’s always a possibility too.

QUESTION: Would you say that there’s still huge gaps remaining, or do you think that those gaps have now been narrowed over the last week or so?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to steer away from adjectives. There are gaps remaining. There are still things that need to be worked out and fleshed out between the negotiating teams. They’re working on that now. But I’m going to refrain from describing them or characterizing them.


QUESTION: Do you have to say anything on the suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan? How do you see the security situation there?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, we’re certainly aware of the attack that occurred in Kabul, and I think our Embassy had a statement out there condemning it – obviously, the violence.

QUESTION: Do you know who was injured in the attack?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. There were no U.S. personnel injured in the attack. And no coalition forces were injured from the attack.

The other thing I’d say is, as we’ve seen this before, the Afghan National Security Forces responded ably to this, and quickly as well. And so that’s another sign, another indication that they continue to improve their capability to defend their own people.

QUESTION: They’re not large-scale attacks, but it seems as if the Taliban or those who are sympathetic with the Taliban are launching on a regular basis these kinds of attacks in the capital city. What does that say to you about the Afghan security forces’ overall control of the security situation in the country? And is that an area where U.S. forces are going to have to give them additional training, perhaps help them recruit more people in order to keep these attacks from happening?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s take a step back. I mean, it’s summertime – not unusual or atypical for us to see more Taliban attacks not just in Kabul, but elsewhere in Afghanistan during the summertime. So this is not altogether atypical. I don’t have trend analysis here for you to tell you it’s more this month than it was this month last year. But I think we need to keep it in perspective. These attacks have not been ultimately successful. They’ve been executed – that’s for sure – but the effect has been minimal on the people of Kabul and the Government of Afghanistan.

And I think, back to my previous answer, looking at the response of the Afghan National Security Forces, the speed with which they got on scene and the efficiency with which they dealt with the attackers, I think, shows that the training and assistance that we’ve been giving them has been effective.

So, again, I would point you to the Defense Department to speak to specific military matters, but I don’t think anybody here thinks that today’s attack or the one last week against the parliament building would imply that we need to make some sort of major muscle movement in changing the way Afghan National Security Forces are being trained, advised, and assisted.

And the last point to your question, I think, it’s important to remind people that they are providing security for their country. It is – the mission is theirs now, and we are in an advisory and assist capacity only. But they are defending their territory. They are defending their citizens, and I might add that they’re doing it quite ably.

QUESTION: What was --

QUESTION: Are you worried – are you worried by the fact that there were a few – several Afghans, local Afghans who were shouting slogans against the Americans and targeting American soldiers who were present there? At least one American soldier were injured in the incident, too, at the incident site.

MR KIRBY: Today’s?


MR KIRBY: I’ve got no reports that suggest – in fact, quite the opposite – that there was any American casualties as a result of today’s attack.


MR KIRBY: I have – everything – all the reporting I’ve seen indicates there were no U.S. casualties either to State Department personnel there or American citizens writ large, and certainly no coalition forces were --

QUESTION: The New York Times is reporting about it.


QUESTION: The New York Times is reporting about it.

MR KIRBY: I can just tell you what reporting I have here, which is that there were no American citizens, no coalition forces injured in the attack. Now if that changes over time, certainly we’ll correct it, but as of right now the indications I have are no Americans were injured or involved in this attack.


QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. has faith and trust in the current system in Afghanistan, because many civilians in Afghanistan are – they are saying that they are still waiting that maybe outside help will help them to keep secure Afghanistan? What I’m asking you is that – you think – what is the future of Afghanistan? Do you think again that outside forces or international security will be called in to establish the peace?

MR KIRBY: I think I addressed this when I was talking to Ros. I mean, Afghan National Security Forces have come an extraordinarily long way in the last several years in terms of their competence and capability, their battlefield prowess, their command and control, their ability to sustain themselves. Now, there’s still gaps, which is why we have an advise and assist mission there. But they’ve come a long way and they’ve responded well to this violence – violence which is not atypical for this time of year for the Taliban. Afghanistan is – and we tend to forget this sometimes – a sovereign country, and their security forces are acting on the orders of their government, President Ghani, and they have done well not just in Kabul but elsewhere throughout the country.

There’s still some international support there, but eventually what we all hope to do is get to a point where the defense and security relationship between us and Afghanistan is more normalized, just like we would have with any other country around the world. And that’s the track we’re on and by dint of what we’ve seen, the Afghan National Security Forces proved capable of doing in just the last couple of years, certainly the last several months, and I think we’re on track and we all feel very good about that.

QUESTION: Before used to be only Talibans and al-Qaidas but now they are facing even ISILs, so how long will the international community keep watching, because attacks after attacks still happening there?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, nobody said Afghanistan was going to be violence free, point one. Point two, yes, we know and we’re watching and we’re certainly concerned about ISIL aspirations inside Afghanistan as we see their aspirations elsewhere. That’s certainly a concern. President Ghani has made that clear. I know Secretary Kerry has spoken to that, and that’s something that we’re all focused on. But again, nobody said and nobody promised that there will be no violence in Afghanistan moving forward.

What’s critical is how the security forces are able, over time, to improve their ability to prevent such violence, and then when they can’t prevent it – which we all have to understand is going to be a reality – how they respond to it. And again, I think you don’t need to take it from me, you could just look at the record over the last year or so and you can see how well they are responding. And they’re getting better every day.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the Middle East?


QUESTION: Bahrain, the decision to go ahead and restore some military assistance. I saw the note. I note that the U.S. has a critical national security interest in maintaining this relationship with Bahrain, but there are numerous human rights activists, both here in the U.S. and abroad, who are saying this undercuts the U.S. ability to hold the Bahraini Government accountable for its human rights violations. How do you respond to that?

MR KIRBY: I’d say we believe it’s important to recognize that Bahrain has made some progress on human rights reforms and reconciliation since the crackdown in 2011. At the same time – and we’ve been very honest about this, Ros; you can look at our Human Rights Report that went out last week – we don’t think that the human rights situation in Bahrain is adequate, as the report makes clear. We’re continuing to press Bahrain on numerous serious issues, including the recent sentencing of Sheikh Ali Salman.

But again, that said, Bahrain has implemented a number of important reforms, including some key recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry. And they’ve recently released a number of prisoners, including many who were in prison for political activity, as well as the well-known secular political society leader Ibrahim Sharif. So we’re going to continue to press our concerns with Bahrain, but we’re also going to continue to press on a very important security relationship that matters in the region, and certainly not just the Gulf region but the Middle East writ large.

QUESTION: We saw recently that when the U.S. decided to restore some military assistance to Egypt, that there was a fundamental change in the way that the Egyptians could access military equipment from the U.S. – that basically, the U.S. is now going to decide what the Egyptians can get. And I may be oversimplifying, but there is that fundamental change in the way the Egyptians can get the equipment.

Is anything similar going to happen with the Bahrainis? Is the U.S. going to be much more scrupulous in saying, “Okay, only this kind of equipment can go to this particular part of the government, and you can’t access other types of equipment because of the potential for abuse”?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think – what I think we made clear in the announcement was that the security assistance to the ministry of defense would be normalized now but that restrictions on assistance to the ministry of interior would remain. So equipment which will help Bahrain deal with terror threats in the region to their ministry of defense will now be – that foreign military service program will be restored, but restrictions on the ministry of interior will remain.

QUESTION: And that’s – to make it plain, that’s because the ministry of interior deals with domestic political issues, domestic strife, domestic crime, and you’re trying to head off their ability to use U.S.-provided equipment against their own people.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Would that be fair?

MR KIRBY: It’s because we believe the ministry of interior still has a lot more work to do in that regard in terms of human rights issues. The ministry of interior will still be held under these restrictions.

QUESTION: John, how much – sticking with that one, how much is this worth, the arms sales? Can you give us a figure?

MR KIRBY: It’s difficult to say exactly right now because lifting the restrictions that were, what, four years old – it doesn’t mean that this material was sort of shrink-wrapped and put in a warehouse somewhere and now we’re just going to go ship it over there. The next step is to have a discussion with Bahraini leaders, determine what their needs are inside the ministry of defense – what their needs are specifically – and then we’ll deal with it from there. So I can’t give you an exact dollar figure on what this lift is going to be, because we have to get with them, they have to tell us what they want.

QUESTION: Okay. So it could be more or less than what is expected --

MR KIRBY: I don’t suspect it’s going to be more than what we were doing previously, which was about $10-15 million a year. I do not think it’ll be in excess of that, but again, we’ve got to sit down with their leaders now and determine, now that the restrictions have been lifted, what is it they need. And it’ll be – it’ll comport with the same kinds of material they were getting before: armored personnel vehicles, MRAPs, Humvees, TOW missiles, arms and ammunition, that kind of thing.

QUESTION: And then --


QUESTION: -- what specifically did you mean by specifically categorizing as “meaningful progress” on those reforms? I mean, is the release of prisoners – can you give us --


QUESTION: -- exact examples that you see as meaningful that the Bahrainis have done?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think – let me just tick off a few here. And I didn’t memorize them, so if you’ll just bear with me, but some of the recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry which they have implemented now include establishing institutions to promote accountability, like an ombudsman’s office, a special investigative unit for the ministry of interior, the National Institution on Human Rights and the Commission on the Rights of Prisoners and Detainees; rebuilding most of the mosques that were destroyed during the 2011 crackdown – construction is completed on 13 of them, significant progress on 14, and there’s limited progress on 3 of them due to some zoning issues; training police and human rights standards both for all new cadets and continuous learning courses for exiting personnel; and reinstating the vast majority of workers who were dismissed from their jobs in 2011.

I do want to – so that’s some actual meaningful reform and change. But again, Lesley, we’re under no illusions here that there’s still work to be done. And as I said, it’s all documented in our Human Rights Report. I mean, we’re not – we’re taking a very clear-eyed approach to this.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied with the Bahrainis’ reaction to this decision?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the Bahrainis for their reaction. I think, again, this was something that was in discussion. And again, we believe this is the right decision for our relationship with Bahrain and for their importance as a partner in the region, but I would refer you to them.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that you did inform them that this is how it was going to be moving forward?

MR KIRBY: Of course. Of course, yes.

Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Change topics?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask quick on Bahrain. Sorry. Quickly, just to follow up on Ros’s issue.


QUESTION: So you’re saying that while things are not perfect, they have made a lot of improvement, right? They have made certain strides toward human rights --

MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, Said, they’ve made meaningful reform progress, but we’re under no illusion that there’s still more work to do.

QUESTION: Where was that progress made? What particular area?

MR KIRBY: I already answered the question. If you check the transcript, you’ll see I gave a list.

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry for being --


QUESTION: If I could --

QUESTION: Excuse me. I’m sorry. I just want to ask one more on Bahrain.

MR KIRBY: Anyway, I promise we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Apologize.


QUESTION: But if there is still progress to be made and the things we’ve seen have been – I mean, establishing commissions is great but it’s not actual concrete progress, why now? Why make this decision now? And does it have anything to do with the fact that we are moving towards a deal with Iran that Bahrain isn’t probably very happy about?

MR KIRBY: I would like to disabuse you of the notion that this is somehow tied to the timing of talks with Iran over their nuclear weapons program.


MR KIRBY: No connection to that whatsoever. Why now? This is – this is a – I mean, this has been something, as I said to Ros, we’ve been talking about and thinking about for quite some time, and it’s a matter of sets of discussions we’ve had here internally in the United States Government and with our Bahraini counterparts. And again, we’ve seen enough progress to know that there’s a concerted effort by Bahrain and their leaders to make the changes that they need to make in – with respect to human rights. But as we’ve also said, under no illusion that there is more work to be done, that there’s more change that needs to be effected. So – and that’s why the ministry of interior will not – there will be no resumption of assistance for them at this time.

So I mean, this is part of a – every relationship that we have around the world there’s things you agree on, things you don’t agree on, things you want to work on, things that need to be improved, and this is part of a process. But the timing is tied to the progress they’ve made and the discussions we’ve had, the comfort level that we feel on restoring some of this assistance. And as I said at the outset, that there’s still some discomfort with restoring all of it.

Yes. And I promised this young lady. I’ve got to go to her. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. The topic is about the Futenma relocation plan. Yesterday Okinawa’s board of education announced that the stone which is found at the Henoko Bay Camp Schwab seaside is a cultural asset. That stone is – was used by the ship sinker during Ryukyu Kingdom and Nago City wanted to request investigations – the Henoko Bay, which the construction – U.S. and the Japanese Government constructing new air base place and by the culture property protection law. And that there is a possible – the possibility that the construction is behind schedule by the found cultural asset. How do United States Government think about that? I need a comment about that.

MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to give me some time to get you a comment on that one. I’m simply not up to speed as much on this – on the construction delays that you’re speaking about to speak with any authority, so I’m going to have to take that question and we’ll get you an answer back.


QUESTION: What controls are there on any possible transfer between the ministry of defense and the ministry of interior of equipment?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, these articles are being resumed for – the sales resumed for the ministry of defense and only for the ministry of defense. And that’s been made clear from the outset.

QUESTION: But presumably, the two ministries could exchange or route.

MR KIRBY: They are – the agreement to lift the restrictions is contingent on the fact that it’s only for the ministry of defense.


QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the meeting that the Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had in the building yesterday including that with the deputy secretary?


QUESTION: India’s foreign secretary was here in this building yesterday and he had a couple of meetings. Do you have a readout?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, no.

QUESTION: Who he met and what are the issues they discussed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’ll have to get back to you on that.


QUESTION: Turkey today moved 32 additional tanks and armored vehicles to Syrian border considered to be used in a safe zone inside of Syria. And yesterday it is said that Turkey didn’t inform United States about a secure zone inside of Syria. Didn’t Turkey still inform you about her intentions about the secure zone yet?

MR KIRBY: The question the way you’ve phrased it makes it sound like Turkey’s made this decision and they’re implementing it. So you need to talk to the people in Ankara about the decisions that they’re making and what they’re doing.

The issue writ large, the interest by Turkey and Turkish leaders in a buffer zone, if you will, which may or may not include a no-fly zone, is something that they’ve made very clear over many, many months now. And this is – but I would point you to them to speak to their desires or their plans. I’m not aware – we’re not aware of any plans that they might have for that specific – military plans for that. And I would let the U.S. military speak for the complications and the difficulties in any kind of U.S. support for that kind of plan. But again, you should refer – I’d refer you to Ankara.

QUESTION: I did ask about that because there was report today on (inaudible) saying that Secretary Kerry was informed by Turkish FM Cavusoglu about the secure zone. He even invited Turkish – American authorities to join those kind of establishment of a secure zone inside of Syria.

MR KIRBY: He was invited when?

QUESTION: Last week during the phone talk between --

MR KIRBY: They talked about a broad range of issues. Again, this is not – this interest by Turkey in a buffer zone is not new, and it’s something that comes up all the time in conversations. You should talk to Turkish leaders about what their plans are and if they intend to do that. The U.S. military – and again, I’m not speaking for the Pentagon, but they’ve made it clear that right now they don’t – there isn’t a need for it from a U.S. military or coalition perspective, and that there are difficulties in trying to execute that kind of thing.

QUESTION: John, I know this is a hypothetical, but if Turkey were to try to establish some sort of buffer zone or if Jordan were to try to do something similar because of all the instability inside Syria, would that require any sort of approval from the UN Security Council? Why, why not?

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on UN Security Council procedure. These are – this issue of Jordan, whether they are going to do it or they’re not going to do it or Turkey’s going to do it, these are – those are national decisions that as far as I know haven’t been made yet by those governments. And if it were to be made – and I hate getting into hypotheticals --


MR KIRBY: -- they would have to decide how they would both make the decision, defend the decision, and implement it. That’s a national decision that they would have to speak to. I don’t know there would be a role for the UN, but again, I’m not a procedural expert on UN policies.

QUESTION: Well, we’re talking about establishing some sort of buffer zone inside another country’s territory.

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: Isn’t that --

MR KIRBY: No, I get the fact that we’re talking about a cross-border. But again, this is something – first of all, there’s been --

QUESTION: I mean, it is hypothetical, but it is worth asking, because I’m thinking of the experience that the U.S. had in Iraq in the 1990s. There were UN Security Council provisions --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t know what role the UN would play. Clearly, the coalition, should a country want to move forward on that, I’m sure that the coalition and coalition members would have a view. I can’t speak for what those views might be in light of decisions that haven’t been made yet.


MR KIRBY: I mean, it is very hypothetical at this point. As far as I’d go is what I’ve said before with respect to the buffer zone that Turkey has talked about in the past. That’s not new.


MR KIRBY: And the Defense Department has made it clear that they don’t believe there’s a need for that at this time, and that should coalition military assets – that the use of coalition military assets in trying to effect a zone like that would entail an awful lot in terms of logistics, time, resources, and effort.

QUESTION: What is the thinking inside this building? I know that the effort has been on trying to train moderate Syrian rebels to be capable of fighting ISIL, but have there been any discussions about whether, from a policy standpoint, having some sort of buffer zone between part of Syria and Turkey would be an advisable situation?

MR KIRBY: I’m – again, I – Ros, you’re really getting into hypotheticals here. It’s hard for us --

QUESTION: No, I’m asking just about – have there been discussions about a buffer zone? Yes, Turkey has been asking for this for the better part of the past year, but --

MR KIRBY: As I – no, as I said, I mean, this is something that we’ve – that has certainly been discussed over the last year or so, and – but there’s been no decisions made, and so I wouldn’t talk about private diplomatic conversations that we may or may not be having with Turkey over it. It’s something that they’ve made plain that they’re interested in. It’s something that the coalition has thus far not been interested in supporting. And again, the discussions continue, and I just – I don’t think I’d go beyond that right now.

I think it’s also important to note – and we’ve all been honest about this – that we understand the concerns that Turkey has about that border. And they are doing an awful lot to accommodate thousands and thousands and thousands of refugees. They also have – and they’re mindful of the challenge they have about a foreign fighter flow --


MR KIRBY: -- across that border. So it’s not like – I mean, nobody’s turning a blind eye to the challenge that they’re facing, or that --


MR KIRBY: -- or the concerns that they have. But again, I just don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, and I certainly am not going to detail discussions that are ongoing.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: And just to follow up on that, what is the difference, from your military expertise, between a buffer zone and a safe haven? Because also they talk about a safe haven for refugees. What would be the difference between a buffer zone and a safe haven?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think in --

QUESTION: In military terms.

MR KIRBY: In military terms, I’m not sure that there’s technical definitions for either one. I think it depends on the context in which you’re using it, Said. So I don’t know that there’s much – it depends on how you’re – what – how you define it and how you want that area defended and protected. But I don’t know that there’s – I’ve never seen a technical military definition difference between the two.

QUESTION: Are the Turks sort of frustrated with the level or the pace of the train and equip program that you are sort of directing with the – I guess the moderate Syrian rebel group?

MR KIRBY: Or you should ask the Turks.

QUESTION: New subject? Go to Yemen?


QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the – ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the car bomb attack that killed 28 people in Sana’a?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports that they’ve claimed it but I can’t confirm it at this time.

