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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - July 2, 2015

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 16:37

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 2, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

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?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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: So --

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: Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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?

QUESTION: Yes.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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 --

QUESTION: Okay.

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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- for emergency food assistance.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

Yes.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Can I --

MR KIRBY: You want --

QUESTION: Can I move to Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: I tell you what, let’s do Syria first --

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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 --

MR KIRBY: We --

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.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 1, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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 --

QUESTION: Sure.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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 --

QUESTION: Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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: Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Egypt?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: John, can I also talk about – regarding the news today on Cuba.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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 --

QUESTION: Asia --

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.

QUESTION: Thanks.

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
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 30, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

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 --

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yes.

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.

QUESTION: Sure.

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 --

QUESTION: Okay.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Does anyone else have emails?

QUESTION: No.

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.

Yes.

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?

QUESTION: Yes.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

MR KIRBY: What?

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: Okay.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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: John --

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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask quick on Bahrain. Sorry. Quickly, just to follow up on Ros’s issue.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Who?

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.

Yeah.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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: Can I go?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 25, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

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 --

MR KIRBY: Okay.

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 --

QUESTION: We did.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- and not qualified to do --

QUESTION: Right.

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.

Justin.

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?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

Said.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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.

QUESTION: So --

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.

QUESTION: Yeah.

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: John?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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: On Syria?

QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel for a second?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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: Syria?

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: Thanks.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

MR KIRBY: Hmm?

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.

Yeah.

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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

Yes.

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.

Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 26, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Yes.

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: Sorry.

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.

Elise?

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 --

QUESTION: -- with ISIS?

MR KIRBY: -- the attacks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Or by anyone or any number of individual terrorist –

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

Ma’am.

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 --

QUESTION: Okay.

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?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Not --

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- not all related to the Benghazi attack.

QUESTION: Right.

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 --

QUESTION: And --

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 --

QUESTION: Okay.

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 --

QUESTION: Right.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is there going to be any sort of investigation into the disparity at this point or --

MR KIRBY: For the 15?

QUESTION: Yeah.

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 --

QUESTION: Yeah.

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.

Yes.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Related to Cuba?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

Yeah.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 23, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

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, travel.state.gov, 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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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: Iran.

QUESTION: Can I go back to that – just the issue on the technical – on the visas?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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?

QUESTION: Yes.

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.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran talks?

MR KIRBY: Huh?

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.

MR KIRBY: Next.

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 --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Yeah.

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 --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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: But --

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

Yes.

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: John.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Can we change regions, Venezuela? The opposition leaders ended a hunger strike.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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: John.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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: No.

QUESTION: Any --

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
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 22, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

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: Thanks.

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: Iran?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: John.

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 --

QUESTION: Okay.

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: John --

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: Egypt?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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: Yeah.

QUESTION: NATO?

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.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

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.

Yeah.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MR KIRBY: Yes. I’ll take just a couple of more and I owe you an answer on Venezuela, Matt.

Yeah.

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?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

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.

Abigail.

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.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 19, 2015

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 17:05

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 19, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:01 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR KIRBY: I want you to note there’s a clock up there now. (Laughter.) I want you to note that for two reasons. One, I want you to see what time it is – I’m starting on time today – and I will be watching how long you keep me up here. (Laughter.) I also --

QUESTION: You know there’s a clock there. No, no, right in front of you.

STAFF: No, we’re working on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, it’s not there anymore? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: That’s why I’ve been taking my wristwatch off. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, it used to be there..

MR KIRBY: I’ve also been advised that most of you prefer the way you were doing it before, which is we stay on a topic and move to the next, and that I was yesterday perhaps close to a near mutiny. And in a Navy man’s language, mutiny is a bad thing. So we’ll continue to do it that way and rather than jumping around the room. So we’ll just – we’ll do it the way you guys are more comfortable doing it, by staying on topic as we go around.

QUESTION: Change is difficult.

MR KIRBY: For you or me? (Laughter.) It’s definitely difficult for me.

QUESTION: Well, let me just --

MR KIRBY: But so we won’t change the format if that’s what you guys prefer.

QUESTION: The reason that it – I think that a lot of us prefer it that way is simply because when the transcript comes out, it comes in takes.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And if everything is in one section, it just makes it easier.

MR KIRBY: I’m shocked to find that journalists prefer things that are easier for them --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: -- not necessarily the government. (Laughter.) So with that as preamble, I don’t have any opening statement to make.

QUESTION: I have only one – well, two questions but one topic.

MR KIRBY: Oh, my goodness.

QUESTION: And it’s Yemen.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then I will be – hopefully you’ll answer them and I’ll be done. You’ve seen, I would assume, that the Yemen peace talks in Geneva broke – well, ended without agreement --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- I guess would be the nice way of saying it. Collapsed – would be maybe perhaps the more accurate – agreement. I’m wondering if you have any comment about that.

MR KIRBY: We do understand that the consultations in Geneva have concluded after several days. We believe that this was a useful start to the process, and I think that’s how we would characterize this. Obviously, this was a UN-led discussion. We continue to support that process by the UN special envoy, and again, we continue to urge all Yemeni participants to prioritize reaching an agreement to end the fighting. But understand that this was, in our view, as, again, a useful start to what will probably be a lengthy process.

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday – related to this, yesterday in a taken question about this one member of the Yemeni delegation who is on your – the specially designated global terrorist list --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- you said that the U.S. was very concerned about his presence in the government delegation and that you would be talking to both them, or had expressed those concerns to them, and as well to the UN because, as you noted, it’s a UN-led thing. Just before coming out here I was looking at a picture, a photograph taken in Geneva of Ban Ki-moon shaking this person’s hand. Is that also a matter of concern for you that the secretary-general of the United Nations is shaking hands with and presumably in discussions with someone who you believe is a terrorist financer?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d make a comment on a specific photograph, Matt, but I would say again that we are still concerned that the Government of Yemen would form a delegation for these kinds of talks and include a known financier of international terrorism. We’ve discussed those concerns, obviously, with the UN. But again, I’d refer you to them for any additional information about that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Yemen as well. Yet the UN says that it’s still hopeful that those talks can come back together and that they – the door remains open.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How quickly do you think that needs to happen to continue the momentum of these talks? And are there efforts going on on the side between you and the Saudis and others, as last time, to try to redouble efforts?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any efforts on the sides, Lesley. And as for time, I think we’d be loath here in the United States to put a timeline and a schedule on this. This is a UN process. We obviously are supportive of that process and respectful of that. But I think that the special envoy was very pragmatic in his comments today about the challenges ahead. Again, we find this to be a useful start – just a start – and as I said earlier, I think we have to expect that it could be a lengthy process. But I’m not aware of any efforts on the side of this that we’re doing. We’re trying to respect that it is, in fact, a UN process.

Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. As far as this terrorism report is concerned, many people around the globe and including in Washington are demonstrating that asking the U.S. that the U.S. should not support some of the dictatorships or military governments, and despite those countries, some of those countries are supporting terrorism or even working against the U.S. and other U.S. interests. What message do you have or the State Department, this report, for those who are still supporting terrorism and harboring and financing them?

MR KIRBY: I think you saw that we released a report today and had a pretty, I think, fulsome briefing on it earlier this morning. I mean, we’ve made it very, very clear our concerns about international terrorism and those states that support that terrorism. Nothing’s changed about that. I think we’ve also made clear that one of the ways you get at this, aside from the kinetic side of it which we all talk about and focus on a lot, is on trying to work with partners in building their capacity to deal with the threat of terrorism inside their borders. I mean, it’s got to be a shared effort by us and our friends and partners around the world.

QUESTION: And so just to follow up quickly, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, who is the Nobel Peace winner this year, he was at the Lincoln Memorial and also speaking at a number of groups in Washington, and he said that as far as this upcoming report – and I think he met somebody else here in the State Department – as far as trafficking is concerned and child labor and child trafficking, and he’s speaking against all those – as far as trafficking is concerned. What he’s asking the UN and the U.S., that there should be some kind of – in the development agenda for the – against the child labor.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a dossier on all the efforts here at the State Department against child labor, but I know this is obviously an issue that we focus on, human rights writ large on – at the State Department, including those kinds of activities. I didn’t see those comments either, but clearly we would share those kinds of concerns over that. And again, this is something we’re focused on pretty broadly, pretty deeply here.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Brad.

QUESTION: I was wondering if maybe you did see the comments of Russian President Putin today in St. Petersburg. They were somewhat varied on certain issues, but on Ukraine he had a couple references --

QUESTION: Are we moving to Ukraine or are we --

QUESTION: This is --

QUESTION: Can we stay on the terror report? Are we doing subject by subject or --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but I thought we had established at the beginning of the briefing we want to stay on subjects.

On the terror report, you saw the numbers. You saw that Ambassador Kaidanow does not challenge the University of Maryland numbers. If you look at those numbers just for the year of 2014 along with the report’s own statement that the seizure of territory by ISIS is unprecedented, and if you look at other metrics such as I introduced in the last briefing, and I’m sure you saw those, it’s not a good snapshot for the counterterrorism effort of this Administration. Show me where we’re gaining ground. Or doesn’t it really appear that terrorism is on the march and we’re losing ground yearly?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I saw that, James, and I saw the ambassador’s reply to you. I don’t know that I can improve upon her expertise on this issue. I think the way I would put this is that there has been progress made against terrorist networks around the world. That doesn’t mean that at any point in time, certainly not today, we’re willing to declare ultimate success against these groups. And there are worrisome trends in that report. That’s why the report’s so important. That’s why we take it so seriously. That’s why we partnered with the University of Maryland on those statistics. We want to have a frank, candid understanding of exactly how deeply challenging this problem is. It also conveys, I think, and should convey to the American people, the sense of urgency that Secretary Kerry as well as the rest of the Administration leaders apply to this particular problem.

Now, we could go through the major groups and walk through sort of the – some of the things that we’ve done. We have had success against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. Is it over? Nope. And we’ve been honest that it’s going to take about three to five years. This is still a deadly, lethal group that still is intent on holding ground and on improving their own situation. It’s going to take some time.

We’ve made progress against al-Qaida. There’s no question about that, that the senior leadership of that organization has definitely been decreased significantly over time. It doesn’t mean that they’re gone. And what remains a worry – and I think the ambassador talked about this – is that there are splinter groups coming off of a group like al-Qaida. AQAP remains, obviously, very lethal. We’ve seen that. But even just as recently as this past week, James – and you’ve covered this as well – there has been a couple of significant strikes.

So there has been pressure applied to these groups. It will continue to be applied to this group. Nobody – I don’t think anybody anywhere in the world – can say that over the last decade or so the United States hasn’t taken the threat of terrorism very, very seriously and definitely set these groups back.

QUESTION: John, could I just follow up --

MR KIRBY: Sure, absolutely.

QUESTION: -- on the military point?

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Why do you think that while the leadership is being decimated – annihilated, as a matter of fact – the organization itself seems to be thriving? Why is that?

MR KIRBY: These are nimble networks. And we – when we talk about organizations, we think of them as, like, corporations or armed forces. They’re not hierarchical organizations quite like that. Even ISIL, which possesses some military qualities, is not a homogenous organization in that regard. And so they’re networks.

And so the way you get after a network is you attack them at various places and on various levels. You go after financing. You certainly go after their leadership. You go after capabilities. And we’re doing that. But networks are – by virtue of being networks, they find ways to adapt and to try to overcome. And we’ve seen that. We’ve seen it with al-Qaida. We certainly are seeing it with ISIL in Iraq and Syria. That’s what makes this so challenging.

The other thing that I’d point out to James’s very excellent question is that it can’t just be the United States. And so while we talk about this report – and it’s a United States State Department report, you’re absolutely right about that, and I think it was a very frank assessment – we also have to recognize that the real answer to getting at terrorism is cooperative international efforts across a spectrum. And it can’t just be done by the United States. There’s just simply no way.

So very – and this is a long answer to your question, but --

QUESTION: Good answer.

MR KIRBY: -- it’s because they’re networks, and networks behave differently than set-piece organizations, that you have to approach it from a much wider perspective.

Yeah, Carol.

QUESTION: I know the report’s only been out for a few hours, but I was wondering if you’ve gotten any response from Tehran yet on the Iran section and if you have any indications yet when the Secretary may be flying to join the talks.

MR KIRBY: The short answer to both of your questions is no. I’m not aware of any reaction by any nation, including Iran, with respect to that report, and I don’t have any updates on the Secretary’s traveling schedule.

QUESTION: John --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran, since we’re on Iran?

MR KIRBY: Yes, we can stay on Iran. You want to --

QUESTION: Different – different subject.

MR KIRBY: Okay. So do we want to move on, or do we want to stay?

QUESTION: Stay in the region?

MR KIRBY: Stay in the region. Okay. I’ll come back.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I promise.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. In your briefing two days ago, you stated from the podium that Iran must give the IAEA the access that they need to resolve any possible military dimensions of their program. And I just want to confirm with you that it is the policy of the United States that Iran must resolve those questions, not just address them.

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before, James, that as part of any deal and before there can be a deal, it needs to be determined – and this is something that was agreed to in both November and then in Lausanne in the spring in April – that the IAEA will have the access that they need to resolve their concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, past and present.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Jenny.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Wait, wait – that they will – so they will get the access before the deal is signed?

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

QUESTION: Aha.

MR KIRBY: I said that in order for there to be a deal, they have to have --

QUESTION: Iran has to --

MR KIRBY: They have to have provided the parameters for the access that IAEA needs.

QUESTION: Right. You – but you realize the problem with that? Iran has made promises, many promises in the past, and not followed through or fulfilled them. So you’re saying that they don’t have to give the access before a deal is done; they just have to say they will give access.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. And I think – first of all, I appreciate the chance to clarify. But you’re right; in Lausanne, they said it was agreed that they would establish a set of parameters to provide that access.

QUESTION: Right. And the – and then – and you’re confident that whatever the Iranians say that they will do, they will do, and that the access that they say they will give will be given, and that --

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: -- the access that you – the only access you will accept is to the relevant military declared and undeclared facilities.

MR KIRBY: It has to be the access IAEA says it needs to be able to resolve concerns about --

QUESTION: Okay. But the --

MR KIRBY: -- possible military dimensions. And then this isn’t just about trust. I mean, there’s a significant verification regime --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- that’s being worked out by negotiators here.

QUESTION: Right. But you can’t verify if you don’t actually get the access that they say that they are – that they may say that they are going to give.

MR KIRBY: That’s why we’re working our way through that.

QUESTION: Right. So --

QUESTION: Just to clarify the remarks you just made in response to Matt’s question, is it the case that when we have a final deal with Iran, if we reach one, it will contain the parameters for access, as you just stated? Or it will be – it will contain, that deal, the specific terms of access?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not going to talk about the issues that are still under negotiation. I’m not prepared here on the 19th of June to tell you what the final deal is going to look like. I would just not be able to do that for you. I think I’ve made it clear, though – they’ve made it clear in Lausanne that the IAEA will need to have the access it needs to resolve the issues of possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. And without the parameters for that sort of access, there’s not going to be a deal. And we’ve said that no deal is better than a bad deal.

QUESTION: But when you say parameters of access, what you’re essentially telling us is that as part of a final deal, those parameters could themselves be subject to further negotiation. And it’s always been understood here that the final deal will have the actual terms of a deal, not further parameters to be worked out, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details that are being negotiated now. That would just not be the right thing.

QUESTION: John, just to clarify, on the scope and range of this access, this is determined by the IAEA and not during the negotiations between the six plus Iran, is it?

MR KIRBY: What’s been hammered out in Lausanne is that the IAEA will have to have the access it needs.

QUESTION: Right, but they decide what kind of access they want, correct – the IAEA?

MR KIRBY: The IAEA will determine the access that it needs, and that’s part – and that’s got to be part of the deal.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up? I’m a little confused that that was hammered out in Lausanne, because, one, Iran is a member of the IAEA, so it should already be subject to the IAEA’s overview; two, those are already enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. So why did you need 18 months or however many months of negotiations to merely say what they are already required to do and haven’t been doing all along?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – all I can tell you is what was agreed to in Lausanne. And we talked about this the other day, that that was one of the foundational agreements coming out – foundational documents was what was agreed to in April in Lausanne about the IAEA getting the access – being able to get the access it needs. And again, I’m just not going to go beyond that right now. There are still issues that are being negotiated in Europe, and it would just be completely inappropriate for me to talk about negotiating details here from this podium.

QUESTION: Well, given that the PMD issue was supposed to be resolved in a deal, and now that it’s – that resolution process would continue past a deal if a deal is reached – does lack of access or lack of resolution require the breaking of the deal? Or would that be a deal-breaker even after a deal is already signed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, Brad. I’m just not.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m just asking if this – since it’s a resolution process we’re describing --

MR KIRBY: I understand your question.

QUESTION: -- does the failure of the process break the deal?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals. We’re working with negotiating teams right now.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. On anthrax issues, North Korea announced that North Korea will bring the anthrax issue into UN Security Council against the United States because of U.S. sending this anthrax to Osan Air Base in South Korea. What is your comment, please?

MR KIRBY: I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. It’s a ludicrous claim. I can’t speak for what the North may or may not do with the UN. That’s for them to talk to. But the claim itself is – merits – doesn’t deserve any kind of --

QUESTION: So what is the status of investigation about this anthrax – now still ongoing investigation about the anthrax issues?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon for that. That’s their issue, not here.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: Did that feel (inaudible)? Being able to – (laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about the report about a shooting incident in the West Bank today?

MR KIRBY: We have scant information. I want to say a couple of things right off the bat. First of all, our condolences go out to the family of what we understand to be at least one of those individuals who was killed in this deadly shooting. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers go out to them. And the second thing I’d say is, as always, we condemn any violence against civilians there, completely unacceptable. And then our understanding is it’s under investigation and we’ll certainly look to see what they find in there. But again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to --

QUESTION: Can we go to Russia?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask – I’ll pick up from where Brad was starting off on the – Putin’s speech today in St. Petersburg in which he made a number of comments, one of which was that Russia is cooperating with the West and that the situation in Russia is stable, we have a stable budget, our financial and banking systems have adapted to the new conditions. Do you have any rebuffs to that, given the fact that Russia is under this – these sanctions at the moment?

MR KIRBY: We – no. And you heard the President speak to this recently, that the deferred economic reform, low oil prices and the international sanctions, including Russia’s own counter-sanctions, we know that they’ve made Russia’s economy vulnerable, and it continues to – and it does suffer under the weight of these sanctions. And again, we talked about this yesterday, the EU considering continuing sanctions and the possibility of future sanctions, that there will continue to be costs for Russia’s violations of international law.

Now I – yes, I had seen President Putin’s remarks. Again, what I’d say is we know otherwise. We know that the costs have remained high on him and his economy and that they will continue to do so.

QUESTION: So is he delusional in his – what he says?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I just said we have a different view of the costs that his country continues to pay as a result of their violation of international law and Ukraine’s territory.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about one other thing he said. And that was: Once an attempt is made to solve the problem by political means – he’s talking about Ukraine – those weapons will be gone. And he was referring specifically to the accusations that Russia is providing weapons. Do you find that in any sense heartening that maybe Russia could be stepping back here and would be willing to do a drawdown if, in its opinion, there is some sort of genuine political process here, a reconciliation?

MR KIRBY: I think what we would find heartening, Brad, is Russia’s compliance with Minsk, which calls already for the removal of heavy weapons out of Ukrainian territory.

QUESTION: Do you think – I mean, you would challenge the notion that there hasn’t been a political process at this point, that there hasn’t been a political attempt to solve this peacefully?

MR KIRBY: Difficult to have a political solution when you’ve still got thousands of combined Russian separatist forces inside Ukraine fomenting violence and instability and violating the agreement that they signed up to pursue.

QUESTION: I have one more on Russia --

QUESTION: On Russia --

QUESTION: -- if that’s okay.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the freeze of some of the state – Russian state companies in Belgium which happened yesterday, and I believe there could be moves possibly to – which are linked to Yukos that there could be moves – similar moves to do that in the United States. Is that something you’ve heard of?

MR KIRBY: You’re going to have to let me take that question, Jo.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m just not prepared to answer that one today.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: John, could you comment on Mr. Putin’s meeting with the Saudi defense minister? They have agreed on a – apparently on an arms deal of like 90 T – whatever they’re called – T tanks and many other – a number of T-90 tanks and so on and 400 SS missiles and all this. Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the details of --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- a deal between President Putin and the Saudis on weapons. But look, more broadly, now is not the time for business as usual with Russia.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: We’ve been pretty clear about that. Many of our partners are clear about that. So I think I’d leave it there.

QUESTION: And just to follow up very quickly, yesterday I think marked the 36th anniversary of the SALT II treaty, and the day before, the secretary of the Air Force was saying that this is not really an arms race. So – and we have – Russia is producing more weapon – nuclear weapons, and the United States is deploying F-22s, if it is, on Russia’s borders. Isn’t this really accelerating the arms race?

MR KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t characterize what’s going on as an arms race. I mean, let’s take – walk back a couple of steps here, and what’s really happening is a violation of Ukrainian territory. To the degree that tensions on the continent are being escalated, they’re being escalated by Russia and President Putin’s actions. And what we’ve done and I – and we will continue to do is reinforce our commitments to our allies and partners on the continent of Europe, particularly to stress, again, our – the seriousness with which we take our Article V commitments. And so you’ve seen over many months now us meet those commitments, whether it’s through additional training exercises or contributing to the Baltic Air Policing mission or freedom of navigation operations by the United States Navy in the Black Sea, these are important commitments we continue to take very seriously.

That’s what’s going on here. And that activity, important though it is on any other given day, is made even more important by what Russia is continues to do inside Ukraine. It’s not an arms race.

QUESTION: In your response to the question about the Saudi – reported deals with the Saudis, you said now – reiterate now is not the time for business as usual with Russia. But --

MR KIRBY: With Russia.

QUESTION: With Russia. In the past, that has referred mainly to selling things to Russia, not buying things from Russia, with exception of, perhaps, the S-300 missiles to Iran, which long – your opposition long predates the Ukraine situation. Are you saying that people should not buy products of any kind from Russia now, because that’s business as usual?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think – I don’t think I’m --

QUESTION: You cannot --

MR KIRBY: -- making that sweeping --

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: But what we are saying, Matt, is that we’ve been clear that now is not the time for business as usual with Russia. I’m not, and it shouldn’t be read into that, that I’m making a particular indictment here against this particular arrangement.

QUESTION: This – that particular language has been used in the past with regard to the Mistrals – the French sale of Mistrals to Russia, saying now is not the time for business as usual --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- with Russia and in terms of visits, high-level visits to --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: It has not to my knowledge been used for the purchase of Russian materiel, whether it be arms or anything else. Does it now include purchasing Russian products?

MR KIRBY: I think the best way I could answer that is business is a two-way street.

QUESTION: So we should stop buying Russian vodka and caviar and stuff like that?

MR KIRBY: Didn’t say that. Just that now is not --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m trying to find out is when you say it’s not time for business as usual with Russia, you’re encouraging people to stop buying Russian products, not just weapons.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we’re encouraging all business to stop. What I’m – and look, there are issues not economic related necessarily, but there are issues we continue to talk with Russia for ourselves – common security interests. I’m not making a broad, sweeping statement here other than to say we’ve been clear about our concerns that business as usual with Russia should not continue, given their continued violation of international law in Ukraine.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, the issue is not buying weapons from the Russians. The issue, it seems, from the visit from the deputy crown price, is that the Saudis are following the Egyptians and strengthening relations with the Russians, and – but the king of Saudi Arabia is expected to visit Moscow in the future. What do you react – how – what’s your reaction to this?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to comment on every bilateral relationship that Russia has. And of course, Saudi Arabia is a key friend and partner in the Middle East for the United States. I think we’ve just said that our view is now is not the time for business as usual with Russia.

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. On Korea and Japan. Next week marks --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) one last question on Russia and Ukraine?

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I’ll do it, but in the future, please don’t interrupt. Once we’ve gone to a new question, then – I’d just prefer to keep the interruptions to a minimum. But go ahead.

QUESTION: There could be no way to arrest that movement of it, perhaps, without a polite interruption of some kind, just for the record.

MR KIRBY: Just for the record, try to keep the interruptions to a minimum.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Brad’s question, when you hear President Putin saying that once an attempt is made to solve the problem by political means, quote, “Those weapons will be gone,” unquote, does this department construe those words as an acknowledgment by President Putin, notwithstanding many previous denials, that the Russian Federation is indeed introducing these heavy weapons into the Ukrainian conflict?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we’re looking for a confirmation or denial from President Putin. We know that those weapons have been introduced into Ukraine.

QUESTION: I’m just asking how you construe the statement.

MR KIRBY: I think I answered the question with Brad. I mean, we – what needs to happen here, separate and distinct from the president’s comments today, is Russia’s compliance with Minsk, which means those weapons and those forces need to be taken out of Ukraine.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask for an answer separate and apart and distinct from the comments. I’m asking about his comments. Do you construe them as an acknowledgement of complicity in the introduction of those weapons?

MR KIRBY: President Putin’s comments speak for themselves. I mean, I think if he said that they would be removed, one has to conclude that he’s acknowledging they’re there. But that’s his words, not mine.

Yes, in the back there.

QUESTION: Yes. So next week marks the 50th anniversary of normalization of relations between South Korea and Japan. It’s been reported that neither Prime Minister Abe nor President Park are going to be attending the ceremonies to commemorate that. Is that a concern to you? Do you have any ideas about how to push for improved relations?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – again, I wouldn’t speak for the travel activities of those leaders. We have long said that stronger cooperation is welcome and that there’s so many security issues in the region that bear teamwork and cooperation; that certainly we look for opportunities and we welcome opportunities where that cooperation and dialogue can continue.

QUESTION: Do you think if President Park had been here as originally scheduled, that would’ve been an issue that you would’ve addressed?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t – that’s a great hypothetical. The visit didn’t happen, so – huh?

QUESTION: Will you be looking to discuss Korean-Japanese relations, like, in the future with her when she does come or with --

MR KIRBY: We always when we talk to our South Korean counterparts talk about opportunities for trilateral cooperation, even bilateral cooperation, with Japan. I mean, that’s a topic of frequent discussion, so I would fully expect that it would come up as it comes up nearly every day with our diplomats out there.

QUESTION: Do you think, though, that their failure to attend these ceremonies is an indication that the relations are worsening?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let them speak for their travel agendas.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. There’s a lot of international responses coming in to the shooting in South Carolina, many of them expressing some dismay and befuddlement at the fact that this could keep happening in the United States. The President in a statement made the point that the U.S. is the only advanced nation where this does happen with a frequency. I’m wondering if there’s any concern in this building that the inability of the U.S. Government to meaningfully address this issue somehow adversely affects the standing of the U.S. in the international community.

MR KIRBY: That’s an interesting way to insert a question about the shooting in Charleston here at the State Department. But since you did, Secretary Kerry certainly extends his condolences and thoughts and prayers to the families who were so deeply, tragically affected by this shooting. It’s not our place to speak to what is essentially a law enforcement issue here in the United States. And as for our standing around the world, I think the Secretary has been very clear and emphatic about the need for continued American leadership in the world on so many issues in so many areas, and that that leadership is wanted and needed out there. There’s no question about that.

QUESTION: I guess I wasn’t – I mean, to – it wasn’t – I don’t think it’s an off-the-wall question. This morning, Ambassador Kaidanow made the point that you guys often raise the issue with the Chinese, for instance, of needing to address their domestic terrorism concerns in a way that promotes more inclusivity and human rights concerns. It’s easy to imagine the Chinese responding by saying, “Well, is the U.S. making these kinds of arrangements with its black citizens, with communities that are disenfranchised here in the United States?”

MR KIRBY: I’m not saying that your question isn’t fair. What I’m saying is that our job here at the Department of State is the execution and implementation of foreign policy, and I would – it would be completely inappropriate for me to speak to domestic policy issues here at home. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out with the families. This is a law enforcement matter. And as for our foreign policy, it continues unabated.

QUESTION: Would it be completely inappropriate, though? I mean, the State Department has taken interest in the ramifications of domestic issues overseas before, leading back to the Jim Crow laws and the effect that that had overseas on the U.S. perception. I don’t think it would be completely inappropriate.

MR KIRBY: It’s inappropriate for me to discuss what is essentially an ongoing law enforcement investigation in Charleston, South Carolina. And I also think it – until that investigation is done, also completely inappropriate to speak to whatever conclusions might be derived from it or the motives behind it, certainly as it relates to American foreign policy.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, I’m not asking you to comment on the case specifically, more just on the issue of recurrent gun violence and race-driven strife in the United States that doesn’t seem to be addressed by this --

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve addressed it as best I can today.

QUESTION: Can I ask a narrow follow-up? Has any other government reached out to the United States to express concern about what, on its face, appears to have been an act of mass violence of a racial nature?

MR KIRBY: As we stand here today, I know of no such calls or notifications.

Yes.

QUESTION: Quick topic – change of topic, on the Palestinian-Israeli talks. This weekend French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will go to Israel and the West Bank to discuss a new plan to restart the talks. Has he shared this – his plan with you guys, or are you aware of it, are – have you discussed it with him and so on? And what is likely to happen?

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re certainly aware of Foreign Minister Fabius’s trip. As I think I mentioned yesterday, he and Secretary Kerry did talk on the phone. I would not speak to the foreign minister’s agenda specifically; that’s for him and the French Government to speak to. But I think it’s fair to say that both Foreign Minister Fabius and Secretary Kerry share a sense of importance about the Middle East peace process, and again, from our perspective nothing has changed about our policy of favoring a two-state solution within – and with agreements that are worked out between the two parties.

QUESTION: But the United States insists on face-to-face talks that are not under any kind of international umbrella. What if the plan Mr. Fabius has in his pocket calls for some sort of an international cover at the UN or elsewhere? Would you support that?

MR KIRBY: Terrific hypothetical that could be – should be asked of Foreign Minister Fabius. We’ve made clear what our policy are – is with respect to Middle East peace.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: A follow-up question regarding Ambassador Shannon’s meeting with Venezuelan officials in Haiti. After the meeting, Senator Marco Rubio said he’d urge Secretary Kerry to clarify that – to Venezuela that the U.S. would not renew an exchange of ambassadors until human rights were respected, political prisoners were freed, and elections were scheduled. Do you know if the Secretary or anyone else at State has responded to Rubio’s request?

MR KIRBY: We are aware of the senator’s letter. We’ll answer it in due time, of course. I don’t have any updates for that response. And again, I’d also – as you know, when we respond to members of Congress, we don’t do so in a public fashion. But we do – we are in receipt of the letter and we will work up a response to the senator as expeditiously as possible.

QUESTION: Do you think the concerns raised are justified?

MR KIRBY: Look, we share many of the senator’s concerns. There’s no question about that, but I don’t want to get ahead of correspondence with a member of Congress that hasn’t happened yet. But certainly, we do share some of those concerns.

Yeah, James.

QUESTION: Different subject. Just very briefly on the Clinton emails, has there been any progress in determining where the failure in the chain of custody, if you will, developed such that the Blumenthal emails, some 60 of them, were not turned over to the Benghazi committee? Was that a failing on the part of Secretary Clinton and her team, or this building?

MR KIRBY: The question presupposes a failure, and I don’t know that we’re in a position to make such a declaration today. We are still going through all of the emails that former Secretary Clinton turned over to us, as you know, James, and we’ve already turned over some 300 of them to the Select Committee. We haven’t – the committee has not provided the Department with a copy of the emails it’s received from Mr. Blumensal – I’m sorry, Mr. Blumenthal. So I’m not in a position to address any gaps that there might be in the inventory, if you will, which is what I think you’re getting at.

QUESTION: Well, it’s clear that there was a gap. In other words, the Department, in attempting to be fully responsive to the select committee, turned over some 300 emails, as you just noted, and yet it’s been made clear this week that from Mr. Blumenthal, the committee received a number of pieces of correspondence – email correspondence between Mr. Blumenthal and Secretary Clinton that directly touched on Benghazi and Libya and that should have been included, by any objective measure, in the original provision but weren’t. So that would, in fact, represent a failure at some point along the line of provision, would it not?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that after receiving the emails from former Secretary Clinton, we went through them all and gave to the select committee those that we felt best met their request, which was for Benghazi-related emails. And out of that process came, I think, 296 emails that this department felt best met that requirement.

But look, James, we continue to go through the thousands and thousands of others, and we will make those public in – through the FOIA process in time. I can’t speak to whether or not there were emails that Mr. Blumenthal provided that we have and just decided not to or were not provided to us. We tried to meet in good faith the select committee’s requirement for Benghazi-related emails, and this department believes strongly that we met that requirement.

QUESTION: And --

MR KIRBY: And again, we continue to go through them.

QUESTION: And in making that good-faith determination for provision, where warranted, we can agree that the mention of the word Benghazi in such email correspondence would, in fact, be sufficient to warrant provision by this department, correct?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the – all the parameters by which those analyzing them made those determinations, but I mean, clearly Benghazi as a word you would think would be significant in that. But I’m not – I don’t know the exact parameters by which they decided to include or exclude. But I can tell you – and Secretary Kerry was very clear with the staff about this – that he wanted to be as inclusive as possible in meeting the select committee’s requirements. But without having seen exactly what Mr. Blumenthal provided, it’s very difficult to match that up against whether – our inventory or the original source.

QUESTION: Are you asking the committee to see what Mr. Blumenthal provided?

MR KIRBY: No, no. We have our mandate. Our mandate is clear, and that is to take the emails that were provided by former Secretary Clinton and make them public in a responsible, thorough process. And that process continues.

QUESTION: Sorry. I don’t understand this standard that you just gave in your response. What do you mean “best met the request”? Shouldn’t the standard be “meets the request”, not --

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- “best met”? I mean, by best met you can say that – you can leave out a whole lot of stuff and still say that you best met the requirement or --

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t read too much into my use of the adverb, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. So you --

MR KIRBY: I mean, obviously we have an obligation to meet the requirements and we are --

QUESTION: So you met the requirements? You didn’t just best meet the requirements?

MR KIRBY: We believe we did.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: You shouldn’t read into that clever use of an adverb that I was trying to be careful and dancing around inclusiveness here.

QUESTION: Well, right, okay. But just – we’re – we pay attention --

MR KIRBY: I know you pay attention to words --

QUESTION: Diplomacy is often decided in various gradations of words.

MR KIRBY: I take the point. I take the point.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR KIRBY: Yes, Lesley.

QUESTION: Please. The Secretary – is this his first full day back?

MR KIRBY: First day back here in – at the State Department?

QUESTION: At the State Department.

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, he came in a little bit yesterday afternoon. I think for most of today he’s actually working out of his house, out of his home in Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. I thought I saw a photograph.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, we did. We posted a photograph of him last night at his desk.

QUESTION: Oh, last night. Okay.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t believe he’s come in yet today.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: If I can have a quickly if timely – timely quick question please. On Sunday, January 21st is the International Day of Yoga declared by the United Nation under the prime minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi. My question is if the Secretary has any comments or if the State Department supports it.

MR KIRBY: It’s – I don’t think the State Department’s going to take a position on International Yoga Day, but we certainly wish everybody welcome. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Which position would that be? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Downward-facing dodge. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Touche to you, James. (Laughter.) No, we’re not going to take a position.

I’ve got – take time for a couple more, if that’s okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One question on Iraq. There were some media reports that Asaib al-Haq, which is a pro-Iranian militia, Shia militia in Iraq, has kidnapped 200 Mosul residents who were on their way to get their paychecks in Baghdad. Have you seen those reports, and are you concerned?

MR KIRBY: You guys have the advantage of having your iPhones with you. I don’t have mine. I’ve not seen that report.

QUESTION: It was actually – they’ve been kidnapped for about a week according to --

MR KIRBY: I just haven’t seen it and I’m not prepared to make a comment on it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, if the United States released the North Korea as a terrorist country again this time?

MR KIRBY: Did we what?

QUESTION: Did you released the United – United put North Korea as a terrorist country again?

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, we just --

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Have a great weekend.

MR KIRBY: Have a great weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:47 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 18, 2015

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 17:41

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 18, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:06 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello. Welcome to day two.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I am trying so hard to make it on time, and I promise you I’ll keep getting the gap down. I think I’m --

QUESTION: This is on time.

MR KIRBY: I’m only about five minutes late.

QUESTION: This is on time. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: All right. Just a couple of things at the top and then we’ll get right at it. I want to start out with Russia-Ukraine. We’re concerned by reports of new attacks by combined Russian and separatist forces on Ukrainian positions in Maryinka, Shyrokyne, and northeast of Mariupol, all on the Ukrainian Government-controlled side of the cease-fire line. These attacks reportedly used heavy weapons that are prohibited by the Minsk agreements. Russia bears direct responsibility for these aggressive actions by combined Russian-separatist forces, which are unacceptable and contravene those agreements. Any attempts to seize additional Ukrainian territory will be met with increased cost.

Also, earlier today you might have seen the UN Refugee Agency issued its Global Trends Report, announcing that nearly 60 million people – one of every 122 people on Earth – have become displaced both within their countries as well as outside their borders as a result of war, conflict, persecution. That’s the largest number the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has ever counted, and 8 million more than the record set just one year ago.

On Saturday – this Saturday, the 20th, will mark World Refugee Day to draw attention to the plight of these people. The ordeals and aspirations of refugees and displaced persons resonate, of course, with Americans. And you may have seen that Secretary Kerry just a little bit ago released a statement of his own. Our country, as you know, was in large part founded by people fleeing persecution, and the United States believes that we have a duty to the millions stranded away from home, not just to preserve life but to safeguard their dignity and hope. The United States is proud to have provided more than $6 billion last year to aid agencies providing humanitarian assistance, and we’ll also resettle in the United States nearly 70,000 refugees through UNHCR this year.

Today’s report shows that now is the time for everyone – individuals and countries alike – to work harder together not only to assist these individuals but to find solutions to the causes of this tide of human displacement.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sure we may get back to Ukraine and Russia, but I just wanted to tie up a couple loose ends from yesterday. One on Israel and former ambassador Oren’s comments. There was a report, an Israeli newspaper report today that says that Ambassador Shapiro asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to disavow either former – his former ambassador or at least his former ambassador’s comments about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and that Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to do so. Is that report correct? Did the – was the U.S. seeking some kind of a disavowal from Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen that report, Matt, and I’m just not going to be at liberty to discuss the diplomatic conversations that our ambassador has with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

QUESTION: Well, regard – forget about the diplomatic conversations that he might have had. Would the Administration like to see Prime Minister Netanyahu disavow those remarks?

MR KIRBY: I think what we’d like to see, and I talked about this yesterday, is the relationship between the United States and Israel continue to grow and to deepen. It is a very strong strategic partnership and we’ve talked about that repeatedly, and our focus, as I said yesterday, Secretary Kerry’s specific focus, is to move beyond this and to focus on the future of the relationship.

QUESTION: So do you – does the Administration consider this whole kerfuffle to be done, over with?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak for the Administration, but speaking for Secretary Kerry – as I said yesterday, he’s read the op-ed piece; he’s obviously not read Mr. Oren’s book – he differs deeply with Mr. Oren’s conclusions in that op-ed piece that he wrote. But again, his focus is on the future.

QUESTION: So it’s closed – case closed, chapter –

MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry is moving on.

QUESTION: Turned the page. Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be within the diplomatic protocol for Ambassador Shapiro to raise that kind of issue with the prime minister of Israel? Would it have been within normal protocol?

MR KIRBY: Again, not speak – I’m not going to speak for the conversations that our diplomats have with the governments that – in which they’re working around the world. I wouldn’t do that. But I mean, so separate and distinct from that, and I’m – and by what I’m about to say next, I am in no way confirming this Israeli news report. But our ambassadors speak to their – the governments that they’re working with routinely every day across a wide range of issues, and talk to high government officials about all number of things.

QUESTION: Staying on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, yesterday the Israelis pulled out something like 1,800 trees in the West Bank, they uprooted trees and so on. I mean, we talked about the commission of inquiry and human rights abuses and so on. Is that something that you would like to see the Israelis stop doing?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the report on the trees being uprooted. You’re going to have to let me go back and look at that. I just don’t have anything on that.

Yeah, back here. Hey, Paul. Good to see you.

QUESTION: How are you? I came to see you in civilian clothes. (Laughter.) So on this refugee issue, does the Administration favor expanding the number of refugees that the U.S. accepts each year because of this?

MR KIRBY: There’s – I know of no plans, Paul, to increase that number. I gave the number 70,000. It’s been about at that level now for the last several years, and I know of no plans to increase it. And the one thing that we need to be careful of here as we talk about this – I mean, obviously, settling here in the United States, it’s a – that’s a – that is a viable option for so many of these people. But what we don’t want to do is we don’t – you don’t want to overstate that, you don’t want to make that your prime goal, because what you really want, as I alluded to in my opening statement, is better conditions where they live. Most of these people, actually, they want to go back home to where they’re from. And so the long-term goal, and it’s obviously a long-term goal, is to try to help create the conditions around the world where these people can go back to their own homes, their own countries, and renew – and pick up their lives again.

But no, the short answer is I don’t see – I don’t know of any and have nothing to announce in terms of plans to increase that number.

Ma’am.

QUESTION: On refugees again. Since you mentioned that number and considering the colossal humanitarian costs of the Syrian crisis – 4 million refugees – the United States is accepting the least number in comparison to the neighboring countries and Western Europe, which is under 1,000. Can you explain why is that?

MR KIRBY: It’s actually just over 1,000 this week, and we continue to consider more and more Syrian refugees over time. I don’t have new numbers to announce, but again, we’ve – it went over 1,000 just this week. And I know there are others that are in consideration. This is something we’re taking very, very seriously. I also – it’s also important to remember that the process by which an individual is resettled in another country, at least for the United States, it can be and it should be a thorough and sometimes lengthy process to make sure that individuals are properly vetted before they’re allowed into the country.

So again, we take it very seriously. And I also want to go back to my answer to Paul. I mean, we – while resettlement here in the United States is an important component of this, and we are admitting – 70,000 is more than any other country – it is really not what you want as the end goal here to solve the refugee problem. The – what needs to be done is, in places like Syria, is good governance, no Assad regime, a Syria that is governed with the voice of the people and responsive to their needs. That’s what really needs to happen, and that’s a longer – obviously, a longer-term issue.

QUESTION: Is security a factor here? Because I don’t know if you’re aware, but a few congressmen has been raising the idea, at least, that some of ISIS sleeper cells might come into the United States with refugees. Is this a concern for you, the security issue?

MR KIRBY: The concern of foreign fighters or radicalized individuals, particularly those drawn to the ISIL narrative and ideology, it remains a concern. It’s one of the reasons why the foreign fighter issue is taken up so seriously by so many other countries. I’m not going to parse out that --

QUESTION: Right, I meant the refugees.

MR KIRBY: -- we’re concerned about them coming from any one country. I mean, obviously, we are concerned about foreign fighters coming from outside the United States in that have been radicalized, whether self or institutionally radicalized by ISIL. We also have a concern about Americans who are becoming radicalized or attracted to ISIL and going to leave to fight.

QUESTION: On the refugee issue and on the numbers, can you – as you probably know, the U.S. considers for admission as a refugee people who have been referred to it – only people who have been referred to it – to the United States by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In many cases, they don’t refer that many to the United – do you know what that figure is? If you’ve accepted 1,000, how many has UNHCR referred to the U.S. that you --

MR KIRBY: From Syria?

QUESTION: No. From – well, yeah, from Syria, Iraq, this – what we’re talking about here --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- from that area for resettlement in the United States. Because if the number is only 1,200, then accepting 1,000 of them is not bad; that’s pretty good, in fact. Do you have that number?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, that’s a great point, Matt, and I don’t have that. We’ll take that as a question and get back to you.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On this --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come back to you in a second, Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah, a related issue.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. These foreign fighters – the question: Do you believe that, especially after the capture of Tal Abyad by the Kurdish forces will help to prevent the foreign fighters influx to the region (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: We’ve said that. I mean, that town – one of the significant aspects of Tal Abyad was that it was a logistics and supply route, a venue through which foreign fighters and equipment could reach ISIL, particularly in Raqqa. So hard to put a number on it right now, and I wouldn’t want to get predictive, but we do believe that that will help, certainly.

QUESTION: Are you cooperating with PYD forces on – specifically on this issue, to stop the foreign fighters influx to Raqqa or to other ISIL --

MR KIRBY: Well, the cooperation with respect to taking the town was really done through airstrikes, coalition airstrikes.

QUESTION: And the last one: Right now and after the capture of the town, the Kurdish forces are trying to clean the villages from the booby traps or the mines, et cetera. Do you have any cooperation in that sense with the local forces, through the NGOs or through --

MR KIRBY: I think I answered it before. The cooperation was really in the realm of coalition airstrikes.

Lesley.

QUESTION: Change the subject to Boko Haram? There’s been a – certainly it appears an uptick in attacks from across the border to – twin suicide bombings in Chad yesterday. Today there have been two villages in Southern Niger that were attacked. At the same time, the White House announced 35 million for – to France for operations to – in Mali, Niger, and Chad to help with the Boko Haram fight. First of all, has there been a noticeable uptick in these attacks from Boko Haram? And number two, can you explain the funding? Because Linda, the assistant secretary for Africa here, announced 5 million for this task force to fight Boko Haram just a few days ago. Can you explain the funding issue at all?

MR KIRBY: No, I can’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: You’ll have to let me get you – get back with you on that.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR KIRBY: And as for the operational stuff, I’d refer you to the Pentagon. I did put out a statement yesterday condemning these attacks.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re watching this very closely. To your other question about an uptick or an increase, I mean, I don’t know that we’re prepared, just based on yesterday’s attacks, to say now there’s a new trend of an increase. But we’re watching this very closely.

QUESTION: Because --

MR KIRBY: They remain – obviously, they remain a dangerous group.

QUESTION: Because there seems to be – and obviously, funding – there’s a funding initiative going on here from --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and the State Department’s involved in that. So --

MR KIRBY: Yep. I appreciate that.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: Let me get back to you on that.

Over here.

QUESTION: Go to Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I change the topic to – on China?

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks so much.

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: A pleasure to meet you here. Thank you so much. On the South China Sea. And I understand – since I joined the press conference in this morning, I know the United States position on Spratly Island. The formal Chinese statement is not enough to reduce the tension. I’m sure that Secretary Kerry is going to raise a concern on the next S&ED meeting next week, S&ED meeting. But I’m just wondering, if the United States and the international community confirmed artificial island and to be militarized as established fact, which China has already created, it would be a – probably be a undesirable example, so – which allow other nation to do the same thing. So how the United States and international community make China understand seriousness and follow the international norm?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ve talked about this – I talked about it yesterday.

QUESTION: Yep.

MR KIRBY: We have been crystal clear about our position on land reclamation and the military activities specifically tied to some of those reclamation islands. So I do think you’re right. I think it will certainly be a topic of conversation next week, and we’ll have more to say about it then. But we’ve been very clear about our concerns and urging the Chinese to stop this activity which is only increasing tensions.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering, I’m – we are looking at this – looking at a same nonfiction film – like, China establish Air Defense Identification Zone in East China Sea in 2013. And last year, as you know, China did oil rig activity in South China Sea. And they announced the halt of development before a big meeting. And they are doing the same thing this year. So I’m just wondering, what do you think is the most effective strategy, effective way to make China stop these kind of action? They don’t listen to the international community.

MR KIRBY: It’s an important relationship – one of the most important we have in the world. And it’s important that we continue to look for opportunities where we can cooperate on things, such as climate change, and have frank and honest discussions about the things we disagree with. And some of the issues that you mention, though they are a little old, were issues we obviously had disagreements with. It’s important to be able to have a relationship where you can have that kind of dialogue and try to effect the change that we believe needs to be affected. But – and that’s why this meeting next week is important, because it offers opportunities over the course of two days to have these kinds of exchanges and to make our positions known and make them clear. Nobody is interested in conflict here, and there’s no reason why it needs to devolve into conflict. Again, that’s why next week’s meeting is so important, and Secretary Kerry is very much looking forward to it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Move to Iraq?

MR KIRBY: We’ll – sorry, go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Can you explain exactly how the land reclamation project is exacerbating tensions in the area? Is it a matter of changing the character of the waters around the Spratly Islands? Is it a matter of interfering with international commercial shipping? What’s – what are the problems that the U.S. sees with the planned reclamation?

MR KIRBY: There are potential issues with the freedom of navigation caused by some of these, but I think the most concerning aspect of them is the militarization of at least some of them, which, again, given their proximity to islands claimed by others in the region, just increases tension.

And back here, yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, John. Actually, change topic, if it’s okay. This is kind of a tricky --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, look, I mean, I don’t mind changing topics. We don’t – we just move around, whatever you all want to do.

QUESTION: Okay, fine. This is on State Department personnel issue. The State OIG released an inspection report today on the Department’s civil rights office that highlights a significant increase in harassment and sexual harassment claims by Department employees. The report actually says there were 248 such claims last year, compared to just 88 three years ago. So it also explicitly calls on the department to create a mandatory harassment training program. Apparently, one doesn’t currently exist. So is such a training program going to be created, and do you have a general comment on this situation?

MR KIRBY: I’d make a couple of comments. First, there’s nothing that Secretary Kerry takes more seriously than making sure that everybody here at the State Department is treated with dignity and respect. And he has zero tolerance for harassment of any kind, sexual or otherwise. That’s clear. Point number two, the – we just now have received this report, and so we’re going through it. I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that the Secretary will or won’t make about the recommendations. We are – and then the third thing I’d say is we’re grateful for the work that the IG continues to do to take a hard look at the institution and to find ways where we can improve.

But back to the main point: Zero tolerance for that kind of behavior. Secretary Kerry’s made that clear, and I think he’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Does the Pentagon have a mandatory harassment training program?

MR KIRBY: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Elise.

QUESTION: How would you know that?

QUESTION: Can we --

MR KIRBY: Elise. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Can we talk about – we talked a bit about Greece yesterday, but I just want to follow up. President Putin met with the Greek prime minister in St. Petersburg and was talking about a kind of Russian bailout. And I’m wondering if that’s a concern to – obviously Greece needs the help, but are you concerned that Russia is trying to use financial influence to divide the EU over Ukraine and the possible rolling over of sanctions or passing new sanctions?

MR KIRBY: I think the way I’d put this, Elise, is we’re – we continue to emphasize the need for Greece and international partners to take urgent steps toward compromise. I can’t and won’t speak specifically to the discussions that Greece and Russia might’ve had. We also believe it’s really important that Greece continue to work with the EU and the IMF to resolve these issues, and that’s where the discussion, we believe, needs to take place, and it has been. Again, this discussion notwithstanding, Greece is working with the IMF and the EU to resolve this, and that’s what we believe is the proper platform for this.

QUESTION: But on the Russian issue – I mean, you’ve criticized Russia in the past for trying to use, like, energy blackmail on countries. I’m just concerned if you’re worried that Russia is going to throw its money around Europe to try and influence countries from not being tougher on their actions in Ukraine. I mean, that European unity on this issue has been one of the things that’s been successful in the sanctions.

MR KIRBY: Right, and I think coming out of the G7 you saw a lot of unity in Europe for continued sanctions against Russia and the possibility for increased sanctions to further isolate Russia. Again, not speaking specifically to this conversation – the one that Greek leaders had with Russian leaders. We still believe that, first of all, Europe remains united against Russia and what they’re doing. We’ve been very clear about Russia’s bellicosity not just from a military perspective, but economic as well. And again, we think coming out of the G7 there’s great momentum here for the EU and Europe to stay united.

QUESTION: Matt, can I follow up?

QUESTION: Wait. On Greece.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on Greece – you said Greece is working with the IMF and the EU. Well, that might come as a bit of a surprise to the IMF and the EU, because over the course of the last 36, 48 hours, there’s been – they’ve really gone to the brink. They’re at the edge of the cliff right now, and I’m just wondering if that’s – does the Administration really believe that Greece is working in – is working with – is constructively working with an eye toward resolving this with the EU and the IMF, or if you think that the events of the last 36 hours have called that into question?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d say it calls it into question, Matt. Our position is we’re encouraging all the parties to continue to do the work that they have – that they’ve started. I don’t – and I didn’t mean to convey in my answer that – saying that they are working, that – for that to be qualitative in terms of how much it’s working. I think we’re all watching this very, very closely. We’re not a direct party to those conversations, but we are encouraging the continued cooperation (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Brad, let me – I promise you I’ll get back to you. Let me go back here and we’ll come back to Brad.

QUESTION: Staying on Greece –I’m Katerina Sokou with Greek daily Kathimerini.

MR KIRBY: What’s that?

QUESTION: I’m Katarina Sokou with Greek daily Kathimerini. And staying with Greece, Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Sloat is currently in Athens meeting with Greek Government officials. Has she conveyed to them a specific message from the U.S. regarding the plans to build the Turkish Stream pipeline and regarding the negotiations with the IMF and the European partners? And as far as the U.S. is concerned, is the onus on Greece to find a solution to reach an agreement with its partners, so that it cave in to their demands?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that Assistant Secretary Sloat[1] has conveyed the same messages, I think, that I’ve, in fact, conveyed here: that we encourage all parties to continue to work towards resolution here and to do so as expeditiously as possible.

Brad.

QUESTION: I just want to – unless there’s more questions on Greece, I wanted to ask about the Russia component again. The attacks in Maryinka, Shyrokyne, and there was somewhere else --

MR KIRBY: Mariupol. Near Mariupol.

QUESTION: How – right, near Mariupol. How serious do you qualify these to be? Do you see these as an enhancement of the type of daily infractions we’ve been witnessing?

MR KIRBY: I think what I would characterize it, Brad, is a continuation of the kinds of activities that we have seen. Again, I don’t think that I’m in a position to qualitatively describe these real recent reports. We’re still trying to gather more information about them. But it is certainly a continuation of the kind of support to Russian separatists that we’ve seen in the past and, again, another – more violations of international law on Ukrainian territory.

QUESTION: In the past several weeks, the State Department has been speaking about advanced training techniques, more and better equipment being brought toward the front. Are you seeing any of this equipment and new training being used on the battlefield?

MR KIRBY: Can’t speak to the training, Brad. But as I said at the topper, we certainly have seen in connection with these aggressive acts that I just talked about heavy weapons as a component of it, the same kinds of heavy weapons that we’ve seen in the past.

QUESTION: And then you – I just have a couple more, but they’re quick. You mentioned that these were combined Russian-separatist forces. Do you believe Russian forces, Russian troops are part of the makeup of this force, of the forces that are attacking in these cities today?

MR KIRBY: Don’t have an exact laydown of the separatist forces. But when I say combined separatists, obviously that connotes that there are some Russian force components to it. But it’s hard to characterize exactly what that means and how many there are. We just don’t have a good sense of it. But we’ve said all along, Brad, that they – we know because of the kinds of equipment that’s being used to support these actions that it requires a certain level of institutional support, whether it’s in the form of training or command and control or ISR support. So we know that there is some conventional support being applied to this effort. It’s hard for me to go into much more detail than that.

QUESTION: And I have one final one. There’s been threats or, let’s say, suggestions, veiled and pretty open, about additional sanctions if the violence continues and expands. Do you see this type of violence that we witnessed today as the type of violence that would warrant an additional response, or is this still below the bar for kind of new and tougher measures against Russia?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t get ahead of decisions about additional sanctions that haven’t been made yet, so I don’t really have anything to announce in that regard or to hypothesize. It is a continuation of the kind of aggression that we’ve seen. We’ve continued to say that Russia will continue to bear a cost for this.

As I said to Elise’s question, the European community remains united not only about continuing the existing sanctions, but considering future ones. Really, the ball is in President Putin’s court here. He’s the one who has the choice to do the right thing – not just the international legally thing but the right thing for his own people and for the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the sanctions?

QUESTION: John?

MR KIRBY: Sure, Jo. Let me get to Jo.

QUESTION: On the sanctions, the EU actually is signaling that they’re going to roll over the sanctions until January 1st of next year.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Is this the right move? What would be the U.S. reaction to this? And on the back of that, since we’ve seen lockstep actions between the U.S. and the EU in the past, is there anything that you could foresee coming on the U.S. side?

MR KIRBY: Welcome the decision by the EU to roll over these sanctions. Don’t have anything to announce on the U.S. side specifically.

QUESTION: On Russia --

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, is there – since these actions that we’ve seen on the Russian side have not abated despite the sanctions regime that’s in place, is that not an argument to toughen and tighten the sanctions and move on to a different level?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, again, they talked about this at the G7 – the importance – the role that sanctions have played, the effect that they’re having on the Russian economy, the fact that they should be continued – and now we’ve seen this rollover announcement – and then the – not – the agreement to not – to be able to consider potential for future sanctions.

I’m certainly in no position here today to make a judgment either for this country or others about whether and when additional sanctions will be applied. But as I said at the opening, Russia will continue to pay a cost for its violation of international law, territorial integrity of Ukraine, and of course, the Minsk agreement. But I’m just not in a position now to speculate about what those additional costs would be, when they would be enacted, or through what forum.

Back here.

QUESTION: John, today --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, back here. Let me get back here. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: New topic.

MR KIRBY: You’ve already had a chance. Now we’re going to move around a little bit. We’re going to be nice to everybody.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, we’re on the same topic (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Different topic, Iran nuclear. There’s a call from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for Secretary Kerry to consider overlooking the June 30th deadline if negotiating longer might produce a better deal. Up to this point, U.S. officials have been very adamant about June 30th. Are officials at a point now where they’re considering softening their stance on that deadline?

MR KIRBY: I think I would just say exactly what I said yesterday, I think, to Matt, and that’s that we are still focused on June 30th. And Secretary Kerry is – has shown no wavering off of that now. He’s still committed to trying to get this deal done by the end of June, so there’s been no change to that.