QUESTION: Do you have any – what’s the level of concern about the seeming – the apparent increase in the level of activity by ISIS in Yemen in recent --

MR KIRBY: It’s the same – I mean, look, we’ve – I’ve said this before. We’ve remained concerned about the desire by ISIL to metastasize and to spread beyond Iraq and Syria, which is the principal front right now. So while I can’t attribute any veracity to the claims that they had anything to do with that or any other of the recent terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and Syria, certainly we know they have those ambitions and those aspirations, and that concerns us all deeply. And it’s why we take so seriously the threat and the challenge of foreign fighters, and self-radicalized individuals that can come or go with the – with various passports and visas.

QUESTION: There are some who say that U.S. tactics in the region – fighting against AQAP, for instance – have created a sort of vacuum or a space that has allowed ISIS to go in and set up more of a presence in the country. How do you respond to that?

MR KIRBY: I would refute the premise that – I mean, the pressure we’re putting on terror networks around the world has produced results. There has been progress against certainly al-Qaida and its senior leadership, but other elements as well. And I don’t – I think it’s not – this perceived growth of ISIL – and I use the word “perceived” deliberately – is – who knows exactly what’s behind it? But it’s just as much about branding and aspirations as it is anything else. That doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously, doesn’t mean we’re not trying to adapt to the threat that they pose, but to suggest that the work – the counterterrorism work that we’re doing has created ungoverned spaces or space for these guys to grow – I just – I would challenge that.

QUESTION: But are you able to – assuming that there is a level of reality to the threat in Yemen, are you able to adapt to that without much of a presence there on the ground, given the conflict?

MR KIRBY: Our effort in Yemen I think – and this gets to – what really needs to happen in places like Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and quite frankly Libya as well, is good governance, responsive governance. And I know that that’s a difficult thing to wrap your brain around, and it’s not something that’s tangible, but it is in effect what is the long-term solution here. Because these guys – we talk about their slick propaganda machine and the – there is an allure to a certain segment of particularly young men out there, but to paint these guys as 10 feet tall and ultra-popular around the world would be ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. They’re not invincible, they’re not 10 feet tall, and they’re going to fail.

But it’s going to take some time, and one of the ways you get at the threat – aside from kinetics, which we’re very good at, and they continue to lose fighters, they continue to lose equipment, they continue to lose ground – they’re able to sustain themselves and to recruit and survive, and we recognize that. One of the reasons they’re able to do that is because of this popular ideology. But they will eventually – over time they will be defeated, and it won’t just be through kinetic military action. It’ll be through good governance, and that’s what the political solutions in places like Yemen and Libya – that’s the real answer, and that’s harder to get at.

QUESTION: Yeah. I guess – I mean, I guess my question was really how much the U.S. can contribute to that without the kind of presence on the ground that you used to have that you don’t --

MR KIRBY: Contribute to good governance? Well, we’re --

QUESTION: Yeah, building a durable and political solution.

MR KIRBY: Well, the lack of presence on the ground affects you more from a military perspective than it does from a governance perspective. In Libya and in Yemen there’s UN-led processes here to try to come to political resolutions which we are very much in support of, and so I think that, we believe, is the right approach. It’s the right mechanism to try to do this. Now we also note that there’s been some challenges in these – in both sets of talks, but we fully support that as the way forward.

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead, Lesley.



QUESTION: I want to turn to Greece. I know that the Treasury’s in charge of looking at the economic issues, but from this building you look over the geopolitical risks of what’s going on. Greece is on the edge of a default, which could have political, regional repercussions. What is this building doing or people in this building doing to encourage them to – to encourage the Europeans to either extend the talks – because Merkel said today there’s no more talk – or what are you doing within the International Monetary Fund, of which the U.S. is the largest shareholder, to try to also press from that side for more leniency with the Greeks?

MR KIRBY: Well, one, we’re carefully monitoring the situation. This is something that certainly Secretary Kerry has been watching closely. Secretary Lew, as you rightly pointed out – senior Treasury officials and the White House are in close touch with a broad array of our counterparts on this situation, to include officials from Greece, the European Union, and the IMF. I think you heard the President speak to this today, how he’s closely watching this process, and he cited Secretary Lew’s work as well.

From here at the State Department, we continue to believe that it’s important that all sides work together to get back to a path that’s going to allow Greece to resume reforms and to return to growth within the Eurozone. But again, we’re monitoring this very closely.

QUESTION: So it sounds like you don’t believe that Greece should leave the Eurozone.

MR KIRBY: Look, what we believe is that all sides need to work towards a path where, again, Greece can execute the – resume the reforms that it needs to do and to return to growth within the Eurozone.

QUESTION: Are there any concerns about the geopolitical issues like Greece’s ability to handle refugee flows from the Middle East to North Africa or bases that we have on Crete? I mean, if the country becomes less stable, is there any concern in this building about those issues?

MR KIRBY: I mean, I think our concerns about – whither Greece or across a broad range of issues – but again, this is – I want to keep going back to this is something for the Greek leaders to work out with our European partners and the IMF. And I don’t think I want to go beyond that.


QUESTION: One clarification. The 3,000 pages of emails that will be released tonight – are they all going to be related to the Benghazi attack? And then a second question is the new special envoy for Guantanamo closure: Do you happen to know when’s the last time he visited the facility, and also if there’s any conversations with senators like John McCain on this topic?

MR KIRBY: Okay. There’s a lot there.


MR KIRBY: Good to see you again, by the way.

QUESTION: You too.

MR KIRBY: Remember, there’s two processes going on here. The release of the emails tonight, as I said, roughly – roughly – correspond to about March to December of 2009. And they cover a wide swath of issues. I’ll let you look at them tonight and you can see that the content is not at all – it’s not driven by the Benghazi Select Committee’s work. That is a separate and distinct process that we are also trying to support and cooperate with. The emails that are being released tonight are in keeping with a court ruling that we do a rolling production of these 55,000 pages of traffic.

On Mr. Wolosky’s last trip to Gitmo, I don’t know. I’d have to get that – I mean, he just got – we just announced him today, so I mean, he may never have gone for all I know. I’m going to have to look and see if he’s ever made a trip down there. Again, today was the announcement.

And then your third one was --

QUESTION: Any conversations with Senator John McCain or others who’ve been really active on this issue, on Guantanamo?

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly we consulted members of Congress about Secretary Kerry’s decision to announce Mr. Wolosky for the job. I mean, that was done in concert with – as we always do – with members of Congress.

Yeah, Lucas.

QUESTION: So I’m just going back to Iran for a second. Why are – is the U.S. Government not demanding that Iran release the American hostages being held by the regime?

MR KIRBY: Why are we not --

QUESTION: Demanding that Iran release the American hostages being held right now?

MR KIRBY: I think you – I mean, the President spoke to this pretty forcibly today. I mean, this is something we routinely bring up on the sidelines of discussions on other issues, like the nuclear deal.

QUESTION: Well, why the sidelines? Why not make it a redline and say we’re not going forward until you --

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said that we’re not going to link – they should be released because they should be released. And we’re not going to tie that to the nuclear deal.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR KIRBY: That’s long been Secretary Kerry’s and this government’s policy with respect – they need to be released because they need to be released. And – just on the face of it. And it’s something we routinely discuss with Iranian leaders. As the President said today, as Secretary Kerry has said before, our focus has never turned away from their plight, the way they’re being treated in their detention. But it is a separate and distinct issue, as are – as there are many others that we work with with Iran and disagreements we have with Iran separate and distinct from this nuclear deal. This nuclear deal – the discussion is about stemming their ability to ever achieve a nuclear weapons capability.

QUESTION: But what – are you sure prisoners is not – I thought there was a statement yesterday that Secretary Kerry raised the issue during the discussions yesterday.

MR KIRBY: It’s something, as I said, on the sidelines. Any time we engage with Iranian leaders, we make sure we raise this issue. But it is raised separate and distinct from and not connected to the negotiations over the nuclear deal.

QUESTION: But why is that? Why not link it?

MR KIRBY: They – because – as I said, Lucas – I mean, I don’t know if I can say – I’ll say it again, but it’s going to be the same – they should be released because they should be released. They should be home with their families. And certainly – and we’ve spoken to this, too, that the conditions under which they’re being detained --

QUESTION: So this wasn’t a decision by the supreme leader saying this is not negotiable?

MR KIRBY: No, this is our policy, that they need to be released by dint of the fact that they are not being detained with due process. They should be home with their families. And we’re going to continue to work to that end. But it is a separate and distinct discussion from the nuclear deal.

I got time for one more. Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Just my – a quick comment, sir. There’s a blame game going on between India and Pakistan as far as terrorism is concerned. My question is last week India brought some proofs that why Pakistan freed Lakhvi, who was involved in Mumbai attacks and all that where 166 people were killed, including six foreigners. And there was a question at the UN Security Council, but China vetoed, and China said there’s not enough proofs. But now there are demonstrations in the – among the human rights groups, and they are saying now China is also supporting terrorism when they vetoed at the UN, that not enough evidence that India provided as far as Lakhvi and others supported by Pakistan. Any comments on this – China’s involvement now that (inaudible) Pakistan on terrorism?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen all those reports, Goyal, but I think our position hasn’t changed, that we want tensions between India and Pakistan to be reduced. We want them to work together bilaterally to resolve some of these differences. I just haven’t seen the – I haven’t seen the comments that you’re referring to with respect to China and the UN, so --

QUESTION: And final comment: Just last week also foreign secretary of Pakistan was here, and he was speaking at Atlantic Council, and he said that he has proofs against India; India is supporting terrorism against Pakistan. So has he provided any proofs here at the State Department which he said he will be giving to the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such delivery.


MR KIRBY: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 25, 2015

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 11:13

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 25, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:33 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. A few things at the top here, and then we’ll get right at it.

I want to give you an update on the efforts by our Bureau of Consular Affairs on the visa hardware issue. I can report now that about 119 – actually not about, 119 posts, which represents more than three quarters of our posts, of our non-immigrant visa demand worldwide are now online and issuing visas. Posts overseas issued more than 85,000 visas on the 24th. Posts overseas have issued more than 204,000 non-immigrant visas since the 9th of June. And so for some context, if the systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued about 450,000 visas during the June 9th-23rd timeframe. So the bottom line is we are closing on the gap and the backlog on these visas, and we fully expect to have this – to have the backlog cleared in the next few days. We’ll continue to bring additional posts online until connectivity with all the posts is restored.

On another note, we welcome the visit of the prime minister of Mongolia, his – His Excellency Chimed Saikhanbileg, who is visiting Washington, D.C. and New York this week. He met with Vice President Biden this morning and will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman later today. He’ll also meet with the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel this afternoon. In fact, that meeting may be going on right now. We recognize Mongolia as it celebrates its 25th anniversary of democracy this year. Mongolia has served as a model for other countries going through a democratic transition.

To Nepal. The United States is pleased to announce a pledge that increases the total amount of U.S. emergency relief and early recovery assistance to $130 million to Nepal following the April 25th earthquake. This pledge is reflective of our enduring commitment to the people of Nepal as they continue their recovery process. It’s only the beginning of our contribution and we’ll continue to work with Nepal to support its long-term earthquake recovery needs in the future.

And then lastly, I just want to give you an update that Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall is leading the U.S. delegation to the Regional Conference on Countering Violent Extremism hosted by the Government of Kenya in Nairobi. This is the fourth in a series of regular Countering Violent Extremism summits following February’s White House summit. Albania, Norway, and Australia hosted the first three regional summits, and Kazakhstan, Algeria, and Mauritania will host regional summits in the coming weeks. These summits provide an opportunity for governments, civil society, and the private sector to discuss collaborative, innovative efforts to address the spread of violent extremism. Topics on the agenda include identifying the drivers of violent extremism, the dynamics of radicalization and recruitment, and strengthening local preventative work. Governments and organizations will reconvene at a leaders summit on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York this September to announce concrete deliverables to support countering violent extremism initiatives in support of the White House summit action agenda.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I was late and so I will – I’ll forgo the first question to --


QUESTION: I do have a question to ask, but later.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Michael.

QUESTION: There seems to be a confused and concerning situation in Burundi, and I’m wondering if you can clarify it, and if you can’t get us an answer by the end of the day – there have been reports that hundreds of students were chased by police. They were outside the U.S. embassy. They sought protection either in the embassy compound or in the parking lot outside the embassy, and more recently, that they may have been forced to leave the embassy and may be back in the clutches of the police. If you could explain what the current situation is in and around the American embassy there, and were any of these students denied protection or forced to leave the embassy compound?

MR KIRBY: Let me walk you through this. First of all, our embassy remains open and secure, and everybody in it is accounted for and safe. What happened here was that in a construction zone adjacent to our embassy compound, there were groups of youth who were gathering there for peaceful protests against their own government. When the police attempted to confront the protesters, some of them moved to the visitors parking lot outside our compound, moved peaceably. There was no force used. No shots were fired. No tear gas was used. There was minor, minor injuries in the movement. I think three or four people suffered minor injuries, but not as a result of police brutality of any kind. They simply, as they dispersed from the construction zone site, some of them – not all – migrated over to our visitors parking lot.

As I understand it, as we speak some of them may still remain there, although they were starting to move out as well – many on their own – but there was no violent action against the embassy. This wasn’t directed at the United States. There was never any penetration of the actual embassy compound, and none of our State Department employees were under any physical threat whatsoever.

There’s also been no effort to forcibly make them move from the visitors parking lot.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow. Did any of these students seek the protection of the embassy, seek to be allowed into the compound in order to get refuge of some kind, and were they denied?

MR KIRBY: As of the time I walked out here, Michael, I’m not aware of any reports that any of them asked for any protection from the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Got you. Okay.

QUESTION: Staying with Burundi, is the U.S. Government playing any diplomatic role in easing tensions, given reports that one of the country’s vice presidents has fled to Belgium?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we don’t as a matter of course talk about the specifics of diplomatic conversations. Obviously, we’re very interested in what’s going on in Burundi, and we continue to engage the government there every day. I think we’ve made clear what our expectations are for the protection of peaceful protests and espousing government rule that is responsive to the people of Burundi.

Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Human Rights Report?

MR KIRBY: We can. I want to just give you a disclaimer at the outset. I’m not a – you had a pretty fulsome briefing from Mr. Malinowski --


MR KIRBY: -- and the report’s online. And I’m not in a position to go through every single finding in the report.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine. But let me ask you about particular countries like Bahrain. What is the United States doing in terms of trying to influence Bahrain to basically adhere to the standards that you are saying in your report?

MR KIRBY: Well, look again, without going into the findings of the Human Rights Report, which I simply won’t --


MR KIRBY: -- and not qualified to do --


MR KIRBY: Bahrain is an important partner in the region. As you know, they host our Navy’s Fifth Fleet there as a component of U.S. Central Command. They’re a close partner in all manner of security issues in the Gulf region and even beyond. It’s safe to say that we’ve certainly made plain in the past our concerns with respect to some of the way Bahrain has reacted to minority groups and protest activity inside the country. But again, this is not uncommon elsewhere. And again, it’s a very, very strong relationship that we continue to value.

QUESTION: And my question really is political. It is within your realm because the United States carries a great deal of weight with countries like Bahrain and Egypt and others. Yet we have not seen any improvement since the end – the period that ended last December until today. I mean, could you share with us some of perhaps the improvement that Bahrain may have done between the end of the report last year and now?

MR KIRBY: Again, Said, I’m going to have to deflect that question to those that are monitoring the human rights issue in Bahrain a lot more closely than me. Again, a very important relationship, very important partner, and we continue to engage with them every day, every day.


QUESTION: On Iraq, specifically about this F-16 – Iraqi F-16 that crashed in Arizona, obviously part of the Iraqi pilot training program, have you reached out or has there been any contact with the Iraqi Government? Because there are rumors out there that the Iraqi pilot who died was actually someone named – and this is unconfirmed – Mohammed Hama, the son of a prominent Iraqi Air Force general, which is why I ask if there’s been any contact with the Iraqis to confirm his identity.

MR KIRBY: Well, first, our thoughts and prayers go to the family. This is a tragic accident, obviously. I don’t have any more detail about the identity of the pilot, and that’s something that I would, as you might understand, refer you to the Iraqi Government to speak to.

QUESTION: Since the State Department has authority over the foreign military sales of these jets, do you know when and how many jets are expected to be delivered – the F-16s are expected to be delivered to Iraq?

MR KIRBY: There’s – the whole program covered 36 jets, and as I understand it, they have taken possession of about a dozen of them. So there are still others in the program that still are in the delivery process.

QUESTION: Possession in the United States or possession --

MR KIRBY: Possession in the United States.

QUESTION: And putting on your old military cap there, were these brand new jets, or were these sort of repurposed, used jets?

MR KIRBY: I’d have to get back to you, Justin. I don’t know exactly what serial number they all had and how fresh they came off the assembly line.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: Several weeks ago, actually, it was mentioned that it was expected that the rest of these jets would be handed over to the Iraqis. Do you have a timeline on when that would happen?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a timeline for the remainder that they don’t have. But obviously, it’s an ongoing sales program. It’s not being handed over to them. And I just don’t have a schedule of exactly what the deliveries are going to look like.

QUESTION: It was just I know that the Iraqi authorities were quite keen to get them up and running in Iraq, because obviously, all of the fight against ISIL.

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure. Yeah. I mean, everybody shares a sense of urgency about helping Iraq deal with the threats that the country is facing inside their borders. These jets are a component of that ability for them to fight ISIL, but I just don’t have any more detail on the schedule of deliveries.


QUESTION: John, these airplanes were supposed to be delivered some time back. What is the cause of delay? Is it lacking – a lacking training program? What is causing the delay in delivering these airplanes to Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Well, your question connotes that there is a delay. I mean, it’s a 36-aircraft buy, and typically, on a purchase that size they’re not all delivered all at once. As I said, they are in possession of about a dozen of them. There are others still in the delivery process. It’s not a matter of delay. This is a sort of – it’s not uncommon or atypical for – especially when you’re buying something as big as fighter jets, for it to --


MR KIRBY: -- for there to be a time component here in terms of when they’re delivered. So I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s been a delay. And again, they’re taking possession here in the United States. We’ve talked about that before, and that’s where the training is occurring.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, do the Iraqis – are the Iraqis able to get some Russian fighter jets, like Sukhois or old Sukhois or anything like this? Are they using now in their air force Russian-made fighter jets?

MR KIRBY: I am not an expert on the Iraqi order of battle and their air force. You’re asking can they? Of course they can. It’s a sovereign country. They can buy --

QUESTION: I understand they can --

MR KIRBY: But I don’t know what – I mean, that’s a great question for the Iraqis to speak to, the components and the elements of their air force. They expressed, obviously, a significant interest in the F-16, which is a very capable aircraft, obviously. And so we’re working with them on the delivery of those aircraft and training their pilots on how to fly them. That’s our focus, and the Iraqis can speak to the other things that they’re buying for their own national defense.

QUESTION: Change topic?