QUESTION: Can I --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- follow particularly on that, John? Can I just on --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- this particular question? But part of the reason that everyone has been so focused on the deadline is because of these congressional timelines in terms of the doubling of the review time and such. And I mean, the Secretary himself has always said, like, a better deal – it’s not important that you get the deal on the 30th, it’s – while obviously you don’t want this to go on forever and you --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- don’t want to give the Iranians or anyone else reason to not work towards that deadline --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- that a good deal was better than focusing on that June 30th deadline. So if Congress is willing to give you the extra negotiating time and the Iranians themselves, and in fact, some of your other European partners have also said June 30th is the deadline, it’s the goal, but we should be flexible and nimble to make sure that we get the best agreement possible.

MR KIRBY: Take the point, and you’re right. We’ve always said no deal is better than a bad deal, obviously, and we’re not going to sign up to a deal that doesn’t meet the needs that we’ve made very clear, that the P5 nations have made very clear. But we also are still working towards June 30th. I mean, that’s still the goal, and that hasn’t changed. That hasn’t changed. Yeah, go ahead. I promised him I’d get to him.

QUESTION: That’s fine, but I think you’re going to find that it’s going to be easier to get through one issue at a time. (Laughter.) Can I just --

MR KIRBY: All right.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you made a big point – you, in fact, opened the briefing with – by saying that we had all misinterpreted the Secretary’s comments, pretty much everyone that wrote a story based on what he told us the other day had gotten it completely wrong. I’m wondering if you noticed today that the – that groups and people, experts in the field who have supported the Administration in its negotiations also appear to have misinterpreted the comments. Because they’re saying – many of them today – that, well, what Iran did in the past actually isn’t that important, and it’s much more important to focus on the future, and let’s kind of – they’re not saying let’s let bygones be bygones, but they’re saying that there is – that they also do not think that one should be fixated on a certain point of time in the past.

Do you find that at all troubling, that the people who agree with the Administration on the importance and the goodness of a potential deal also seem to have misinterpreted the Secretary’s comments, and have carried them forward in defense of an agreement?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen the comments made by supporters. I’ll take it at face value that you’re right about that. And I won’t speak for them or how they’re interpreting either the deal or the Secretary’s comments, and I don’t want to have to rehash this all again today. I think we were straightforward yesterday about it. But nothing has changed about our policy with respect to the possible military dimensions. And as I said yesterday, the Secretary said we’re not fixated on a certain point in time in the past, but that doesn’t – saying that doesn’t mean that their past military dimensions that they were pursuing, or the present ones which could be pursued, don’t matter anymore. Of course they matter. That’s why – frankly, that’s why we’re at the negotiating table with them.

QUESTION: All right. Two more very brief ones on this. One, you may have seen a report coming off from the Hill saying – noted – pointing out that the State Department every six months is supposed to report to Congress on the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act findings.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The last one was in December 2014, which would mean six months from now – sorry, six months from then is now, given that we’re in June. I’m wondering if that is going to come out soon. And if it is, do you expect that it’ll cover anything more than just 2011 to 2012? It doesn’t appear that since the negotiations have begun that the Administration has filed a report that covers any of the time period of the negotiations.

MR KIRBY: To your second question, I wouldn’t expect it to cover more than 2012. I can tell you that – certainly no disputing the fact that it’s late, also no disputing the fact that we’re working very diligently on that. I don’t have a calendar to give you in terms of the timing of it.

QUESTION: All right. And then another report: You may have seen that Senator Cruz is proposing to fine the State Department --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- a percentage of its budget for every 30 days that the Human Rights Reports are late. These were due out in February. And he – I don’t think he is particularly – well, he’s – I won’t speak for him. He’s most interested in the Iran report, which is, of course, just one very small part of the overall report. But can you – well, one, I presume that you’re opposed to his proposal. And if you are, could you say it, or even if you’re not? And number two, can you assure Senator Cruz and others who are suggesting that this is – that the delay is designed to protect Iran from criticism of its human rights record because of the negotiations – the nuclear negotiations – can you assure them that they are wrong?

MR KIRBY: Yes, I can. The delay has nothing to do with the Iran negotiations whatsoever. That is a completely false notion, absolutely no truth to it at all. We recognize that the report is late by several months. We’re working very hard on that. And I expect that you will see that report released in the very near future.

QUESTION: Okay. But would one of – the reason that it’s been late has to do with the Secretary’s travel?

MR KIRBY: There’s been a --

QUESTION: One reason --

MR KIRBY: There’s been a host of reasons. One of them is a very intense travel schedule by the Secretary the last few months, but also just routine staffing and administrative delays.

QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. But one of the reasons that he’s been traveling so much or had been traveling so much was for the Iran negotiations. So to say that it has nothing at all to do with Iran is not entirely correct, right?

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, what I’m looking for --

MR KIRBY: Some of the travel – some of the travel, yes.

QUESTION: This is – well, no, this is why I just want to nail this down, because you open yourself up to people on the Hill and elsewhere saying, “Oh, you’re playing fast and loose with the facts.” This has nothing to do with protecting Iran – does this have anything to do with protecting Iran from criticism on its human rights record while the negotiations are underway?

MR KIRBY: No, and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. No, it does not.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that there – that you are – Administration is quite disappointed, that they called for the enlistment of 24,000 soldiers to join the Sunni army – some sort of a Sunni militia, but only 7,000 stepped forward, and that you would like to see a greater commitment on the part of the Iraqis to do their own kind of fighting. Could you elaborate a little bit on that? How is this situation (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not in a position to speak to the Secretary of Defense or his comments, so I won’t do that. That said, I think he was certainly reflecting the same concern even President Obama reflected a week or so ago that there has to be Iraqi commitments to this program as well, I mean, and we all know that, and we’re working with Prime Minister Abadi to that end. There’s – 9,000 Iraqis have been trained. There’s another 4,000, I think, in training. There’s – the work is being done, and Prime Minister Abadi knows, and he’s working on this audit of his own forces to try to get at a good accounting of who he actually has in uniform and who he doesn’t. He’s mindful of the work ahead of him and we’re willing to help him.

QUESTION: So – but what are you doing to sort of incentivize the Iraqis to do this? I mean, I remember I was in Iraq during the surge, and General Petraeus actually went and talked with them one on one and so on and gave them incentives that they would be rehabilitated into the military institutions and so on. What is happening in kind of something akin to this at the present time?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s a better question put to Prime Minister Abadi. It’s his – these are his armed forces, not ours. They’re a sovereign state. That said – and, I mean, I don’t mean to beat the horse any deader than it is, but we are certainly working with Prime Minister Abadi to help him as he tries to more professionalize his forces. That’s why we got these additional trainer – advisors going in, and that mission will continue now at five sites.

QUESTION: And finally, General Dempsey said that while they don’t want to deploy more forces, the Americans will step in, so to speak, if the battles call for it. What does that mean? I mean, you’re – being from the Pentagon, with this great Pentagon background --

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) But I’m no longer there, and I’d refer you to DOD to speak to General Dempsey and his comments.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, you just said “beat the horse any deader than it is.” Is that a military expression that we – (laughter) – can you beat a horse more dead than it already is? Is that possible?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – yeah, no, it’s not, and that was my point.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: That was my point. It’s not a military – it’s not a military term of art. It’s just the history major in me struggling to find the words.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq, according to press reports, he tried in his visit to Iran yesterday to convince Iranian officials to establish a mechanism for coordination between Iran military advisors to militias in Iraq and the American military advisors in Iraq. Did you ask him to approach the Iranians with such an idea?

MR KIRBY: I know of no such request that was made by us for that. Prime Minister Abadi should speak to his travels and the conversations that he has with foreign leaders.

QUESTION: Any reaction to his visit to Iran?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to his visit to Iran?

MR KIRBY: We talked about this the other day. I mean, he’s the sovereign – he’s the leader of a sovereign nation. Iran is an important neighbor – long border. Longest border they have is with Iran. Iran believes it has interests inside Iraq against ISIL. They’ve acted on those interests in their own way. We’ve made clear two things: one, whatever they do, we don’t want them to further inflame sectarian tensions; and two, we’re not going to coordinate military activities directly with Iran. I would, again, refer you to Prime Minister Abadi to speak to his trip and his objectives, but we recognize that he has to reach out to his neighbors. And oh, by the way, it hasn’t just been Iran; he’s traveled to other countries in the region as well, and he’s still working on getting his government up and going, and outreach to one’s neighbors is probably wise policy.

Yeah.

QUESTION: John, same --

QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to the Human Rights Reports real quick. State Department officials, including yourself, have now indicated that that’s just waiting on a scheduling opportunity to be released. Can you confirm that these reports have been completed and just are waiting to be published at this point?

MR KIRBY: I don’t want to get into ticktock in terms of the report, but as I said, it’s – I think you can expect us to release this report very soon.

QUESTION: Okay, so they have been completed then?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about how dry the ink is on these things, but I can tell you that we will release the report very, very soon.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’s now 113 days late, which is a historical record by almost a month, and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1977 mandates that these things be released by February 25th of every year. Does the Obama Administration believe that they have any obligation to obey that law?

MR KIRBY: Of course we have to obey the law. We know we’re late. We’re working on the report. We’ll have it out very soon.

QUESTION: But could you say why it’s – I mean, it seems to be late every year. Is, like, this year – I mean, maybe this year is, like, a little bit longer, but they never come out on time. So what --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, well, I can’t speak to the institutional history of homework here at the State Department. But again, we’ve acknowledged --

QUESTION: In this particular instance?

MR KIRBY: We’ve acknowledged that it’s late. We understand that. We know the concern surrounding that. It will be out very soon, very soon.

Yeah, right here. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. A follow-up on Iraq is you have been talking about the reforms in the Iraqi army, but there are reports also, the Foreign Affairs and International Crisis Group. They are talking about the fragmentation among Peshmerga also, the politicizing by the PUK and KDP forces. There are also a plan by the minister of Peshmerga to reform, and the ministry of Peshmerga too. Would you support this kind of reforms, or are you also concerned about the fragmentation among the Peshmerga forces?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think I’m going to make any statements here today about the reform of the Peshmerga. I mean, our focus is fighting against ISIL inside Iraq and in Syria. It’s a broad coalition. We’re working through the government in Baghdad. That’s how the support is getting to the Pesh, is through Baghdad, and I think we’d let the Iraqi Government speak to reforms in there.

What I will say is, writ large, we are constantly as a part of this mission looking for ways to help Iraq improve the capability, competence and the battlefield performance of Iraqi Security Forces. And two, a measure of that has been our support to help advise and assist Peshmerga as well.

I’ve got just time for a couple more. Back here.

QUESTION: Just on yesterday’s comments made by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at the hearing. He said a couple of things, one about Iraq. He said the United States did have a policy for the possibility of the disintegration of Iraq as a country. He said we will enable the local forces and they will not be a single country at that time. Can you elaborate more on that and do you really believe that Iraq is going to disintegrate, that’s why you have a policy for it?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t see those particular comments, and again, I am not the spokesman for the Secretary of Defense. So it’s not my place to speak to what he said or what he meant. Again, I’ll go back to – our policies remain unchanged, that the – we’re working with Prime Minister Abadi’s government, the elected Government of Iraq, which is a sovereign nation, and the support that we provide them militarily and otherwise goes through the government in Baghdad.

QUESTION: Also on Syria --

MR KIRBY: Now, I will – I do want to add that one of the things that – about Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership that we have noted with respect is the fact that he is trying to decentralize a little bit and he is trying to empower governors to act more on their behalf.

QUESTION: You do support a decentralized system of governance for Iraq, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: You do support a decentralized system of governance?

MR KIRBY: We support Prime Minister Abadi’s efforts to decentralize some control in a federal-like way. But ultimately, these are his decisions that he has to make and obviously to be responsive to his electorate, the Iraqi people. But yes, we support his efforts – and these are his efforts. We’re – it’s not – we’re not making him do it; he’s doing this.

QUESTION: Just one more question Secretary Carter --

MR KIRBY: I’ll come to you in a second.

QUESTION: -- made about Syria. He said the problem with Syria that makes the war against ISIS even more challenging is that we don’t have some sort of reliable and effective partner on the ground. Can you tell me whether you also – you consider the Kurdish rebels there as well as unreliable and ineffective, the ones who have defended Kobani? Why don’t you have – why don’t you see them as a reliable partner? Do you see them or not?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say they were unreliable. What I – when we talk about – one of the issues inside Syria going against ISIL is having capable partners on the ground. Yes, Kurdish fighters in the north have been effective – with our help, with the coalition’s help from the air – have been effective. And so we take note of that. But there’s also a need for additional partners on the ground, and that’s why we’ve got this – the Pentagon is working on a train and equip program for a moderate Syrian opposition, and they’re working on – I’ll refer you to them to speak to the details of it, but that’s why that’s important and that’s why we’re working on it. I never characterized the Kurdish fighters one way or the other.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you see them as reliable and effective, as you put it --

MR KIRBY: I said they have been in – up in the north in some of these cases.

QUESTION: Okay. But why don’t you offer them a more robust support? That’s the question everybody is asking. Really, like, you are supporting the Iraqi Kurds to a degree that is unprecedented, but when it comes to the Syrian Kurds, do you see them as unreliable?

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered this. I mean, the recent activity there in the north wouldn’t have been possible without the airstrikes that the coalition provided them.

I’ll take one more. Nicolas.

QUESTION: Thank you. A very quick one on climate change. I’d like to know if – I’d like to have your take on the very strong warning Pope Francis sent to the world on climate change. I briefly saw a statement or an interview of Secretary Kerry in TIME magazine, but I’d like to have your position on that.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, thanks. And I think you may have seen – I don’t know, have we got that out yet? The Secretary’s – yeah, the Secretary did a statement as well welcoming the Pope’s comments on climate change. Secretary Kerry has made this a priority and it’s – it remains front and center with him going forward on the importance of climate change. Peer-reviewed science has obviously made clear the dangers by climate change and the dangers that that can have to not just economies and prosperity, but security as well. So we welcome many voices on this, including the Pope’s. And again, the Secretary remains focused on this issue and looking forward to Paris.

QUESTION: So do you think that it’s a good thing that the Pope is kind of interfering into these highly global, political issues? Because this question – because a lot of – in the United States didn’t like the Pope message, including Republicans and Jeb Bush, saying that it’s not up to the Pope to talk about climate change.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think I would just point you to Secretary Kerry’s statement on this – on the encyclical that the Pope put out; he welcomed it. And I think he was very clear in his statement how much he welcomed the Pope’s comments on this. And I don’t think that Secretary Kerry would consider it as papal interference.

QUESTION: John, could you --

MR KIRBY: I’m going to --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) on Venezuela?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything new on Venezuela. (Laughter.) We’re going to call it there.

QUESTION: What about U.S. negotiators agreed that some Iranian sites be off limits to inspection?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Are – my colleagues on the Hill report that – this was briefed – that U.S. negotiators agreed that some Iranian sites will be off limits to inspection.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ve talked about this. The proper access needs to be had by IAEA inspectors, and that’s what the negotiators are working through on making sure that that access is there. I’m not going to negotiate here from the podium. And we’ve said if we can’t have that kind of access to verify, then there’s not going to be a deal.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: And access on all sites, right?

MR KIRBY: Thank you, thank you.

QUESTION: Wait, hold on, wait. Is there any update on the consular database? What’s --

MR KIRBY: No, it’s – no, nothing from yesterday.

QUESTION: Two, did you get an answer on the email question, these additional emails that Mr. Blumenthal provided to the committee --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t --

QUESTION: -- whether or not the department had them?

MR KIRBY: No, I do not have an update on that.

QUESTION: These questions won’t go away.

MR KIRBY: I understand.

QUESTION: Three, did you have an update on the Waldorf and that whole thing?

MR KIRBY: I do not.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks.

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

DPB # 107

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 17, 2015

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 17:10

John Kirby
Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 17, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

2:05 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Yeah, I’m not exactly right on time, but I tried to get closer to it today.

A couple things at the top I want to just hit here if you’ll allow me. I want to make a specific comment about some of the coverage of Secretary Kerry’s press conference yesterday. By the way, thanks for attending that. But I think some of the coverage has sort of taken the tone that there’s a change in our policy with respect to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, or that it’s a concession about to be offered or changed. And that is absolutely, completely false. The Secretary was very clear yesterday that, as before, we absolutely require Iran to give the IEA – IAEA the access that they need to resolve any possible military dimensions of their program. We’ve said we’re not looking for a confession; we’ve already made judgments about the past. But the sanctions lifting will only occur as Iran takes the steps agreed, including addressing possible military dimensions. Now, the negotiations are ongoing and I’m not going to talk about the specifics of it. But I want to put a fork in it right now that there’s any kind of concession or change in the policy. It’s just not simply true.

I also want to make a short statement about the – some technical problems that our Bureau of Consular Affairs is experiencing. As you know, they continue to experience these technical problems with the visa systems. And this is a global issue, and we’re working around the clock to fix it. In fact, more than 100 computer experts from both the private and public sectors across the United States are working on this as we speak. That said, for all the hard work, we don’t expect that the system will be online before next week. I can’t give you any more specific detail with respect to timing on that. And the problem, as I said at the outset, stems from a hardware failure. That failure right now is preventing the Department from processing and transmitting the mandatory security-related biometric data checks at our embassies and consulates. Certainly we regret this inconvenience to travelers, recognize that this is causing hardship for those that are waiting for visas, and in some cases their family members or employers in the United States. That said, this is a – very much a security issue, and that’s why we’re taking it so seriously. So we’re going to get it done, we’re going to get it done right, and we’re not going to rush as well. We’re working on this as fast as we can, but it’s important to get it done right. And, of course, we’re going to continue to post regular updates on our website, travel.state.gov.

And with that, we’ll start.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: Matt.

QUESTION: Well, first of all, welcome. This is your first real briefing, since yesterday you had help from the Secretary, or more than help.

MR KIRBY: I would --

QUESTION: He did the whole thing. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I was – yeah, I was telling somebody earlier, my dad was my little league baseball coach, and he used to make us take the first called strike to relax the batter, used to wait for the first called strike. Yesterday was my first called strike, so --

QUESTION: (Laughter.) All right, well, hopefully you won’t strike out today or in the next few minutes. (Laughter.) I’m sure you won’t.

MR KIRBY: I am hoping that that’s the same, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m sure you won’t. Just logistically, on the technical issue that you mentioned --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you said that you’re taking your time to get this done right. Well, this happened before, and it was supposedly fixed after several weeks of serious delays --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that inconvenienced millions of people. So why wasn’t it done right the first time?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that there’s a relationship to any previous hardware problems and what’s going on now. But they have figured a way through this, basically by recreating their backup system. And that’s what they’re working on now. I don’t know if there’s a relation to it in the past, but again, they’re working on this real hard.

QUESTION: All right. And you’re sure that this hardware failure was not caused by any kind of outside mischief or --

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: All right. So on the – onto policy substance. You are correct that the Secretary was very clear yesterday, but I don’t think you’re correct in what he was clear about. The Secretary was very clear that the United States and its partners in the P5+1 negotiations are, quote/unquote, “not fixated” on the PMD issue --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- and that what is of more concern is what they are going to do in the future. Now, that suggests that what had been a hard and fast line for a long time, that Iran resolve the PMDs as part of a final agreement, has now been kicked down the road so that all they have to do, or all you are asking them to do, is to present a plan whereby those concerns can be resolved at some point after a final deal is reached. That is the interpretation that I think everyone in this room had, and the reports that you say that are wrong said, so what’s --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: How exactly is that a misinterpretation of what he said?

MR KIRBY: I agree with you that that is the way some people have interpreted it, and I can understand --

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: I can understand why that suggestion may have been considered by some of those covering it. But saying that we’re not fixated – and he said we’re not fixated on any point in time. He didn’t say that past or present possible military dimensions of their program don’t matter. Of course they matter. They were mentioned in – it’s very clear in the JPOA that was signed in November, and then again in the parameters that were signed in April – it’s very clear what the expectations are of Iran in addressing the concerns and resolving those concerns to the IAEA.

So saying we’re not fixated on a point in time is true, but it’s also true that past possible military dimensions do figure prominently in this.

QUESTION: Yeah, right, but I don’t think anyone said that they don’t – no one reported that the Secretary said they don’t matter. What was reported and what the Secretary said – and I think that the reporting was an accurate reflection of what he said – was that they do not have to be resolved for there to be an agreement, or that the inference that one could make – that they don’t have to be resolved before an agreement is made. Therefore, what you’re looking for now is – and this is what I’m trying to find out – it sounds as though what you’re looking for now is not a resolution of those concerns, but rather an agreement with Iran that somehow those concerns will be addressed in the future, if it is – if it expects to get some, not all, of the sanctions relief that it believes it’s entitled to.

MR KIRBY: And again, I’d tell you that that interpretation of his comments is incorrect. Let me, if I could, read to you what he actually said to you in your question: “On something like possible military dimensions” – this is from yesterday – “the JPOA refers to that and says that it’s got to be addressed in the context of the final product. And that remains true; it has to be. And we have to resolve our questions about it with specificity. Access is very, very critical. It’s always been critical from day one; it remains critical. And we defined that at Lausanne, and those are sorts of fundamental outlines, if you will.” Within that context, there is leeway to define further certain things, but not this one.

So he was very, very clear in his answer to you.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, he was very – I will stop. I’m sure other people want to take a crack at this. But I mean, what you just read there is fine, but it does not say that they have to be resolved to get a final deal.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go into – I think I’ve answered the question and I’m certainly not going to negotiate with Iran here from this podium. I think I’ve answered the question. There is no change, none whatsoever, in the policy with respect to possible military dimensions, or the things that were agreed to in November and then again in April --

QUESTION: All right. Last one very briefly.

MR KIRBY: -- in terms of Iran meeting those concerns.

QUESTION: So does that mean that it was never a requirement from the U.S. perspective for Iran to resolve these things to get a final deal?

MR KIRBY: It’s been – I mean --

QUESTION: If that’s what you’re saying, then I think that there’s – that a lot of people have misunderstood the U.S. position, or the P5+1 position, from the very beginning. If that’s --

MR KIRBY: I can only --

QUESTION: If it’s incorrect that that was not a requirement for a final deal to be reached, then a lot of people have been wrong for a lot of – for a long time and no one has ever sought to correct that until now.

MR KIRBY: Let me just read to you right out of the two keystone documents here. The November 2013 JPOA, we said that the P5+1, the EU and Iran will work within the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern. Then in April, the Lausanne parameters said that Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of its program.

QUESTION: It’s a selective reading.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Michael.

QUESTION: John, you say you’d like to put a fork in this issue. I’m going to give you the opportunity to do that. The question that was put to the Secretary yesterday was: Do the IAEA’s concerns regarding possible military dimensions need to be fully resolved before sanctions are eased or removed or suspended?

MR KIRBY: And as I said --

QUESTION: That’s the – excuse me, that’s the question. So my question to – and the Secretary gave his response yesterday, which you assert was misinterpreted; I don’t think it was. But you can express the position today. So I’m asking you: Do the IAEA’s concerns over possible military dimensions have to be fully resolved before sanctions are eased, removed, or suspended?

MR KIRBY: As I --

QUESTION: What’s the answer?

MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, Michael, I am not going to negotiate in public here. There are still many details that are being worked out by the team. But as I also said at the outset, sanctions lifting is only going to occur as Iran takes agreed nuclear steps. Some of those steps are the steps that are being negotiated now. But sanctions relief is only going to occur when those steps have been taken, including addressing possible military dimension.

QUESTION: Okay. So just to clarify here, because you’re asserting we misinterpreted what he said. I don’t believe we did. And you’re not directly answering this question, with all due respect. That was the question that was put to the Secretary yesterday, and what he said in response is that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another, and then he went on to say what we’re concerned about is going forward.

So the Secretary certainly left the impression that all of the IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions did not need to be resolved as a condition or requirement for lifting sanctions. And again, with all due respect, nothing that you’ve just said contradicts that. You’ve not said that these things need to be resolved for sanctions --

MR KIRBY: I have. I have.

QUESTION: -- to be removed. You simply said there are going to be negotiations. We know that. You haven’t – you haven’t stuck a fork in it.

MR KIRBY: Iran still has to give the IAEA the access that they need to resolve possible military dimension of their program. That’s been the position all along. It doesn’t – it hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: The question was, do --

MR KIRBY: The stories --

QUESTION: -- is that a requirement for sanctions to be removed? And that’s a question – as I’ve heard what you said, you haven’t answered that directly.

MR KIRBY: The stories alleged that he was backing off some other requirement, or that we were willing to make some concession on this.

QUESTION: No, the story asserted, since I wrote it, that – (laughter) – was that – I was one of those who wrote it – was that the Secretary was not – I didn’t use the term “backing off.” The Secretary stated that it was not a requirement that these issues be fully resolved for sanctions to be eased or removed.

MR KIRBY: And I’ve just told you --

QUESTION: And then it went on to discuss he still wanted access.

MR KIRBY: I’ve just told you that --

QUESTION: That’s what the story asserted. I didn’t hear you say anything that contradicts that.

MR KIRBY: I’ve just told you that they do have to be resolved.

QUESTION: As a condition --

MR KIRBY: That is part of --

QUESTION: As a condition for removing sanctions?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into specific conditions here. But they do have to be resolved. There’s been no change, none.

QUESTION: Does this turn on – to follow up on Michael’s question – the distinction between lifting any sanctions and lifting sanctions? In other words, what Michael, I think, is getting at is: Do the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program have to be addressed prior to the lifting of any sanctions?

MR KIRBY: As I said, sanctions lifting --

QUESTION: And your answer is no; that some can be lifted without – prior to that and some won’t be, correct?

MR KIRBY: Sanctions lifting is only going to occur as Iran meets agreed-to steps, including addressing the concerns IAEA has over possible military dimensions.

QUESTION: But you’re still not addressing the question of whether any sanctions relief can occur prior to the resolution of the PMD issues.

MR KIRBY: I’m – I think I’ve answered it as far as I’m going to answer it today.

QUESTION: John, you said that you’re not interested in a confession. Isn’t it not true that Administration officials, including secretaries of state past and present, the President, have said on hundreds of occasions, Iran must come clean on its past military activity.

MR KIRBY: But the Secretary also said we have a good understanding of what that past military activity was. And look, I mean, the whole reason --

QUESTION: Well, so that – does that not a change then?

MR KIRBY: The whole reason that we’re having these negotiations and there’s a deal being worked is because we know they were working on a potential military program.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And we want to avoid that from happening in the future. And that’s what this is about.

QUESTION: But there’s, one, this issue of coming clean stands by itself. If they’re not – if they – if you’re not fixated on a full accounting of all its past activity, then that’s been changed.

MR KIRBY: What the Secretary said was we’re not fixated on a single point in time. He didn’t say that past --

QUESTION: Shouldn’t we be fixated on all points in time?

MR KIRBY: Brad, let me finish. Let me finish. He said we’re not fixated on a single point in time, right. He didn’t say, and we’ve never said, that past potential military dimensions of this program don’t matter. Of course, they matter. We wouldn’t be sitting down with them having a negotiation about this if it didn’t matter.

QUESTION: And can I – number two, a lot of people say – experts in the field, widely regarded experts – that until you have a full accounting of everything they did, you can’t hold them truly accountable for everything that they may or may not be doing in the future. That is, if you don’t know everything they did, how can you ask all the right questions about whether this is going on here still. This is going on here still. You’d be just going off of what you think has happened. But if Iran acknowledges everything that it ever did everywhere it ever did – did it, you could then verify whether any of that is still going on.

MR KIRBY: So what’s the question?

QUESTION: So how can you ensure future compliance that it is not engaged in any military activity, unless you know with certitude everything that it did previously?

MR KIRBY: I just said ad nauseam that the IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions past and present have to be fully addressed before there’s going to be a deal. And if we don’t – if they don’t get the access that they need to address and resolve their concerns, then there’s not going to be a deal.

QUESTION: So basically you’re – basically kind of conceding to Brad’s point, which I think is the key point, that in order for the IAEA to certify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful, you’re going to need to have access to individuals and sites that might have been used in the past.

MR KIRBY: We’ve always said we’re going to have the necessary access.

QUESTION: And that’s going to have to happen before June 30th if you want a deal. You said if there’s not – to get – these have to be fully addressed before there’s going to be a deal. The deal – the deadline at the moment is June 30th, but if it slips into early July, that doesn’t really matter, but I mean, that means these issues that we’re talking about – the PMDs – are going to have to addressed before June 30th --

MR KIRBY: Well, we’re working --

QUESTION: -- to your satisfaction.

MR KIRBY: The team is working through all that right now.

QUESTION: Well, isn’t it more --

QUESTION: But how can you possibly --

QUESTION: Excuse me.

MR KIRBY: Hey – take it easy, guys.

QUESTION: Isn’t it more that there has to be agreement on the sites themselves that they’re going to have access to in order for the deal to take affect, or it doesn’t have to be agreed to – my understanding is that it doesn’t have to be agreed – this doesn’t all have to be kind of declared before the deal, but you have to have certainty --

MR KIRBY: A set of parameters --

QUESTION: -- that you’re going to have access as part of implementation for the deal --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- for those sanctions to be lifted.

MR KIRBY: That’s right. We’ve talked about them having established the set of parameters that would address the concerns to include access that the IAEA needs. It’s the set of parameters. That’s what they agreed to in April at Lausanne.

Yes.

QUESTION: Clarification on the steps. He said there are – there has to be agreed upon – there have to be – Iran has to implement the agreed upon steps. Are these steps sequential, or they have to happen simultaneously?

MR KIRBY: I don’t --

QUESTION: How can they be – or are they steps, by their very nature, are sequential?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think we’ve got – look, we have a team over there right now. I’m not going to get into --

QUESTION: So how --

MR KIRBY: -- every little aspect of the negotiations.

QUESTION: Okay. Or independent upon the number of steps, can you still do it by, let’s say, the 30th of June? Or does it have to be extended?

MR KIRBY: Again, to Elise’s question, what they’ve agreed to do is establish a set of parameters that would address the possible military dimensions to include access.

QUESTION: But does that --

MR KIRBY: But – now hang on a second here – as for the deal, June 30th still remains the goal. Everybody’s very fixated on that date and there – we’re all – and we’ve got a team over there now and, again, things are progressing.

QUESTION: So you’re fixated on the date, you’re not fixated on the PMD. Okay.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) All right. So --

QUESTION: Can I just – wait – one other thing that the Secretary said that was – attempt at a joke – one of the things the Secretary said was we’re not looking for a confession. We know what they did. You have the intel on what they did. Well, the IAEA doesn’t know or says that it does not know exactly what the Iranians did. So if you guys know and you have all the intel about what Iran was doing in its past, alleged military nuclear work, will you turn that over to the IAEA so they can answer the questions that they have?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to talk about intelligence matters from the podium, and I wouldn’t do that. Again, this is about making sure that the --

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: -- IAEA gets the access they need to address the concerns they have, as well as the P5 countries about possible military dimensions.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And I won’t talk about the transmission of information at a classified level.

QUESTION: Okay, but the IAEA has a long list of questions that it wants answers to from Iran. Among those questions are kind of – are lists of stuff that they – possible dual-use items that they may have imported, that kind of thing. The Secretary yesterday suggested that the U.S. knows all of that, has all that information, or at least a lot of it or enough of it to be confident to – in knowing what Iran was up to previously. So if that is the case, why doesn’t the Administration turn all this information over to the IAEA? That way you can eliminate the PMD issue completely as an issue of concern.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, Matt, I’m not going to talk about the transmission of confidential classified information here.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one last thing --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on this issue? I don’t want to beat the dead horse, but just to make a distinction that – which I think you’re making, just to clarify, the IAEA has a whole process to come to its conclusions about possible military dimensions --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that can be lengthy and methodical and thorough. What I think I heard you say is that it’s a condition of lifting some of the sanctions and having an agreement that the IAEA be granted access to whatever it needs in Iran to carry out its investigation, but that it’s not a requirement that the IAEA complete its process and resolve to its satisfaction an issue of finding on possible military dimensions, which can be a rather lengthy process, in order for these sanctions to be lifted. So I thought I heard you make a distinction between giving the IAEA access it needs and – on the one hand, but not making it a prerequisite that the IAEA process be completed entirely and – on PMD before sanctions are released. This is sort of two different things, because they could get the access and it could then take them some time --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- to resolve these issues to their satisfaction.

MR KIRBY: And I think those are – that is the level of detail I think they’re still talking about there in Vienna, Michael. And that’s why I don’t have anything further or more specific to go into that today.

QUESTION: Can I ask on the – you mentioned that there’s a team on the ground at the moment. Who is actually there on the U.S. side?

MR KIRBY: I can get you the – I mean, obviously, Wendy Sherman has been very involved.

QUESTION: Is she there at the moment?

MR KIRBY: I believe she’s back now. Or no, actually, I don’t think she’s --

QUESTION: Because I know Araghchi left yesterday --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- for talks in Vienna today, so I’m just wondering --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I don’t know where --

QUESTION: -- at what level we’re at in the next few days.

MR KIRBY: She’s been --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: She’s been involved in being the lead over there. Now she was back here for a few days this week. I actually am not up to speed on her travel plans, so we can find out if she’s already back there for you or not, or on her way back. But she’s certainly going to be back there this week before the end of the week.

QUESTION: And do you know, if she’s back there before the end of the week, how long this planned stint is going to be?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t. Again, we’re still very concentrated – not fixated – concentrated on getting this deal done by the end of the month.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject --

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: -- to Syria and the use of chemical weapons --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapon? The Secretary said yesterday that you are convinced or you have proof – you’re – that that the vast majority of these attacks – or vast preponderance, I think you said, are at the hands of the regime because the opposition does not have any use of helicopters for barrel bombs and such. Now there is a UN resolution that bans the use of chlorine gas passed in March as a chemical – as – used as a weapon. So technically, if you have evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for these attacks, then you know that it’s in violation of this resolution. That’s a Chapter 7 resolution. What are you going to do about it?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, as the Secretary stressed yesterday, it’s been significantly documented. The OPCW fact-finding mission reported witnesses saw and heard helicopters coinciding with chlorine barrel bomb attacks in Syria in the spring of 2014. They continue to flout international standards and norms, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council’s resolutions, as you’ve pointed.

QUESTION: That’s not standard and norm. That’s international law.

MR KIRBY: That’s right. You’re right.

QUESTION: So they’re in violation of a Chapter 7 UN Security Council resolution, and there is virtually no talk in Washington or at the UN Security Council about consequences for Syria for violating this?

MR KIRBY: Look, there’s been a lot of pressure put on the Assad regime and will continue to be put on the Assad regime. Nothing’s changed about our policy that he needs to go. But we’ve also been clear that there has to be a political resolution in – to the – political resolution to the situation inside Syria.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

QUESTION: Wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa.

QUESTION: On the --

QUESTION: Can I finish? I understand. But the civil war and the fighting with the – between the regime and the opposition is quite different than the use of chemical agents and chemical weapons, which this Administration was ready to launch military strikes against Assad for. Now, the only reason he didn’t was because – that President Obama decided not to do that was because of this deal between – that Russia and the U.S. negotiated to rid Assad of his chemical weapons.

So now he’s using a chemical agent that’s banned under international law and flouting a UN Security Council resolution. What are the consequences for him outside of any political negotiation? I mean, there doesn’t need to be a political negotiation for Assad to be in accordance with international law and UN Security Council resolutions.

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been very clear that there’s not going to be a military solution to the situation in Syria with the exception, of course, to the pressure that’s being applied militarily to ISIL inside Syria. We’ve been very clear about that.

QUESTION: But President Obama, when he was deciding to use military action because of the use of these chemical weapons, said this has nothing --

MR KIRBY: And had it not been for the --

QUESTION: -- this has nothing to do with the U.S. wading into a civil war or the political process. He very narrowly said this is in response to Assad’s use of chemical agents against his people. And now he’s doing it again.

MR KIRBY: Again, the international community is united against the Assad regime in the use of chlorine gas against their own people, which we know the preponderance of the use is.

QUESTION: To what end, though?

MR KIRBY: Look, there’s not going to be a military solution. And it was the credible threat of military force that drew Assad to allowing the declared stockpiles to be removed from the country. So we know that that’s gone. Yes, we still believe that he’s using chlorine gas.

QUESTION: So maybe the credible threat of using it again would get him to stop using chlorine gas on those people?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to dictate military policy from here. As I said --

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR KIRBY: As I said --

QUESTION: You sure? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I’m pretty sure. I don’t do that anymore.

There’s not going to be – we’ve been long clear there’s not going to be a military solution to the crisis inside Syria.

QUESTION: I’m not saying that.

MR KIRBY: I know --

QUESTION: We’re talking specifically about him gassing his own people, which is very different than a civil war. This is – there is a precedent for the U.S. not wading into the civil war, which clearly it doesn’t want to do, and taking action or paying lip service to taking action to --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have actions to announce today --

QUESTION: Could you take the question?

MR KIRBY: -- about addressing specifically his use of chlorine gas.

QUESTION: Can you take the question whether the U.S. --

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I just – there was a --

QUESTION: On the use of chlorine gas --

QUESTION: -- there was a --

MR KIRBY: Let’s move --

QUESTION: On the use of --

MR KIRBY: Let’s move back a little bit. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Now, on the use of chlorine gas, is that a chemical weapon? I mean, that is a commercially available product --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- and it is said that Jabhat al-Nusrah, which controls a great mass of territory – I’m not saying because you said that you’re confident it was the regime that used these --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- this bomb in these attacks. But it is said that Jabhat al-Nusrah, which controls large territory, expansive territory, actually has large stockpiles of chlorine. So is it a chemical weapon?

MR KIRBY: It’s a toxic chemical that obviously has commercial use, but he’s using it as a chemical weapon.

Yes, back here.

QUESTION: There was a hearing on the Hill this morning from – on – exactly on this issue at which – the use of chemical weapons – at which former Ambassador Ford was speaking. And he along with a number of other doctors – doctors – sorry, he’s not a doctor – were talking about the effects, and they showed a very horrifying videos of some small children who had been victim of chemical weapons attacks.

All of the people in that panel – and they were probably chosen for a certain reason – but all of them suggested that one way of protecting the people – these attacks mostly are happening in Idlib province – would be to go back to the idea or a plan that’s been long on the table of a no-fly zone, which they suggested in one particular area would be relatively easy to implement. Is the United States at all thinking about ways of trying to protect the citizens on the ground who have been falling victims to these attacks?

MR KIRBY: Again, you’re asking about military policy, and I’m in no position to speak to that. I know of no plans to establish no-fly zones or safe zones for that – to that end.

QUESTION: Is it not something that might be worth considering, though?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m in no position to announce or discuss military policy here from this podium. There’s no plans to conduct or to effect a no-fly zone over Syria with respect to the use of these chemicals. What has to happen is he has to stop using them. I mean – and he’s already --

QUESTION: Or what?

MR KIRBY: He’s already lost legitimacy to govern his country, which is why groups like ISIL have been able to run rampant, particularly over the north and to the east.

Yes.

QUESTION: Instead of proscription --

MR KIRBY: Brad, come on. Back here.

QUESTION: What --

MR KIRBY: Brad, Brad, come on.

QUESTION: What did Secretary mean yesterday when he said that the international community’s patience with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s behavior was wearing thin? How will the international community react?

MR KIRBY: There is already pressure applied on the Assad regime. That pressure will continue to be applied. Again, he’s lost legitimacy to govern. There needs to be a negotiated political settlement inside Syria. We’ve said that repeatedly. That’s still the effort that’s being applied right now.

Yeah. Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: Hi. And good to see you, John, today.

MR KIRBY: Thanks. Brad, I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: And I have a quick question regarding the situation in northern Syria. When Jeff was asked about this question last Friday first and then on Monday – about the allegation that Kurdish forces are trying to force the Arabs in the region to leave their towns – you had said that you are monitoring the situation. Have you reached a conclusion about the situation on the ground in terms of these allegations regarding the PYD forces against Arab --

MR KIRBY: I missed a part of your question because of the ice jingling here. Can you – what allegations?

QUESTION: First Jeff was asked this question last Friday and then this Monday, regarding the allegations that the PYD forces are forcing the Arab people in the region in northern Syria – actually, in Tal Abyad after the fights between ISIL and Kurdish forces – they are forcing the Arab people to leave their towns. And you said that you are monitoring the situation regarding these past reports.

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: Have you reached a conclusion about these allegations?

MR KIRBY: I’ve got nothing more to add than what we’ve said before. We continue to monitor. We’ve made our concerns known about the PYD and YPG with respect to human rights issues, but I’ve got nothing to – specific to announce on that.

QUESTION: Because Turkish officials --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, guys. Just – let’s do one at a time, one at a time. You’re killing me today. Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry. Can I finish?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkish officials raised – according to the – Turkish officials spoke to the Reuters on this issue. They said that they raised these concerns with you regarding these allegations. That’s why I’m trying to get a – and, I mean, what is your response?

MR KIRBY: And we take those allegations seriously. As I said, we continue to monitor. We’ve made our concerns known. I don’t have anything more to give you on that today.

Back here.

QUESTION: First of all, John, sir, congratulations and we wish you all the best. I hope this is for the good.

My question – I have two questions. One is that last year when Prime Minister Modi was in the U.S., including at the United Nations, he declared International Day of Yoga. And UN declared June 21st – next week – International Day of Yoga. My question is that, including U.S. among 177 countries who adopted this day, is – Secretary Kerry is going to participate, which will be next week on the Mall, on the Washington Monument, including around the globe?

QUESTION: Can you tell us if a broken femur is a good – it’s good to practice yoga with a broken leg? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe the Secretary has any plans to participate at all in that.

Yeah, over here.

QUESTION: And second question --

MR KIRBY: Over here.

QUESTION: Change topics. Do you have any update on – we’ve been asking last two weeks – Myanmar, like Rohingya issue – Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims is in big trouble in Myanmar. So do you have any update on Myanmar issue, the Rohingya Muslims?

MR KIRBY: Update on what?

QUESTION: Rohingya Muslims.

QUESTION: The Rohingya. Burma.

QUESTION: Rohingya issue in Myanmar.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates on that today.

Brad.

QUESTION: My follow-up question has long since been superseded by questions about yoga and other topics, but I’ll try again. Since – in lieu of a proscriptive, can you simply say what the U.S. and its partners are doing to stop the Assad government from launching further chemical weapons attacks?

MR KIRBY: As I said before, there continues to be international pressure applied to Assad. What’s going on in Syria is something that Secretary Kerry focuses on virtually every day, every time he talks to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Everybody recognizes the danger that Assad represents in the region and to his own people, but the policy that we’re following now is not to pursue military options. So there --

QUESTION: Right. I’m not suggesting --

MR KIRBY: There is constant dialogue in the region and between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov about this issue and about how best to address it. I don’t have any specific measures here that I can lay out for you in a laundry list, but pressure continues to be applied and, frankly, from within Syria continues to be applied on Assad.

QUESTION: So the international pressure at this point is discussions with partners; it hasn’t been translated into some sort of active plan of pressure actually on Assad?

MR KIRBY: I think it just – I don’t have a plan to detail for you, Brad, but pressure continues to be applied.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And again --

QUESTION: I’m just trying to understand what the pressure is. That’s my point, not saying it should be military or anything. What is it that you’re doing?

MR KIRBY: I got you.

QUESTION: But without some kind of credible, demonstrative show of pressure to prevent him from doing that, where is the incentive for him to stop? I mean, the concern among experts, Syrians on the ground, the doctors today at this Congress, and even in this own building, is that without some kind of measure to get him to stop, whether it’s military strikes or a no-fly zone or whatever it is, that as he loses on the battlefield, the only thing he has left to gain territory is to continue these attacks. And the concern is that over the summer these attacks are going to increase. So how do you get him to stop if there’s no credible way to prevent him?

MR KIRBY: I recognize it’s another way of stating the same question. I think I’ve answered it. I think we’re just going to --

QUESTION: I don’t think you have.

MR KIRBY: We’re going to have to move on.

Back here.

QUESTION: Iraq.

QUESTION: Question about --

MR KIRBY: Back here.

QUESTION: A few days ago, the Chinese foreign ministry came out and said that they’re going to stop the land reclamation in the Spratly Islands. Can – do you have a reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. We’ve seen the announcement that they’re going to stop land reclamation. We also saw that they intend to continue to militarizing the ones that they’ve reclaimed. And we’ve made it very clear privately and publicly that that only increases tensions, that – and that it’s unhelpful, and we continue to call for a cessation of land reclamation and militarization of them in the region. It doesn’t do anything to increase the stability and security.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Have a related question.

MR KIRBY: This will have to be the last one.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a related question on China – Chinese action --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: You got a lot more?

QUESTION: I got a question on --

QUESTION: They’re all pretty quick, but – (laughter). It’s a --

MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. Whoa, whoa, whoa.

QUESTION: It’s a very large world out there.

MR KIRBY: And you were the guys that told me, “Hey, briefings are too long; you got to wrap them up.” (Laughter.) So I’m trying to wrap it up. You want to keep it going? We’ll keep going for a few more minutes.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: About China --

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on. Everybody, just – hey, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Thank you. They chose to make this announcement shortly before this S&ED conference here in Washington, D.C. – the talk between the United States and China.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does it tell you something about the Chinese posture about this issue? I mean, you’ve been telling them to stop the reclamation. You’ve been telling them to not make actions to raise tension for quite some time, and they – they don’t seems to be listening. Is there any serious review on the part of the State Department about Chinese policy?

MR KIRBY: I’ve – again, I think we’ve made our position clear repeatedly privately and publicly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: As for the timing of their announcement, you have to talk to them about that. Nothing’s changed about our view of these destabilizing activities there in the South China Sea. And I think – I suspect that this will be an issue that comes up. In fact, I know it will come up next week. And again, Secretary Kerry will continue to press the same concerns that we’ve been pressing throughout.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: On Iraq, on the consequences of the Senate refusal to directly arm Peshmerga, have you got any concern from the KRG side on that, especially when Secretary Kerry sent a letter to the Senate and discouraging them to go forward and change the amendment that made in the House?

MR KIRBY: So let me just talk more broadly. We do continue to arm and equip the Peshmerga, and we do it in coordination and through the Iraqi Government in Baghdad. So any suggestion that they’re not getting arms and equipment and things they need is just simply not true. It’s being done through the government in Baghdad, who has been very responsive in making sure that they aren’t stopping or hindering the flow of that equipment. And it’s been quite a bit: coalition-wide, over 95 airlift missions, 8 million pounds of donated ammunition and equipment, and more keeps coming. So I’m not going to speak specifically to action on the Hill, but I can tell you that the Pesh continue to get what they need and we continue to look at ways to get them more.

QUESTION: But have you got any concern from the KRG side to the State Department? (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Have I heard of any concerns from the KRG side to the State Department?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of anything. I think they’ve made their – I think they – in the past, they’ve regularly made their concerns known, and they’ve stated that.

QUESTION: But on this issue --

MR KIRBY: But they continue to get, we believe – and I can – can show that they’re continuing to get arms and equipment and materiel and that will continue to flow.

QUESTION: But the Senate amendment would have given you the authority to give them directly heavy weapons, like tanks and maybe rocket launchers and perhaps helicopters and so on. Will that – is that issue now put to rest? You don’t --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about pending legislation here or the status of it. It is – it’s our policy, of Secretary Kerry, the policy that we’re executing, to work through the Baghdad government to provide this materiel and assistance, and it is getting to them. I mean, the policy, as being executed, is working.

QUESTION: Now, on the issue of troops on the ground, seeing that – from last week, seeing that U.S. troops now in Iraq are at the brigade level, maybe 4,000 people, how is that not mission creep? How is that not going up incrementally?

MR KIRBY: Well, mission creep is when the mission changes --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: -- and the mission expands and grows. The mission is not changing. The mission, with respect to advise and assist, is exactly the same as it’s been since when we started it months ago.

QUESTION: So you could --

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You could conceivably have a division in there and the mission will not change?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to – I don’t think it’s kind of very useful to get into hypothetical estimates of what – of how many more troops there’s going to be. This isn’t about numbers of troops; it’s about what they’re doing. And the “what” hasn’t changed at all. Part and parcel of this strategy is assisting the Iraqi Security Forces, improving their competence and battlefield capability, and that’s what this extra – additional, I should say, additional 450 troops are going to do there in Anbar province.

QUESTION: Can we change topic? A few quick things.

QUESTION: One more on Iraq.

QUESTION: They’re easy. Yemen. Do you have any comment on the car bombings today, and in particular, do you have any idea of who may have been behind them?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I’m afraid not. And I’ve only just recently seen reports of the bombings and --

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MR KIRBY: -- I’d be loath to comment on it. Yeah.

QUESTION: And the second – oh yeah? Okay, then I’ve got one on Greece, so --

QUESTION: On Yemen: There is apparently one of – one member of the delegation to the Geneva talks on the Yemen – the current de facto, or whatever you want to call it, government side --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is a specially designated global terrorist --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- member of AQAP, apparently. Do you guys have an issue with that?

MR KIRBY: We understand that this individual was at the UN talks as part of the Yemeni Government delegation, and that he’s the head of the al-Rashad Party. The Department of Treasury designated him for connections to terrorism, and I’d refer you to the Department of Treasury for further details. I’d also remind you that these are UN-led talks.

QUESTION: Right, but one other thing: In the Treasury designation, it says that this guy and the AQAP leadership have planned – or plan to establish a new political party in Yemen, which AQAP planned to use as a cover for the recruitment and training of fighters and as a means to attract broader support. Since you now say that he’s the leader of a political party, it certainly seems as though Treasury’s prediction came true. You don’t have any problem with him being – floating around in Geneva at a luxury hotel talking with the UN and others about the way forward in this country?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’ve been very clear, and I think can prove it in just recent activities, how seriously we take the threat of terrorism and those that participate in terrorist activities. There’s no change to our stance on individuals like this. That said, I would refer you to the Department of Treasury on this particular individual.

QUESTION: All right. Can you say – can you take the question as to whether you’re in touch with the UN, since this is their talks, about them hosting a guy who you think was not so long ago – or back in December when he was designated – trying to create a faux political – or December 2013, was in the process of creating a political party, which he now heads, that you guys suspected was going to be a cover for AQAP? I’m just wondering if you guys have talked to the UN about this and said, “Hey, it’s not appropriate for this guy” --

MR KIRBY: To the question on the specific of whether we talked to them --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- I’ll take that.

Yes.

QUESTION: (inaudible) claims that they executed a number of Saudis in Yemen, accusing them of spying for the United States. Do you have any information on that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: Or can you confirm it?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

Yes, back here.

QUESTION: After Secretary’s call to the Pakistani prime minister yesterday on increasing tension between India and Pakistan, has there been a similar effort to reach out to the Indians by the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional calls by the Secretary with respect to his Indian counterpart, but as you know, it’s a close relationship – we do talk to them all the time. And again, I mean, the Secretary, I think, spoke about this yesterday, about the need – our desire that relations between the two countries continue to improve over a range of issues.

Yeah, way back here.

QUESTION: So I have two topics. First, has the Benghazi Select Committee reached out to the State Department about the Blumenthal emails? Does the committee possess any documents that State doesn’t have?

MR KIRBY: I had points on that and now I don’t know what I did with them. Hang on a second. The documents provided Friday by Mr. Blumenthal have not been shared with the department, so I can’t speak to their contents or whether they – or whether any of them were provided to us by Secretary Clinton.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, on Iraq, is Iraq today a quagmire? Is it a stalemate in which no side can win and the U.S. is just sinking its resources?

MR KIRBY: Are these your words that you want to apply to Iraq or are you reading from somebody else’s commentary?

QUESTION: I mean, do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: I think what we’re dealing with in Iraq is a very dangerous, lethal group, and it’s not just from their perspective, Iraq. It’s Iraq and Syria. And this is a fight that the Iraqis need to lead. It’s their fight. This is their strategy we’re helping them execute. And I would add that though it’s going to be a long slog and though it continues to be dangerous, and though this group continues to be quite lethal and determined, there has been progress made across almost all the lines of effort.

So nobody said this is going to be easy. We’ve long said three to five years, and I think we still hold to that.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the email for just a second?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: You said that the emails that were provided by Mr. Blumenthal to the committee on Friday were not shared with the Department. Does that mean that the committee didn’t share them, or you did not have them to give to the committee?

MR KIRBY: No, no. I meant that the documents that Mr. Blumenthal turned over to the – we – they were not shared with us either by him or by the committee.

QUESTION: Well, did you have them?

QUESTION: You might have them.

QUESTION: Yeah, do you have – do you might theoretically have them?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to their contents. We haven’t – we don’t – we haven’t seen them, so I can’t speak to the contents or --

QUESTION: Okay. When --

QUESTION: But --

QUESTION: Or whether you have them?

QUESTION: But the point is --

QUESTION: So Congressman Gowdy --

MR KIRBY: Or tell you whether we have them or not.

QUESTION: But it’s potentially possible that you do have them from Secretary Clinton --

MR KIRBY: It is --

QUESTION: -- you just don’t know because you haven’t seen them.

MR KIRBY: It is possible. We haven’t seen that inventory.

QUESTION: So Congressman Gowdy has said that he is going to make them public, these emails. Can you, once they have been made – or even before they’ve been made public, but as soon as this building sees them and can look at them in comparison to what the – what former Secretary Clinton turned over, can you then tell us whether or not these emails were among those that she turned over to the building? And if in fact they were, why exactly did this building not turn them over to the committee?

MR KIRBY: Well, let’s not put the cart before the horse, Matt. Obviously --

QUESTION: Well, right, but --

MR KIRBY: -- if we get to see them, we will certainly make a judgment about --

QUESTION: Well, I would hope that you would want to see them – I mean, that you would be looking to see whether – the question is if the secretary – if you did have them – and why were they not turned over to the committee by the building? Why did they have to get them from Mr. Blumenthal? And it may be – there may be a very simple explanation that may not have been covered by what the committee had asked the State Department for. But it would be good to know what the explanation is, if in fact you did have them. And then if you didn’t have them, does the building think that it was – it didn’t get all of the emails it should have gotten from former Secretary Clinton? Those are the questions.

MR KIRBY: All great questions that we’re just not able to answer right now.

QUESTION: Just one more on the emails, just more about the investigation itself. Chairman Gowdy has made pretty clear that he’s branching the investigation and the work – the scope of his committee’s focus from just the Benghazi incident to U.S. policy in Libya in its totality. Do you feel is that within the mandate of this committee, or are you concerned that this is mission creep?

MR KIRBY: Well, that’s not for us to say here at the State Department. I mean, Mr. Gowdy has to speak for the way he’s --

QUESTION: But is that what you see them doing here?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to characterize the work of the select committee. Secretary Kerry’s been very clear with the department that we’re going to cooperate with them as best we can. I will say, however, that the broader the scope of the information that is sought by the committee certainly entails more time and more resources here at the State Department to meet those needs. We will meet those needs. Again, Secretary Kerry has been very clear that we’re going to cooperate fully, and we’re going to be – to Matt’s question – we’re going to be as transparent as we possibly can. But the broader that it goes, the more difficult that becomes for the staff here to provide that information. Doesn’t mean we won’t, doesn’t mean we’re not going to try any less hard, it’s just – it will take more time and more resources to get that done.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Palestinians, please? Can I change the subject? The Palestinian unity government has resigned today, and I wondered if there was a U.S. reaction or comment on this, particularly because it was the government of technocrats which has now resigned, and it seems to be what we could get is now a government of politicians which, at the time – if that includes Hamas politicians – at the time when this government – the previous government was formed, the United States was very against the idea of having any Hamas politicians in a Palestinian government for obvious reasons. So I wondered if you had a reaction, please.

MR KIRBY: A government of politicians.

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Heaven help us. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Look, I’ve seen the press reports. I – but that’s about all I’ve seen on this. As always, we’re going to judge any Palestinian government by its composition and by its policies, but I think it’s too soon to tell right now and to say what these recent reports mean in terms of an actual change in the government makeup or its politics and policies. And of course, we’re going to monitor this closely. That’s really about as far as I can go on that today.

QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask – the reason why they’ve resigned is because Hamas has been having indirect talks with Israel about the Gaza ceasefire. Do you have a comment on that? Is that something you can confirm? Have you been involved with that at all?

MR KIRBY: I can’t confirm that at all.

QUESTION: Can we stay --

QUESTION: New topic, please?

QUESTION: Can we stay on the topic?

QUESTION: -- in the region, though?

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Palestinians?

QUESTION: Yes, well, on Israel.

MR KIRBY: Okay, let’s go to Matt. Here, no.

QUESTION: I’ll go after Matt. I’ll go after Matt.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you had a chance to take a look at either the op-ed written by former Israel ambassador Michael Oren in The Wall Street Journal or seen the book that apparently is coming out, in which he is very critical of the Obama Administration, says that it’s basically its fault and the President’s fault for the deterioration in relations between the U.S. and Israel. Have you? And if you have – or even if you haven’t – what do you think of it?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t read the book. Seen the op-ed, so has Secretary Kerry. The Secretary’s view is that his story, at least as related in the op-ed – the Secretary hasn’t read the book – conveys his perspective as an advocate for his government, and now as a politician who’s promoting a book. The Secretary also believes that as ambassador – and doesn’t believe, but knows – Mr. Oren had limited visibility into many of the private discussions and deliberations that he describes. And it’s the Secretary’s view that his account, particularly the account of President Obama’s leadership in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, is absolutely inaccurate and false, and doesn’t reflect what actually happened in the past.