QUESTION: Just one more thing just on that. So you say they are in possession – the Iraqis are in possession of those jets are in the United States, not in Iraq, right?

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: So is there any concern that if you send them back to Iraq, there might be, like, like security concerns for those jets?

MR KIRBY: Well, the – I mean, one of the reasons why they’re being manned and trained on here in the United States is because of initially there were security concerns about the location that they were going to be delivered to. The situation in Iraq remains very fluid, and whatever decisions are made about the physical location and deployment of the jets in Iraq is going to be for the Iraqi Government to make. Obviously, we’ll consult with them as best we can, but our role here is to deliver on the purchase and to train the pilots. And that’s what – and again, I don’t want to speak for the military. The training program is a Defense Department program. But that’s our responsibility. We’re certainly going to consult and continue to consult with the Iraqi Government in terms of the eventual redeployment of those – or deployment of those aircraft in Iraq. But ultimately that’s a decision that Prime Minister Abadi and his government needs to make. It’s – yeah.

QUESTION: On Iran? There was a letter put out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy signed by quite a few former Administration officials – several of whom worked in this building quite recently even – saying that they know much about the emerging agreement and that they don’t think it will establish what it will do – what it set out to do essentially. What was the Secretary’s response to that?

MR KIRBY: I think the Secretary’s reaction was – when he looked at the letter – that he didn’t find that there was a whole lot of daylight between our position and the nuclear talks and what’s laid out in this letter. In fact, many of the positions – if you go and look at it – you’ll see that many of them are very much aligned with the same sorts of things that we’ve been talking about in the context of these negotiations.

And as we said before, in any final deal, we’re going to be holding ourselves and Iran to the understandings that we reached in Lausanne, which is at least as high a standard as what is proposed in this letter. Our focus, though – and again, two other things I’ll just say – and I mentioned this the other day – there are other voices. We’ve – we talked about the legislative – preliminary legislative steps that were taken in Iran, and as I said at the time, there’s going to be other voices in this process. There has been, there will continue to be, and so same here in the United States. And there’s no reason to fear other voices in the processes – in the process itself, but what I would say to you is our focus is on what’s going on in the negotiating room, right now, as we speak here today. And that’s where our focus is going to stay.

QUESTION: Okay, but if you say that there’s not a lot of daylight between this letter and positions in the negotiations then, is the point – so you don’t accept the point that this will not reach – that this will not prevent Iran from reaching a nuclear agreement? Then you reject that flat out, the point that they’re making?

MR KIRBY: We’ve long said – I didn’t say we agreed with everything in the letter. I’m just saying, if you look at the point by point that they make in there, there’s not a lot of daylight. I mean, they – the letter writers cite the same sorts of things that we’re looking for – verification and that kind of thing – and access.

But first of all, there’s no deal yet, right? So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But if there’s going to be a deal, we’ve been very clear that it has to meet all the agreements at – that were laid out in Lausanne, and it has to meet our own national security needs, and it has to be able to prevent diplomatically, peacefully, Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Just big picture on the previous agreements, and forgive me if this has been toiled over a million times in this briefing room, but are the – as far as what’s going on in the negotiations right now, are the Iranians backing out of the original parameters? Or are you in fact hammering out details – technical details, as the Secretary said was the mission between then and now? Or are you sort of back where you started going through some of the more basic agreements?

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me to characterize discussions as they’re ongoing --

QUESTION: That’s exactly what I’m asking.

MR KIRBY: -- and – I know that – (laughter) – and I’m exactly committed to not doing that.


MR KIRBY: So I’m just not – I’m not going to go there, Justin. I mean, we’ve got a team on the ground right now. The Secretary will be joining them tomorrow. These are – this is a very important time in the negotiations, and the last thing that we want to do is characterize what’s going on in that room right now.

QUESTION: So does that mean that what you – in response to this letter, you’re saying that the Administration shares the concerns and the points that were made by the letter writers and that you will not accept anything that does not address those points. Is that correct?

MR KIRBY: What I – I don’t want to – I want to be careful here, but the five or six points that it laid out are the same things you’ve heard us say we’re interested in as well. There may be --


MR KIRBY: There may be differences in the details, but the same basic points that the letter writers laid out are the same things that we’ve been talking about for months now in terms of what we’re driving at in a final deal.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – so you and the Secretary and whoever else in this building who has read this letter have chosen to ignore the top of it and just concentrate on the bottom and say, “Yes, we agree with it.” Well, the top of it, if I can mention it, says that the authors are concerned that the – that from what they understand – and these are some pretty heavyweight people. It’s not just fly-by-night people on the street. Well, from what they understand, they’re concerned that the deal – if there is one – is not going to address the points that they make lower down. So you reject that categorically? You --

MR KIRBY: What --

QUESTION: None of the concerns expressed in this letter at the top of it, or near the top of it, are actually valid?

MR KIRBY: The way, I would put it this way, Matt, is that the – what we’re striving for and continue to pursue and seek is a deal that does address all those concerns, which are the same concerns that we’ve been talking about. That’s what we’re driving toward. We’re not there yet. And you heard the Secretary himself say he’s hopeful, but he’s careful on the optimism part. We’re not there yet. But the deal we’re driving toward would address all those concerns.


MR KIRBY: And they are the same concerns that we have said repeatedly are on our minds as well. But do we take it face value that this refutation that the deal we’re driving to would not? No, we don’t agree with that point. We believe that if we get the right deal – and there isn’t one yet – if we do, it will address those concerns.

QUESTION: Well, but you can’t – yeah, I don’t think you can categorically say that each and every one of the concerns that they laid out or each and every one of the issues that they laid out in their entirety will be addressed as part of a successful agreement. Right?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to give chapter and verse to the deal yet which doesn’t exist.


MR KIRBY: I can just say that the concerns – the types of concerns that were outlined in the letter are very much on our minds as well.



QUESTION: Apropos the letter, it not only discusses the nuclear agreement per se, but it also outlines a number of measures which it suggests be taken to curb Iranian aggressive behavior in the region following the deal, to include expanding and accelerating the program to train the Syrian opposition, allowing your special forces to lead their bases to coordinate airstrikes in Iraq, and interdicting Iranian arms shipments. Are those points that the State Department also thinks merit consideration and, perhaps, action?

MR KIRBY: We’re doing some of those things.

QUESTION: Because those go – well, no – but all of those things go beyond. Accelerating the training of the opposition, allowing special forces to call airstrikes – those are things that you’re not doing.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re not doing – we’re not using JTACs. That’s right. And what we’ve also said, Michael, that – is that there is no need for that right now. We haven’t said that; our military commanders have said that. And they’ve also said that if they get to a point where they think they need to make that recommendation, they’ll do it and they’ll have the freedom to do that. I’m not going to talk about military policy up here, but right now our own military commanders say there’s not a need for U.S. JTACs on the ground in Iraq or in Syria.

On the train and equip program, we’ve been very frank and honest about (a) the need for it, and (b) that it’s going to be – that it’s difficult and that it is going a little slower than anticipated. Again, I don’t want to speak for the Defense Department up here, but I think they’ve been very honest, in testimony and in public, talking about the challenges that they’re having there. We all recognize that. But the letter writers themselves recognize the importance of the program. Now you can disagree about the difference in the pace at which it’s going. We’ve been nothing but transparent about that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) at all that so many former Administration officials don’t seem to have much confidence in the deal that he’s been working so hard to – at least as they understand it – that he’s been working so hard to --

MR KIRBY: I think I’d go back to what I said before. We recognize that there’s going to be all kinds of voices out there. There have been throughout this process and there will continue to be. If we get a deal and he comes home from Vienna with one, there will continue to be lots of voices, pro and con. He understands that; he’s not focused on that.

QUESTION: Even if those voices are --

MR KIRBY: He’s not focused on – he’s not – he recognizes and understands and respects the right of many people to have and express an opinion on the negotiations. His focus is on what’s going on inside that room, and that’s why he’s leaving for Vienna tomorrow.

QUESTION: John, the letter also coincides with other efforts, concerted efforts, such as a full-page ad in The Washington Post, other efforts on Capitol Hill, to cast really a shadow on the veracity of how good this deal is. Do you expect that all this effort together can in any way pose a hurdle along the way of signing a deal with the Iranians?

MR KIRBY: You mean the efforts by groups --

QUESTION: Right, the effort – I mean, to say that this deal is not such a good deal, basically.

MR KIRBY: Welcome to America. I mean, this is democracy and people have a right to free speech and they have a right to voice concerns about any number of matters, particularly on foreign policy. That’s one of the great things about this country, and I think the Secretary respects that. And again, his focus is less on the chatter that’s out there, not that – not – and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, but less on that and much more on what’s going on inside the room.

Now why don’t we see if we get a deal, and then if we get a deal, have – there’ll be time and space for a whole other discussion and debate about the merits of it, but we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: And along the same logic, today, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there’s still time for a good deal, suggesting that this is not a good deal. Do you agree with his assessment?

MR KIRBY: There’s no deal right now --

QUESTION: No deal.

MR KIRBY: -- right? So I’m not going to characterize where we are in the negotiation process. I think Secretary Kerry made that very clear yesterday that he – while others may debate and discuss this in real time publicly, he’s not going to do that, I’m certainly not going to do that. But to your phrase “good deal,” we’ve always said that no deal’s better than a bad deal. We’re trying to get the right deal for our national security interests and the interests of security in the region, and that’s what the focus is on.


QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel for a second?


QUESTION: I just – are you aware of a case of a Palestinian American youth – a minor teenager, I believe – who was arrested yesterday or the day before by Israeli police in --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I am aware of --

QUESTION: Do you know if that case has been resolved or if it – even if it hasn’t – or if it has or it hasn’t, if you’ve been given consular access?

MR KIRBY: I’m aware of the case, Matt. As in every other one, we are offering appropriate consular assistance. I don’t have an update for you in terms of what assistance has yet been rendered, and I’m really not at liberty to go into more detail about it.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that he is still in custody?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an update on the individual.


QUESTION: Sorry, can someone check and also find out if this is – if this case has been raised with Israeli officials?

MR KIRBY: I will see what I can do, yeah.


QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

QUESTION: Thanks, John. Just one question on Syria.

MR KIRBY: Wait. Let me go to him and then we’ll come to you.


MR KIRBY: Is that okay? Go ahead.

QUESTION: So there are reports today that ISIS fighters had infiltrated into Kobani, and the Kurdish forces claim that some of them have come from Turkey, actually. Have you seen those reports? And what do you have to tell us about --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- the situation in Kobani?

MR KIRBY: I think the Turkish foreign ministry has spoken to this and denied flatly that there was any passage or assistance from Turkey.

QUESTION: Obviously, as they do all the time.


QUESTION: They deny it obviously.

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, I’m going to point you to what the Turkish foreign ministry said themselves, very publicly denying that there was any such movement.


QUESTION: Going back to Iran and the letter writers, so there were – the point-to-point concerns and – in which the writers have lamented a weakness of what is out there before the negotiation --


QUESTION: -- before the Secretary goes into the negotiations. So do you admit that there are weaknesses so far in this – the points that they made in what is out there to be negotiated, what’s remaining to be negotiated? And also, are you aware of any previous occasions where former top advisors have staged such an open revolt?

MR KIRBY: Okay. First of all, I think I’ve answered the concerns in the letter to the best I can. I’ve made clear that what – our focus is on getting the right deal here, that many of the concerns stipulated in the letter are concerns we’ve already for months and months been talking about as part of important elements of a final deal. So I think I’ve dealt with that.

And as for your question about revolt, again, this is the United States of America and people are allowed, encouraged, and should express their opinions. Certainly, the State Department takes no umbrage at these officials or anybody else making a public case for their concerns. I don't know that I would use your phrase “revolt.” I think it was a clear expression of their concerns. And as I’ve already said, we’ve expressed many times that those are the same concerns we have, which is why we’re working so hard to get the right deal. And again, this is an important time in that discussion.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Kobani? I know you don’t like doing battlefield analysis from the podium, but I just wondered --

MR KIRBY: I used to.

QUESTION: I know you used to and now you’re in a different, civilian role. But in – does it concern this building that after the hard-fought battle to win back Kobani, we see another attempt by ISIS to retake the town? What does that say to you about their ability to reform and gather new strength?

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly it concerns us. I mean, any move by ISIL to take or to retake territory is of concern. And we know that ground matters to this group. But I think we also need to have a little sense of perspective here. I mean, these reports of them attempting to retake Kobani are pretty fresh, pretty new. They are not in control of Kobani, and Kobani remains well defended. But is it a surprise that they would want to retake it? Not necessarily. I mean, I think that’s an indication of what a blow it was to them in the first place to lose it, that they want to try to take it back. That – this is one of the hallmarks of this group, is having influence not just from an ideological perspective or a financial perspective, but a territorial perspective. So that they would try to seize it back is not a surprise, but yes, obviously a concern. And we’re watching this very closely. I would point to you again – I’m not going to do battlefield assessments, but the Defense Department I think put out a release this morning talking about airstrikes, and there were some airstrikes in and around Kobani. So it’s not like we’re not paying attention to it either.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one more question on that. The Iraqi Kurdish leader, Barzani, has called on the international community to provide more help for Kobani. Because as you know also, like, you’ve said it before, that the U.S. help for the Kurdish rebels in Kobani are confined within the airstrikes. There is not much more help for them in terms of providing with ammunition to boost up their defense lines and things like that. Do you – what would be your response to that demand from the Iraqi Kurdish --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen Mr. Barzani’s call for additional support. And again, I want to be careful that I am not speaking to military matters. That said, our record of success and cooperation with respect to places like Kobani I think are well established. And there was tremendous assistance by the coalition in helping the defenders of Kobani take that town back from ISIL and sustain their presence there. Nobody’s turning our back on it, and again, I would point you to what the Defense Department put out today in terms of strikes that they’ve taken there. But look, everybody’s focused on this; everybody understands the importance of certain swaths of territory, and we’re keenly focused on doing what we can to support efforts there on the ground as we can.

The other thing I think is important to state again is that this is going to take some time. And this is complicated, complex work, particularly there inside Syria. So while we certainly aren’t losing a focus on it, we have to expect that this group is going to want to restore some of the luster of success that frankly they’ve lost. They’re not ten feet tall. They’re not invincible. That’s been proven time and time again – not just in Syria, but in Iraq as well. That said, they still remain lethal and determined, and we’re not going to lose focus on the long-term issue here.

The last thing I’ll say on this, because now you got me on my run here, is that what really is going to matter is not military success, but good governance in Iraq and in Syria. And in Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi is making good, solid decisions. He’s conducted outreach inside his country and outside his country, and we’re going to support him in that process. In Syria, it’s a much more complicated, difficult issue, obviously, with the Assad regime still in power.


QUESTION: Since you mentioned that one of the reasons for approaching these radicals or terrorist organizations is a good governance, since you don’t have a – or you don’t recognize Syrian government, what is the solution for the Kobani and other areas having a good governance? And secondly on the allegations by YPG forces and also between Turkey that they exchange allegations, who was responsible for infiltrating the terrorist groups – do you have any other mechanism to confirm what happened and how these terrorist organizations got into Kobani, since you don’t have any diplomatic mission in Syria but you have it in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: Okay, there’s a lot there. I mean, I don’t want to rehash the entire situation in Syria. We’ve talked about this a lot. We understand it’s complicated. Our approach has always been that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy to govern and needs to step down. Point two, that by his own brutal nature, of atrocities against his own people, and the lack of legitimacy he has to govern Syria, groups like ISIL have been able to grow, to prosper, to recruit, to sustain themselves inside Syria. That’s why a key component of the coalition’s strategy is to go after ISIL inside Syria. We need capable partners on the ground to do that; that’s why we’ve got a train and equip program that admittedly is going a little slower than we’d like but is in train. It – nobody’s painting this too rosy here, I don’t think.

On Kobani, I simply – I would just point you to what the Turkish foreign ministry said about infiltration. I don’t – they’ve denied that there was any complicity in that – and I would just again point you to that. I mean, we have no reason to not believe them in that regard. I would also tell you that – two things. I mean, one, Turkey has been and continues to be a very important partner in this effort; a NATO ally, of course, but they continue to provide support to the coalition and we’re – and we continue to be grateful for that.

They have challenges of their own that they’ve talked about in terms of flow and refugees inside their country that they’re trying to deal with. So I’d – I think it’s a difficult problem to get around. Could this flow of foreign fighters be improved upon? Yes. President Obama said that himself. But not just by Turkey, but by almost all of the members of the coalition. I mean, the flow of foreign fighters, self-radicalization, all that remains a problem for the international community, not just Turkey.

QUESTION: But – sorry, just last one on that one. Since the YPG, I believe, is not part of the train and equip program of the Defense Department --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- so that – if they are not part of that, that they will be fragile for any attack in the future, since you just have the air support for them. So is there any other way that – to equip them or to train them?

MR KIRBY: Our focus is on the moderate Syrian opposition and working with them to get trained fighters to go and essentially do three things: to go back and defend their neighborhoods and their communities, to take the fight to ISIL, and eventually – hopefully – to contribute to some sort of political settlement inside Syria. That’s the focus of that program is on the moderate opposition.

And as I’ve talked about from this podium before with respect to the YPG, that they did benefit from coalition airstrikes. That is – we can’t just slough that off. That’s not insignificant support. It helped. It absolutely helped in terms of Tal Abyad and in their success in being able to take back Tal Abyad, which was, again, not an insignificant accomplishment, but certainly made possible to a fare-thee-well by coalition airstrikes.

QUESTION: May I just follow up? Has there been any discussion with the Turks about including the YPG in the equip and train program --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of – I’m not aware of any discussion of that kind.


QUESTION: New topic?

MR KIRBY: Yes, sure.

QUESTION: Great. Yesterday, Secretary Kerry said at the close of the Strategic Dialogue that the U.S. and China had agreed on a need to work towards a code of conduct for cyber issues. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little more about that and whether in their conversations they agreed on some sort of mechanism on how to move that forward, if there’s a where and a when. And – last little bit – given that the Chinese have suspended the working group on cyber issues, what structure will this negotiation take place with them?

MR KIRBY: I think – I don’t know that I could go much beyond what Secretary Kerry said yesterday that, yes, it was this idea of pursuing norms of behavior, as the Secretary put it, a code of conduct, inside the cyber realm – was discussed. But it was discussed in the context of this is a – this is something we need to start having serious discussions about and something worth addressing and considering, and I don’t think it got much beyond that.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: He did say that work will hopefully begin in earnest very, very quickly, which kind of did suggest that there was some kind of – something in the works.

MR KIRBY: He said hopefully it will begin in earnest quickly, that’s right.

QUESTION: So that – there shouldn’t be anything concrete that we (inaudible) deduce from that, but it’s in the works?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think the Secretary characterized it exactly right, that it is something that we agreed needs to be addressed, and hopefully it can be addressed soon. I don’t have anything more in terms of specifics.

QUESTION: Also, in one of the discussions on the oceans yesterday, the Secretary mentioned that hopefully the United States and China can start working on setting up a marine protection area in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. This is something that the United States has backed for a long time and has been keen to get going, but in the last meeting of the committee that they – of the oceans committee that they had in Hobart in Australia last year, China actually blocked this. So I wondered if there was any indication from the Chinese that they would now be prepared to support such a --

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to speak for the Chinese. I think the way I would couch it is not much different than the way the Secretary did: that these were good, productive discussions; that this is an area where we do believe there is room for better and more cooperation, and that seemed to be reciprocated. But I don’t want to get ahead of any decisions that the Chinese haven’t or will make.

QUESTION: So was a specific commitment from Beijing to --

MR KIRBY: I – again, I would – I’d refer you to Beijing to speak to what they’re willing to contribute to that effort. It’s important to us that we had that discussion and that there is obviously room for better cooperation there.

Yeah. I’ll take just a couple more.

QUESTION: On Iraq – yeah. On Iraq, yesterday I asked about the arrest of a journalist by the Kurdish security forces. I don’t know if you have anything for the report for me. And a second one is there is a kind of a crisis of the President Barzani’s term. It will come to an end in August and there is a kind of a problem like how – what is going to happen. What is the position of United States Government? Would you prefer having an election despite the security challenges, or a status quo just to extend his term because of the security situation as they would claim that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re going to make statements from here about internal Iraqi politics.

QUESTION: But democracy is something that you – I mean, elections – you are – it’s something that you are talking about always.

MR KIRBY: Writ large, generally, yes. We’re in favor of government that is responsive and representative of the people that occupy a state, but I am not going to get into internal Iraqi politics and discussions from the podium.

QUESTION: What about the journalist arrest? Do you have that, any --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that, no.


MR KIRBY: Okay, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: One last question.

MR KIRBY: Oh, one more.

QUESTION: Reuters just reported that Secretary of State John Kerry has been speaking to Zarif on the phone and asking him about the past – and saying that the past does matter and that he wants answers about whether the atomic research was arms-related. Do you have anything on that?

MR KIRBY: What I would say is that the Secretary routinely communicates with his counterpart in Iran within the context of these talks, and that in – and that repeatedly and consistently we’ve made clear – and the Secretary made this clear himself – that any final agreement has got to provide the IAEA the access that they need to address all the concerns that we have regarding Iran’s nuclear program, to include – to include possible military dimensions past and present.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)

DPB # 111

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 26, 2015

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 15:21

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 26, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:01 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Can you hear me now? Is that better? All right. I mean, I can yell if you want me to just yell. I’ll do that, too. (Laughter.)

I just want to start with the – a short statement about the spate of terror attacks today. And then we’re putting out a statement as well, written statement. But I wanted to address it here from the podium.

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s horrifying terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait, Somalia, and Tunisia, where dozens of innocent civilians – and in the case of Somalia, Burundian peacekeepers – were killed and injured. We express our deepest sympathy to the victims’ families and our heartfelt wishes for the recovery of those injured. The United States grieves with the people and governments of Burundi, France, Kuwait, Somalia, Tunisia, and other nations affected by these vicious attacks, and stands with them in solidarity as they reject terrorism, protect their communities, restore peace and security, and preserve through these tragedies – persevere, I’m sorry, through these tragedies. We will continue to work with all of our allies and partners to address the shared threat of terrorism and violent extremism and to degrade and destroy the ability of these terrorist groups to carry out their callous attacks on innocent people.

I also want to take a moment to welcome today’s participants in the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program to our briefing. That must be all of you in the back there, the ones who are up here in the front fixing to grill me. Just in its second year, this initiative seeks to give talented and diverse college students a paid opportunity to see U.S. diplomacy up close, and also my pain. The State Department brings them to Washington for training and an internship the first summer and then sends them the next summer to embassies overseas. So welcome. We’re glad to have you here. You are absolutely entitled to ask any questions you want. I don’t have to answer them, but you can ask them. (Laughter.)

And with that, I think we’ll start with you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. And I assume the Secretary got off – left for Vienna today? Can you confirm?

MR KIRBY: He did. He did.

QUESTION: I want to start off of these attacks in France, in Tunisia, and in --


QUESTION: -- Kuwait. You called them horrifying, but the question is: Is there a possibility any of these are linked? Is the U.S. Government considering them as a – as one thing, or that there are common threads in them?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s – I’ve seen no indication that at a tactical level that they were coordinated, which is what I think you’re getting at.


MR KIRBY: That said, I mean, they are – they – there is a common thread of terrorism here throughout them, clearly. And at the very least, regardless of who claims responsibility for them, certainly at the very least a representation of the continued threat of violent extremism. So from a thematic perspective, of course there are similarities here. That’s why we thought it was appropriate to make a statement at the outset about all of them. And again, I’ve seen nothing with respect to specific tactical coordination.

QUESTION: Well, just --


QUESTION: -- coming back to Tunisia, I’m – is there any confirmation of American citizens wounded or killed?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen nothing on American citizens that were – that fell victim. But as you know, Lesley, most of these victims were tourists, predominantly from Europe. I know at least one nation has identified – I won’t speak to other countries, but I know at least one nation has identified one of their citizens. But no, I’m not aware of any Americans.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up. The other – and has there been – do you know of any alert going out among the U.S. agencies on embassies being on alert for a bigger threat, or --

MR KIRBY: No special alerts going out as a result of these particular attacks today. That said, as you know, back in January we did issue a worldwide caution about travel in particular. And so that stands and stays in effect. I do think that in Kuwait our post there did put out an updated note to U.S. citizens there to avoid the area of the mosque that was targeted. But no, there is not going to – I’m not aware, and I don’t believe there are plans to issue a new warning with respect to these attacks.


QUESTION: Are you --

QUESTION: Can we talk about whether – I understand that you said maybe there’s not a common thread among them. But do you agree with the assessment that Tunisia was carried out by fighters inspired by ISIS as opposed to kind of receiving material support and direction?

MR KIRBY: Too early to say, Elise. And actually, I want to be clear that I think there is a common thread here of extremist –

QUESTION: But coordinated, I mean.

MR KIRBY: -- activity. But I haven’t seen – I don’t believe we’ve seen any evidence of tactical coordination.

QUESTION: Tactical coordination among the three people or tactical coordination --

MR KIRBY: Tactical coordination between --


MR KIRBY: -- the attacks.


MR KIRBY: Or by anyone or any number of individual terrorist –


MR KIRBY: -- organizations. But again, all these – they just happened today. They’re being investigated by appropriate national authorities where they occurred, and I think we need to let that work go on.

QUESTION: To what extent is Libya now the third, kind of, ISIS front? Because there seems to be – there’s a lot of supposition that some of these people are from the kind of Libyan group associated with ISIS, which seems to have more kind of coordination and material support. And you seem to be paying a lot of attention, so to what extent is Libya kind of becoming a third front?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we would characterize it in that – in those terms. That said, we’ve been very clear about the growing menace of ISIL in North Africa and Libya specifically. We know that this is a group that wants to metastasize beyond Iraq and Syria, though Iraq and Syria remain the principal theater in which they continue to influence and operate. And – but this has been a constant area of focus for us, not just – frankly not just in North Africa, but around the world.

QUESTION: How do you know that this isn’t – at least the Tunisian attack isn’t the work of AQIM?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, Ros, it just happened today, and they’re being investigated, and we’re not in a position today to levy claims of responsibility here from the State Department. The appropriate national authorities are investigating this. Obviously, clearly, they’re all terrorist attacks. Obviously, clearly, they’re driven by extremist ideology. Beyond that, I think we just need to let the investigators do their work and come to the conclusions that they will.

QUESTION: And do you think there’s any significance to the fact that all of these attacks are happening during Ramadan? We recall during the war in Iraq that members of AQ in Iraq would launch these kinds of deadly attacks during Ramadan.

MR KIRBY: We have seen that in the past as you’ve noted. Again, I don’t believe that investigators are at a level now where they know precisely what motivated each one of these and the degree to which Ramadan itself was a factor. We just – I just – too soon to tell right now.


QUESTION: The attack in France involved a U.S. company. Is there information at this point to indicate that that company or a U.S. company in particular was being – or a company headquartered in the U.S. was being targeted?

MR KIRBY: It – the property in question did belong – does belong to an American company, that’s correct. But I would refer you to the French. They’re investigating this, and again, we just don’t have anything specific to say with respect to motivation.

Yes. I didn’t see your hand up.

QUESTION: Do you have any phone calls that Kerry made today in relation to any of these attacks? You can take that, and then I’ll follow up.

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has made some phone calls on the plane. I’m not aware of any that were in relation to these particular attacks, but he’s been very busy on the flight over.

QUESTION: Okay. And then two more. One is if it looks like these might be, like, lone wolf attacks inspired by Islamic State, is – are there any fresh concerns there or any efforts to re-examine – because if it seems like these attacks are becoming more common --

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to speak to the motivation behind them. I mean, they’re all being investigated, and we need to let that work continue. And I think we also need to be very careful at this very early stage of trying to draw lines of connection between them. That said, it’s not about fresh concerns over foreign fighters. We’ve long had concerns about foreign fighters. And both being self-radicalized elsewhere and heading into the fight or heading from the fight back to home countries, it remains a very serious concern.

Whether you call that lone wolf or foreign fighter, whatever you want to call it, it’s something that obviously we’re very, very focused on. It remains a challenge, and it remains a constant area of concern for not just the United States, but countries all over the world. And they’re taking it seriously. I think I’ve said before more than 30 countries in the coalition have taken legal and administrative actions to try to stem the flow of foreign fighters, and we’ve been talking about foreign fighters pretty much all week in terms of what’s going on in Syria. So remains a very significant concern.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: No, one more. Are you able to say whether General Allen has been in touch with any of the officials in these three countries about the attacks given that he is trying to work on stopping ISIL’s actions and influence across the region and around the world?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any communication that General Allen may have had today. I mean, let me take the question and we’ll see if we can get back to you on that --


MR KIRBY: -- but I’m not aware.

QUESTION: Turkey? Turkish press reported that Secretary Kerry and FM Cavusoglu had a phone call today. You have a readout or anything?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of that call. Let me try to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Can I ask another question on Turkey?


QUESTION: You said last Tuesday that you haven’t seen any evidence or indications supporting that there is a cooperation between ISIS and Assad regime. Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic commented on it and said that this statement contradicted what Marie Harf said last June here on this podium. She said, “Assad is seeking to bolster their position for his own cynical reasons.” She meant ISIS. So do you see any contradiction between Marie Harf’s statements and yours?

MR KIRBY: No. The question that was put to me was whether we saw tacit cooperation between ISIL and the Assad regime, and I gave you an honest answer. We’ve not seen that. And as a matter of fact, I mean, I think it’s clear from some of the activity that the Assad regime has participated in as recently as just the last month or so that they continue to see ISIL as a threat to them as well. I mean, we’ve talked about that before. So no, I don’t see any difference.

QUESTION: A third question?

MR KIRBY: Sure. I guess we’re going to stay on Turkey.

QUESTION: Okay. Pro-Kurdish HDP leader Demirtas told German press that Kurdish-U.S. collaboration against ISIS is tactical and there will be an ideological conflict between these two sides since Kurdish movement is anti-imperialist after ISIS gone. So do you think this collaboration between Kurdish forces and United States is tactical or something deeper? What do you think about that?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t get the whole question. Cooperation between --

QUESTION: He says the cooperation between United States and Kurdish forces in northern Syria is tactical rather than ideological or rather than something deeper.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve talked about this all week. The degree to which we’re cooperating with those Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has been limited principally to airstrikes, and we continue to conduct airstrikes in Syria against ISIL positions. And I think that those strikes will continue, and that’s basically, in essence – that’s where that cooperation stays.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout about Deputy Blinken’s meeting yesterday with the senior Saudi officials?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout for you, no, uh-uh.

QUESTION: John, can we change the subject?


QUESTION: I’m going to try and tackle the ones on Hillary Clinton emails here. Last night a U.S. official said they were – they weren’t able to – the State Department’s been unable to locate all or part of 15 emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal server.


QUESTION: How does one – how does one now – well, the question that this raises is whether there are other emails that she might also have not sent. How does the State Department know this to be the case, and what are the repercussions of these missing emails and the greater – and perhaps even more that she – that weren’t sent to the State Department?

MR KIRBY: Well, we don’t know the degree to which there may be other emails that another third party may have, in this case Mr. Blumenthal, that we do not have. I think it’s important to remember the scope of the task before us – 55,000 pages of emails that former Secretary Clinton provided, essentially 30,000 emails is about the rough number of actual email traffic there – that we’re still going through. And again, yeah, there were about 15 that Mr. Blumenthal had provided the select committee that we could not find in our inventory. And that was a massive inventory and it took a little while to go through that.

But I couldn’t possibly hypothesize about what other email traffic might relate to Benghazi or Libya that we don’t have. Again, we only knew about these 15 because Mr. Blumenthal had them and provided them to the select committee, so there was something to check it against. But we’re still going through this, and that’s going to – and we’re on a rolling schedule here to make them public through the FOIA process and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: And given that you’ve discovered this, have you – has the State Department re-asked Secretary Kerry – sorry, Secretary Clinton again whether she’s provided everything?



MR KIRBY: No. Our – I think it’s really important to understand our mandate here. We were in receipt of the email traffic that former Secretary Clinton provided, that she had gone through and decided were official in scope. So we’re the receivers of that. We’re not tasking it out. And again, we’re going through all those right now.

QUESTION: But I mean, I understand what you’re saying is you don’t know how many Benghazi emails or Libya emails, but – and it also – I mean, you also have to note that what the State Department said was that you don’t – the substance of those emails was not about Benghazi.

MR KIRBY: Of the 15, we were --

QUESTION: Of the 15 --

MR KIRBY: Yes, we were clear about that in our communication with the committee that of the 15 that we did not have that Mr. Blumenthal had, they were not specifically related to Benghazi --

QUESTION: So – and you --

MR KIRBY: -- which was the original mandate --

QUESTION: Which was the original mandate.

MR KIRBY: -- of the select committee.

QUESTION: And so now has the committee come back to you? Has the committee come back to you and officially said – is the committee coming back now to task you with things that are not related to Benghazi? That’s my first question.

MR KIRBY: Not now, but in – but they have, yes. In March, they expanded the scope of information of what they wanted to all things Libya-related, which is not an insignificant ask because lots of things during Secretary Clinton’s tenure had to do with Libya.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: I mean, Libya is a big country and there was a lot of activity there in Libya --


MR KIRBY: -- not all related to the Benghazi attack.


MR KIRBY: So it’s not an insignificant ask. And as I said, I think, to your question a week or so ago, that adds time, it adds resources, it makes the --


MR KIRBY: It makes the task more difficult.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on that particular point, and Secretary Kerry has said even though this is – they’ve expanded their inquiry, that you’re going to cooperate with that?

MR KIRBY: He has, yes. But --

QUESTION: Has he put limits on it?

MR KIRBY: No, not that I’m aware of, no. I mean, he’s been very clear we’re going to do all that we can to cooperate with the select committee. I mean, he’s – and people here at the State Department are well aware that that’s the tasking he’s given. We’re going to cooperate as much as possible, as much as we can to the fullest extent.

QUESTION: Even beyond their official mandate of --

MR KIRBY: It’s – well, it’s not for us to determine what they believe their mandate is.

QUESTION: Well, they’re investigating you, so it may not be whether – it may not be for – up to you to, quote-un-quote, “determine.” But certainly, you must have some feelings about it since this committee was set up to look at Benghazi, they’re in essence investigating the State Department in some ways, and now they’re expanding their inquiry.

MR KIRBY: We certainly note that the request for information has been expanded. Secretary Kerry has made it clear he wants us to cooperate with the committee to the fullest extent and to be as helpful as we can. That said – and we’ve made this clear – the more that’s being asked for with respect to that – to their task, the longer it’s going to take, the more resources are going to have to be applied when it goes well beyond what the original mandate was.

QUESTION: Do you feel they’re moving the goalposts?

MR KIRBY: Well, they certainly have expanded --


MR KIRBY: -- the scope of information and material that they are seeking, and not by a small amount, Elise. I mean, as I said, all things Libya encompasses a lot of history and lot of material.

QUESTION: And just to – I’ll finish up. Just to Lesley’s question, I understand what you’re saying, that there may not be – there may be stuff related to Libya that you said you don’t know that you have all the stuff related to Libya.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: Like, there’s no way to determine --

MR KIRBY: Unless you have another --

QUESTION: You don’t know what you don’t have.

MR KIRBY: Unless you have another inventory to check it against.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: Like in this case, we had Mr. Blumenthal’s emails.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR KIRBY: It’s hard to know. Again, our task is not to – is not to --

QUESTION: But when you asked Secretary Clinton for those emails – the 50,000 – or you asked her for her emails that she considered work-related, you asked her for all the emails that were considered work-related, correct?

MR KIRBY: She, at the time she turned them over, said that she had turned over all those that she deemed were work-related.

QUESTION: So clearly, these 15 were work-related even if they weren’t Benghazi-related?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I mean, there’s 15 --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, they’re about Libya, so obviously --

MR KIRBY: There’s about – there’s 15 that we didn’t think were – as we saw them, did not --


MR KIRBY: -- meet the Benghazi-specific request.

QUESTION: But they certainly meet the work-related benchmark, correct?

MR KIRBY: That would appear to be so.

QUESTION: Okay. So how do you know that the 50,000 emails is the total work-related work product of that server?

MR KIRBY: Well, all we can know is the content of what we have. I mean, there’s no other way I can answer that question.

QUESTION: So I understand, but you didn’t ask Secretary Clinton for her archival of emails because of the Benghazi committee. You asked her for her work product --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- and it turns out that you don’t have the full work product, even if it’s just – I’m not saying that it’s more than 15, but even if it’s just 15, you don’t have the work product. So why haven’t you gone back and said, hey, we’re missing these 15, are you sure there aren’t more.

MR KIRBY: This wasn’t about us asking; it was about her providing. She provided those that she deemed were work-related. We’re still going through them; there’s a lot more to go through. Thirty thousand emails and fifty-five thousand pages. Again, we’re talking about 15 here. And I don’t – I’m not dismissing it qualitatively. Obviously, there are 15 that we didn’t have that Mr. Blumenthal had. They were Libya related. That’s all a matter of fact, but it’s 15 when you think about 30,000, you have to put in some perspective though.


QUESTION: When is the next batch coming out?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a date for you, but I would expect fairly soon.

QUESTION: But you have a deadline.

MR KIRBY: Fairly soon, fairly soon.


QUESTION: Is there going to be any sort of investigation into the disparity at this point or --

MR KIRBY: For the 15?


MR KIRBY: I know of no such investigation, certainly not by the State Department, no.

QUESTION: And who would ask for those? I mean, would it have to be the committee who would have to say to Secretary Clinton what happened to those 15? Because it’s not up to the State Department.

MR KIRBY: We don’t have them to give, so --


MR KIRBY: -- that would be a matter between the select committee and former Secretary Clinton.

QUESTION: I guess just beyond the missing 15, is there going to be some sort of, like, broader probe about missing emails generally?

MR KIRBY: No, no.