And then the other thing I’d say is – and I spoke with Secretary Kerry myself this morning – I mean, his view is what matters is moving forward here. This is an important relationship, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and the bonds are unbreakable, and it’s more important that we move forward in a constructive way than dwell on these accusations, false as they may be.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, all right. Fair enough. But he – Ambassador Oren is not just a former diplomat, not just a member of the Israeli parliament, and he is a respected historian who’s written several highly praised books – one about the Six-Day War, one about U.S. involvement in Middle East going – that dates back to shortly after this country was founded. So he’s not some crack or quack, a crackpot out there just fulminating. I mean, he may well be an author in search of book sales, but he is also a respected historian and you just basically and the Secretary have just trashed him to high heaven. I mean, regardless of whether you think that he is wrong or right, his comments would seem to reflect a general view from Israel and from pro-Israel people in the U.S. And so at the very least, I think they’re symptomatic of a perception problem. And it’s getting to the point now where $3 billion a year, Iron Dome, and diplomatic protection at the UN won’t get the Secretary or the President a cup of coffee in Beirut or Jerusalem these days. So what exactly is it that they’re getting wrong, and why is it that you think that you’ve been – that this Administration’s been unable to convey its – or get people to believe, to buy into the idea that you’ve repeated over and over again that this – the relationship – the security relationship, at least, between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than it’s ever been before? How is it possible that you have falsehoods and whatever you want to call them coming out, like the former ambassador’s? How is it?

MR KIRBY: Well, Matt, there is a lot in there.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s a lot of baggage here.

MR KIRBY: I mean, let’s just pull on up. Pull up a chair, we’ll have a chat on this. I look --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t call him a crackpot and I didn’t trash him. I said he’s a former ambassador.

QUESTION: Well, you trashed his book.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t trash the book. I haven’t read the book.

QUESTION: Okay, the op-ed.

MR KIRBY: I said he’s a former ambassador and he’s a politician with a book to promote. Those are – those are truisms. That’s not trashing Mr. Oren. And I think that, look, even the best of friends, even the closest of allies aren’t going to agree on every matter, and there are certainly issues in the past, and I suspect in the future, that the United States and Israel will have differences of opinion. That’s what friends do; you work through those and you talk about them. But as you said – and I’m – and I actually agree – I don’t know if you were asking me the question or you were making a statement of fact, but I certainly would agree with the assertion that the security relationship between the United States and Israel is very strong, probably the strongest it’s ever been. And the commitment that the United States – and from a military perspective and from a diplomatic perspective – to Israel and to Israel’s security and their future remains absolutely unshakable.

Are there going to be differences? Yes. But every Administration since the Truman Administration has supported Israel in its security and its future, and that’s not going to change.

QUESTION: You’re focusing on the security now. So, I mean, basically what you’re saying – I mean, you’re not discounting the idea that the political and diplomatic ties are quite weak right now. And what you’re saying is despite any disagreements that you currently have, which are obvious and on the table and there for anyone to see, you’re still going to protect Israel’s – Israel’s security is sacrosanct --

MR KIRBY: Right, but --

QUESTION: -- despite the tensions in the political, diplomatic arena.

MR KIRBY: Absolutely. And I’m – but I’m also – don’t misunderstand by answer to Matt to mean that I’m conceding some of the arguments – or the main two arguments, at least, in Mr. Oren’s op-ed piece --

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR KIRBY: -- about “no daylight,” “no surprises.” I mean, we continue to work at this and have a close relationship beyond just security with Israel. And again, our view of his version of events is that it’s not accurate, and not an accurate depiction of what we’ve observed in the relationship --

QUESTION: Change --

MR KIRBY: -- between us and Israel.

QUESTION: Could I just quickly follow up on Palestine-Israel for a minute? I mean, on Monday, Jeff, I think, responded to the question on the commission of inquiry – the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry – he said that you support the Israeli position. Then he acknowledged that you neither read the report of the commission, the Human Rights Commission, or the Israeli report. And Israel proceeded to prevent the delegation from entering into Israel. Could you tell us, how will you push forward to see that whatever crimes that were committed – either by the Israelis or by the Palestinians – are actually investigated?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything beyond what Jeff has told you on this – on this issue. I mean, I think we routinely make our concerns known to countries all around the world about these kinds of issues. But I’m not going to weigh in on this particular investigation.

QUESTION: But you will accept the Israeli report on face value?

MR KIRBY: I’m not prepared to make a comment one way or the other on this.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to look at the Israeli report?

MR KIRBY: I have not, no.

Ma’am.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: Arshad, just let me move back here, and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I change the subject?

MR KIRBY: That would be great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Could you --

MR KIRBY: Unless it’s something I don’t want to talk about.

QUESTION: It’s something you want to talk about, and you are knowledge about. Could you confirm on the record that this September, during United Nations General Assembly, the State Department is now going to use Waldorf Astoria as a meetings facilities and to set up a press conference – a press center?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t have any venue decisions to read out today whatsoever. I will tell you that, as always, we’re looking forward to the UN General Assembly in the fall. Secretary Kerry’s got a lot of business he wants to get done up there, and we’re focused on that right now.

QUESTION: So are you saying that the State Department is still using Waldorf Astoria as a meeting facilities?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is I don’t have any venue decisions or any venue issues to talk about today. We look forward to the General Assembly and we’re focused on the issues right now.

QUESTION: Do you know if there is any discussion to change the venue?

MR KIRBY: I think I’ve answered it. I can say the same thing again if you want, but I don’t have any venue issues to talk about today.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. On North Korea. The North Korean state media is reporting that the country faces its worst drought in 100 years. I was wondering if you have any reaction or --

MR KIRBY: Seen the reports about the drought. I don’t have any specific information about the validity of the drought.

QUESTION: Would the United States consider humanitarian assistance, like food aid, if the situation warranted?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such plans, no.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On the agreement between U.S. and South Korea nuclear energy cooperations: What is different between your agreement, 123 agreement? How different (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I understand it, this is – this agreement replaces the existing --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- 123 agreement which entered in force in the mid-1970s and it’s expected – it’s supposed to expire in March of next year. So once this agreement enters into force, it’s going to mark a major milestone for our alliance and it’ll establish a framework for a reciprocal dynamic and robust bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy for many years. So it’s a continuation of an exist – an agreement that has existed for quite some time, and we were glad to get it signed this week.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Representatives Royce and Engel have voiced their concerns to Secretary Kerry about the State Department decision to cut program funding to a Lebanese nongovernment organization that’s focused on combatting the political power of Hizballah. Has the Secretary addressed this concern?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I want to make clear there’s no change in policy here on this. This is a very small issue about the alteration of one grant due to the difficulty of a subgrantee and their ability to achieve programming objectives. We do this all the time. It’s about spending taxpayer money efficiently and effectively. This technical modification was based on our assessment of the effectiveness of specific activities of this specific subgrant NGO in supporting moderate Shia and should not be misinterpreted as any shift in our approach or policy.

QUESTION: So does that mean that there was – that the – there was a report, and I think the concerns are based on, that said that this was part of an elimination of all programs to encourage or support moderate Shia groups in Lebanon. You’re saying that that’s incorrect.

MR KIRBY: That is incorrect.

QUESTION: There is no such thing. It was just an issue with this – with a subgrantee of this one thing.

MR KIRBY: That is exactly right, Matt. Thank you for clarifying.

QUESTION: Do you have other programs that you are still supporting that --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I mean there’s a public diplomacy grant, teach women English program. There’s an embassy small grants program.

QUESTION: No, no. Regarding combatting Hizballah political power.

QUESTION: Or alternative Shia – moderate alternative Shia voices, like --

MR KIRBY: I’m not sure I --

QUESTION: Basically, this story kind of argued that you canceled this grantee because you have decided because of your budding relationship with Iran, as a nod to Iran, to stop supporting --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- programs that support alternative Shia voices. You said that this was with one grantee. And he’s asking whether there are other programs to support moderate Shia activists or --

QUESTION: That were not --

MR KIRBY: There are a range of like – of similar programs that we – that we continue to support. This is not – this decision was a very technical decision regarding a very small amount of money compared to the programs that we fund in the region on this effort and is not at all tied to the Iran deal that we’re trying to pursue on nuclear programs. There’s no connection, and nobody should try to draw anything more out of it than simply our view, our assessment, that this subgrantee of another larger NGO wasn’t performing up to standards. And that – again, it’s good stewardship of the taxpayer dollars.

We’re going to take one more. Brad.

QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t mean to be the last one.

QUESTION: Can I get the go for a question then on Greece, or have you given up on that and you’re not going to come back to me for it?

MR KIRBY: I’ll do Brad and then I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

MR KIRBY: I don’t think the sarcasm is necessarily warranted.

QUESTION: Well, you said you’d come back to me and then you said last one, so it’s --

MR KIRBY: Arshad, I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: No, it’s okay. Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: Let’s just all stay civil here if we can. That would be really nice. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you – can you give us an update on where the U.S.-Cuban effort is to re-establish embassies, whether there are still hang-ups in their process, and when you hope they might be completed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything specific to read out to you, Brad. Discussions continue. I think they’re moving in a positive direction. I don’t have any timeline to offer today or specific schedule to announce, but our teams continue to talk. And again, those talks are going well and we’re looking forward to getting an embassy stood up there. But it’s – I just don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: Would you say the process is close to completion?

MR KIRBY: I’d say it’s moving along in a very positive direction. And I want to walk – I think I’d want to stay away from qualitative descriptions at this point. But it’s going – but it’s all going well.

QUESTION: Well, would it be fair to say that the deal is done and you’re just looking for a date?

MR KIRBY: That would not be fair to say.

QUESTION: Well, wait, wait. Just a --

QUESTION: Have you notified Congress?

QUESTION: Is there – are there ongoing – are there discussions that are currently ongoing right now that are outside of Havana and outside of here, I mean, that you’re aware of?

MR KIRBY: No, no, nothing outside what we’ve been doing in talking with our Cuban counterparts.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Have you notified Congress about the intention to change the status of the embassy?

MR KIRBY: No.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any phone calls either to his Greek counterpart or other members of the Greek Government regarding their debt negotiations?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’m – I don’t believe he has had any calls in the recent past. In fact, I know he hasn’t on this particular topic. So I don’t have any calls to read out to you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Hope you enjoyed your first day. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 15, 2015

Mon, 06/15/2015 - 15:20

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 15, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:20 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR RATHKE: Hello. Sorry for the early briefing and for my delayed start of the early briefing, if I can put it that way. I have a hard stop, so I will need to keep this one brisk, if possible.

One thing at the top. We are saddened by the disastrous flooding that occurred in Tbilisi, Georgia over the weekend. We express our deep condolences to the families and friends of those who lost lives, and as the Georgian people begin to rebuild, the United States, as a friend and partner, will be by their side. Members of the U.S. embassy community are already assisting in clearing debris, and the United States stands ready to assist the Georgian Government in the recovery effort.

And with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Last night you guys put out a statement that called on the Government of South Africa to respect the international community’s efforts to provide justice for the victims of – the Darfur victims. This is in relation clearly to the – I mean, what I’m talking about – the International Criminal Court. Now that President Bashir has arrived home, and the South Africans clearly did not hold him there, I’m wondering if you have any opinion about that. And I’m also wondering exactly what it was you were calling for the Government of South Africa to do yesterday.

MR RATHKE: Well, the first – in response to the first part of your question, we expressed concern yesterday about President Bashir’s travel to South Africa for the African Union summit. President Bashir, as people know, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. And so warrants for his arrest remain outstanding.

And so I can repeat again what we said yesterday. We are concerned by his travel to South Africa for the African Union summit. The Security Council has refer – has urged all states and the concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully with the court and the prosecutor.

So – now with respect to the question of South African actions, again, there were some court actions ongoing yesterday and I won’t speak to the particulars of those – of where those stood, not being an expert on South Africa’s internal processes, but again we – given the international arrest warrant and Security Council action and so forth, we certainly regretted his travel to South Africa and that’s how we see it.

QUESTION: Well, that’s fine but that’s not what I’m asking. He’s now left. So the South African Government let him go despite the court order to have him stay, and I’m wondering what your reaction to that is, and I’m --

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re disappointed that no action was taken and that he was able to attend the African Union summit.

QUESTION: No, but that’s – are you disappointed that they allowed him to leave?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, so – two things. As I said, we’re disappointed that he was able to attend because there is an international --

QUESTION: I got that.

MR RATHKE: -- arrest warrant, and then we’re also disappointed that no action was taken --

QUESTION: To prevent him from leaving.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Now, what specific action would have been necessary --

QUESTION: So --

MR RATHKE: -- I’m not going to proscribe, but certainly, yes, we’re concerned on both accounts.

QUESTION: Well, can you explain then what you mean when you – what you meant when you called on the Government of South Africa to respect the international community’s efforts to provide justice for the victims of the – for Darfur victims? Did you specifically want the South African Government not to allow him to leave – to arrest him and to transport him to The Hague?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to specify what exactly the South African Government had to do to meet that, but I think the call – our call was clear, that there is an international arrest warrant, and South Africa is a party to the Rome Statute.

QUESTION: So they should have --

MR RATHKE: Precisely how they meet that obligation is for South African authorities to determine. But we think that, clearly, some action should have been taken.

QUESTION: Did they meet that obligation? And I don’t think it’s a matter for the South African authorities to determine. To meet the obligation, they would have had to --

MR RATHKE: Well, no, you laid out a very specific set of --

QUESTION: So it’s possible to meet their – so it is possible – it would have been possible for South Africa to meet its obligation without detaining Bashir and sending him to The Hague?

MR RATHKE: Again, Matt, we – our position is that we’re disappointed that he was able to travel. I have not seen confirmation that he, indeed, has departed. I know there have been a lot of reports about that. As of the time I came out here, I hadn’t seen confirmation of those reports. But certainly, if he was able to depart with no action having been taken, then we’re also disappointed by that as well.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield was attending the AU summit. Do you know whether she or the U.S. ambassador to South Africa have expressed this government’s concerns and disappointment about Bashir’s travels both to and from South Africa?

MR RATHKE: Right. Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield and our special envoy, Don Booth, are both in Johannesburg for the African Union summit, and our senior officials have conveyed U.S. views to the Government of South Africa about this situation.

QUESTION: And are the officials satisfied with the response that they got from the South African Government?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to go into further detail about our diplomatic exchanges on this issue, but we’ve raised our concerns, most certainly.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think I’ll leave it what I said.

Yes.

QUESTION: Did the Administration have a position on the South African foreign ministry granting all the attendants of the summit diplomatic immunity?

MR RATHKE: I am not – I’m not – is there --

QUESTION: Well, that’s one of the reasons that he went or felt comfortable going, was that they had promised him in advance that he would have immunity.

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of that, so I simply don’t have a specific response to that.

QUESTION: What makes South Africa different from other countries where Bashir has traveled to before?

MR RATHKE: Do you have some specific --

QUESTION: You want me to speculate or what?

QUESTION: He was also in Egypt.

MR RATHKE: No, the specifics. I said you --

QUESTION: He – for example, the Secretary was recently in Nigeria for an inauguration. He was on the same VIP tribune as Bashir. There was no call to take action then. Is South Africa special, or you expect more of them than other African countries?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’ll let the South Africans speak to their own --

QUESTION: No, I’m asking about you.

MR RATHKE: -- to their standards.

QUESTION: I’m not asking about South Africa.

MR RATHKE: Right, but --

QUESTION: I’m asking why you ask – demand this from South Africa in this instance, but you don’t demand it in other instances.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we set --

QUESTION: That has nothing to do about South Africa.

MR RATHKE: We strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold those accountable who are responsible for genocide, for crimes against humanity, and for war crimes.

QUESTION: Except when they go to Nigeria?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have the detail of every place where President Bashir may have traveled, so I’m not --

QUESTION: He was there. You’re – I mean, the Secretary of State was there probably within 10 meters of him.

MR RATHKE: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: I was there.

MR RATHKE: Well, I have no doubt you were there, Brad, but I don’t have a specific response on that.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I was going to follow up on that. So ahead of time – did the U.S. know ahead of time that Bashir was going to the AU summit?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that level of detail. I don’t have a catalog of those discussions.

QUESTION: And if it was, I mean, did they ask for this arrest to happen before it happened? Or is this just since the AU summit began and everybody had gathered?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have detail about any information that may have been discussed beforehand. I --

QUESTION: And then just to follow up to what Matt was saying, do you believe he should have been arrested?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the – we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold those accountable who are accused of crimes like genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity. So we certainly are disappointed that no action was taken.

QUESTION: So why is it that you haven’t joined up?

MR RATHKE: Pardon?

QUESTION: Why isn’t the U.S. a member of the – U.S. a member of the court if you strongly support the court’s --

MR RATHKE: Well, we are not a party to the Rome Statute. That’s --

QUESTION: Is that simply because you don’t believe you can get the approval of it in the Senate?

MR RATHKE: Look, our policy on U.S. – on the U.S. joining the Rome Statute hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Okay. Well --

MR RATHKE: New topic?

QUESTION: No, same topic.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Jeff, can you – you said a little bit earlier that officials had conveyed U.S. views to South Africa.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that in terms of timing? Was that concerning the statement that went out over the weekend, or is that something that happened today as a result of Bashir being able to travel back home?

MR RATHKE: Well, the situation has unfolded over the weekend. I’m not going to get into the timing of every exchange, but as this issue came to light we have raised our concerns with the Government of South Africa.

QUESTION: Do you know if there have been any concerns expressed to South Africa within the past couple of hours, or will there be now that there’s word that he has returned to Sudan?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further detail to offer of our discussions with South Africa in this regard. We’ve – but we’ve certainly made our views clear.

QUESTION: I’d like to change the subject if you’d like.

MR RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I’m sure you will have seen this story that appeared in the Sunday Times of London yesterday that’s generated a substantial bit of controversy involving Edward Snowden – the story involved Edward Snowden – saying that British and U.S. intelligence agencies have had to pull people out of countries like – or saying that Russia and China had decrypted all the information that he had, and as a result, U.S. and Britain have had to pull people out of sensitive spots. I know you’re not going to talk about intelligence, but the story – the article contained quotes from British officials, or at least one British official, who said that Snowden had blood on his hands, and I’m wondering if the Administration – this Administration – agrees with that opinion expressed in this story.

MR RATHKE: Look, as you said, I’m not going to comment about intelligence matters, and I’m not going to comment on the – if I’m not mistaken, I think unnamed sources in an article about intelligence matters. So --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, quite apart from the article, then, does the United States believe that Mr. Snowden’s revelations or the documents that he took resulted in the compromising of any agent or --

MR RATHKE: Look, the Administration’s point of view on Edward Snowden hasn’t changed. If you want to ask about the implication or damage of his revelations, I think other agencies in Washington are better positioned to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. But speaking for the Administration – you’re the first one to be doing it today, I think, unless the White House has already begun – you don’t share the sentiment expressed that he has blood on his --

MR RATHKE: I’m simply not going to comment on that specific assertion.

QUESTION: Syria?

QUESTION: Does the --

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, Ros.

QUESTION: Does the United States still believe that what Edward Snowden did and brags about hurt U.S.’s national security interests?

MR RATHKE: As I said in response to Matt’s question, our position on that hasn’t changed. We believe he should return to the United States to face justice. I don’t have further comment to offer.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR RATHKE: Syria. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Kurdish forces claim that they have taken Tal Abyad, which is apparently a strategic town that links Raqqa, the capital for ISIS, and the Turkish border. That would potentially cut off the supply line for the foreign fighters and foreign people who want to join ISIS. Do you have a confirmation of that, or --

MR RATHKE: I certainly don’t have a battlefield update or a confirmation of the outcomes of specific military actions. We’re of course – we know there are reports about this, but I’d refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department for anything that goes into more detail about the tactical arrangement of forces inside Syria.

QUESTION: Just one more question: There were reports that the Syrian prime minister visited some of the areas that are both under the control of the Kurdish forces and the regime forces. Are you concerned about that a Syrian government official can visit some of the Kurdish area – the areas under Kurdish rebel control in Syria?

MR RATHKE: Well, I mean, our concerns about the Syrian regime are much broader than that, because they are responsible for the violence and bloodshed that’s happened in Syria over the course of these last years. So of course we’re concerned about that, but I’m not going to comment on their travel – on their internal travel.

QUESTION: Same topic?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have comment on reports by some of the Syrian rebel groups that the Kurds have pushed out Arab civilians as part --

MR RATHKE: I think I spoke to this on Friday, so – but is there – is this newer information? I mean, we’re certainly aware that these reports have been made. We’re not able to confirm those. We are concerned, though, about reports of civilians fleeing areas of fighting in northeastern Syria. We’re seeking more information about that, but I’m not in a position to confirm it from here.

QUESTION: So you – at this point, you just – they’re just civilians fleeing; you have no indication that the Kurds are actually pushing people from their land or scaring people into leaving?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I don’t have further confirmation of the circumstances.

Elise, go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to change the subject, so --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

QUESTION: Yeah, just one more on Syria.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are some reports coming out of the region that Western countries might be considering some sort of reconciliation – that might be too strong a word – with Jabhat al-Nusrah or al-Nusrah Front. Given that al-Nusrah Front is on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, is that being considered at all by this Administration?

MR RATHKE: Well, I most recently talked about this in here on Friday. We strongly condemn the Nusrah Front’s attacks, including on Druze villages in Idlib. Our position overall on Nusrah has not changed. It is al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria. It’s a designated foreign terrorist organization. We are not and we will not coordinate with Nusrah, and that’s quite clear in our --

QUESTION: Would you --

MR RATHKE: -- in our perspective.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Would the U.S. caution other countries against any efforts to build a relationship with Jabhat al-Nusrah?

MR RATHKE: Well, our position on this is – on Nusrah is clear. I’m not sure specifically which reports you’re referring to, but I think we’ve also made our view of Nusrah clear to all of our partners.

QUESTION: On this --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Jeff, too. Al-Nusrah Front is receiving aids from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, and these are U.S. allies. Do you accept that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what specifically you’re referring to.

QUESTION: They are receiving aids --

MR RATHKE: Again, our view on Nusrah --

QUESTION: -- ammunitions and arms --

MR RATHKE: Our Nusrah is – our view on Nusrah is clear and it’s also clear to our partners.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Qataris are clearly trying to rehabilitate these guys – I mean, trying to bring them into the political process, hoping that not only could that improve the situation on the ground, but moderate al-Nusrah, too.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speculate behind other government – about other governments’ views on this. But our view on Nusrah is clear.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

MR RATHKE: They’re al-Qaida’s affiliate and we’re not going to work with them.

QUESTION: I understand that you have differing views. But I mean, if they’re trying to bring these guys into the political process, and the U.S. is one of the kind of patrons of this political process.

MR RATHKE: Well, and our view on Nusrah is clear. I’m not sure what --

QUESTION: So you’re saying that al-Nusrah would not be welcomed into any type of political reconciliation?

MR RATHKE: So look, they’re a foreign terrorist organization. We are not cooperating with them. We’re not coordinating with them. And we’ve --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: We haven’t changed our view on that.

QUESTION: Jeff, a foreign terrorist organization is more than just “we don’t cooperate with them.” It actually puts – it is used to pressure anyone who cooperates with them, including foreign governments, foreign financial institutions. Are you actively seeking to enforce that rule on anyone that either aids them or maintains contacts with them?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have specific steps underway to read out, and especially on the financial actions and so forth. That would be the Department of Treasury. But again, our view on Nusrah remains the same, and we certainly continue to carry out our obligations under U.S. law.

We’ve only got a little bit more time --

QUESTION: Can I move to Libya?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR RATHKE: No, no, we’re not going to have time.

QUESTION: Nicolas, did you have something?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I was wondering – there are some reports that the target of the strike yesterday was not just Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of AQIM, but also a meeting of ISIS and AQIM officials. Could you speak to any type of info that you have on a potential alliance or kind of a more of a coming together of these groups?

MR RATHKE: Well, what I’m able to confirm is that the target of the Saturday night strike in Libya was Mokhtar Belmokhtar. He has a long history of leading terrorist activities as a member of AQIM and as the operational leader of the Al Murabitun organization, and he maintains a personal allegiance to al-Qaida. So that was the target. I don’t have additional details about any of the operational circumstances surrounding the strike.

QUESTION: I mean, how concerning is it that you have ISIS growing in the country; obviously, you still have larger concerns about AQIM; and Libya basically has no functioning government, there’s a total vacuum; and some people would argue that that’s in some part due to a lack of U.S. political engagement and abandonment over the last several years.

MR RATHKE: Well, we are deeply concerned about the situation in Libya, including reports of ISIL-affiliated groups there. That’s why we have been supporting strongly the UN-led process which was taking place in Morocco and then in Berlin to try to move forward. And we strongly support the special representative, Bernardino Leon, and we think that has – that there has – there was progress made over the last week to 10 days.

And where things stand now is the Libyan leadership that met in Berlin, they’ve gone back to Libya to meet with their organizations, their delegations, their constituents, and to try to discuss this political agreement and find a way to move forward in Libya. So we expect these negotiations to reconvene soon in this UN framework, and we are supporting it strongly because we think there needs to be a political solution to the divisions --

QUESTION: But specifically, I mean, it might have been about eight months or a year ago, President Obama himself said that he wished that he had, back in the day, kind of put more skin in the game in Libya. And I’m wondering to how much of what we’re seeing right now is a result of lack of U.S. engagement on the ground.

MR RATHKE: Well, we have --

QUESTION: Your embassy is closed. You don’t have an ambassador on the ground. There’s --

MR RATHKE: Which were steps that were taken in response to the deteriorating security situation. So we’ve remained engaged with the parties and with the UN process. We continue to support it, and that will remain as we move forward.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you get the target? Can you confirm that you’re (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: I’m not in a position to – I would refer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department for the assessment of the outcome of the operation. I don’t have anything to offer from here.

QUESTION: And you don’t know if this was about – what – Elise is saying this is about a meeting between locals – al-Qaida and Islamic State, members that they were trying to break up they learned about?

MR RATHKE: I understand Elise’s question, but I don’t have additional details surrounding the operation or the strike.

QUESTION: On Yemen?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Houthi representatives weren’t able to arrive to Geneva today to attend the conference and the meeting. Do you have anything on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, we understand that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed some of the delegates this morning and other delegates are en route to Geneva, so I’d refer back to the UN for the particular details about attendance and so forth. But we understand that other delegates are on their way there.

QUESTION: News reports said that they are still in Djibouti and weren’t able to travel to Geneva.

MR RATHKE: I’m not in a position to confirm those reports from here.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Geneva for a second?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: This week at some point, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Gaza – the Gaza conflict is supposed to release its report. Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday or over the weekend at some point that reading this report would be a waste of time. I’m wondering if you agree with his sentiments about this.

MR RATHKE: Well, we haven’t seen the report, but as I’m sure you remember, the United States strongly opposed the creation of the Gaza commission of inquiry. There is unfortunately a long history of anti-Israeli bias in UN resolutions and mechanisms, including at the Human Rights Council, which persists in an unbalanced focus on Israel by singling it out with a permanent agenda item, for example. So we’ve opposed the commission of inquiry reports – the creation of the commission of the inquiry, excuse me.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you believe that there should be an inquiry if it’s not unfair or biased?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the – I know, of course, the Israeli authorities have conducted an investigation and --

QUESTION: They have, which was – my next question was about that.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, which we talked about last Friday.

QUESTION: Well, that was an investigation that I would – my question last Friday was about the Gaza beach. It was specifically about that. I’m wondering – so you’re correct, the Israelis produced their own report, they put it out last night, and it basically says that everything was – that they acted in accordance with international law and didn’t do anything wrong. So do you accept the findings of that report?

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure if we’ve reviewed those findings in detail, so I don’t have a reaction to the report to offer.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: But I think what I said Friday about our view at the time still stands.

QUESTION: So you have not seen either report, and yet the one from the UN Commission of Inquiry is biased and unbalanced?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we opposed the --

QUESTION: And you can’t – I understand that.

MR RATHKE: I’m not judging the report, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So the --

MR RATHKE: I’m judging the creation of the commission of inquiry, which is what we opposed.

QUESTION: Okay. So the report, actually, that it produces is not necessarily a bad one, or unfair and biased?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have not seen the report.

QUESTION: I know, but you haven’t seen --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize a report I haven’t seen, but we --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- oppose the creation of the commission of inquiry --

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: -- because of a long history of anti-Israel bias at the UN. So I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- hold out particular hope.

QUESTION: I understand. So once the report is out --

MR RATHKE: The results of that process.

QUESTION: -- though and once you – and once people in this building or around the Administration have read the Israelis’ own report, can we expect that you’ll have some kind of comment on what these two reports say?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ll certain – I’m sure we’ll look at the Israeli report.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: I don’t know exactly what kind of comment we’re going to offer.

QUESTION: Oh, one more. One more.

MR RATHKE: We just have time for just a couple more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is very brief, on the – UNRWA, which is the UN --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- Relief and Works Agency, the head of UNRWA has said today that basically, they’re in the worst financial straits that they’ve been in since they – it was created 60-odd years ago. I’m just wondering if – the United States has been a leading donor to UNRWA. I’m wondering if you’re aware of these financial difficulties that they’re in and if there is any – if there are any plans to do – for the U.S. to do anything about it.

MR RATHKE: I was not aware of that comment. You are right that we are a major donor to UNRWA, but I’m happy to --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- look into that and see if we have anything more specific to say in response to those comments.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, Thomas Shannon met with Venezuelan officials in Haiti. Can you talk about specifically what was discussed, and also if they were able to make progress in resolving longstanding tensions between the two countries?