QUESTION: A question about the normalization of U.S.-Cuba, if I may. Are – I’d like to get an idea: What is the State Department’s benchmark for when editors around the world, U.S. editors, can say that normalization has been achieved between U.S. and Cuba? Is it going to be, for example, when the embassies are open, the U.S. flag goes up in Havana as a formal U.S. embassy and ambassadors are exchanged, or is there another criteria that it won’t necessarily mark full normalization when the embassies are exchanged?

MR KIRBY: My understanding is that normalization occurs when embassies are opened and are staffed by and led by ambassadors.

QUESTION: So in other words, newspapers could put out a headline saying relations are restored when the flag is raised in Havana?

MR KIRBY: I don’t make it a practice to tell newspaper editors --

QUESTION: No, no. I know, but just --

MR KIRBY: -- when or how to write headlines, but I mean, that’s the basic understanding of the formal return of diplomatic relations is when embassies are established.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Related to Cuba?


QUESTION: How are the discussions going with – to try to reopen the embassy? Are there – has there been an agreement on that yet? And number two, when can we expect an announcement on the 15 days? (Laughter.) My usual question.

MR KIRBY: Yes. I mean, progress continues to be made in our discussions with Cuban authorities. I don’t have anything in terms of timing or schedule to announce today, but the talks are ongoing and I think everybody shares, on both sides, the same sense of purpose here to get this done. And when we have something to announce, we will.

QUESTION: How would you characterize the shape and scope of the discussions right now? Are they being done on a lower level than Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s level? Are there plans to have another round of face-to-face discussions between her and Councilor Vidal?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have anything on her schedule to speak to, but clearly she’s been very personally involved in this and remains personally involved in this. And the Secretary’s grateful for Assistant Secretary Jacobson’s leadership on this. It’s also safe to say that in any kind of discussion like this it’s going to exist on multiple levels over time, so it’s not just Assistant Secretary Jacobson. I mean, it’s members of her staff, it’s members of the people that work in the interest section down there as well as staff at various levels from the Cuban side as well.

The discussions are ongoing. I would say that they are moving forward in a very productive way. And again, when we have something more specific to announce, we will.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the emails?


QUESTION: At a press club event, the experts spoke about wiping clean the server and deleting the emails. So they are technically two different things: If the emails are deleted, they can be brought back to life. If it is wiped clean – the server – then it becomes much more difficult. Is the State Department aware about this difference that is going on with the --

MR KIRBY: No, I think – again, I think it’s important to remind everybody what our role here is. We did not determine what 55,000 pages were turned over. Former Secretary Clinton did after she went through her emails and determined what was work-related. And she herself has called for these emails to be made public. Secretary Kerry has made it clear that we’re going to make them public through the FOIA process in time and over time. And that’s what our focus is on, not on the existence of the server or what might have been done to it. That’s not for the State Department to speak to. Our job, very clearly: go through those emails and on a rolling production basis make them public through FOIA – through the Freedom of Information Act.


QUESTION: Can I go to East Asia? This one – Japan. Japanese Government yesterday announced the next G7 foreign ministerial summit to be held in Hiroshima. So this logically will be the first time for the U.S. Secretary of State to visit Hiroshima, and there is a kind of expectation there, like is he going to go to the atomic bomb memorial or Peace Park. What’s the – do you have any reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t. I don’t have anything on the Secretary’s schedule in that regard to speak to today. I think that’s just a little too soon for us to comment specifically about that locale.

QUESTION: Okay. And one more on South Korea: Yesterday’s Human Rights Reports South Korea says about the freedom of press, that United States are concerned about defamation laws limiting freedom of press and pointing out one example of a Japanese correspondent colleague in Seoul being indicted because of writing a column about President Park.


QUESTION: So putting this on your annual report, is it going to be kind of a discussion issue between the United States and South Korea?

MR KIRBY: I think the two things I’d point you to is, one, that this report was for 2014. I believe there’s been some action taken in this case since the report was concluded, and again, I would – this is for the South Korean Government to speak to. The report speaks for itself. We had a pretty fulsome briefing here yesterday on each country, and it’s all up there online for people to read.

I think it’s important to remember just more broadly that just because there may be specific or anecdotal evidence of human rights issues in countries around the world, that that doesn’t mean that you don’t engage with those – with most of those countries at various levels. I mean, engagement means and dialogue means being able to continue to talk through these issues.

Okay – last one.

QUESTION: Yeah, last one. A related question with the gay marriage legalized in the U.S. I know that LGBT rights are a high priority of the State Department, so I would like to know if the decision of the Supreme Court in the U.S. will give you even more leverage to press countries, especially in Africa, to end the criminalizations of homosexual activities.

MR KIRBY: Well, the Secretary welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court. He has, as you know, been a strong and active proponent of equal rights in that regard here at the department and of course at our posts all around the world. And I think he believes that the Supreme Court decision does speak to the principles of the United States of America and what we as a country stand for, which is that everyone is created equal and that as a principle and as a national security interest of ours – this kind of equality – that yes, it does show the power of our example to the rest of the world.

Okay. You guys don’t have any questions? Nothing, huh? Giving you a pass. No? All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a good weekend. (Applause.)

(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 23, 2015

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 18:07

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 23, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: That is a big book. Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things to kick us off here. As you know, this morning we kicked off the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. This follows yesterday’s Strategic Security Dialogue with China hosted by Deputy Secretary Blinken. This morning, as you may have seen, our focus was on cooperation on climate change, which is a high priority in this bilateral relationship. And this afternoon, we’re engaging on a range of other bilateral regional and global issues, including areas that have contributed to some tensions in the relationship, to enhance cooperation in some areas and narrow our differences in others.

In addition, Deputy Secretary Blinken today hosted a special session on development assistance cooperation to expand collaboration in our efforts to combat disease and other threats to global health, promote sustainable development, and safeguard peace and stability.

I’d like to move on to an update on our visa system. The Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that the database responsible for handling biometric clearances has been rebuilt and is being retested – I’m sorry, is being tested. Thirty-three embassies and consulates representing 66 percent of our normal capacity are now online and issuing visas, and we’re looking to restore full biometric data processing worldwide. We issued more than 45,000 visas yesterday. Beijing alone issued nearly 15,000 visas. Significant additional numbers will be issued as the backlog clears, and it’s going to take some time here for the backlog to clear as we continue to work the fix.

Many posts are now rescheduling interviews. In some cases, interviews will be available as soon as the 24th. And then again, we encourage people to check our website,, for more information, and we’ll keep updating you here as we continue to work the problem.

Today we also want to congratulate the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the opening of its new field office in Seoul, and we thank the Republic of Korea for hosting this office. We are pleased that the new office will continue the excellent documentation work initiated by the UN commissioner of inquiry on the human rights situation in the DPRK. These efforts will lay the groundwork for bringing to account those responsible for atrocities in the DPRK, and we believe this is an important step forward in implementing the UN Commission of Inquiry recommendations.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Starting where you started off, on the Strategic and Economic Dialogue --


QUESTION: -- can you confirm that the OPM hack was raised yet in the discussions?

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t confirm specifically that the breach at OPM was discussed, but I would point to what I said yesterday, which is that cyber security issues routinely come up. And as I sort of alluded to in my opening statement, we certainly expect that cyber issues will be discussed – have been discussed today and will continue to be discussed throughout the afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t know if this particular –

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: -- grievous breach was –

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: -- brought up. Okay.


QUESTION: Can I go back to that – just the issue on the technical – on the visas?


QUESTION: What exactly does one – do you mean by technical issues? I mean, what kinds of technical issues were these that caused such an outage?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we talked about this a little bit before, Lesley. It’s a --

QUESTION: We did, but it’s unclear.

MR KIRBY: It’s a hardware problem with the actual – the physical database itself. So we’re not talking about a software glitch, and that’s why we’re sure that this isn’t the result of some kind of cyber security breach. It’s a hardware problem. And there’s a backup database that we wanted to create a second copy of so that – you always want to have one working backup. And so it took a while to recreate the backup system and then to test it. And they were testing it methodically using a single post to see if it – if they could insert the new hardware and that it would work properly, and the early testing – and we talked about this a little bit ago – didn’t always work so well, so they had to go back and work technical fixes to the hardware itself. They’ve done that now, we think, to some degree of success as I pointed out, and visas are now starting to be issued. One of the things that we wanted to do was as we got the system back online and the hardware fixed, was to put it in place at some of the most – some of the busiest posts. So that’s why I specifically mentioned Beijing, because so many visas are processed there at Beijing. And so far, again, it’s going well. But it’s a hardware issue, and related specifically to the file itself, which just needed to be recreated and then tested.

QUESTION: Any idea when you think that all the embassies or more embassies will come online?

MR KIRBY: Well, every day, I think, we’re going to be – we expect to add more and more, and I will continue to update you here from the podium as we learn more. Feel free to check in as well on your own. But I mean, we’re – they’re constantly adding new posts to the effort as the system gets back online. And again, I think tomorrow we’ll hopefully be able to point to some more progress as well.

There’s – but look, I don’t want to be overly rosy here. We’ve got the fix in place. Things seem to be working. There is a big backlog. I mean, on average we process about 50,000 a day across the world, so there’s a lot of – there’s a big backlog. It’s going to take a while to clear that.

QUESTION: How big is that backlog? Do you --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a good estimate because it’s – again, we only estimate how many thousands per day. It varies from, as you imagine, Brad, day to day. But it’s significant. So things are looking good. Progress is being made. Technicians are still hard at work. And I will stress that it is a 24/7 process here that they’re applying to the fixes. It’s just going to take a while.

QUESTION: How old is this equipment? And does the age of the equipment and the need to have so many repairs to the hardware mean that this equipment should have been replaced? Is this a funding issue at the base of it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the nature of the exact – the hardware problem. I don’t believe it has to do with age, but I don’t have a – I’m not a technical expert. I don’t know exactly what the glitch was. But again, they’ve worked a fix and things are looking good. We’ll continue to keep you updated.

QUESTION: One more. Do you know whether this is equipment that was acquired directly by the State Department, or was this acquired through a third-party contractor? Because a lot of them do these sorts of services for the federal government.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. In terms of the original equipment, I don’t know. But as I said a couple days ago, we are employing the skills of both public and private sector technicians and experts to help us fix it.

Are we going to – are we done with the visa issue?


MR KIRBY: No? We are done. Yeah, go ahead, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Visas or --

QUESTION: No, I’m done on visas.

QUESTION: Okay. I just would like to go back to China for a minute.


QUESTION: Could you tell us whether the human rights issues have been discussed this morning? And if yes, with what level of specificity? Or was this dialogue not the appropriate format for human rights (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: This morning’s focus was on climate, and I think you saw some of the comments made in the sessions that we had this morning. This afternoon is really more about other global strategic issues. I don’t know specifically if, as we stand here after 2 o’clock, whether human rights has been specifically addressed. But as I said yesterday, we certainly expect over the course of these two days that issues of human rights, which is an issue that we don’t always agree with China, will certainly be discussed. But I don’t have a readout for you this afternoon of the talks.


QUESTION: Can we go to Iran talks?


QUESTION: Iran talks?

MR KIRBY: Sure, Iran. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Our colleague, Guy Taylor, wrote in The Washington Times that the Administration is under a lot of pressure from its allies to extend the date. Could you comment on this? And I know this may be a White House – better addressed to the White House. But do you have any information that there is pressure, let’s say, from France or England or Germany?

MR KIRBY: I – the way I’d answer it is that we’re still focused on June 30th. And I’m not aware of any external pressure being applied to us or anybody else to extend. We’re still focused on June 30th.

QUESTION: So has the topic come up, let’s say, by your allies to say perhaps we should consider extending?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about diplomatic discussions in the context of the negotiations. But look, I think – and I talked about this a little bit yesterday – getting the right deal is better than the deadline itself. Deadlines are good forcing functions. We still are driving towards June 30th, and that’s what everybody’s, I think, focused on. But I’m not going to talk about who inside the room is espousing different views.

QUESTION: And my last one on this. Foreign Minister Zarif said yesterday that a good deal is better than the deadline, but today said that we might even be able to reach one even before the deadline. Could you comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate about what’s going on inside the negotiating room. But I think that’s not a position that’s incongruent with what we’ve been saying, which is that we’re still focused on getting the right deal, and that the right deal is more important than the deadline. Right now, the focus that we’re all applying in terms of timing is towards the end of this month.

QUESTION: So the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said yesterday that the President should walk away – step away from the talks unless it secures anytime, anywhere access. And about two weeks ago, Jack Lew spoke to the annual conference of the Jerusalem Post and he said, “Any deal must ensure comprehensive and robust monitoring and inspection anywhere and everywhere the IAEA has reason to go.” So can you respond to Bob Corker and say, in fact, that is our standard; we reflect the same standard?

MR KIRBY: I think I would say the same thing that we’ve been saying to the American people throughout this process, and that is that any deal must provide the access that IAEA inspectors need to verify Iran’s compliance with the ultimate deal that’s reached. We are still – we are still in the negotiating phase on what that final deal is going to look like. I’m not going to speculate about the details therein. But everybody, including the Iranian delegation back in Lausanne, agreed that the IAEA will and must have the access it needs to verify compliance.

QUESTION: And they also agreed in Lausanne, and I’m also quoting, that all past UN Security Council resolutions on the nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneously with the completion by Iran of all these issues, including PMD and transparency. So between these two things, the bill that just passed through the Iranian parliament explicitly rejects those two provisions. Do you not have a comment on that bill?

MR KIRBY: Well, we – I did, and we commented on this yesterday. These are – we’re aware that the Iranian parliament approved a bill concerning the nuclear talks and any final deal. Our understanding is that this bill now would still need the final approval from the Guardian Council. We’re going to let the Iranians manage and speak to their own legislative process. For us, nothing’s changed about what’s necessary for a final deal, which includes access and transparency that will meet our bottom lines.

QUESTION: Do you discourage --

MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about that.

QUESTION: Do you discourage the Guardian Council from passing it? And I will also note that in the past, when Congress has been reviewing legislation, the Iranians did not hold back from commenting on our legislative process.

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we’re going to let the Iranians manage their own process. It’s been very clear what our expectations are – (cell phone rings) – and that is a great ringtone. Whose – is that yours, Justin?

QUESTION: Yes, sorry.

MR KIRBY: Terrific.

QUESTION: I just want to make my presence known here.

MR KIRBY: Actually, well timed for the completion of my answer. With that, I’ll give the next one to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just – still on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah – no, I wasn’t going to --

QUESTION: Just one on – still on Iran. Your colleague at the White House today said that there will be ongoing differences of opinion after – if you get a final deal. Doesn’t that call into question the whole notion of a final agreement? Shouldn’t that be a shared text and there should be no dispute on what is in the deal when you have one?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’ve always said that there’s going to – there have been many voices in this process to – up to now, and there will continue to be many voices in the process, even when a deal is reached. And again, we’re focused right now, Brad, on that final deal and getting that inked. And it’s got to be the right deal. It’s got to be a good deal for our national security interests, and that’s where our focus is right now.

QUESTION: Doesn’t a good and a right deal imply that it is an --

MR KIRBY: It certainly would imply that all parties --

QUESTION: -- undisputed – undisputed deal?

MR KIRBY: It certainly would imply, obviously – not just imply, it would mean that all parties actually are in agreement on the essential elements of the deal. But that doesn’t mean that voices of dissent are going to stop, and we understand that. But we’re focused on getting the right deal here.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. Do you expect from the U.S. side or, really, from any of the parties at the table, that implementation would begin – theoretically, if a deal was reached by June 30th – before Congress weighs in as is mandated by the (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to get ahead on timelines and specifics right now. Again, we’ve got a team negotiating on this right now, and I don’t want to – I don’t think it’s helpful or productive for us to get in the middle of that right now.

Okay. That’s it for Iran? We’re moving on.

QUESTION: Can I just very quickly – is it conceivable to sign a multistate deal, or does it have to be all at once?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to hypothesize.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.


QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral, if we can still call you that. So I want to go to the hostage review. Have we talked – did we talk about that already? I was a little late.

MR KIRBY: That’s right. You were late, so you wouldn’t know.

QUESTION: I was. Yeah, well --

MR KIRBY: I think, yes, we covered it in a fulsome manner, and I think we’re just going to move on to the next issue now.

QUESTION: Is – did you really cover it?

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right, sorry, okay. So my question is: If families from now on are going to be negotiating with hostage-takers, with terrorists with some form of U.S. assistance, would that not represent a significant shift in policy for the United States?

MR KIRBY: Justin, I’m simply not going to get ahead of an announcement that the President hasn’t made yet. I mean, you’ve heard my colleague at the White House speak to this today. This is – this was an important review process that we all believe will help the interagency coordinate and communicate better, as well as communicate with the families and taking their concerns into consideration. But I’m simply not going to get ahead of policy decisions that haven’t been announced yet.

QUESTION: Can you say what, as you understand it, the problems were that needed fixing within this review?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think we’ve talked broadly about this when the review was announced – that everybody realizes that, first of all, the taking of hostages is a problem that continues, and in some cases has increased, particularly when you’re dealing now with a group like ISIL, which in and of itself would naturally call for the U.S. Government to take a look at our own procedures, and to the degree to which we’re always trying to improve, the degree to which perhaps we can improve interagency coordination, as well as taking into account some of the concerns expressed by families over the last several years.

QUESTION: Unless someone else has something on this, I wanted to ask just one last one about the emails that were released by the committee earlier this week and wondering – yesterday, you said that some of them were repeated, some of the Blumenthal emails were emails you had already provided to the committee. Were there any emails in there that you hadn’t provided to the committee that in retrospect you feel you ought to have provided, given the parameters that were outlined --


QUESTION: -- from Trey Gowdy originally?

MR KIRBY: We’re still going through those emails, specifically the ones that Mr. Blumenthal provided to the committee. As I said yesterday, we do believe that some of them were already provided by the State Department, having been provided by former Secretary Clinton to us. So we know that there is some overlap, but we’re still going through them, and I don’t have an update on how many that it would – that it would --

QUESTION: It wasn’t that many emails. It was maybe 60 or so. I mean, how long does it take this building – I went through them pretty fast. Maybe I’m faster than the entire State Department? Is that what you’re suggesting, that --

MR KIRBY: I’m suggesting that --

QUESTION: -- every reporter in this town can go through them faster --

MR KIRBY: I’m not suggesting, actually. I’m saying we’re still --

QUESTION: -- than the entire weight of this department?

MR KIRBY: -- we’re still going through them.

QUESTION: To do what?

MR KIRBY: We’re still going through the emails to see if there were some that we didn’t have originally before sending over to the select committee. And I’d also remind you, Brad, I mean, what we provided was specifically to meet the request of Benghazi-related material. We’re still going through them.

QUESTION: And you feel still that you met that request, right? You see no indication from these emails that you did not in every way meet that request?

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

Next. Yeah, the back there.

QUESTION: I’ve got two questions. One, as far as this U.S-China Strategic Dialogue is concerned, if I may go back, last – recently, you also had a dialogue with the U.S. and Pakistan, and the foreign secretary was here. My question is that – have you discussed, as far as the nuclear issues and $46 billion deal with – between China and Pakistan is because this is not in the interest of U.S. interest or U.S. jobs creation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of that particular issue arising today, Goyal, to be honest with you. Look, again, the talks are just beginning. They just started today, and I think at the end there’ll be a press conference and I think we’ll be able to have a more fulsome readout of all the items that were discussed.

QUESTION: Second, as far as India-Pakistan is concerned, tensions are on the rise and not going down. My question is here that yesterday at the Atlantic Council Brigadier Arun Sahgal was speaking and he said that there is a proxy war going on between the two counties, especially by – by Pakistan into India as far as Kashmir issue is concerned. But of course, Pakistan is blaming India the war is against Pakistan in Balochistan and all that. My question: Number of terrorists are still there wanted by India in the Mumbai attack and all; they’re openly giving statements, including last week in Musharraf – General Musharraf also said that with the other terrorist groups that they will use nuclear weapons against India. My question is: Do you feel that Pakistan’s nuclear program is safe and out of the terrorists’ hands?

MR KIRBY: Let me tackle this a couple of ways. First, you heard Secretary Kerry talk to this very issue when he – when we piped him into the briefing room about his concerns about tensions between India and Pakistan right now and our continued belief that both sides need to work these issues out peaceably and on their own. And I’m not – I’m certainly not going to talk about intelligence issues here at the podium, but our expectation continues to be that Pakistan will be a responsible stakeholder on security issues, in particular the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: One more quickly, sir. As far as trafficking is concerned and human trafficking and child labor and child trafficking in India and also many countries around the globe including South Asia and China, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi was speaking last week at the Lincoln Memorial and he spoke at the number of occasions and he mentioned Washington and met number of lawmakers on the Hill. Question is that as far as child labor, child trafficking is concerned, if Secretary or U.S. Department of State has any question that or talking to those governments that using little children to make the big things selling around the globe.

MR KIRBY: Well, we – I think we talked about this last week and I don’t think my answer today is going to be any different. Obviously, this is a concern that we have around the world – the issue of child labor and certainly human trafficking, and it’s something that we are constantly talking to our friends and partners about. It’s a significant concern. Look, we’re seeing migration issues in the Mediterranean coming from North Africa up to Southern Europe. I mean, it’s out in the Asia Pacific. I mean, these are not insignificant problems. Our positions, our stance on them have not changed, and we’re going to continue to work this just as hard as we can. But I don’t have anything specifically on that.

Let’s go to something else.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is there a U.S. reaction to the North Korean Government’s decision to sentence two South Korean men who were allegedly Christian missionaries to a lifetime sentence of hard labor?

MR KIRBY: Ros, I haven’t seen that report, so before I make a statement about it, let me go take a look at that before we issue a statement about that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on South Korea establish of the North Korean human rights office in South Korea yesterday and for the improvement of North Korean human rights. And regarding this, North Korea politically provocated against the South Korea. Can you comment on this?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, we’ve seen the threatening comments made by North Korean officials regarding this field office that’s being stood up. And obviously, we certainly have deep concerns about those comments and would just reiterate that they do nothing to help the security and stability on the Korean peninsula. So I mean, we’ve seen them. Obviously, we take deep issue with that reaction to this. This office is all about trying to help – potentially down the road help hold those accountable, those who are responsible for human rights violations in the North. That’s a good thing. Again, we welcome the standup of this office, and it’s in nobody’s interest to do anything to interfere with that work – certainly not the interests of the North Korean people.

QUESTION: Can we go to the war against ISIS?


QUESTION: Today the advisor to the supreme leader in Tehran, Ali Akbar Velayati, after meeting with the Syrian interior minister, said that there’s going to be meetings in Baghdad between Iraq, Iran, and Syria to consolidate efforts against ISIS. Would you object to including the Syrian Government in this process?

MR KIRBY: I think I would put this in the same area that we talked about when we talked about Prime Minister Abadi traveling to Tehran. It is understandable. And it’s not the first time, by the way, that Iraqi leaders have met – excuse me – with Assad regime leaders. But it – we understand. This is a sovereign country; we have to keep reminding ourselves, I find, to remind everybody that Iraq is sovereign. Prime Minister Abadi is the prime minister of a sovereign nation and we should expect that he’s going to have discussions and meetings and outreach with neighbors in the Middle East, particularly immediate neighbors. And so that’s the rubric under which we understand this meeting is occurring.

QUESTION: So you don’t object, let’s say, to cooperation between Syria, Iraq, and Tehran in fighting the same enemy that you are fighting?

MR KIRBY: We have – our position hasn’t changed. The Assad regime has lost legitimacy, has to go. And I think it’s important to remember in the context of this or any other meeting that it’s largely because of Assad that ISIL has been able to flourish and grow and operate and sustain itself inside Syria. And so I think it’s important to remember that. Nothing’s changed about our view on that. But we also understand that Prime Minister Abadi has obligations – security obligations – that he himself and the Iraqi people hold to be important. And if he’s having meetings with neighboring nations, the leaders of neighboring nations, in concert with that, well, that’s certainly his prerogative.

QUESTION: But, may I? If you’re saying that Assad is the source of all this terrorism, then I mean – or the main cause or continues to be a source of this terrorism, I mean, how are you really going to go after ISIS without a strategy to get rid of Assad?

MR KIRBY: Well, I didn’t say that Assad is the main reason why ISIL exists.

QUESTION: Well, this Administration has basically put it at his feet that ISIS was able to flourish and you just said that --

MR KIRBY: I did. Yes.

QUESTION: -- ISIS was able to flourish because of --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. It’s been able to – one of the reasons it has been able to flourish inside Syria is that the Assad regime has lost all legitimacy. They are – they are not – they’ve – large swaths of ungoverned space inside Syria that ISIL has been able to take advantage of and to exploit.

The mission against ISIL – the coalition mission is against ISIL. Separate and distinct from that, nothing has changed about our longstanding belief that the Assad regime’s lost legitimacy and needs to go. We’ve also said repeatedly and consistently that there’s not going to be a military solution to that issue, that what needs to happen is a negotiated political settlement.

QUESTION: Is there any movement on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s – we talked about this the other day, Elise. We continue to work at this. This is a tough problem in a very complicated area. Everybody understands that. But that’s what really needs to happen here. It’s not going to be solved militarily.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Elise’s point, I mean, you’re – the argument this of Administration, all along it’s been that Assad is a magnet to terrorists, and so I don’t understand the logic behind this. If he’s the magnet of terrorists, should we allow the terrorists to take over and him to leave? Is that the logic behind saying that? I mean, so if he must go so it’s – whatever – this magnet analogy --

MR KIRBY: Are you saying that what we’re saying by the fact that --

QUESTION: I’m saying that by virtue of being there, he attracts terrorists. So they go in because he’s there. If he was no longer there, they would not go in. Is that the logic?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – no, I wouldn’t subscribe to that. What I’m saying is nobody’s turning a blind eye to ISIL’s use of Syrian territory to further its own ambitions. Not at all. And nobody’s turning a blind eye to the atrocities the Assad regime continues to propagate against its own people. But the answer to ISIL is – we believe continues to be a coalition effort supported by the U.S. military, but also the militaries of other nations, and for other lines of efforts, which include trying to help get a moderate opposition trained and equipped to go in the field against ISIL on the ground in Syria.

The solution against – please, let me finish – the solution against Assad, we continue to believe, is not going to be done militarily or through that same kind of effort, but rather one over –through political settlement. It’s tough. Nobody’s said that this is going to be solved overnight. It’s going to take some time. But that’s the policy that we continue to espouse and the policy we continue to try to implement.


QUESTION: But can you have a political dialogue with the Assad regime without it changing the military balance on the ground?

MR KIRBY: Again, the change in regime we want to see done through other than military means. We don’t believe there’s a military solution to the Assad regime. And we – I – we’ve said this repeatedly. The issue militarily in Syria, at least for the United States – and I’m not going to speak for the Defense Department, but it is through – is about going after ISIL.

QUESTION: Right. But Secretary Kerry, I think one of the first things he said when he came into office was that you needed to change Assad’s calculus in order for him to want to come to the table. Is that still that position? Because the military efforts really on the ground right now have nothing to do with changing his calculus. Or do you see losses that he’s having on the ground, which incidentally have nothing to do with you, as possibly his calculus changing?

MR KIRBY: I think we still – obviously, yes, we believe that his calculus has to change. There’s no question about that. And his regime is coming under more and more attack. And we have seen signs of the weakening of his grip. But again, the answer here is a political one, not a military one.


QUESTION: Can we move to Israel?

QUESTION: On this, please. You said that there is no military solution, and at the same time there is no political solution on the horizon. Then what’s the solution to this situation?

MR KIRBY: Look, you want me to solve the whole Syria crisis --

QUESTION: No (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: -- right up here, and I’m not going to do that.

QUESTION: -- it’s been there for four years or five years.

MR KIRBY: What I’m going – I’m – what I’m trying to tell you is there’s a lot of energy applied to this. Secretary Kerry talks to, particularly, Foreign Minister Lavrov about this all the time. I think everybody understands there needs to be a political settlement to this. That is not going to be achieved, and rarely ever is in human history, easily or quickly. It’s – but it’s not something that – to convey that we’ve taken our eye off of it or that we’re not focused on it would be false. It’s just going to take some time. And I’m not going to be able to solve it for you here in the 45 minutes – 25 minutes that I have left.


QUESTION: Could I just --

QUESTION: Regarding to this issue, last week Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said that Turkey has intelligence suggesting ISIS and Syrian regime representatives met in (inaudible) last month and coordinating operations against FSA. Do you think there is any cooperation between ISIS and the Assad regime?

MR KIRBY: I have seen no evidence of cooperation between ISIL and the Assad regime. I’ve seen no indication of that.


QUESTION: To Israel. Yesterday you said that you were just in receipt of the UN Gaza report. Have you gotten a chance to take a look at it?

MR KIRBY: I think we talked about this yesterday as well. Were you here yesterday?

QUESTION: I was not --


QUESTION: -- but I read the transcript and you said you hadn’t --

MR KIRBY: Well, right. We just got it yesterday. Certainly we’re reading it. But as I also said yesterday, we challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all UN reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.

QUESTION: In that case --


QUESTION: You have --

QUESTION: Let me just --

QUESTION: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: In that case, I take it that you reject using this report in any referral to the International Criminal Court.

MR KIRBY: We do not support any further UN work on this report.

QUESTION: You just welcomed a similar effort for Korea. You just welcomed a UN human rights inquiry efforts for Korea. Why would you sort of reject something for Gaza?

MR KIRBY: Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.

QUESTION: Well, it’s --

QUESTION: Do you approve of Israel investigating itself? Do you approve that Israel should conduct (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: It’s not our place to approve or disapprove.

QUESTION: Would you conduct your own --

MR KIRBY: We – the United States investigates itself all the time on all kinds of things.

QUESTION: Do you trust Israel’s mechanism to investigate itself?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a comment about a specific investigation.

QUESTION: You said that this report has an obvious bias and the committee that set it up has an obvious bias against Israel. But the findings cited both potential war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. So are you saying that you just reject the ones against Israel and not – and kind of approve of the ones against Hamas?

MR KIRBY: I’m saying that we object to the report --

QUESTION: Entire report?

MR KIRBY: -- to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.


MR KIRBY: Because we object to the foundation itself, we’re not going to take it apart and do a point-by-point rebuttal or support for the report.

QUESTION: So you reject the report out of hand, including the criticisms against Hamas --

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to do --

QUESTION: -- which you basically said that --

MR KIRBY: We’re not going to do an analysis of the report and we don’t believe that any further action in the UN is required on it.

QUESTION: Can I just ask – the conclusion was rather squirmy of this report in that it didn’t say with certitude that war crimes were committed by either side. Do you disagree with the notion that Israel may have committed war crimes?

MR KIRBY: We’ve – and I said this yesterday – we certainly made known at the time our concerns about the use of force in that particular conflict and urged restraint on both sides, and that’s where I’d leave it.

QUESTION: You also welcomed Israeli investigations into their own conduct after the conflict. If you didn’t think that there was anything that at least warranted looking into, why would you have supported that investigation?

MR KIRBY: We said that we had concerns about the use of force on both sides. And for one party to say, “We’re going to go take a look at that,” I think – I don’t know why we wouldn’t welcome that.

QUESTION: So are your – have all of your concerns then now been alleviated or dismissed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t have a particular comment on that right now, Brad. Again, I would just say we made known our position at the time.

QUESTION: Here’s my problem, is that you had these concerns at the time. The Israelis have looked into it and they have found nothing that they did wrong. You haven’t said whether you agree with that or disagree with that. And now you have a UN report that you don’t like the foundation, but it essentially says what you were thinking several months ago, that Israel may have done something wrong, it may not have done something wrong; yet you’re opposed to that. And I don’t know what’s happened in between that leads you now to say – well, I don’t even – you’re not even saying that your concerns have been alleviated, so where are you? You just forgot about them or what?

MR KIRBY: Well, your sarcastic tone notwithstanding --

QUESTION: It’s not sarcastic.

MR KIRBY: Yes, it was – we’ve made very clear what our issues were at the time about the use of force and we made very clear to the Israeli Government our concerns about what was happening in that conflict. We have an ongoing dialogue with the Government of Israel on all these sorts of matters; that dialogue continued and continues. I’m not going to be able to declare here from the podium a final resolution one way or the other. What I would tell you is, again, we find and believe in a bias against Israel that established the mechanism for the commission of inquiry into this particular conflict. And because of that, we don’t believe that the resulting report requires any further action, should not go any further in the Security Council.

QUESTION: John, just to follow up on this, though: At the time, yes, you did make your views known. But you also called for Israel to investigate the incidents, and back to Said’s question, surely that suggests that you --

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve dealt with this as best I can. I don’t have a comment on the Israeli investigation.


QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. There are acknowledgements by the Israelis that at least 15 targets resulting in the death of 216 persons, mainly civilians, had no military value whatsoever. Would that constitute a war crime, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: I have no comment on that.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: John, quickly (inaudible). India’s Prime Minister Modi will be the first prime minister to visit Israel in the – in 60 years of history. And yesterday on the Capitol Hill, under the leadership of Congressman Ami Bera and Congressman Crowley, they passed a resolution – U.S.-India-Israel cooperation. Any comments on that and what this will do?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I haven’t seen those reports. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you.



QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Can we change regions, Venezuela? The opposition leaders ended a hunger strike.


QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any comment on this? Do you still call for his release?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I would say that we do note that Mr. Lopez ended his hunger strike today on its 30th day. We welcome this decision, which Mr. Lopez made following the announcement by Venezuelan electoral authorities setting a December 6th date for the date of legislative elections. Mr. Lopez is a man of physical and moral courage who has chosen a path of civil, nonviolent resistance to pursue his political objectives. He’s an important political leader who can play a significant role in the democratic dialogue necessary to overcome the political disputes that beset Venezuela. We’re glad that he has ended his strike – his hunger strike and urge Venezuelan authorities to permit him access to doctors of his choosing as he recovers from this ordeal.

QUESTION: A question on Yemen.


QUESTION: Today a website in Yemen claimed that Iran smuggled $9 billion – U.S. dollars of counterfeit dollars in to the Houthis to give them, and in fact, they are trading with it. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that exact report, Said. But obviously, we’ve long made known our concerns about Iranian support to the Houthis and once again would continue to stress that our strong support for the UN-led process that is trying to get to a sense of political resolution there, that’s the right answer for the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: That would be a breach of international laws and norms to smuggle in counterfeit money, wouldn’t it?

MR KIRBY: It would --

QUESTION: It would be a major thing.

MR KIRBY: There are Security Council resolutions that prevent support of that kind. But again, I haven’t seen a report so I can’t comment to the veracity of it. You guys have the advantage of your iPhones up here, and I don’t.



QUESTION: I want to ask a question about the human rights issues again. Secretary Kerry will release annual Human Rights Report on Thursday, next Thursday. Do you know how many country involved that annual report on HR practices?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’re right; we are going to release the Human Rights Report on Thursday. Secretary Kerry will participate in that. I’m not going to get ahead of the announcement.

We have time for just a couple more.

QUESTION: Anything on Ebola, Sierra Leone? There are eight new cases, seven of them in the past week.



MR KIRBY: I’ve not seen those reports.

QUESTION: Do you know whether the U.S. Government is making any plans to renew its efforts to help countries in West Africa, seeing as how this may be becoming a problem again?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any new plans. We’ve stayed engaged with governments down there. Although there’s not the significant military presence that was there before, we certainly have stayed engaged on this issue. I’m not aware of anything new to announce or new plans in that regard.

Last one.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: I can take the question, sure. But I’m just not aware of anything.

Yeah, Nicolas.

QUESTION: A very quick one on Cuba. Any update on the reopening of the embassies?

MR KIRBY: No, teams continue to talk about this. And again, I think things are moving in a very positive direction, but I don’t have any update on the schedule.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)

DPB # 110

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 17:59

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 22, 2015

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2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Got some things at the top here, so just if you could bear with me. Obviously, this is a big week for U.S.-China relations. On Tuesday and Wednesday Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew are hosting the 7th U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In addition, Secretary Kerry will host the 6th Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, and that’ll be integrated into these events.

As a precursor to that, I think many of you know today Deputy Secretary Blinken will chair the 5th Strategic Security Dialogue. We are looking to expand our bilateral cooperation on many global challenges such as climate change, development, humanitarian assistance, pandemic response, and ocean conservation.

We will also have the chance to coordinate U.S. and Chinese policies on regional issues like Iran, Iraq, and Syria, North Korea, and Afghanistan, and we will also address areas where we have ongoing differences such as maritime disputes, cyber security, and human rights. As we have said many times, the United States is firmly committed to improving its relationship with China. While our countries disagree on many points, we recognize that there are many areas for mutually beneficial cooperation and, indeed, that no problem can’t be better addressed with U.S.-China cooperative efforts. We look forward to all the dialogue being held this week, as they are some of the most important of several mechanisms for tackling our disagreements and advancing our mutual interests.

On Afghanistan, the United States condemns in the strongest terms the attack on Afghanistan’s parliament building. This attack demonstrates the gulf between the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan, and shows blatant disregard for human life and for democracy. Our thoughts, of course, are with the victims and their families. And I would note the speedy response and effective response by Afghan National Security Forces to the attack.

Switching to Europe, if I could. We welcome today’s decision from the EU’s foreign affairs council to extend sanctions in response to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine. As we and our EU and G7 partners have made clear, sanctions are directly linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We hope all countries will condemn Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and we join the international community in imposing sanctions.

We also welcome Martin Sajdik’s appointment as the OSCE’s special – new special representative in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group. The implementation of the Minsk agreements by all signatories remains imperative and we offer our full support to Ambassador Sajdik in his mission. We also want to take this opportunity to thank his predecessor, Heidi Tagliavini, for her determined, skillful stewardship of the Trilateral Contact Group over the last year.