MR RATHKE: Well – so, yes, Tom Shannon, the counselor of the department, was in Port-au-Prince in the last few days. He was there with Special Coordinator for Haiti Tom Adams and the – our U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pam White. They all participated in discussions about support for Haiti’s elections and for reconstruction and development in Haiti.

Now they also had the opportunity while they were there – that is, Ambassador Shannon had the opportunity to talk to the Venezuelan foreign minister. As you know, Ambassador Shannon has traveled in the last couple of months on two occasions to Caracas and has had discussions with President Maduro. And so as in these previous meetings, Ambassador Shannon talked with Venezuelan counterparts. They touched on all elements of our bilateral relationship. They were positive meetings. They were productive meetings. But I don’t have further characterization of them to offer.

Yes.

QUESTION: He also met with the Parliament Speaker Cabello, who’s under investigation for U.S. drug trafficking. Do you know what they spoke about?

MR RATHKE: Are you saying it was a separate meeting or was he part of the – was he part of the delegation?

QUESTION: I don’t – well, I don’t have all the rosters of your various meetings with folks.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Yeah, no I – that’s – I also don’t have that. I was not aware of a meeting with him.

QUESTION: It’s even gotten some criticism here at home. For example, Senator Rubio called this a “bizarre and confusing” meeting. So I was wondering if you had a response to that.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Again, I don’t have a lineup of who was on the Venezuelan side. I’m happy to look into that and --

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR RATHKE: -- see if we can say more about that.

QUESTION: Can you take --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, we can look into that.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: Okay?

QUESTION: I have a brief one --

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- that’s probably going to be a (inaudible) question. There is legislation in the House right now that would ban any U.S. assistance training to the Azov Battalion in Ukraine. And I’m just wondering if – it’s my understanding that this battalion does not – which has been accused of being a neo-Nazi, right-wing – hard, extreme right-wing part of militia – it’s my understanding that they do not currently get any U.S. assistance or training, and that’s the plan to continue. But I’m wondering if the Administration has an opinion on whether or not Congress should put that – should make that a law.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have a position on the legislation to offer, but with respect to that, those particular concerns, on the one hand we commend Ukraine for its efforts to incorporate volunteer battalions into the ministries of defense and interior. And with respect to the Azov Battalion, they are not involved in training. We haven’t had plans to train them. So we look forward to working with Ukraine to identify the best candidates for U.S.-provided training. And of course, for any training we do, all the appropriate vetting, including human rights vetting, is part of that process.

QUESTION: Right. I understand that. I just want to know if the Administration has a position on putting this into law.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. If we have more on that, I’ll come back to you with it, and I’m not sure we will.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Oh, wait. One more.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary, do you have an update on when he’ll be returning to work?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update. You may have seen he did an interview over the weekend with The Boston Globe, and that adds a bit to his comments that he made last Friday as he left the hospital. But I don’t have any further details on --

QUESTION: Is there any update on the Iran talks situation?

MR RATHKE: The experts remain in discussions. Under Secretary Sherman was there at the end of last week. She came back over the weekend. Anticipate she’ll go out soon, but we’ll announce more details about that.

QUESTION: Soon as in this week?

MR RATHKE: Probably, yeah. But I – we’ll put out more detail on that as we’re closer to it.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 12, 2015

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 15:24

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 12, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:42 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR RATHKE: Happy Friday to you as well. That’s right.

I just have one thing to mention at the start of the briefing. Secretary Kerry will be discharged from Massachusetts General Hospital this afternoon, and he will return to his home in Boston. That will happen a little bit later today, and on departure the Secretary will give a brief statement and take a couple of questions. We’ll be putting out a notice to the press with some of the details for those who will cover.

QUESTION: Will that include the time?

MR RATHKE: Yes, that’s right. I don’t have the time in front of me. It’ll be – it won’t be the next hour. It’ll be a little bit later in the afternoon.

QUESTION: What, when he gets discharged, or when you’ll put out the details?

MR RATHKE: No, we’ll put out the details – it may even happen while I’m at the podium.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MR RATHKE: We’re checking through those particulars.

QUESTION: Does – and when you say that he will return to his home in Boston, that means in the city, right? He’s not going out to Cape Cod or Nantucket or wherever; he’s going to his city home.

MR RATHKE: His home in Boston.

QUESTION: In the city of --

MR RATHKE: In Boston.

QUESTION: And that means that there’s still no – beyond going there, his schedule is still being decided?

MR RATHKE: I think he’ll have more to say about this.

QUESTION: He will have more to say about it?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t know how much detail he’ll get into, but he’ll speak to that this afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Matt, anything --

QUESTION: Well, this just popped up. North Korea has written to the UN Security Council and asked it to open an investigation into what it says are U.S. – targeting it with live anthrax. This clear – appears to have come from the Pentagon’s admission recently that some samples of live anthrax were mistakenly shipped to a variety of places, including bases in South Korea. One, are you aware --

MR RATHKE: I think a single base in South Korea.

QUESTION: Single – right, okay. So you are aware of this, the letter?

MR RATHKE: Well, yes. I can speak to the letter.

QUESTION: So, okay. So can you answer North Korea? Why are you targeting North Korea with live anthrax?

MR RATHKE: (Laughter.) That’s not what’s going on.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: We have seen the letter which was submitted by the DPRK to the United Nations. The allegations are ridiculous. They don’t merit a response, other than to say we have been clear, as has the Department of Defense, about the circumstances that led to this inadvertent shipment. I think my colleagues across the river has spoken to that in some detail.

QUESTION: To the UN thing?

MR RATHKE: Not to the UN thing, but to the --

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR RATHKE: -- circumstances that surrounded the shipment.

QUESTION: Does this – does your response suggest that you will be not – you are not in favor of a Security Council investigation into this?

MR RATHKE: Again, the allegations are ridiculous. (Inaudible) --

QUESTION: You will vote no, or you will use your veto power to prevent --

MR RATHKE: I’m not sure that there’s something coming to a vote anyway. Again, we’ve been very clear about the circumstances that led to this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: And any suggestion otherwise is baseless.

All right. New topic?

QUESTION: India?

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Secretary?

MR RATHKE: Please.

QUESTION: Do you have any phone calls, any conversations that he’s had with foreign officials or with members of his team in the past 24 hours?

MR RATHKE: He’s been having phone calls with members of his team. I don’t have specific ones to recount. He’s been in touch with people by email, by phone. I don’t have foreign leader calls to read out, but he’s been engaged with his team. As I mentioned yesterday, his chief of staff was up in Boston, so they were able to deal with several things direct face to face, and – but other than that, I don’t have particular details to read out.

QUESTION: Do you know whether he’s touched base with Under Secretary Sherman as the latest round of talks get underway in Vienna?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know if he’s spoken with her in Vienna. He has had a couple of conversations with her during the course of this week – with her, and also at least one call that was with the larger Iran team, including Under Secretary Sherman. So he’s remained engaged with them. But I don’t have specific details from the last 24 hours about a call.

QUESTION: And has he been doing any outreach to members of Congress on fast-track trade authority? I know that he and Secretary Carter have written about the need for it. Has he been doing any lobbying, as it were, from Boston to particularly members of the House who are very split on the issue, it appears?

MR RATHKE: Well, the Secretary’s op-ed with Secretary Carter earlier this week certainly lays out his views, and the Secretary has spoken repeatedly. I don’t have calls to members of Congress to read out, so I don’t know for sure if he’s made any. I’m not aware of any. But again, he’s been in contact with – by email with people as well. So I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility he’s been in touch with them. But I don’t know exactly whom he’s been in every (inaudible) contact with over the last couple of days.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: All right. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: There is a report that the head of the Israeli national security is coming with a delegation on Monday here to discuss the developments with the negotiations – the Iran negotiations. Can you confirm that?

MR RATHKE: I’m not – I don’t have announcements about meetings to offer. I’d refer you to the Israeli authorities for the travel plans of their officials. I simply don’t have something in front of me now to confirm that. Of course, we have remained in touch with Israeli officials throughout the nuclear talks, and that’s been the case throughout, and it will continue. We’ve got a close security and bilateral relationship with Israel, including on the Iran talks. So that’s certainly been the past history, and we’ll continue that.

QUESTION: That’s an interesting (inaudible). You have a close relationship with Israel on a variety of matters, including the Iran talks? It doesn’t seem very close --

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve been –

QUESTION: -- right now. It seems like --

MR RATHKE: We’ve remained in --

QUESTION: -- you’re here and they’re here.

MR RATHKE: -- regular contact and --

QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t agree.

MR RATHKE: -- share information with them. Excuse me?

QUESTION: You don’t agree on it, though, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, but we’ve – that doesn’t change the fact that we --

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR RATHKE: -- consult closely with them.

QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel for a second?

MR RATHKE: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you – you will probably have seen yesterday the Israeli military released its – the results of its investigation into the deaths of the four Palestinian children on the beach in Gaza during the war last year. I’m wondering, did they – the investigation determined that it was an accident – it was accidental, and that there is not going to be – there won’t be any charges brought. Do you have any response to that, reaction to that?

MR RATHKE: Well, this was a serious incident, and we are aware of the results of the investigation. We were in close contact with Israel throughout the investigation, and we will continue to remain in contact to further enhance the protection of civilian populations in times of conflict. But I don’t have a specific comment to offer on the investigation itself.

QUESTION: Can you – when you say we were in close contact with Israel throughout the investigation, does that mean you were in contact with them about the investigation?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the end of that sentence, we’re in contact and remain in contact to enhance the protection of civilian populations in times of conflict. So that’s the topic of discussion. I don’t want to suggest that we were somehow consulting on the investigation. But we’ve – as we said at the time, we of course take issues of protection of civilians seriously. It’s part of our regular --

QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but I mean, are you satisfied? Is the Administration satisfied with the findings?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to offer a comment on the finding.

QUESTION: At the time of the attack, Jen, who was on the podium, said that it was horrifying. She said, “This tragedy makes clear that Israel must take very possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed. We will continue to underscore that point to Israel.” Does that square – I mean, do you think that the finding of this investigation addresses your concerns that you raised at the time?

MR RATHKE: Well, we said at the time – and you’re right, Jen was at the podium – she said at the time that we were heartbroken by the death of innocent civilians, and we stressed throughout the conflict that Israel should take every possible step to meet its high standards for protecting civilians from being killed, and so we also said at the time and we continue to stand by our view that all parties need to take and needed to take all feasible precautions --

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: -- to prevent civilian casualties. But I don’t have a specific comment to offer on the results of this investigation.

QUESTION: Well, okay, I’m not sure then – I mean, do you think that Israel is now doing what it – doing everything it can, recognizing that there isn’t currently an active incursion into Gaza or whatever. Are they doing – have they addressed your concerns?

MR RATHKE: Well, we remain in contact with Israel about these issues. These – again, Israel has --

QUESTION: Does that mean that your concerns have not --

MR RATHKE: -- high standards – Israel holds itself to high standards. We hold ourselves to high standards when it comes to protecting civilians in conflict. It’s an issue on which we remain in contact.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that Israel has upheld its own high standards in this case?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, you’re asking me to comment on the outcome of the report, which I’ve said --

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean --

MR RATHKE: -- I’m not going to offer a --

QUESTION: You comment on the outcome of lots of reports, though, lots – you comment on the outcomes of verdicts in trials and all that kind of thing. I’m just curious as to whether you – I mean, it’s very possible that the U.S. Government thinks that this was a – this investigation was perfectly adequate and covered all the bases. But it’s – given the harsh criticism that the Administration leveled at Israel during the conflict – and this wasn’t the only incident; there was the school incident as well, which you guys criticized pretty heavily – I mean, I just --

MR RATHKE: Well, Israel --

QUESTION: You raise these things but then you don’t follow – but then once an investigation is done, you can’t say whether, yes, we support – we think that the investigation that Israel did was adequate and good and it answers the questions, the concerns that we raised at the time? You can’t say that?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, Israel is a vibrant democracy. It has robust democratic institutions. But I’m not going to comment on --

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: -- specific findings of this report.

MR RATHKE: Tejinder.

QUESTION: India?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: This – is this department looking at India’s operations inside Myanmar to flesh out terrorists? And there was a subsequent response from Rathore in Pakistan. You know that these nuclear-powered neighbors have fought three wars. And yesterday, the Indian army says on Thursday there was an exchange of fire in the Poonch sector of Kashmir. So are you concerned? What is your reaction to what’s going on?

MR RATHKE: Well, the relationship between India and Pakistan is critical to advancing peace and stability in South Asia, so we welcome any steps India and Pakistan can take to reduce tensions and move toward resuming dialogue. We encourage India and Pakistan to take those kinds of steps, and we believe that India and Pakistan each have a mutual interest in addressing the threat posed by violent extremism and terrorism.

QUESTION: So do you support what India did in Myanmar, going in and taking out the terrorists? We have done that, too.

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a comment on that specific operation. I think the point that you raised, and to which I responded, is we encourage India and Pakistan to take steps to reduce tensions and to move towards resuming talks.

QUESTION: And has the U.S. reached out officially to India or Pakistan to defuse the tension that are really rising at this moment?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve encouraged a reduction of tensions on both sides at high levels, so that’s – it is something we’ve mentioned.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Pakistan?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I just wanted – further to your – the statement that was put out about the Save the Children raid --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- is this the extent of your communication with the Pakistani Government about your concerns over this raid? Or do you know, can you say if this has been raised in Islamabad or here with Pakistani officials?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have details about whether it’s been discussed in Islamabad, but it’s certainly a matter of concern to us. Save the Children is an international nongovernment organization. They do important work. So that’s the – of course, the reason for our statement.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR RATHKE: Syria, yes.

QUESTION: A Turkish official speaking to Reuters on Tel Abyad clashes in Syria said yesterday that “a significant demographic change in taking place in the area. Arabs are being pushed away as Kurds flow in,” he said. Do you think Kurds are taking advantage of the situation to change demographics since you support Kurds from the air?

MR RATHKE: Well, there are reports. We are aware of those reports and we’re concerned by them, and we’re seeking more information about them. I’m not in a position to confirm the details of those assertions, but certainly, we’ve – we’re aware of this and we’re trying to obtain more information about what’s happening on the ground. And we have raised with the PYD our concerns about their human rights record, including intimidation of rival Kurdish political parties in the past. So those are concerns we’ve raised.

But you also – you mentioned the U.S. airstrikes and our support. Those – that has been – our airstrikes are focused on the fight against ISIL and not to any other purpose. So I want to make that aspect of it quite clear as well.

QUESTION: Can you explain more what you mean by PYD’s past intimidations?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve raised concerns. There have been reports in the past about it, and we’ve raised our concerns with them in the past about these reports.

QUESTION: But it seems to me PYD is the most inclusive kind of entity within Syria, where you have Christians, non-Kurds, like all sort of parties represented in the contours they have established.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, there have been reports in the past and we’ve raised those with them. So I’m not going to comment on or compare it to any other --

QUESTION: Through which --

MR RATHKE: -- organization inside Syria.

Yes.

QUESTION: Through which channel you raised these concerns?

MR RATHKE: Well, as we’ve said in the past, we have had contact with them. I’m not going to specify the channel, but we have had both direct and indirect contacts in the past.

QUESTION: What reports are you referring to? You said there are reports of --

MR RATHKE: Well, there have been reports in the past. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Not State Department reports?

MR RATHKE: No, no, no, no. I mean reports – public – reports in the media --

QUESTION: In the media. Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- and of that – of that sort.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Iran talks for a minute?

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: I just would like to have your take on the – some Russian officials who are quoted as saying from Vienna and from Moscow that they are extremely concerned because the talks are slowing down and even have stalled. I’d like to have your opinion on that.

MR RATHKE: Well, our Under Secretary Wendy Sherman is in Vienna meeting with her political director colleagues as part of the P5+1 talks. We remain of the view that it’s possible to reach – to conclude the talks by June 30th. That remains our focus. And so I don’t – that’s how we --

QUESTION: But do you agree with that assessment by --

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve always said --

QUESTION: I mean, the Russians don’t usually speak out like this. Their assessment is that these discussions have now virtually stalled.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve said all along that we’re not going to negotiate in public and the details, I think as we talked about yesterday in a slightly different context, but the details in the negotiating room should stay in the negotiating room. So I’m not going to characterize the current state of the talks. Again, we remain of the view that the June – that June 30th is achievable, and that’s our focus to reach a joint comprehensive plan of action by that time.

QUESTION: But even without giving us any detail about the content of the talks, could you say that the talks are going well or are difficult or --

MR RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t put a label on it of that sort. Of course, the – these are complicated talks and there are complicated issues that we have to work through at this stage. I think the U.S. has not made any secret of that. And – but we – it is still our belief that we can reach conclusion of the talks by the deadline.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Does your unwillingness to even characterize the – where the talks are and that they’re in a difficult phase with two and a half weeks left, does that extend to not commenting on the various reports that have come out this week and last about concessions that the P5+1 appear to be making to Iran in terms of both sanctions relief and on the PMD issue?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we spoke a bit to this yesterday. But on the PMD issue, we’re – we’ve seen reports that I think that you’re referring to. I think our position on this hasn’t changed. We’ve always made clear to the Iranians that they will have to reach agreement with the IAEA on providing the necessary access to address the concerns about the possible military dimensions of their program; and without that agreement, we will not be able to move forward with sanctions relief. That’s been our position throughout these negotiations.

QUESTION: Right. But that means – that suggests that the actual questions don’t have to be answered and the concerns resolved in order to get the deal, correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the point --

QUESTION: They only have to agree to at some point, whatever that might be, but at some point after an agreement is reached to deal with this. Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, the point is that Iran has to provide the necessary access to the IAEA for them to address these concerns.

QUESTION: Yeah. But does that have to happen to get to a deal, or can that happen after a deal?

MR RATHKE: Well, without agreement on the access, we will – and needed to resolve this, we won’t be able to reach --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR RATHKE: -- to lift sanctions.

QUESTION: So an – so if Iran agrees to give access to the sites that the IAEA wants but doesn’t actually – but hasn’t actually given the access by June 30th, that’s still okay? Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Well, there I think we’re getting into details that I will leave in the negotiating room. I think I’m – what I’m trying to convey, though, is that our position on the possible military dimensions issue and the necessity of Iran working with the IAEA – that position remains the same. It hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Is it correct that there is a difference between me, if I’m Iran, saying to you, “Okay, you can have access in 50 years” and me as Iran saying, “Okay, come on in now and give – and ask all the questions you want and we’ll address your concerns.” There’s a difference between those two, correct?

MR RATHKE: But the distinction you’re trying to say is 50 years versus zero? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, when does Iran have to give the access?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, those are details that --

QUESTION: Well, they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t – I didn’t --

MR RATHKE: -- are in the negotiating room, and I’m not going to speak to those kinds of details.

QUESTION: Well – but they shouldn’t be up for negotiation, because the whole idea in the JPOA was that Iran would resolve these issues in order to get to the – in order to get to a comprehensive deal. And now you’re saying they don’t have to resolve them at all, all they have to do is say, “Okay, at some point in the future – and we don’t know when that might be – that we’ll give access.”

MR RATHKE: No --

QUESTION: And giving access doesn’t mean that your – that the IAEA or yours – your concerns have been resolved or addressed.

MR RATHKE: Our position on this hasn’t changed, Matt, and you can go back and look at what we’ve said at the time. But our position remains that it’s about the access that the IAEA needs to address our concerns, and that’s been our --

QUESTION: No, but that’s not what it was at the beginning. At the beginning of this it was they have to resolve the PMD issue to the satisfaction of the IAEA or there isn’t going to be a deal.

MR RATHKE: And again, I’m saying there’s not a difference.

QUESTION: Well, that’s a big difference between that and saying that they just have to agree to at some point down in the road give access and not even resolve the concerns.

MR RATHKE: Again, the --

QUESTION: There is a difference there. I mean, am I wrong?

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Look, the focus is on addressing these concerns, and that’s one of the issues that we’re dealing with in the negotiating room.

QUESTION: So would the IAEA first have to resolve this – well, would the deal have to include that the IAEA has resolved this already before you sign it? I mean, because --

MR RATHKE: Again --

QUESTION: -- if you sign the deal without that being resolved, isn’t just something left open?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’d go back to what I said initially in response to Matt’s question, that it has consistently been our position that Iran has to reach agreement with the IAEA to provide the necessary access to address the concerns about the possible military dimensions of their program. That’s been our position throughout the negotiations, and without that agreement, we’ll not be able to move forward with sanctions relief. And the discussions in the room I will leave in the room, but that’s been our position, and that’s – and it remains.

QUESTION: So it has never been the U.S. position that Iran must resolve the PMD concerns to get to an agreement? That’s never been a condition?

MR RATHKE: Look, if we want to go back and look at what was said at the time – again, our position on this --

QUESTION: I wish this wasn’t – I mean, I --

MR RATHKE: -- remains the same.

QUESTION: I mean, it doesn’t remain the same, Jeff. You – it’s changed. I mean, Secretary Kerry even said that it had – they had to be resolved in order for there to be a deal.

MR RATHKE: You’re trying to draw a distinction between the words “address” and “resolve,” and --

QUESTION: No, I – you’re lowering it. You’re lowering the bar even further, from “address” to just agree to give access to, which means – I mean, if they give access --

MR RATHKE: No, I said the word “address,” Matt, so --

QUESTION: If they give access and the IAEA – your version now says that if they give access, the IAEA goes in and finds some huge secret bomb-making thing, that’s okay, that you’ve then – they’ve given access and that’s all right.

MR RATHKE: No, Matt, you – I think you were listening to what I said, but I said that --

QUESTION: I was.

MR RATHKE: -- Iran has to provide the necessary access to address the concerns about the possible military dimensions of their program.

QUESTION: But what if the concerns aren’t addressed? What if the access that they give doesn’t address the concerns? You’ve already got the deal; they’re already getting sanctions relief. Or are you saying that if the concerns aren’t addressed at some point down the road, then they’re not going to get the sanctions relief that they would’ve gotten for that --

MR RATHKE: I’ve laid out our position clearly, Matt. It hasn’t changed. And we’ll move on.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran --

QUESTION: Well, I’m very confused, because it does seem – the goalposts seem to be moving.

MR RATHKE: No, the goalposts haven’t moved.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: On Iran again, the leader of one of the Kurdish parties of Iran, Mustafa Hijri, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, he’s in town in Washington for several weeks. So he’s been trying to reach you guys at the State Department and at Pentagon, anyone in Administration; nobody wants to talk to them. And his assessment is – he talks to me – that is because of the nuclear deal, you don’t want to talk to the – any oppositions to scare Iranian. What’s your response for that?

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of the visit of his delegation, so I don’t have a response to that allegation.

QUESTION: But you ready to talk to their people --

MR RATHKE: Look, I’m not going to make commitments here to meetings at the podium. So I’m not aware of the visit you’re referring to, so I don’t have a comment on it.

Go ahead, David.

QUESTION: Speaking of meetings, do you have a readout of the meeting between General Fan and Deputy Secretary Blinken?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Yes, I do. Deputy Secretary Blinken met today with the Chinese Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission General Fan Changlong, and they discussed U.S.-China relations, including upcoming bilateral engagements; in particular, the Strategic Security Dialogue for which Deputy Secretary Blinken is the U.S. lead. This visit was in keeping with our efforts to maintain regular senior-level communication between our two governments. And General Fan had some meetings, I believe, at the Pentagon as well as over at the White House, and I think they’ve put out readouts of those discussions as well.

QUESTION: Was land reclamation discussed?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further details to share from the meetings, so I’ll leave it at that.

Tejinder.

QUESTION: Yes, to go back to Matt’s question about the Pakistan. There’s a – in the statement you were criticizing Pakistan and then U.S. saying that we share the Government of Pakistan’s goal of promoting a blah, blah, blah. And the – what – the whole thing is a little bit of criticism, but what are you doing? Are you stopping any aid? Are you – there’s any – there’s no teeth in this statement, just words (inaudible). What do you say to that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the statement is pretty clear about our concerns and why we consider the work of Save the Children and other international charitable organizations to be important. And I think the statement also makes a connection that the Government of Pakistan itself has a goal of promoting economic development and democracy and security. And it – the statement makes clear that our support for Pakistan’s goals involves, in many instances, working through international nongovernmental organizations who implement projects in a variety of sectors, so I think that that’s clear in the statement.

QUESTION: Yeah. And going back to a few weeks, months ago, the India had some things with these NGOs, blacklisting them and all. And this – from this podium I was told that yes, we are reaching out to – did anything happen on that, or it just got buried? Did you get any reply? Did this get any kind of solution to what India has been doing?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have an update to offer on it. Again, we expressed our concerns and we’ve raised those with the Indian authorities. I don’t have an update to offer here.

QUESTION: Iraq.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Iran and this whole PMD thing. All right. In April, the Secretary was on PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff and she asked him:

“The IAEA has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past PMDs. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not prepared to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?”

Secretary Kerry: “No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done.”

Woodruff: “Because it’s not there right now.”

Kerry: “It will be done.”

Woodruff: “So that information will be released before June 30th. It will be available.”

Secretary Kerry: “It will be part of the final – of a final agreement. It has to be.”

Now you’re saying that all they have to do is to agree to provide access at some date in the future to address them? That certainly is --

MR RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: That’s a walk-back.

MR RATHKE: Matt, no. Our position --

QUESTION: Or am I completely misunderstanding what the Secretary said?

MR RATHKE: Our position remains – our position remains as Secretary Kerry outlined it. That – and as you quoted from the Secretary’s --

QUESTION: He said there in response to a question, does Iran have to disclose its PMDs – in other words, do they have to address the concerns or resolve the concerns – and he said yes, before June 30th. Was he wrong?

MR RATHKE: He said yes, that’s part – that would have to be part of the – part of a deal. And that’s --

QUESTION: And now you’re saying it doesn’t have to be part of the deal?

MR RATHKE: No. No, I’m not saying it’s part of the deal, Matt. You’re trying to draw distinctions here where there aren’t distinction. What Secretary Kerry said in that interview --

QUESTION: There is --

MR RATHKE: -- is consistent with our policy as --

QUESTION: There is no distinction between them having to open up and address these --

MR RATHKE: No. See, here you’re – you’re offering your interpretation of what these words might mean. What the Secretary said in that interview, what I’ve said and what our position has been throughout these talks is entirely consistent.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Well, I --

QUESTION: Any reaction to the deadly attack against members of the Druze community in Syria?

MR RATHKE: We condemn the Nusrah Front’s attack on June 10th against a Druze village in Idlib where reportedly 20 people were killed. And contrary to Nusrah leader Julani’s recent claim that Nusrah would not harm religious minorities, this terrorist group has shown once again that it continues to commit a range of crimes against the Syrian people and it’s at odds with the Syrians’ desire for a safe and prosperous Syria.

QUESTION: Continue Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, just on the – like the consideration of adding more bases and troops to Iraq. So if this becomes a reality and you’ll reoccupy the bases that you used to --

MR RATHKE: Well, wait, I think it important to make clear here that there is no contemplation of U.S. bases. The U.S. train and advise and assist program in support of the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi Security Forces are located on Iraqi bases where we have a presence that is necessary to carry out that mission. But these are Iraqi bases.

QUESTION: But didn’t General Dempsey say that those bases will be used by the United States? He called them the “lily-pad” bases.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think what the chairman said is consistent with the strategy the President has laid out, and that strategy is if there is a request from the Iraqi – if there’s a request from the Iraqi Government and the President’s military advisors recommend additional venues to further train, advise – to further the train, advise, and assist mission, then the U.S. Government would consider that. And I think that’s been clear.

QUESTION: So while we’re seeing this kind of incremental increase in the number of troops and bases in Iraq, they are being used by --

MR RATHKE: But, no, no. Again, you’re using this word “bases,” and I want to be really clear about that word, because what we’re talking about are – is U.S. support at Iraqi bases --

QUESTION: Okay. Iraqi bases.

MR RATHKE: -- where we are carrying out a train, advise, and assist mission.

QUESTION: But you’re using them.

MR RATHKE: Well, but not exclusively. For example, at Taqaddum where the 450 or so additional U.S. personnel will be located, that is the Iraqi operations headquarters. So these are in no way U.S. bases. These are Iraqi bases where the U.S. is carrying out our mission to support the Iraqi Security Forces.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, with this gradual increase in the number of troops, why shouldn’t Americans or Iraqis be worried that the United States will actually commit itself to a long war – slide itself into a long and bloody war that it used to fight for, like eight years?

MR RATHKE: Well, the mission I think is quite clear. We are on the one hand carrying out airstrikes in support of Iraqi Security Forces under Iraqi command and control to push ISIS out of Iraq. And on the other hand, we have a train, advise, and assist mission which is in support of Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Security Forces, and that is our mission. That mission is not changing. The ways in which we’re carrying out that mission have just been revised to include additional personnel carrying out the train, advise, and assist mission. But you’re --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- presupposing a completely different mission, and that’s not the mission that the United States has in Iraq.