And then finally a scheduling note. On Thursday the 25th we will release our annual Human Rights Report. Although I don’t have a specific time and details of how that’s all going to unfold – we’re working on that today – I expect that we’ll have a more detailed advisory note out to you guys later today with, again, more specifics. But I did want to let you know that that is going to happen on Thursday.

QUESTION: And you will expect wall-to-wall coverage of it, I’m sure, right?

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not just on one specific country --

MR KIRBY: Indeed.

QUESTION: -- but on all of them?

MR KIRBY: Over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back into China. I have one about that but I’ll wait until others have started the China stuff first. I want to start with Middle East and Israel and the UN Gaza report that came out today. Both the Israelis and Hamas have rejected the report, and I’m wondering what you guys think of it.

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re just now in receipt of it, Matt, so we’re not in any position to make a comment or pass any judgment on it. Just received it ourselves. As we have made clear in the past, our concerns about the mechanism of using the Commission of Inquiry on this and the bias against Israel that is imparted in that mechanism. So we’ve been very clear from the get-go that we have concerns over the mechanism itself, and again, we just got the report. Not in a position to comment.

QUESTION: What – the main things that it singles out both sides for – or the possible – or actions that they say that it – that the commission says may have constituted war crimes during the Gaza conflict. On the Israeli side, that would include disproportionate use of force – that’s what it said; and on the Hamas side, the targeting of civilians. Both of these things are items that this building in particular, but this Administration called out each side for, perhaps not quite using the word “disproportionate” use of force but there was quite a bit of anger in the Administration about some of the Israeli activities and – as well about the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

So I’d be curious to know if you have issues with the report, what specifically those issues would be other than the fact that the mechanism, you say, was biased and unfair? So when your people are reading it, we’ll be looking – or at least I will be looking for specific issues that you have with it. So when they do, if you could address those – maybe tomorrow – that would be great.

MR KIRBY: To the best of my ability.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on --

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Now, the report says that Israel conducted 6,000 raids on Gaza, 50,000 artillery shell – certainly, you find that to be excessive, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: Well, I --

QUESTION: On a densely populated area.

MR KIRBY: I think, as Matt rightly pointed out, we made clear our concerns about the conflict at the time, and continue to urge restraint on all sides. Again, we’ve just now been in receipt of this report. It’s way too soon for any conclusions to be reached or any statements to be made about the veracity in that. And I don’t know that we’re going to have a point-by-point rebuttal of it. We’ve – because as I said at the outset, we’ve also made clear our concern about the mechanism itself of this committee of inquiry. So I just am not in a position to comment on the specific findings.

QUESTION: Can you comment on what the United States will do next? Apparently the report will go before the Security Council, then it will go to the ICC. Will you support any of that effort?

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve expressed concerns about the mechanism itself. So I don’t foresee any – a U.S. role here in the process of it moving forward. We’ve expressed concerns about this commission of inquiry from the get-go, and I just – I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: And finally, just one last point: The Israeli Government just called the United Nations being hijacked by a terrorist group. Do you agree with that assessment --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: -- that the United Nations has been hijacked by a terrorist group?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. Obviously we continue to be members in good standing at the UN.



QUESTION: Can we move to Iran? First, just any reaction to the weekend vote by the parliament there banning IAEA access to the very sites that our negotiators are attempting to secure access to?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, as we understand it, these are sort of initial or preliminary legislative steps that Iran’s parliament has obviously expressed an interest in taking. What we would say is what we’ve been saying, and that’s that the talks continue in Vienna as we speak; that our expectation is that Iran will meet all the parameters in the agreements made in Lausanne; and of course there’s final negotiations going on right now, and those require being able to provide the necessary access to IAEA inspectors so that the agreements can be fully verified. There’s going to be – there are – there have been many voices in this process on all sides. There will continue to be many voices in this process. But as we’ve said before, James, no deal is better than a bad deal.

QUESTION: So this isn’t regarded as a serious obstacle, it sounds like.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve – we noted it, but we’re sitting down right now in Vienna with negotiating teams from all the countries. Those talks continue, and our expectation is that we’re going to get – if there’s an agreement to be had, that it will be the right agreement, it’ll be a good deal, and it’ll be a deal that ensures that Iran does not ever come into possession of a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: And one last one: We had a colloquy in this room on Friday that – it seemed to end on a kind of an unclear note, and I would appreciate a chance to clarify it here – and it related to some language that you used. And when you were questioned about it in the terms of a follow-up question, you then retreated to the position of you weren’t going to discuss anything that’s going on in the negotiation room, which is, in fact, what briefers at this very podium have been doing for 18 months. So if you could just add a little bit of clarity to this.

In your responses to us on Friday, you alluded to the possibility that the final deal could contain – your word now – “parameters” for IAEA access. And I just want to nail this down with you so that there is clarity. Could it be the case that any final deal that we would negotiate and ink would itself contain parameters for access that would be subject to further negotiation after the finalization of the final deal?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to talk about what the final deal will or will not look like. Again, negotiators are hard at work right now, and I think we need to give them the space to do that work. What I – what is true, however, is that at Lausanne in April, it was agreed that Iran would provide the parameters to allow the necessary access by IAEA inspectors. That was agreed in April, and that agreement is still in effect. That does not constitute the final deal, though, James, and that’s what they’re working out right now. And that’s really as far as I can go with it today.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the parliament vote for a second? Does it give you any pause or any concern that a significant number of members of parliament in Tehran were chanting “death to America” as they voted on this law that would bar the inspections of military sites, or is that – do you think that that’s just kind of political grandstanding?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not in a position to speak for every individual that might have been shouting “death to America.”

QUESTION: No, no, no, I don’t want you to speak for them.

MR KIRBY: No, I know. I’m not – and I’m not going to qualify the degree of concern that there may be over those chants. I mean, these are chants we’ve heard before from Iran. I think what’s more telling, Matt, is less the chants or perhaps the vitriol by some hardliners and more the fact that we are sitting down with a team in Vienna and progress is being made. And you heard Foreign Secretary – UK Foreign Secretary Hammond say this morning that he still is hopeful that June 30th can be met. So work’s being done, and I think that’s where Secretary Kerry’s focus is and that’s where Wendy Sherman’s focus is: the work there at the table and not necessarily the chants from people in Iran.

QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, is it not dismaying at all? Does it give you – I mean --

MR KIRBY: It’s certainly not --

QUESTION: -- these are the elected representatives. The Secretary made a big point out of saying at one point that Iran has a democratically-elected government, and that would include the executive and the legislative branch, and these are the elected representatives of the Iranian people who are saying this. It – this is not dismaying to you at all?

MR KIRBY: It’s certainly not helpful --

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MR KIRBY: -- to the kind of dialogue that we’re trying to pursue, but is it going to have a major impact on the negotiating teams in Vienna? No.

QUESTION: John, can I just --

QUESTION: Will the Secretary join the talks this week?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Will the Secretary join the talks --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates on the Secretary’s schedule to announce today.

QUESTION: Can I ask about – part of what happened in the parliament was that the parliament agreed that they would not have the final review of the deal, that they would pass it to the Supreme National Security Council. What is this building’s opinion about that move? Does it make final passage of any kind of deal more possible or harder?

MR KIRBY: We’re not taking a position on this particular legislative step right now, Jo. And again, as I said earlier, there’s – there have been many voices in this process. There will continue to be as we move forward. Our focus right now really is on getting the deal done and then --

QUESTION: But the Supreme National Security Council would presumably have more of a direct line to the supreme leader, so – I mean, it could make it – I don’t know. Could it make it harder?

MR KIRBY: I just think it’s too soon to really try to play that hypothetical out, and again, our focus is on the deal itself and then subsequent legislative discussions. And there will be legislative discussions in every country involved in this, not just Iran. We’ll take that when it comes, but I think it’s important that our focus remain on the negotiating teams right now in Vienna and trying to work towards a deal.



MR KIRBY: What would be the legislative action that is going to happen in China?

MR KIRBY: Well – okay, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there --

MR KIRBY: I mean, I get the point, but my main argument is here that there’s – as I said, there’s going to be lots of voices in this process.

QUESTION: Ratification, most likely.

MR KIRBY: Lots of voices in this process. And I just – I think where we need to stay focused is on the work in Vienna right now and not the hypotheticals about what it would mean later in Iran and through their legislative process.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Foreign Minister Zarif said that it’s better to get a good deal than to stick to a date, suggesting perhaps that there may be an extension. Do you agree with that?

MR KIRBY: Our focus remains on, if a good deal is going to be had, to work towards June 30th.

QUESTION: Well, I know you’re working --

MR KIRBY: That’s what we’re still focused.

QUESTION: May I? I know you’re working towards June 30th, but that’s about a week away, okay? And you say that progress has been made, but there are tough issues remaining. The ministers are still not there. Would you say that so much progress has been made that a deal is at hand by Wednesday?

MR KIRBY: I would say that we continue to be focused on June 30th as the goal and the objective, and Foreign Secretary Hammond said the same thing. That’s where Secretary Kerry has been. I think he told you the same thing. And that’s what the teams are working on over there. I think it would be --

QUESTION: But it’s also important to be realistic, right? I mean --

MR KIRBY: I think everybody’s been suitably realistic about this too, Elise.

QUESTION: It doesn’t sound very realistic that a deal – I mean, it doesn’t sound --

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say --

QUESTION: Given the fact that the ministers – last time, it took them over a week. They’re not even there yet and presumably won’t be before the end of the week. I mean, it just seems that a deal – I’m not saying it even matters to most of the people in this room, but the fact that you’re so insistent on June 30th is just going to be that much more – peoples will be asking that much more questions about you missing the deadline when it goes past on Wednesday.

MR KIRBY: Well, it sure seems to matter to some of you because the question keeps coming up. (Laughter.) I would tell you that we – we’re focused on June 30th. And we’ve said it before: Deadlines are a good thing because they do help drive outcomes. And I’m – I just think that it would be counterproductive for me to speculate up here and hypothesize about any possible work past June 30th. The teams are working hard in Vienna. We need to let them do their work. Everybody’s focused on that day. And we’ll see where we are in a week.

QUESTION: I understand. But what you’re saying about the amount of progress that’s been made and the – and what we are all discussing about that the issues are on the table, it seems like you’d be trying to shoehorn a deal in by June 30th just to get the deal done by June 30th. I mean, from what – the situation you’re describing in terms of progresses that have been made, the hang-ups that remain and still need to be negotiated, it just doesn’t look like that’s possible. And so we come back to you and say, are you trying to – is the date more important than the deal?

MR KIRBY: No, the date is not more important than the deal --


MR KIRBY: -- of course. And when I talk about progress, Elise, I’m not – I don’t think that I have overstated it in any way at all. I’ve been very --

QUESTION: I don’t think so either.

MR KIRBY: I’ve been very frank about the fact that yes, progress is being made, but it’s slow. The discussions are still tough. There are still issues that need to be resolved. And nobody, I don’t think, is overpromising here. And as we’ve said many, many times, no deal is better than a bad deal. And that’s where we are.

QUESTION: Can a deal be reached?


QUESTION: Can a deal be reached?

MR KIRBY: I believe that, again, without getting into specifics of the discussions, I think everybody’s working toward that end.

QUESTION: But John, can I ask this this way: Should one be alarmed if the discussions go beyond the 30th? Does that mean that there is some kind of breakdown or that a deal might not be possible?

MR KIRBY: It’s going to – the answer to your question is it depends on what the issues outstanding are. I mean, in Lausanne in April they went a couple of days over the self-imposed deadline and obviously they weren’t of a nature that prevented reaching that agreement. So I mean, I can’t answer the question right now since – because we’re not there yet. It’s just going to depend.

QUESTION: One thing it seems to me you could answer, which is what I was kind of driving at earlier, is the idea that a final deal wouldn’t really be final. I wonder if you can assure the American people that when a final deal is – if and when a final deal is reached, there will be no further room for negotiation; thereafter, it’ll be the final deal.

MR KIRBY: We’re all trying – we’re all working toward trying to get a deal by the end of this month. That’s the work that’s going on right now: A deal that will ensure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon. So you want to call that final? Call it final. But that’s the deal that we are working toward. And the guts inside of that that are being negotiated now, obviously, we – we’re not in a position to talk about specifically.

But look, James, I think to your question, assuring the American people, I think Secretary Kerry would – has and would want me to continue to assure the American people that that’s the goal we’re focused on, is a deal that will prevent them from possessing a nuclear weapon. And work continues toward that end. Achieving that end diplomatically is obviously better than through any other type of means, and that’s what the teams are focused on.

QUESTION: I don’t mean to belabor it, I just – maybe a different way of asking is simply to ask whether the United States would regard it as unsatisfactory for any actual important details to be left still to be negotiated after a final deal has been finalized.

MR KIRBY: I think the only – the best way I can answer it is the important details – those are being hashed out, and they will be hashed out, or there won’t be a deal.

QUESTION: Thank you.



QUESTION: We’ve seen former President Mohamed Morsy in red execution uniform. We saw that on Sunday. That’s basically an indication that he’s officially been placed on the death row. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those images. We’ve long made our concerns very, very clear about the rule of law and a responsible judicial system there in Egypt. I’m just not at --

QUESTION: But on Monday --

MR KIRBY: -- liberty to talk about an image I haven’t seen.

QUESTION: But on Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo announced that Egypt just received two shipments of weapons. So doesn’t that, like, send the message that the United States might voice concern but refuses to take any action --

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t say that at all. We have a defense relationship with Egypt that is particularly aimed at helping that country battle the terrorism threat inside the country, and the security work that they are doing. So no, I don’t think that that’s the intent of it, and I don’t think that anybody should read any other messages into that other than we have a commitment on a – through a defense relationship with Egypt in that regard. We’ve, again, long made clear our concerns about rule of law procedures.

QUESTION: Also on Egypt?


QUESTION: Al Jazeera announced over the weekend that one of its journalists who was tried in – convicted in absentia was arrested in Germany. I don’t know what the very, very latest --

QUESTION: He was released.

QUESTION: He was released.

QUESTION: He – oh, I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: He’s been released.

QUESTION: Well, forget it. I mean – okay, but just a follow-on. I mean, should these journalists that have been tried and convicted in absentia be afraid to travel around the world because they’re – they might have some relations with Egypt?

MR KIRBY: I’m not in a position to talk about their travel habits or where they’re – where they may go or may not go. That said, Elise, I mean, again, we’ve been very clear about our expectations about freedom of the press and due process in protecting the rights of those who are objectively trying to cover events there in Egypt. I think we’ve been very, very clear about that.

QUESTION: John, let me follow on with that. The fact is there was no INTERPOL Red Notice for Ahmed Mansour or for the other nine journalists who have been convicted in absentia. And to go to Elise’s point, should people who have been convicted in absentia without an INTERPOL Red Notice basically be held captive in whatever country they happen to be in? Should they be afraid of trying to travel just because one country says, “Well, you are now a felon under our laws”?

MR KIRBY: We certainly wouldn’t want them to feel held captive, obviously. But I’m not in a position to make a comment about what they should or shouldn’t do, and I would refer you to INTERPOL for speaking to their processes. But again, we’ve made very clear what our expectations are for freedom of the press.

QUESTION: Do you know whether anyone from the U.S. Government has spoken to the Egyptians about trying to bring someone that it considers a criminal to justice absent the INTERPOL intervention? Or is this a simple matter of we think this person is on the lam, we want this person to be held accountable, and this is no different than any other extradition request?

MR KIRBY: We certainly made clear in a dialogue with Egyptian authorities, again, our expectations about rule of law, judicial process, and certainly freedom of the press. I don’t know if there’s been specific discussions with Egyptian authorities about the Interpol arrest warrant process. But again, more broadly we’ve made – we’ve certainly made our positions known.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Tolga.

QUESTION: A different topic. According to the press reports, Turkish and Israeli officials met today in Rome to --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- to resume the reconciliation negotiations between the two countries. Since the President Obama actually facilitated this process in 2013, did you play any role in this new attempt or do you have any reaction?

MR KIRBY: We certainly welcome any efforts by both sides to improve their relationship. I would refer you to both governments to speak to these talks, and I’m not aware of any U.S. role in them.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Israel?


QUESTION: Okay. The visit of French Foreign Minister Fabius this weekend to Israel. He apparently submitted a peace proposal – not a peace proposal, but to re – sort of restart the talks, direct talks maybe under an international umbrella. But he also said this during his press conference: that if the United States opposed their proposal then they will not submit it to the United Nations. Have you taken a look at the proposal, and do you have any idea on what will you do once it is submitted?

MR KIRBY: Well, without getting ahead of anything, what I would say is nothing’s changed about our policy of supporting a two-state solution.


MR KIRBY: Right. And we continue to look to the Israeli Government’s policies and actions as well as those of the Palestinians that demonstrate their commitment to moving forward on a two-state solution. I won’t speak today to Foreign Minister Fabius’ agenda, his trip, or his – or his findings about that. But nothing’s changed about our policy with respect to the --

QUESTION: Do you know if there has been any conversation between the French foreign minister and Secretary of State Kerry --

MR KIRBY: Well, they spoke --

QUESTION: -- on this issue?

MR KIRBY: As I said, they spoke on Thursday before the foreign minister made his trip. I’m not aware of any discussions since then.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Change topics?


QUESTION: I just have a quick one on East Asia and then maybe segue that into China after that. Could I get your reaction to the dual statements issued by Prime Minister Abe and President Park on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of relations?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we certainly welcome the – their agreement to participate in those events. And as I said, I think Friday, we more broadly welcome efforts to improve the bilateral relationship between Japan and Korea.

QUESTION: Are you hopeful that this will lead to perhaps a more substantive dialogue directly between the two leaders? They didn’t actually address each other in these statements, obviously.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s an important step that they’re – that they’ve agreed to attend this commemoration together. That President Park is willing to go and do that, I think that’s not insignificant. And certainly, should that lead to better relations, better cooperation, better dialogue between the two, that’s always welcome, too. I wouldn’t be in a position to try to predict what attendance at this commemoration would do, but certainly, we look forward to that relationship getting broader and deeper.

QUESTION: And then I have one on China, unless there are any follow-ups on this issue.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Something that didn’t really come up in the backgrounder earlier was the issue of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. I was wondering if you could perhaps tell us if there’s been any evolution at all in the thinking of the Administration on this and what kind of position will be – will he be conveying to the Chinese in your meetings this week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates to Administration policy with respect to that. But as a – I think it’s safe to assume that it will be discussed along the broad array of economic issues and development issues that we expect to discuss over the next two days. At the end of the two days there’ll be a press conference, and I’m sure that the principals will have things to say about the discussions writ large. I don’t know how specific it’ll be to that, but certainly, economic issues are high on the agenda for the next couple of days.

QUESTION: John, on China, you mentioned at the top that – where – that they would talk about areas of cooperation but also areas where you have differences, and you listed three: maritime disputes, presumably South China Sea; cyber security; and then human rights. On cyber security, what exactly is the disagreement that you have with the Chinese? Is the disagreement that you accuse them of hacking major amount – massive amounts of material and they deny it? Is that the difference? Or is --

MR KIRBY: I think – I don’t have the – and I don’t think we have sort of a laundry list of specific allegations or anything like that, Matt, but – and we’ve talked about this a long time. I mean, cyber security is one of those realms, one of those domains where we have had differences with the Chinese in terms of --

QUESTION: But you’re both opposed to it, right?