QUESTION: And you’re saying this is not a change in strategy. This is just completing the --

MR RATHKE: No, as I think people have – as I think several U.S. Government officials have said in the course of this week, the strategy remains the same; of course, we’re always looking at ways to better execute the strategy. And in response to a very specific request from Prime Minister Abadi for additional support in advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces and supporting their integration with the Sunni militias in Anbar, the United States has decided to commit additional personnel to that effort. So – but I think that’s --

QUESTION: Just --

MR RATHKE: -- that’s been quite clear.

QUESTION: Just one more. Will any of these new troops go to Kurdistan, or just to the center of Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have existing efforts in Kurdistan at the joint operations center where they work closely with their Kurdish colleagues.

QUESTION: The new forces, in other words.

MR RATHKE: And so the new – but the additional forces are focused on the Taqaddum base. My colleagues from the Department of Defense have offered more detail about that, but I don’t want to – I don’t – I take a certain suggestion from your question that we’re not doing things with Kurdish forces, and nothing could be further from the truth. Our partnership in the Kurdistan region, with the Kurdish forces, has been an important part from the very start of our train, advise, and assist mission and that continues.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Just one – Matt, you had --

QUESTION: I was going to say, “Thank you, have a good weekend,” but --

MR RATHKE: Oh. Okay. We’ll do two quick ones and then we’ll go – we’ll start with Mary Alice who has not asked a question yet today.

QUESTION: That’s right. U.S. military-military – U.S. and Russia military maneuvers over the Baltics. Just a quick question here. There are reports now that a Russian fighter jet flew within 10 feet of an Air Force reconnaissance aircraft on May 30th over the Baltic Sea. Has there been any diplomatic discussion about these encounters, which seem to be increasing in frequency and in proximity?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would refer you first and foremost to my colleagues at the Pentagon for the details of the incident and how they have addressed them. There have – when we have seen unsafe incidents, we have raised them, but I’ll let my colleagues from the Pentagon speak to that more directly.

QUESTION: So diplomatically, you have – have you just – through diplomatic channels, have you had a discussion with Russia about these kinds of encounters that seem to be happening more often over the Baltics?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to get into more detail about the channels through which these contacts occur --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- but certainly, when there are unsafe incidents, we certainly address them.

Go ahead, Tejinder.

QUESTION: A quick one on – the Swiss authorities are doing all this investigation. And how far the U.S. is involved in it – the Iran negotiations, those computers (inaudible) and all the investigation? Is the U.S. part of the investigation, or you’re letting the Swiss do it?

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you to the Swiss authorities for details of a Swiss investigation.

Last one.

QUESTION: On Iraq. President Obama – in a G7 meeting summit, he was criticizing the Iraqi Government by not committed to all – like, he said we don’t have a complete strategy because of the lack of the commitments by the other side, which he was referring to the Iraqi Government. And yesterday I had an interview with Salim al-Jabouri, speaker of the Iraqi parliament. He was also criticizing the United States – not exactly the United States, but the coalition – that the slow procedure of arming and equipping the Iraqi forces and the Shia militias and also the Sunni tribes. So, I mean, what are these commitments United States want to the Iraqi Government to make in order to make the strategy to complete?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think Prime Minister Abadi and his council of ministers have a five-point strategy that they approved back on May 19th, and that includes, among other things, increasing recruitment into the Iraqi armed forces; expediting the training and equipping of Sunni militias; and a number of other steps. And we support that five-point plan that – that’s the Iraqi Government’s plan; it’s Prime Minister Abadi’s plan. And so we’re working to support it, including by expanding our train, advise, and assist mission to the Taqaddum base. And so that’s the way we see that we can best support Iraq’s goals.

That’s what we’ve talked about quite extensively with Prime Minister Abadi. He was here in Washington just last month – no, two months ago – and he and President Obama met during the G7 as well. So we are committed to doing our part. Iraq has set goals for itself, and you can look at their five-point plan for more details on that and the specific steps that Iraqi authorities will take to implement it.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, how much of this five-point plan’s been implemented?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you back to the Iraqi authorities for that.

QUESTION: Because President Obama was criticizing that; that’s not a complete --

MR RATHKE: Again, the Iraqi Government has a plan. We’re supporting that plan and we’ll let them speak to the steps they’ve taken.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 11, 2015

Thu, 06/11/2015 - 16:54

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 11, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:09 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything at the top for you, so Brad.

QUESTION: So I have a couple questions about if you have any updates. One, anything more on the Secretary’s condition, when he’ll be back here at work, when he might be back on the road?

MR RATHKE: So with respect to the Secretary, the Secretary remains in the hospital in Boston. He is progressing well. Doctors are happy with his recovery. His chief of staff, Jon Finer, is up in Boston and they’ve been working there on some department business, and the Secretary remains in frequent contact with senior officials by phone and by email. As one example, he spoke with General Allen today by phone. Of course, he’s doing his physical therapy as well. So I don’t have further updates beyond that on his plans, but of course, we’ll share those as soon as we have more.

QUESTION: I mean, just generally, do you expect him back here at work soon, or is it still open-ended?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an additional – any further deadlines to put on it. He’s focused on his recovery and is working at that. I don’t have a date to put on it for his return here.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, yesterday you confirmed that an American was killed in Syria, but you didn’t have details on the circumstances of his death. Also, you said there was some consular access that was being provided to the family. I’m wondering if, one, you’ve learned more about the circumstances of his death; and two, what consular access you have provided.

MR RATHKE: You mean assistance, I think, rather than --

QUESTION: Consular assistance, thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. So beyond yesterday’s confirmation, we have been providing – we have consular officers who are working on the issue. I don’t have any further details to share about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Broomfield’s death, so I don’t have an update to provide you on that. You probably have seen – there have been some press reports about the return of his remains. I am not able to confirm those reports, but as I said, we have consular officers who are working on that issue. I simply don’t have the details on it.

QUESTION: So that’s still in process, that repatriation?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I’m not able to confirm that that has – that it has been finally carried out.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: But yes, we’ve seen – there are reports out there and we’re aware of those.

QUESTION: So these are consular officers from which – from where?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have, of course, our embassy in Ankara --

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR RATHKE: We have – yes, we have consular officers in Turkey.

Yes.

QUESTION: Could I --

MR RATHKE: And – yes, Said.

QUESTION: Just following up on Mr. Broomfield – now I understand that Kurdish activists are actually recruiting former U.S. servicemen to go and fight. Are you aware of that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t – I’m not aware of specific – if you have specific reports.

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, apparently that’s how Mr. Broomfield was recruited (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: Well, I would say – let me say this about the general question about people going to fight. I mean, I want to be absolutely clear that the United States Government does not support U.S. citizens traveling to Iraq or Syria to fight against ISIL and, of course, not to fight with ISIL either. So any private citizens who may have traveled to Iraq or Syria to fight are neither in support of nor part of U.S. efforts in the region. We’ve had a Travel Warning for some time, and we’ve been clear that travel to Iraq and Syria remains very dangerous, and we do not support or endorse any non-essential travel to Iraq or Syria.

QUESTION: So let’s say those who join the Kurdish Peshmerga or any number of the Kurdish groups and so on, if they come back after they fight, will they be prosecuted?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a question that’s come up in the briefing room before. And as we’ve said in the past, we would refer you to the Department of Justice for questions about U.S. law.

QUESTION: Can I – you don’t support people going to fight either or against ISIL. Is that because – what if they join the Iraqi army? Is that a problem too? Is it because the Peshmerga is not a recognized government army, a national army?

MR RATHKE: No, it’s because advise U.S. citizens against anything but – any non-essential travel. We advise against any non-essential travel to --

QUESTION: But you don’t have --

MR RATHKE: -- Iraq or Syria by private U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: Do you have an issue with private U.S. citizens joining foreign armies, national armies?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our recommendation to any U.S. citizen is not to – is not to travel to Iraq or Syria. If you’re asking – are you asking a legal question, Matt?

QUESTION: I’m asking – well, you said the U.S. does not support private citizens going to fight for or against ISIL. I just – I mean, do you support private citizens going to fight on behalf of the separatists in eastern Ukraine or against the separatists in eastern Ukraine?

MR RATHKE: Well, no, we haven’t been supporting U.S. citizens going to fight in those locations either. But I’m not --

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s a blanket thing. It doesn’t --

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: And is it an opposition to joining a foreign army or joining a rebel group?

MR RATHKE: Well, the question that arose in this particular case is about Iraq and Syria, and there we have a very specific Travel Warning and we advise against all travel there. And that would also include the circumstances that you described.

QUESTION: Right. But people who are going --

MR RATHKE: If you’re asking a question about American citizens --

QUESTION: But people have been – people who are going to Iraq or Syria to fight clearly are not going to be taking your advice not to go there because it’s dangerous. They’re going there because it’s dangerous.

MR RATHKE: Well, yeah. That’s --

QUESTION: Right?

MR RATHKE: I understand the point, but our warning remains the same.

QUESTION: I think that his question also touched on there are Iraqi-Americans who previously fought for the Iraqi army or had done military service in Iraq. Would you tell them, if they wanted to go to Iraq and help their country defeat the Islamic State, that they shouldn’t join – rejoin the national army? Or is this specific to non-state actors?

MR RATHKE: This is about travel to Iraq and Syria. It’s not a question of whether – of which organization you would be – that people might be affiliated with.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: So our recommendation to American citizens is not to travel to Iraq and Syria. Now, Said’s question was more about the legal aspects of that, and I think that may also – part of what you were asking also, Matt, about foreign armies and so forth. There could be a legal aspect to that as well in which the Department of Justice would have --

QUESTION: Can we move on to --

QUESTION: Very quickly, if I may. Last year --

MR RATHKE: Quickly, and then we’re going to move on.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Last year during the Gaza war, we raised the issue of like 2,200 Americans fighting in the Israeli defense forces – I mean, but you are fine with that. So what is the difference? Why can’t --

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I think I answered this in response to Brad’s question, which is our recommendation about Iraq and Syria is about the security situation in Iraq and Syria. For questions about service in foreign armies and so forth, there – I’d ask you to --

QUESTION: But you raise --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: You opened a little bit of a can of worms there by saying that this is about a Travel Warning, because this Travel Warning, as Said mentioned – and I’m not trying to draw any equivalence between – but there’s a Travel Warning for Gaza as well. There’s Travel Warnings for a lot of places, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the U.S. discourages or doesn’t support people going to be mercenaries or whatever, or part of an army, simply because of a Travel Warning. So – anyway, it would be – if the question is better addressed by the Justice Department, then fine.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: But it would be nice to find out from the State Department’s point of view whether this is strictly tied to where you have Travel Warnings, or if it’s more broad than that.

MR RATHKE: Well – yeah. I’ve answered the question – yeah – with specific response to Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: So you’re, I’m sure, aware that the Swiss authorities today said that they – or the Attorney General said that they searched a house in Geneva and seized computer material in connection with a possible cyber attack on the Iran nuclear negotiations. Are you assisting them in their investigations? Have the Swiss authorities sought any information from the United States about this? And are you playing any role in trying to help them get to the bottom of what may or may not have happened here?

MR RATHKE: Well, with regard to those reports that you referred to, we are aware of those. I don’t have any comment on those reports. And with regard to if there’s a question of legal assistance or those sorts of things, again, we would refer to the Department of Justice for those --

QUESTION: When you say you’re aware of the reports, though – I mean, it’s the – it was the Attorney General’s office in Bern that just – that announced this. I mean, so it’s not like it’s just a media report. They’ve actually formally and explicitly said on the record --

MR RATHKE: Right. And – yes, and we’re aware of that.

QUESTION: And why – I mean, I can understand why you might want to punt to the Justice Department, but on the other hand, ensuring or maintaining the integrity of your – and confidentiality of your negotiations with the Iranians or others is presumably a high value in this building. Why wouldn’t you help out on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as is frequently the case, we don’t comment on any – on every diplomatic exchange we have. I’m not in a position to confirm or to refute that there’s been a request, but I’m simply indicating that in a case such as this I’m not going to have much to say. And if there is any question of judicial cooperation, those are things that we refer to the Department of Justice.

On the general question, though, which came up yesterday as well, we’ve – in the same way that we – that we don’t negotiate in public, we also take steps to make sure that the classified and sensitive negotiating details stay behind closed doors. I’m not going to get further into the details of those steps that we take.

QUESTION: Can you say whether you have – without getting into the details – whether you’ve increased your security or tightened your efforts to ensure the confidentiality of the negotiations since the reports of this came out?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve always been aware of the need to take steps to ensure the confidentiality of our discussions. So I don’t have any new steps to announce in that regard.

Nicolas, you had a question?

QUESTION: Yes, just to follow up, Austria has also opened an investigation. Since your government is deeply involved in the negotiations, are you ready to give advice or to help your European counterparts?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s similar to my answer to Arshad’s question. I don’t have anything further to offer on that.

QUESTION: It is kind of interesting, though. When you’re talking about cooperation with the Swiss, you’re only willing to talk about cooperation as it relates to bank secrecy/tax evasion, FIFA, and Roman Polanski; and when something actually affects a nuclear deal --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: -- exactly – a broader national interest or the world’s interest, you’re not willing to talk about that. Does that – is that correct? Those are the four areas that you are willing to talk about? I’ll go through them again: tax evasion/bank secrecy, FIFA, Roman Polanski.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the – I’m not going to offer more on this topic than I already have. Yeah, those are topics in which – that we have --

QUESTION: But bugging of – bugging or hacking of hotels where super-secretive, sensitive negotiations --

MR RATHKE: Well, no. But as I said yesterday, we’re not going to comment on the contents of a third-party report. The things that – to which you’re drawing connections I would suggest are different – in the case of FIFA, where arrests were carried out in response to a public indictment. So I don’t see the – I think these are different types of cases.

Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. trust that the Swiss or the Austrians can provide secure facilities in order for these international talks to be conducted, or is the U.S. now looking at trying to find a venue, perhaps in one of the P5+1 countries, where, ostensibly, there’s a little more of a vested interest in trying to protect the sanctity of these negotiations?

MR RATHKE: As we’ve said throughout the negotiations and – we’ve taken steps throughout the negotiations to ensure that confidential details and discussions remain behind closed doors. We have close working relationships with Switzerland, with Austria, and indeed with other European partners. So I don’t have anything beyond that to add.

QUESTION: Has anyone from the U.S. Government reached out to the Israelis to discuss these reports?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any diplomatic contacts to read out on that front.

New topic? Yeah.

QUESTION: That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. You just don’t have any to discuss.

MR RATHKE: I’m simply not aware. I don’t have any information to share about that.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you seen the Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu’s comments in response to President Obama’s criticism against Turkey on foreign fighter issue?

MR RATHKE: I don’t believe I have.

QUESTION: He compared Turkish-Syria border with U.S.-Mexico border and said that apprehension rates of illegal immigrants also low on that front. And what is your comment on that?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a reaction to his comment. The President spoke to this on June 8th. And I think if you look at what the President said, I think it’s quite clear that he said that we have to make more progress on stemming the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria. We’ve made some progress, including in our cooperation with Turkey, but we clearly feel that more needs to be done on the foreign fighter issue. That’s why – that’s one of the key lines of effort of the international coalition fighting ISIL.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Real quick.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’ve just got – are you aware – I mean, just the criticism is, as he said, that the Mexico – the comparison to the Mexican border. But are you aware of radicalized jihadi – to make – do you think that this is a valid comparison? Are there a lot of radicalized jihadis crossing into Mexico from the United States that you’re aware of?

MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Exactly. So you don’t – you reject the comparison because we don’t see either going the other way --

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen – I haven’t seen the specific report, so I’m reluctant to react to a report that’s being quoted to me that I haven’t seen myself.

QUESTION: Okay. But --

MR RATHKE: My response to Matt stands.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine. Let me just --

QUESTION: Wouldn’t you – you would agree that at this point the U.S. Government doesn’t think Turkey has reached the point where they have solved this problem and that everything that they could --

MR RATHKE: We continue to work with Turkey --

QUESTION: -- possibly do is done?

QUESTION: -- on this, and I think the President spoke to that just a couple days ago.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know – Jeff, you are aware – you guys are aware that foreign fighters have been crossing from Turkey laden with arms and sometimes facilitated by the Turkish Government – on Turkish Government trucks and so on. You’re aware of that, aren’t you?

MR RATHKE: Well, Said, we’ve talk about --

QUESTION: I mean, all throughout this whole conflict --

MR RATHKE: -- the need to do more to fight the flow of – or to stop the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. And so it --

QUESTION: Do you think that Turkey is being somewhat duplicitous by actually saying --

MR RATHKE: No, I’m not going to put a label like that on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Is it not being straightforward in the fight against ISIS – speaking against ISIS on the one hand then allowing foreign fighters to cut – to go through its border to Syria?

MR RATHKE: Look, we have a strong partnership with Turkey across all the lines of effort in the fight against ISIL. We have been working closely with Turkey; we’re going to continue working closely with Turkey. They play a key role, and we’re going to continue our partnership with them.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkey says it can’t prevent all the foreign fighters from going into Syria. Do you – the fact that the Administration has criticized Turkey, including President Obama’s latest statements, does that mean you believe Turkey doesn’t have the will – the willingness to prevent that? Or no one should listen to the Turks, who say we can’t do it – we want to do it, but we can’t?

MR RATHKE: Well, Turkey has already taken additional steps. We’ve worked closely with them, and again, we think there is more that can be done by all members of the coalition to stop the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. That’s a discussion that’s ongoing with our Turkish allies and that will continue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: But do you think the shortcomings of Turkey’s efforts thus far are an issue of will or capability – or both?

MR RATHKE: Well, Turkey has been one of the countries most affected by the fighting in Syria.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: If you look at the refugees and displaced persons, if you look at the humanitarian consequences as well as the problems that ensue from the fighting happening right next door across the border. So we’ve been working closely with Turkey; Turkey does have the will to join with us in the fight against ISIL. And I’m not going to --

QUESTION: So it’s a question of helping it reach the capability to do more. If it has the will to do everything it can, it’s a question of capability in getting it to do more?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, I’m not going to give a scorecard on everything --

QUESTION: It’s not a scorecard. It’s just --

MR RATHKE: -- everything that Turkey has done. As I said, there have been a number of steps that Turkey has taken to address the flow of foreign fighters, and we’ve been supportive and we’ve been working together with Turkey. I think the President was clear in saying that we think that more needs to be done because there is still a foreign fighter problem, and we’re committed to continuing to work with Turkey about that.

QUESTION: Does the --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Yes. Does the Administration believe that Turkey is more interested in trying to defeat ISIL or in trying to topple Bashar al-Assad?

MR RATHKE: Look, we’ve got an international coalition to fight ISIL. Turkey is a key member of it, and we continue to work with them to that end.

I’ll let --

QUESTION: So you would – so, yeah.

QUESTION: But you also have an international coalition to replace Bashar al-Assad with a transition government. Turkey’s a key player in that. So which one is the priority?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’ll let you speak to the Turks about their priorities. I think we’ve been clear about ours. I think we’ve --

QUESTION: Oh yeah? What’s your priority?

MR RATHKE: We’ve – as we’ve said, we’re focused on the fight against ISIL.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: I think you can’t have overlooked that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: All right. New topic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I ask you about the – what is the status of the negotiations with Iran, and is the Secretary of State – is he engaged directly? Does he talk on the phone daily? How does he follow up on what’s going on?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think I mentioned just a day or two ago that he had had a conversation by phone with his Iran team. Our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is back in Vienna; she arrived there this morning. And so she is meeting with her political director colleagues in the P5+1. So the experts have been meeting all along. They’ve been in Vienna for quite some time. They’ve been meeting constantly. So but now Under Secretary Sherman is there, will – and will be engaging with her counterparts.

Now with respect to the question of Secretary Kerry, the timing of when he will engage in person in the talks will be driven by when it makes sense in the negotiations for him to do so. And we’re confident that when he needs to be in the room for the negotiations he will be, and that’s the way we see it.

QUESTION: So as far as the calendar stands now, nothing has changed. The – June the 30th stands as the deadline, right?

MR RATHKE: Right. Yeah, we’ve talked about that over the last couple of days. I don’t have anything to add to that. That’s – we’re focused on June 30th as the deadline.

All right.

QUESTION: No.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, Matt?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the --

MR RATHKE: Or Brad?

QUESTION: Do you have any response to the failure to strip out the State Department defunding language from a House appropriations bill connected to the furnishing of documents in the Benghazi investigation?

MR RATHKE: You’re referring to the vote, I believe, that just happened --

QUESTION: That’s correct, yeah.

MR RATHKE: -- in the last hour or two. Let me start by saying that the State Department is committed to openness and transparency. I think we’ve talked over the last few weeks about some of the challenges that we face with a number of requests for documents, and we’re working to meet those head-on. Over the last year, we’ve been able to reduce our appeals backlog by about 14 percent. But this is all against the backdrop of a growing caseload in the Freedom of Information Act requests. Since 2008, an increase of about 300 percent in our FOIA case load. Just to compare, in 2008 we had six – fewer than 6,000 new FOIA requests. Last year we had nearly 20,000; that’s a number that continues to rise. We also have an additional – a number of additional congressional oversight requests, and these have many similarities to FOIA cases – although, of course, they’re different.

So a 15 percent reduction in the State Department operations budget would be counterproductive and would only further constrain the resources that we need to meet the – these growing increases in requests over recent years. So we remain in touch with the appropriations committee and continue dialogue, but we certainly think that we need the resources in order to meet these growing requests.

QUESTION: You say the State Department is committed to openness and transparency. Is that a relatively new thing, or is this something that’s been a commitment for a long time?

MR RATHKE: I’ll ask you to make your question a little more precise. Do you have something in specific in mind?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, don’t you think – find it interesting that there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of FOIA requests you’ve gotten? Does that not suggest that, regardless of your commitment to being open and transparent, that people aren’t exactly convinced that this building has been open and transparent? Or do you not see it – do you see it as --

MR RATHKE: I haven’t done an analysis of the reason for a growing number of FOIA requests. It’s simply a fact, and it’s a fact we have to deal with. And so --

QUESTION: Right. But the fact that you got 6,000 FOIA requests in 2008 --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- okay – and you had 20,000 FOIA requests in 2014.

MR RATHKE: Look, I’m not going to draw – I’m not going to draw a conclusion from that.

QUESTION: What happened between 2008 and 2014, do you think, that caused this increase?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, Matt, I’m not going to draw a conclusion from what the reason is behind the numbers. It’s – it --

QUESTION: Well, let me put it this way.

MR RATHKE: And – well, but let me finish.

QUESTION: Do you think that if --

MR RATHKE: Let me finish. Because you can also ask other federal agencies whether they’ve experienced similar increases. I don’t know if they’ve had the same increases, but I think across the government there have been increases in numbers of FOIA requests. It may be --

QUESTION: Since --

MR RATHKE: -- that people know more about FOIA than they did in 2008, and people make use of it.

QUESTION: Since 2008 – what happened in 2008?

MR RATHKE: There are a number of things that happened in 2008, Matt. If you’re trying to draw a specific connection --

QUESTION: Between now and 2008 --

MR RATHKE: -- please go ahead.

QUESTION: -- I just want to figure out – I mean, it suggests that for some reason, since 2008 people aren’t, at least in terms of the State Department, people haven’t been too confident in the State Department’s commitment to openness and transparency, at least as it relates to being open and transparent without a FOIA --

MR RATHKE: But I don’t accept the premise – I don’t accept the premise of the question, that people make FOIA requests because they don’t believe in openness and transparency. We live in a changing information environment where people’s --

QUESTION: Well, no. They make it because they do believe in openness and – the people making their requests believe in openness and transparency, right?

MR RATHKE: Presumably.

QUESTION: Right. And presumably it means that they’re not too confident in what you say is this building’s commitment to – no? Is that --

MR RATHKE: No, I wouldn’t draw that conclusion.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: FOIA exists; people make use of it. And --

QUESTION: But it isn’t – you would say that going from 6,000 to 20,000 is a pretty significant increase; it’s a 300 percent increase in the --

MR RATHKE: Well, it certainly – yeah, and I said it is. It is a significant increase. But I’m just not drawing the same conclusion from it that you’re trying to draw.

QUESTION: Okay. But getting back to – okay. Getting back to the actual vote, though, you are saying that taking away money – this 15 percent is what – taking away money is not going to get them their documents or get the FOIA requests done any sooner. Is that basically the line?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re just saying it would be counterproductive. That’s --

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask you about another congressional act that happened today? This was the whole House. They voted to repeal the country of origin labeling for certain meat products. I’m just wondering – I know this is probably a Commerce and FDA thing mainly, but does the State Department have a position on this?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know. I hadn’t seen the information of --

QUESTION: It has been a big WTO issue with the Canadians --

MR RATHKE: -- about that vote.

QUESTION: -- and the Mexicans. And then I don’t think it – it’s just the House that’s passed --

MR RATHKE: I think you’re right. It would probably be Commerce and other agencies that would – but I’m happy to see if there’s anything more we have to say about that issue.

QUESTION: And then I have one more very brief.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I understand that there was a meeting in Paris today with Germanwings – the families of the Germanwings victims, and that someone from the embassy was present. Do you know anything about this?

MR RATHKE: I don’t. I hadn’t heard about that.

QUESTION: Could you just ask? I’m just curious as to who – not necessarily the name of the person, but who it was, like what position they have and what their role was in this meeting. That’s my question.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. I’m not familiar with the meeting, so if --

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: -- we have any more detail.

Yeah. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Egypt and Russia began yesterday a military exercise in the Mediterranean for the first time since the Camp David agreements. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have a specific reaction. Of course, as we’ve said with respect to military exercises by a variety of countries in the past, our point of view is that we understand that military exercises take place, and the important thing is that they take place in accordance with international law. But I don’t have a further comment on that specific --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: -- exercise. Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Speaker of Iraqi Parliament al-Jibouri met with Deputy Secretary Blinken. Do you have anything to share with us about that meeting?

MR RATHKE: Yes. We put out a fairly detailed readout last night, but maybe if I can hit a couple of highlights, and I think the – it’s important that this meeting took place on the same day that the White House and the Department of Defense announced additional steps in our train, advise, and assist mission with Iraqi authorities.

The meeting with the Parliamentary Speaker al-Jibouri was an opportunity for our side to stress that our support for the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL, as well as to discuss ongoing political initiatives that address the needs of the Iraqi people, and at the same time the deputy secretary highlighted the U.S. deployment of additional personnel to al-Taqaddum base. And this is in support of the Iraqi Council of Ministers’ five-point plan, which was approved back on May 19th, and that includes as a central element accelerating the training and equipping of Sunni volunteers and other steps to assist people in Anbar to retake their province from ISIL.

QUESTION: On Monday, Mr. al-Jibouri at the U.S. Institute of Peace said without arming the tribal forces, it’s impossible – that’s what he said – to recapture Ramadi or those areas. Do you share his view on that issue?

MR RATHKE: Well, we have – as we have said, that we are working with, we will be working with Sunni forces in Anbar, including through this train, advise, and assist mission, to expedite the delivery of weapons. As we have consistently said, this is done in coordination with the Iraqi central government, and it will continue to be done in coordination with the Iraqi central government, because that’s a central element of our policy. And indeed, our additional steps and the deployment of additional advisors that was announced yesterday is focused precisely on supporting the Iraqi Council of Ministers’ plan. Prime Minister Abadi and his government want to accelerate the training of Sunni volunteers, and so we’re going to be taking these steps to support that

QUESTION: He also raised another concern that the Sunnis have at the USIP. He said last time in 2007, when the United States armed the Sunni groups, after the United States left, most of those people who were armed were chased and tried by the Iraqi Government, quote/unquote. That’s what he said. But now the Sunnis need a – some sort of guarantor that the same thing is not going to happen again after ISIS is gone. Are you willing to provide that guarantor for the Sunnis and encouraging them to be part of the fight and they won’t be in trouble by the law?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure specifically what you mean by guarantee, but again, it is the Iraqi Government’s policy and it is the prime minister’s policy supported across ethnic and sectarian lines by the council of ministers to accelerate the training and equipping of Sunni tribal fighters. So I’m not going to draw a connection between the policy now that the prime minister stands behind and whatever might have happened in the past.

QUESTION: But in all fairness, right after the awakening, councils were formed and they were paid because they were overseen by the Americans, by Petraeus at the time. Right after you – the Americans left, they stopped paying them, then they started putting them in prison. So I mean, there is a legitimate grievance there. I mean, I don’t know if you agree.

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I said in my answer to Namo’s question, we’re – if you look at the situation now, what is important is that there is an Iraqi Government policy which supports the training and equipping of more Sunni tribal fighters. And that’s what we’re supporting.

All right.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 9, 2015

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 16:54

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 9, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:51 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. Hello.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR RATHKE: So I have just two things to mention at the top today.

First, Ukraine: Deputy Secretary Blinken will meet later today in Washington with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to discuss U.S. support for Ukraine’s ambitious reform agenda as well as Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. We reiterate that the people of the United States stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in their quest for a more democratic, stable, peaceful, and prosperous and independent country. We are committed to using our good offices to urge all sides to speed implementation of the Minsk commitments, including a lasting, verifiable ceasefire and the pullback of heavy weapons under OSCE monitoring.