MR KIRBY: Opposed to --

QUESTION: Hacking. And you’re both in favor of strong cyber security, right? So I’m trying to figure out what the difference is. The difference is you think that they’re hacking into you?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: And they deny it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to level charges here one way or the other from the podium, Matt. I mean, this is a – it’s a very new and dynamic domain. It is one in which international norms and sets of parameters are not well established. And again, we’ve made our concerns clear not just to China but to other state and non-state actors. And I think it’s an area where, while we don’t necessarily always agree on the approach to cyber security and cyber defense, it is certainly one of those areas where there is room for better cooperation and better dialogue and more transparency.

QUESTION: So – okay. More transparency would mean what? Them admitting --

MR KIRBY: No, I mean, you’re --

QUESTION: I’m trying to --

MR KIRBY: Please don’t try to – I don’t – I’m not – don’t try to distill what I’m saying down to some, like, there’s going to be specific charges levied against them for this or that incident.

QUESTION: Why wouldn’t there be?

MR KIRBY: There – it’s a discussion that we routinely have with the Chinese, and I --

QUESTION: I know, but I --

MR KIRBY: -- suspect it will continue.

QUESTION: The – based on – I mean, I understand what it – what you mean when you say that you have differences on – over the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. I get that. That’s pretty cut and dried. They think that they’re entitled to do what they’re doing; you think that that’s bad and that they should settle these things peacefully with their neighbors. On human rights, they don’t think that it’s an issue to lock up people that they think are a threat to their security, and you do; there’s a difference. But on cyber security issue, I’m not – I just – I’m not sure where the difference is, because the Chinese profess to have exactly the same goal as you do, which is protecting sensitive data.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And at the same time, you say that the Chinese – or not you, maybe, but people in the Administration accuse the Chinese of being behind this massive hack. There were these PLA guys who were charged a year and a half ago, two years ago with hacking. And so the difference – I mean, when you talk about a difference, it seems to me that you are accusing the Chinese of bad behavior, and they’re denying it. Is that correct? Is that what the difference is here?

MR KIRBY: I think if you’re right and I’m wrong and that we – they really do --

QUESTION: Well, that is always going to be the case. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: If their view of cyber security is the same as ours and there’s no areas of disagreement – if I’m wrong about that – then it’ll be a very short discussion.

QUESTION: All right, okay.

MR KIRBY: Yes, in the back here.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: So the senior State Department official says on the OPM hack there will – the issue will be addressed directly to Chinese during the S&ED dialogue. Does that – doesn’t that mean U.S. Government thinks that’s what the China did on this --

MR KIRBY: There’s been no allegation levied against any actor, state or non-state, with respect to that particular breach. It remains under investigation by the FBI.

QUESTION: But you will – you will be --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) public allegation.

QUESTION: You will address that issues to Chinese during this session?

MR KIRBY: To Matt’s question, obviously cyber security will be discussed over the next couple of days, as it routinely is every time we engage with senior leaders from China. But I’m not going to get into this specific breach. There’s, again, no – been no allegation of responsibility.

QUESTION: You mean no official allegation.

MR KIRBY: There’s been no allegation of responsibility for this breach --

QUESTION: Well, actually --

MR KIRBY: -- and it’s still under investigation.

QUESTION: I mean, respectfully, there have been allegations; they just haven’t been from named officials.

MR KIRBY: Right, right.

QUESTION: But there are plenty of U.S. officials in this --

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I wouldn’t consider those official.

QUESTION: John, drawing on your past work experience, do you understand that the Obama Administration anywhere has issued any kind of overarching cyber security doctrine, and if so, where that is to be found?

MR KIRBY: There have been – there have been policy documents with respect to cyber security produced across the U.S. Government. I’m not an expert on all of those. In my past life, as you just pointed to, yes, I mean, the Pentagon, of course – in fact, they just issued not long ago a new cyber doctrine – document. It’s something that – it’s such a dynamic, fast-moving domain that federal agencies across the government are constantly looking at this and refreshing ideas and trying to get a grip on it. But I don’t have the dossier on exactly who’s done what.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: China as well.

MR KIRBY: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: And the senior Administration official also said the S&ED is very important because – in order to narrow the differences. But the fact is that China has almost finished the reclamation work in the Spratly Islands, and they have – also have the outpost there. So my question is: Does the U.S. Government admit and accept the status quo – or I mean additional island – as an established fact?

MR KIRBY: Are you asking me if we – because they’ve completed reclamation --

QUESTION: Yeah. They have also – yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- do we just accept that as --

QUESTION: They also continue to have the outpost over there, so --

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: -- it’s not easy to change the status quo, so --

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re – we – it’s not about accepting status quo. We’ve made clear our concerns about those land reclamation activities that they now claim to have stopped and the militarization of them, which they have claimed that they won’t stop. Nothing’s changed about our position on the concerns that we continue to have over that activity, and I do think – again, I think you’ve heard that it will certainly be a topic of discussion over the next couple of days.

QUESTION: How are you going to narrow differences on this issue?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, why don’t we get through the next couple of days and we’ll see where we are at that. But this is something that we’re always talking to the Chinese about.

QUESTION: Different subject?


QUESTION: No, just one more question on the Chinese.

QUESTION: John, same thing?

MR KIRBY: Okay, sure, then we’ll come back to James. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to clarify about the hacking, the senior State Department official said it would be addressed in direct terms. So if there’s not – if they’re not going to talk about it in terms of suspicions or concerns that the Chinese were behind it, what are the direct terms?

MR KIRBY: We talk very directly with the Chinese about cyber security issues all the time. It’s not unusual for those discussions to be quite blunt and quite candid.

QUESTION: Just one quick --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) said that Hong Kong – how are you going to raise the issue on Hong Kong universal suffrage? As you know, they – I mean, what is the U.S. position of the rejection of the bill last week in Hong Kong?

MR KIRBY: Well – yeah, I mean, I --

QUESTION: Are you going to talk about this tomorrow – today and tomorrow?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – I can’t – I don’t know if I can read out that it’s going to – that Hong Kong legislative reform is necessarily going to be addressed. It very well could. I don’t – it’s not a specific agenda item. But we encourage the Hong Kong authorities, the central government authorities, and the Hong Kong people to continue to work together towards the goal of achieving universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law and the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong. As we’ve said previously, we believe the legitimacy of the chief executive would be greatly enhanced if the chief executive were selected through universal suffrage and if Hong Kong’s residents had a meaningful choice of candidates.

Before I go to James, are we done with China or are you on China?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Are you still on China too?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Okay. We’re going – so one more and then we’ll go – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, sir. In the background call moments ago, the senior official said President Obama will meet the special representative of President Xi Jinping in the White House. So what will be at the top of the agenda during their discussion, and how will this round of S&ED, from your perspective, pave the way for a successful visit by President Xi Jinping to the United States in this September?

MR KIRBY: As for what they’re going to discuss at the Oval Office with the President, that’s for the White House to talk to, not me, so I wouldn’t do that. We do see this S&ED as a useful precursor to the president’s visit later this fall – again, if for nothing else, because it gives us opportunities to continue the dialogue on issues we agree and issues where we don’t agree. And all that dialogue and in increase in transparency is always useful leading up to the visit in the fall.

QUESTION: And also, SSD today. Will we – can we expect a readout from the State Department about today’s SSD?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I don’t think there’s going to be a specific readout coming at the end of today’s events. But again, at the end of Wednesday’s events there’ll be a joint press conference with both delegations, and I think that’ll be the forum at which we’ll be able to kind of communicate everything that happened this week.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay, James.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about the tragic case of the American citizen who took his own life in Peru earlier this month and whose family is apparently encountering extraordinary difficulties with various elements of the Peruvian Government in arranging for the return of the individual’s remains?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So we can confirm that Christopher Miller died in Piura, Peru – I think I’m pronouncing that correctly. We extend our deepest condolences, obviously, to his friends and his families. We’re offering the family all appropriate consular assistance to help repatriate Mr. Miller’s remains to the United States in accordance with the family’s wishes and international and local law and regulations. Out of consideration for the family, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to go into too much more detail. But yes, our embassy has been in touch with the family, continue to work with them to try to get those remains repatriated.

QUESTION: Just for the sake of the record, are you able to say whether it appears that various elements of the Peruvian Government are behaving inappropriately in this case?

MR KIRBY: Here’s what I’d say: that in this particular case, local authorities refused to release the body while they investigated the cause of death. On the 18th of June, our Embassy in Lima requested assistance from the ministry of justice, and Mr. Miller’s body was released later that day.

Again, as I said at the – my – at the outset, James, there’s – it’s not just U.S. customs requirements; it’s not just U.S. policies; it’s not just concern that we have, obviously, for helping the family. There are local laws and regulations that sometimes weigh in here. So again, we’re working very closely on this and with the family to get those remains back home to the family.

QUESTION: Thank you.



MR KIRBY: NATO. Is that okay with everybody? NATO, okay.

QUESTION: More specifically, the U.S. and the U.K. How concerned is the Obama Administration about the Cameron government’s commitment to meet its 2 percent of GDP spending on defense? It appears that the defense secretary, Michael Fallon, has given some less than clear statements in recent days about whether the government’s efforts to cut overall spending will affect defense spending as well.

MR KIRBY: This is really a question better put to my colleagues at the Defense Department, not here at the State Department. But I’ll just say, broadly speaking, the U.K. is our closest ally. And Secretary Kerry is confident that his counterpart and that the people of U.K. will continue to meet the security commitments that they’ve laid out for themselves, that they’ll remain a staunch ally, and that we’ll move forward past this. I mean, we’ve also had over many months conversations with our NATO counterparts about defense spending and in – and the – our concern over all of them and their ability to meet that 2 percent GDP limit. It’s – we also recognize that that can be hard to do. So again, I would refer you to the Defense Department, but there’s no closer relationship that we value more deeply, and we’re in constant contact with them.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up, though: But in light of the fact that the U.S. is working very hard with the EU to try to maintain a united front and confronting what you all say is Russia’s aggression, particularly in Ukraine, is it helpful to even have one of the U.S.’s closest allies even intimating that it may be cutting back on defense spending and perhaps embolden the authorities in Russia to do more?

MR KIRBY: Again, I won’t speak to the – it’s not appropriate for me at this podium to speak to defense spending in the U.K. But --

QUESTION: But in terms of the overall policy.

MR KIRBY: And that’s where I was getting. In overall policy, the U.K. has been in lockstep with the United States with respect to the – Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and the instability that’s causing on the continent. And I don’t think there’s going to be – would not predict any break in that commitment or in their shared sense of purpose with the United States.

QUESTION: Quick one on the visas: Is there any update on the attempts to fix this?

MR KIRBY: There’s a little bit of an update. I mean – let me get the – still working through the issue. They haven’t got it fixed yet. We do expect that hopefully sometime this week it will get resolved, but the team is still working at this 24/7. There are – I think some 1,250 H2 visas for agricultural and temporary workers were issued last week. So they are trying to get those applicants processed. Those were mostly people who had biometric data that was already captured before the systems went down. So they’re trying to work some alternative solutions, but it is – it’s still a big problem and they’re still working on it.

QUESTION: I had a quick one on Ethiopia.


QUESTION: The election results are out today and the ruling party has managed to win every one of the 546 seats that was in parliament. That gives them one more than they had before they knocked out the single opposition seat. The chairman of the electoral commission says that there was high turnout, orderly conduct, and that these were fair, free, peaceful, credible, and democratic elections. I wondered, in a society where the one party that’s ruled for 20 years gets every single seat in the elections, whether the United States would concur that these were fair and free and credible elections.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we’re in a position right now as we speak to state a position on this particular election. Clearly, we’ve noted that the ruling party got every seat. There’s – that certainly was noticed here at the State Department. But again, we’ll have to come back to you.


QUESTION: On elections? This is brief. Venezuela has announced elections for December. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR KIRBY: Matt, I don’t know if I do. I don’t know if I do. Let me see if I can come back to you, Matt.


MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Abigail.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on whether or not the State Department has been contacted by the Select Committee on Benghazi, or any response to Chairman Gowdy’s comments today about the finding of new emails?

MR KIRBY: Have we been in touch with --

QUESTION: Has the committee been in touch with the State Department – sorry – regarding the emails given to them by Blumenthal?

MR KIRBY: Yes, there has been communication between the select committee and the State Department over these – the Blumenthal emails. I think you’ve probably seen that many, if not all of them, I think the committee posted. And we’re working through that right now to determine if there are emails in that batch that we either didn’t have or may have not provided. And again, I’d remind you that what was specifically asked from the State Department was Benghazi-related material, so --

QUESTION: Do you think they’re moving the goalposts, the committee --

MR KIRBY: Did that answer your question? Okay.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think that the committee is moving the goalposts? And when they say, like, oh, the State Department didn’t give us these specific emails or that specific emails, it seems to be that the committee is widening their probe not just from Benghazi, but from U.S. policy in Libya in its totality. And I’m wondering if that makes your job more difficult, if you think that they’re kind of moving the goalposts of the type of correspondence that they’re looking for from you.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s up to the select committee to determine what they want to examine. That’s – our mandate is pretty clear, and that’s – and Secretary Kerry has been very clear that we’re going to cooperate with them to the best of our ability. And we continue to do that. But this is for them to speak to in terms of what they want to get to.

Now I will say, Elise, that the more that is asked for in terms of scope, the more resources it will consume here at the State Department, and the more time it will take. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s up to them to determine what they want to look at.

QUESTION: But they are – in kind of widening their ask of what they asked for initially, it seems as if what they’re asking for you now or having had expected from you now is different than their initial ask.

MR KIRBY: The initial request that we operated under, and through which we provided those 300, was for specific Benghazi-related material.

QUESTION: And now they’re asking for wider stuff?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any new requests for wider stuff. But again, if the task list grows bigger, then obviously, the resources it consumes and the time it takes also grows longer.

QUESTION: Well, but the emails that they put out today, do you have any reason to believe that they were in fact in your – in the possession of the State Department prior to Mr. Blumenthal giving them to committee? And if they were, whether or not it was a mistake – they were – for whatever reason, they were not sent to the committee. Do you – what you’ve seen – so there’s two bits here.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, you lost me on the second one.

QUESTION: One, did you have the emails – these specific emails that they released today before? And two, if you did, why weren’t they sent to the committee before he gave them to the committee? Did they not meet what you understood to be the guidelines?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Or was it an error, or was it some kind of attempt to hide something?

MR KIRBY: We’re still working our way through those emails. I don’t have an inventory for you of those that we know we match up and were submitted and those, perhaps, that were not, either because they didn’t meet the request for Benghazi-related material or for some other reason. It appears that – at a cursory look – and I want to make sure that I make it clear it’s a cursory look at those that the committee has released – that certainly, there were some that we also gave them, that we were in possession of and provided that former Secretary Clinton had given to us and we had given to them to meet their requirements. So it does appear there’s some overlap. I don’t have – again, I don’t have the complete audit.

QUESTION: Okay. But some – you’re saying that some of these – just to make sure I understand this – so you’re saying some of the 60 that the committee put out today – put online today had already been turned over to them, and they were not new to the committee?

MR KIRBY: That is correct.

QUESTION: All right. Sorry, that they were already – had been turned over to the committee or that they had already – the State Department had already had them?

MR KIRBY: Some of the emails made public today by the select committee were already provided by the State Department --

QUESTION: To the committee?

MR KIRBY: -- to the committee.


MR KIRBY: Yes. I’ll take just a couple of more and I owe you an answer on Venezuela, Matt.


QUESTION: On Iraq, there are reports talking about the Taqaddum base that – which is considered to be used for the 45 percent – for the 450 advisors – U.S. advisors to be positioned there. So it’s – there are reports talking about that this is also shared by the Shia militias which is considered as Iranian-backed Shia militias. And there are reports that are talking about that these militias are spying on the U.S. advisors or the other personnels there. Do you have any response for that, or do you have any concerns if the Shia militia’s also positioned in this base?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the reports. I don’t know to what degree Shia militia members are on al-Taqaddum and the base or where they are. I mean, I would refer you to the Defense Department for that kind of thing. That’s certainly not something that we would speak to here at the State Department.

QUESTION: But in any case like that, if you positioned these advisors, is that going to be something – will be used by U.S. advisors or other Iraqi forces?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’re asking questions that are much better put to the Defense Department. What we’ve said is that all the forces operating against ISIL inside Iraq need to be under the command and control of Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Government. Prime Minister Abadi has made that very, very clear that that’s his expectation. As for the particulars of who’s on what base and how close they are, I think you just – I’d have to refer you to the Defense Department.

QUESTION: And lastly, I wanted --

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t trying to do an Abbott and Costello thing there either.

QUESTION: Last one on Iraq? One more?


QUESTION: The WikiLeaks document talking about the Iraqi officials and Iraqi – some of the Iraq Sunni politicians and also political parties got fund from the Saudi Arabia. Do you think this is going to impact – have a negative impact on the Iraq and Saudi relations? I mean, including also U.S. in the past encouraged the – promoting the relations between Iraq and Saudi and also even opening the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Baghdad – one of the good steps seen by the State Department as a good step of relations between Iraq. So do you think these kind of documents revealed will have a negative impact on that relation?

MR KIRBY: We’ve made it pretty clear policy that we’re not going to talk about the content of leaked documents, so just not going to touch that.


QUESTION: State Department issued – or updated a travel warning today warning U.S. citizens from going and joining the conflict in Iraq. Just wondering, as the last one was at the end of April and there’s usually a greater length of time, is there any new concern regarding U.S. citizens traveling to Iraq to join the conflict?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t read too much into the timing of this particular travel warning. As you know, they’re routinely reviewed. Now they’re always on a six-month thing, but they can be reviewed and updated outside the six-month window, and that was the case with this one. But you’re right, it did specifically talk about Americans going to join the conflict, and I think that that’s an issue that we have been continuing to watch and to be concerned about. And I think it just follows – makes good sense to – as we looked at this travel warning to update it.

But it wasn’t driven by – and I wouldn’t want to leave you with the idea that it was driven by a specific case or a specific incident or a specific terrorist in mind or anything like that. The flow of foreign fighters, even those from the United States into the fight, remains a significant concern for the coalition. As I’ve said before, more than 30 nations have taken administrative and legal action to try to stem that flow. The United States is one of those nations that’s trying to do that, and I think this travel warning simply follows on just good, prudent thinking about a tough problem.

QUESTION: John, I have a quick question on Mosul. Do you have an update about the situation in Mosul? Because it’s – Kurdish politicians are arguing that ISIL is losing ground within Mosul because of some logistical problems.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I --

QUESTION: Do you agree with them?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, when I took off the uniform, I stopped doing battlefield updates.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to go to the Defense Department.

Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)

DPB # 109

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