And the second item: The Secretary spoke yesterday with Brazilian Foreign Minister Vieira. The focus of the conversation was climate change and how economic expansion and reduced greenhouse gas emissions can go hand in hand.

The Secretary also had a policy discussion by phone this morning with some senior members of his team with regard to Russia, and he will talk later today with his Iran team to go over current issues and to keep in touch with them.

So that’s what I have at the start, and turn it over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, can – just on the Secretary, is there any update on his schedule? When is he going to appear in public again?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any update on his schedule of that sort. He remains in the hospital and is doing physical therapy and is in consultation with his doctors, but I don’t have an announcement about dates or timelines for his – of course, I know there’s interest, and as soon as we have anything we’ll share that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, it’s been 10 days now. There hasn’t been a photograph. He hasn’t shown his face anywhere.

MR RATHKE: Well, he’s --

QUESTION: He is the Secretary of State.

MR RATHKE: He is the Secretary of State, and that’s why we’ve been giving you all regular updates about his activities. He underwent surgery, a major bone broken, and so that’s – that, of course, takes some time for recovery. And we’ve described that from the very start.

QUESTION: Well, I understand. But I think that you’ll find that there is growing interest in what exactly he’s doing and why no one has seen hide nor hair of him.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think I’ve explained what he’s been doing over the last day or so.

QUESTION: A photograph, some video.

MR RATHKE: I understand the interest, and I’m sure that before too long that will also come.

Go ahead. Other --

QUESTION: All right. The only other things that I have are follow-ups to yesterday, so I’ll defer.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Me too, actually. So let’s --

MR RATHKE: All right. Nicolas.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Matt’s question, so the Secretary is in good shape, in good spirits?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. He remains in good spirits, is making progress, is doing physical therapy in addition to some work on the phone. So yes, things are progressing.

QUESTION: And as Matt mentioned, there is no thoughts in this building to – maybe to release a picture or video link just to show to the world that he’s perfectly okay?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said in response to Matt’s question, I think that will come. I note the interest. I appreciate it. I understand the reason, so – but we’ll – when we have something to release, we certainly will. We recognize there’s interest.

QUESTION: And I understand that it’s hard to predict, but do you think that he would be able to go to Europe at the end of this month to give a final push to the Iran talks?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d give two responses to that. First of all, I – we’ve – as we’ve said from the start, he will have – he’s going to go through his recovery process aggressively but responsibly. I don’t have a further time prediction to affix to that. That’s something that he and his doctors will have to keep under review. So I don’t have – I don’t have a timeline. But as we said earlier with respect to the June 30th end of the Iran nuclear talks, we remain committed to that. We believe it’s achievable, and so that remains – that remains our focus.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a little different from what Marie had said last week when she was asked specifically whether he expected to be back in the negotiating room by the June 30th deadline. She said either, “Yes, absolutely,” or, “Absolutely, yes.” The transcript will show which one, but there was no doubt in her mind.

MR RATHKE: I’m not trying to walk back what she said. No, I don’t – I’m not --

QUESTION: So you expect him to be in the negotiating room by the end of the month?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I don’t have – his recovery is something that he and his doctors are focused on. So I don’t have a timeline to affix to that, but I also see no reason to change what Marie said last week about that.

QUESTION: So you’re not – you’re saying that there is no complication that is causing you to change what was (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: Correct.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Why is he still in the hospital since he did the operation last week and he’s in good shape and good spirit, as you said?

MR RATHKE: Well, he’s doing physical therapy and he’s in close proximity there to his doctors. Of course, the femur is a major bone, and so I don’t have more to say about it than that.

QUESTION: He can be at home --

QUESTION: Did the Secretary make a decision --

QUESTION: -- and does the physical therapy?

MR RATHKE: Look, I’m not going to comment from here on the different options. This is what he and his doctors have decided on based on --

QUESTION: You realize that you brought this on yourself. These questions are not out of – they’re not completely unfounded questions to be asking. But by refusing to say anything more – I mean, it’s a decent question. Why is he still admitted to a hospital? I mean, his house is not that far away from the hospital.

QUESTION: Maybe five minutes.

QUESTION: Why – I mean, and if he’s on crutches, granted it is hilly there, but certainly, he might even be able to walk there on crutches. We don’t know. So the secrecy is – the questions about what’s going on, you’re bringing on yourself by not being more forthcoming, this building is. Just pointing that out.

MR RATHKE: If that’s your comment then --

QUESTION: No, it’s not my comment. It’s an appeal for some – a little bit more information, because what we’re getting is – we’re getting is nothing. And as I’m sure you’re aware, there is a vast army of conspiracy theorists out there who are starting to get a little bit more attention as this continues. Anyway, please.

MR RATHKE: I understand, and I think I heard you the first time.

So moving on?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: On Libya: Do you have any reaction to the unity plan presented by the UN special envoy to Libya to the parties there?

MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, we welcome the presentation of the – of what is the fourth and final draft of the Libyan political agreement, which was done by the UN special representative, Bernardino Leon, and that represents more than six months of intensive consultations by the UN across Libyan society and with the support of the international community. We understand that this document reflects Libyan views. It addresses the concerns of all parties based on their input, and we believe it’s a balanced document that offers the best way forward, and we think the Libyan people also have made clear a desire for peace. So we think this is a – this political agreement represents a fair compromise and it’s a solid basis for national reconciliation.

QUESTION: But it looks like the parliament has called his representatives in the talks to withdraw from the talks in Morocco.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve seen some reports indicating that some in the Libyan house of representatives based in Tobruk want to recall their negotiators, but despite this report it is our understanding that the Libyan delegations from both the house of representatives and the former general national congress are on their way to Berlin for additional meetings there tomorrow. Maybe just a point on that: Following on these consultations in Morocco, the Libyan delegates are now traveling to Berlin. Meetings will begin there June 10th with the five permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Italy, Germany, Spain, and the European Union.

QUESTION: And one more on Libya, too. News reports said that ISIS has used a people-smuggler caravan in Libya to kidnap 88 Eritrean Christians. Do you have any confirmation or anything on this?

MR RATHKE: We’re familiar with the report. I’m not in a position to confirm details. If it were true, we certainly would condemn this act and we would condemn the brutality of terrorists who would target others because of their faith. But at this point I’m not able to confirm that.

Yes, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Sorry if I missed it, but who will be representing the U.S. Government in Berlin?

MR RATHKE: Our ambassador, Deborah Jones, and our special envoy, Jonathan Winer, will be there.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Iraq, yes.

QUESTION: It’s one year since Mosul was taken by ISIS and they still maintain the grip on that city. Do you have any comment?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve always been very clear that this is an Iraqi-led operation and that the timetable for an offensive, first of all, with respect to Mosul is one that will be set by the Iraqis. We are focused on getting Iraqi forces ready, adequately trained and equipped, and our efforts to train and advise Iraqi forces are ongoing at multiple sites across Iraq. And we’re doing that in cooperation not only with the Iraqi Government, but also with our coalition partners. And so that’s a central part of our response and of our broad international coalition, which is working on multiple fronts and multiple lines of effort to degrade and defeat ISIL.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yes, Mary Alice.

QUESTION: Following up on that question, yesterday President Obama made a comment that there was more training capacity than recruits. Could you perhaps tell us where – what the blockage is within the Iraqi Government to not actually supply more recruits?

MR RATHKE: Well, it is – as the President said yesterday, one of the things that we have to improve is the speed with which we’re training Iraqi forces, and I think the President also spoke to that. We’re reviewing a range of plans for how that could be done. And I would highlight, though, that there is – we have already – we have trained 9,000 Iraqi troops. There are about 3,100 Iraqi troops currently in training across Iraq through our train, advise, and assist program. It is also true, though, that we have greater capacity to train troops than there are troops currently in the pipeline. And that’s why we’re working with the Government of Iraq to improve that aspect of the program. This is something that Prime Minister Abadi and his council of ministers recognize as well. When they put forward a plan on May 19th, one of the things that acknowledges is they need to expand recruitment into the Iraqi army as one of the key points of that plan.

QUESTION: But do you know what the obstacle is? Why are they having so much trouble getting recruits? Where is the obstacle? Is it within the government structure itself, or is it that people just don’t want to join?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, if you look at the response across Iraq, there is a lot of interest in joining. If we switch from the Iraqi army to the Popular Mobilization Forces, there are Sunni volunteers currently being trained by the Iraqis. About 1,000 Sunni fighters were inducted into the Popular Mobilization Forces at the end of May – May 27th – and they joined thousands of other Sunni volunteers who have already joined this program and are fighting side by side with Iraqi Security Forces. For more details about the particular difficulties in recruitment, I’d refer you back, I think, to Iraqi authorities.

Ros.

QUESTION: But, Jeff, the Pentagon’s spokesperson, Colonel Steve Warren, just told reporters an hour ago that of the 9,000 or so that have already been trained, a portion of them are Kurdish Peshmerga. So that actually knocks down the number of non-Kurdish Iraqi forces who have actually been trained, which doesn’t exactly put a good light on the efforts to build up the capacity and to try to confront ISIL fighters. And again, to echo Mary Alice’s point, are Iraqis really not willing to take up arms against ISIL, or is this just bureaucratic bottlenecks that are keeping people from actually getting into the training and then getting outfitted and getting deployed?

MR RATHKE: Well, to go back to your first point, though, yes, some of those forces which we have trained are Kurdish forces, and that’s been part of the plan all along because, as we’ve seen, there are also – I mean, the Kurdish forces are also fighting back against ISIL in northern Iraq in the Kurdish region. So that is necessarily a part of our training and assisting mission with Iraq. So I don’t see any reason to discount those from the overall numbers that we’ve trained. We’re helping Iraqis push back against ISIL in all of those places of Iraq where they have tried to expand – not only in Anbar, although Anbar, of course, is a key region.

QUESTION: But it does beg the question that in a country of some 25-odd million people that the most that have been trained is still under 10,000 in total to date.

MR RATHKE: Well, those – that’s through the U.S. train, advise, and assist program. So those are the ones we have trained. We have a footprint of about 3,000 trainers on the ground, and that – again, we’re looking at ways to increase the throughput and the recruitment, because we have some additional capacity and we want to make use of it.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just say something here to correct the record --

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: -- and to do it because she’s too polite to herself. But the person to whom you’re referring as Mary Alice is named – her name is Sharon.

MR RATHKE: Oh my goodness. Well then, I apologize most heartfeltly. Sorry about that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you convinced that the 9,000 that you have trained through the American train, advise, and assist program have the will to fight?

MR RATHKE: That’s certainly been our experience, and I think we’ve spoken to this since the fall of Ramadi. The President also has spoken about it. And our experience has been that for those forces who have gone through our train, advise, and assist program and are properly equipped and are part of an Iraqi command and control structure, that they have fought well. That’s – I think there’s been a lot of discussion of the situation in Ramadi and how that differed. I don’t have anything to add to those discussions, but I think that’s certainly been our view of things and I think that’s shared by others in the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Jeff?

MR RATHKE: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Syria.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Rebel – Syrian rebel fighters captured today a major base from the Syrian army in Daraa. It’s in the south of the country. Do you have anything on this?

MR RATHKE: Well, I – we’ve certainly seen that report. I’m not in a position to confirm it. I also don’t see a reason to doubt it, but I’m not in a position to confirm it here from the podium. And I don’t want to – this reflects, of course, the fact that there are Syrians who are fighting against the regime and there will always be back-and-forth on the battlefield, so I don’t want to try to analyze its significance. But yes, we’re aware of that.

QUESTION: I have three more on Syria if --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- I can. Were there any talks at the G7’s summit about the future of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?

MR RATHKE: I’d refer you to my White House colleagues for a more detailed readout of the discussions related to the Middle East at the G7.

QUESTION: We understood that Special Envoy to Syria Rubinstein will be the future ambassador to Tunisia. Who will replace him? Do you have any names?

MR RATHKE: Well, he – you’ve seen – many of you, probably – the White House announcement yesterday of his nomination as ambassador to Syria. Of course, he will --

QUESTION: Tunisia.

MR RATHKE: Sorry, Tunisia. He will have – have to have a hearing and a vote in the Senate, so he will remain on the job as special envoy until that time. So he will be replaced, but we don’t have a personnel announcement to make right now. But he will remain on the job until he’s ready to go to Tunisia, assuming confirmation.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you know what position Ambassador Jake Walles, currently in Tunisia, will be having?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any announcement to make on personnel.

QUESTION: And one more: Syrian opposition factions are gathering in Egypt to form a new coalition as an alternative to the SOC. How do you view this meeting and the role that Egypt is playing in this regard?

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that report, so I’m not in a position to comment specifically on that. We certainly – the Syrian opposition forces have met in a variety of places, in a variety of different formats, so I don’t – but I don’t have further comment to add on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the SOC the legitimate representative for the Syrian --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, our policy on that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The U.S. embassy in Jakarta held its annual July 4 celebration a month early this year, and the U.S. ambassador there, Robert Blake, was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying it was done out of respect for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. First of all, can you explain the decision?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think – let’s look at, first of all, what the official celebrations of the Fourth of July overseas at our missions, at our embassies and consulates, are – the purpose of those celebrations. These are not events for the American citizen population that’s resident there. It’s not like a picnic you have with your family and friends when you’re back here in the U.S. These are official events that are – the purpose of which is to represent the United States to the host nation and to the host government. So of course, to do that most effectively, we want to do – we want to hold these events when the guests are best able to attend and when we can most effectively achieve the purpose of the event, which is to represent the United States to the host nation. And so there are some times when – these are sometimes held at different times of the year. They’re not always held exactly on July 4th. This depends in some places on the climate, where you may not want to have a large outdoor gathering in July. In other cases, when you take into account the observation of Ramadan in many predominantly Muslim countries, when people are fasting and may not be able to attend an event such as this, that we adjust in order to most effectively carry out our role, which is to represent the United States to all of the countries where we’re assigned.

QUESTION: Given that that’s the case, then this must have been done previously, or was this the first time?

MR RATHKE: This has happened from time to time in other places. So it’s a decision that’s made by the post about how best to do our job, which, again, is to represent the United States and our values to the host nation.

QUESTION: So it’s not unusual at all to do something like this?

MR RATHKE: It’s happened before. I don’t want to – I don’t know how often, but it’s something certainly that has been done.

QUESTION: Was it in response to anything in particular? Was there any kind of concern or anything? Was there a specific request made to have this moved, or was it something --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that level of detail. Again, this is a decision that’s made by our embassies in order to most effectively carry out their mission.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. make similar requests of foreign embassies that – foreign countries that have embassies here for the same kind of --

MR RATHKE: That would be at their – at the discretion of an embassy that’s here when they choose to host – to hold their – I assume they would have similar considerations. They would want to have as many people as possible come, and they would make their decisions about scheduling accordingly. But I don’t have details to share about foreign governments’ deliberations.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever made such a request as far as you know to actually have a national day moved for an embassy in the U.S.?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, these – as I said before, these decisions are made by our embassies overseas, based on their assessment of the best way to do their jobs. So I don’t have anything further to say than that.

Nicole, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hold on. Are you aware of it being done anywhere else this year?

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware, no. We have not done a survey.

QUESTION: Did the Indonesians ask for this? The premise of --

MR RATHKE: Again, I think --

QUESTION: The premise of the question seemed to be that the Indonesians had asked.

MR RATHKE: Well, and I think I’ve said that this is a decision that’s made – this is made by --

QUESTION: That’s great.

MR RATHKE: -- our embassy, not --

QUESTION: Did the Indonesians ask?

MR RATHKE: I don’t – I’m not aware of a request by them.

QUESTION: Will there be a – I’ve lived overseas in a number of places, and --

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: -- I’ve been invited as an American citizen to embassy Fourth of July parties. Is there going to be one in Jakarta?

MR RATHKE: Again, that’s a decision – there’s a decision – there’s – first of all, there’s an official representational event which embassies hold. And then it’s at the discretion of the ambassador or chief of mission whether they want to do something for the embassy community, the American community. That is not paid for by official representation expenses. That’s usually organized more informally. I don’t know exactly what the plans are for Embassy Jakarta in that regard.

QUESTION: So we shouldn’t plan to go Jakarta and enjoy (inaudible) --

MR RATHKE: I’m sure they will welcome you whenever you come, Matt. (Laughter.) You can rest assured.

Nicole.

QUESTION: Oh, just a bit of housekeeping. I was wondering if you could give us a readout on the talks in Vienna. Any update?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have any update to offer. Under Secretary Sherman is back in Washington right now. She was in talks last week; also participated in --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) going on?

MR RATHKE: I believe so, but I would have to check on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have – as you know, we don’t typically have a substantive update, but I’m happy to check and see --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- if the expert-level talks are ongoing.

QUESTION: And another little bit of housekeeping --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Under Secretary Gottemoeller is in Vienna, I think, for Open Skies Treaty review --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- according to your schedule.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: I was wondering if I could get a readout of that or if you would take the question.

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to look into – yeah – her schedule and see if we can share more about her program and the talks there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jeff. On Bangladesh. Last week, Indian prime minister visited Bangladesh. The reason I am asking that it was significant and international media, including The Washington Post, reported on his visit. And after the President Obama visit to India – I have raised this question to the director of President Obama, Phil Reiner – he said that the President Obama and Indian prime minister discussed on the regional peace and stability and strengthening the democracy, including Bangladesh. So do you think, after this visit, Bangladesh is on right track to peace and stability and strengthening democracy?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t really have a comment on the prime minister’s visit to Bangladesh. Of course, we support good relations between the two countries, but I don’t have further – any further comment to offer on that visit.

Yes, go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION: I’d like to return to something we talked about yesterday. Does the U.S. – do U.S. officials have any plans to meet with – or let me ask it more simply: Will U.S. officials meet with the Muslim Brotherhood figures who are coming to town for a private conference?

MR RATHKE: So yes, we did talk about this yesterday. And with respect to this delegation, the State Department is not planning a meeting with the visiting delegation.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR RATHKE: Well, we – as I said yesterday, we engage with representatives from across the political spectrum, and this is a group we’ve also met with in the recent past, but don’t have any further reason. We simply aren’t meeting with them this time. No change in policy. We remain in contact. We will remain in contact with groups across the political spectrum in Egypt.

QUESTION: Did the Egyptian Government convey to the U.S. Government its displeasure at the possibility of U.S. officials meeting with Brotherhood figures again, following the meeting in January?

MR RATHKE: You mean since January?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details of discussions with the Egyptian Government to read out on that score.

QUESTION: Was the – do you have any greater information now about whether Ambassador Beecroft was called in to convey that message?

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have anything further to add to yesterday’s discussion on that.

QUESTION: So you just don’t have anything more to say to the Brotherhood right now, and that’s why you’re not going to meet them, and you don’t think they have anything worth saying to you?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we’ve met with this group in the past. Don’t – we haven’t changed our policy. We will continue to meet with groups across the political spectrum. No – but we don’t have any plans to meet with this group at this particular time.

QUESTION: How do you address what might be the view of some that you’ve caved to the Egyptian Government on this by choosing not to meet with Brotherhood figures?

MR RATHKE: Well, there was never any meeting planned, so we haven’t changed a decision. Again, we simply reached the decision that we would not meet at this time, but we haven’t reversed a decision. There was – this is a group we’ve met with in the past and our policy remains the same.

QUESTION: I’m a little confused.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did they ask for a meeting? Was – I mean, it sounds as though you’re saying that there was never any meeting planned, so did they ask for one and you said no, or did you offer one and then decide that – you said a decision was made. So did you offer one and then decide that maybe no, this is a bad idea?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that level of detail about whether they requested a meeting. Arshad asked the question yesterday about whether we would be meeting with them, so that’s what I was responding to.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but his question was based on the summoning of the ambassador to the foreign ministry to hear Egyptian unhappiness with the prospect of a potential meeting. So was there any reason for the Egyptian Government to be concerned?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have that level of detail. I – again, as I said, we --

QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, you not only --

MR RATHKE: There was never a meeting scheduled, so that’s all I’ve got to offer on this.

QUESTION: Can you explain one more time why it is that you don’t see it to be fitting to meet with members of the Muslim Brotherhood or figures, because not all of them I think are actually technically members of what is now, as you know, a banned group in Egypt. Why not meet with them? If it is your policy to meet with all – to deal with the entirety of the political spectrum in Egypt, why not meet with them? You don’t meet with them in Cairo, right? So why not meet with them here? What is the benefit of not meeting with them?

MR RATHKE: Well, I didn’t say there was – that there was a benefit of not meeting. What I said was the Department – we remain in contact with a wide variety of political views and organizations and groups, and that will continue to be the case. We also have to make decisions about when to meet – there’s – there are a lot of people out there to meet with, so it’s really just a question of – it comes down to that, and at this time we’ve decided not to hold a meeting. But of course, we remain interested in our – in developments in Egypt and we will remain in contact with a variety of political and other organizations.

QUESTION: Just not the Brotherhood.

MR RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that we’ve – again, we’ve met with this group in the past and we will remain in contact with organizations across the political spectrum.

QUESTION: Would you expect to meet them in the future at some point? Or you can’t even say that?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I said, we haven’t changed our policy on this. So in this particular case, decision – we’ve made a decision not to go forward with the meeting. But it doesn’t – it’s not a policy change.

QUESTION: And just last one. You said not to go forward with a meeting. To go back to Matt’s question, was there ever any discussion of the possibility of meeting with them?

MR RATHKE: How do you mean? What sort of discussion do you mean?

QUESTION: Well, I mean internally, did you talk this over and decide, “No, we’re not going to do this,” or, “Yes, we are going to do this”? I mean, you actually – was there ever – or did you actually consider a meeting for this week and then you’ve just decided, “No, we won’t do that”?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve – we decided not to hold the meeting. And I don’t have more to say beyond that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Switch topic? Rohingya Muslims, Burma/Myanmar.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) before --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I – I don’t know. This is getting murkier and murkier. Was there a consideration of having a meeting with these people or not?

MR RATHKE: Well, yes. The question was raised yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR RATHKE: Yes. And I (inaudible) offer --

QUESTION: You considered it yesterday and then decided --

MR RATHKE: No, that – the question was asked yesterday.

QUESTION: I know. I know. Maybe you don’t have this level of specificity. Was – but was – the question is this: Were you considering – was the building at some point considering meeting with this delegation that includes Muslim Brotherhood people --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- while they were in the United States, and a decision taken not to meet with them? Or was it never a --

MR RATHKE: That’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: It was being considered, and it was decided, “No, we won’t have a meeting.”

MR RATHKE: So --

QUESTION: Or was it never a consideration at all and the Egyptians are concerned about nothing?

MR RATHKE: So we decided not to meet with this group.

QUESTION: Okay. So do you know, was it their request to have a meeting? Or was it --

MR RATHKE: That goes back to, I think, what you asked.

QUESTION: You don’t know.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have that level of specificity.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: China?

MR RATHKE: China? Yes.

QUESTION: You said four not meeting with him. I mean, if you want to keep daylight --

MR RATHKE: I – Ros, I don’t have anything to add to what I already to Arshad on this.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Chinese military’s leaders are visiting U.S. (Inaudible) has a report that the vice chairman of the central military commission, Fan Changlong, is currently visiting the U.S. And the several reports say that he visit a joint base in U.S. and later on Thursday he will meet with a State Department’s official. Do you have any further information to read out? For this --

MR RATHKE: I don’t. If this is something that’s – that you’re talking about a schedule for later – something scheduled later in the week, I don’t have any confirmation of that to offer. If it’s something that happens later in the week, we may have more to say about it then. But I don’t have that confirmation in front of me.

QUESTION: Then what – is there any that specific issue or topic are you preparing for during meeting with him, such as this --

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have confirmation in front of me of the meeting you’re referring to, so I simply don’t have anything to share.

QUESTION: Is that a meeting for – between the China and U.S. military exchange or --

MR RATHKE: Military exchange?

QUESTION: Like the – yeah.

MR RATHKE: Well, if it’s a question of military exchange, I’d refer you back to my colleagues at the Pentagon. If there’s something coming up here later in this week, I simply don’t have that information in front of me. We’ll have more to say, I imagine, when we get to that point in the week.

Sharon.

QUESTION: On Yemen, on the upcoming --

MR RATHKE: Having corrected myself.

QUESTION: On the upcoming talks that – the UN-led talks on Yemen, will the U.S. be present at that meeting, and what kind of role do you expect them to play?

MR RATHKE: Well, the talks are happening on June 14th, and we certainly welcome the announcement that these UN-facilitated consultations will begin in Geneva then – next week, that is. And we reiterate the call from the UN Security Council for Yemenis to attend these talks in good faith and without any preconditions. This is all focused on a rapid resumption of the Yemeni political transition process, which is in line with the existing initiatives. Now, the United Nations is facilitating the talks, so for questions about who has been invited and the format of the talks, I would defer to the UN on that. The United States, for our part, remains committed to supporting the UN in its efforts, along with our partners in the international community.

QUESTION: Can you not say if the UN will have someone at the table?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, these are – it’s the – the UN is facilitating the talks, so we would defer to them for the arrangements for the talks themselves. Again, these are focused on Yemeni parties and political entities to discuss the situation in Yemen. So it’s – that’s where the focus of these talks will be.

Yes.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the passport case in the Supreme Court, and these are --

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: -- kind of logistical, technical questions that I have. But – you may not have the answer to them, but if you don’t – if someone could find out the answers and just --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One, is it correct that this situation in terms of Americans wanting – who were born in Jerusalem wanting to have “Jerusalem, Israel” listed as their birthplace – is this a unique situation? Does this exist anywhere else, where only a city is listed without a country in a passport?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: As far as you know, though, if you were an American citizen applying for a passport and you were born in Tel Aviv, it will say “Tel Aviv, Israel,” right?

MR RATHKE: That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: There’s no issue. What about if you’re born in Ramallah? Does it say, “Palestine”?

MR RATHKE: I’m sure it’s happened. I don’t – but I don’t know – I don’t --

QUESTION: Does it say “Palestinian Authority”? So that – these are questions --

MR RATHKE: No, I understand the question. I simply don’t have the answer to that.

QUESTION: And to take it further, I can’t – I’m not sure that there’s any other – the situation of Jerusalem is unique, but there are other – at least one other divided city that I’m aware of, and I’m wondering if you take – and that’s – that would be Nicosia in Cyprus. So that if you’re born in North Nicosia, and American, does it say that you were born in Cyprus, even though they identify as being with part of a country that only Turkey recognizes, with Turkish --

MR RATHKE: Right. I understand the question.

QUESTION: So I – those are my questions on that.

MR RATHKE: Well, you predicted accurately that I don’t have that information in front of me, but I’m happy to look into that, and we will come back to you.

QUESTION: And then this is not related at all, but it’s – but it has to do with Israel and the Palestinian territories, and that is I’m sure you’re aware that the European Union is preparing regulations that would require products made in the settlements to be identified as such, and I’m wondering if the United States has any – the Administration has any position on whether or not this is a good thing, a bad thing, or if you’re neutral – indifferent on --

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s my understanding this is something that is still under discussion, so I would refer you to the EU and the European Commission for any of the details. So – and since it remains an internal matter for the European Union, I’m not going to speculate about that while it remains under discussion internally.

QUESTION: I’m not quite sure I understand that. So you don’t have any position on whether goods, products – goods and products made, produced in settlements in the West Bank should be labeled or should not be labeled as coming from there?

MR RATHKE: Again, this is a measure that is under consideration within the European Union. They haven’t finished it. They are discussing it. I don’t have a comment to offer on their internal deliberation.

QUESTION: So the Administration’s view is that it won’t take a position on this until after it’s too late? I mean, isn’t it precisely during the time that something is under consideration that you would want to weigh in to have your voice heard if you had a position?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, this is their matter that they’re discussing internally. I don’t have --

QUESTION: My understanding that the United States opposed boycotts or what it thought to be – or actions that it thought to amount to boycotts of Israel. Is this – do you not regard this as something along those lines?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve said many times that boycotts of Israel are unhelpful, and we oppose them. We’ve said that on many occasions --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: -- and I’m happy to repeat that. Your question is a more speculative one because they haven’t concluded their discussions of what steps they may take. And so I’m not going to speculate about a decision they haven’t reached yet.

QUESTION: You don’t think – so the Administration takes no position yet on whether labeling of products that are made in the settlements amounts to something bad as it relates to boycotts, which you oppose?

MR RATHKE: Right. I don’t have anything more to say on – yeah, on that.

QUESTION: In terms of country of label – origin, country of origin labeling, you’re familiar with the dispute with Canada and Mexico over this?

MR RATHKE: Go on.

QUESTION: The United States is – you lost a WTO decision on country of label origin for some – for beef and some other – and other meats. And I’m just wondering if, in fact, the United States is so keen on the idea that some products should be labeled according to where they originated, if that would weigh into a position on this EU settlement labeling. So --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I – right, I understand the question. I just don’t have anything more to offer on that one.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the --

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims in Myanmar?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: What’s – do you have any update? Like, we’ve been talking (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: Well, the – we’re aware of reports of about 150 migrants who may be repatriated to Bangladesh within the coming days. This was a result of cooperation between the governments of Burma and Bangladesh to address the situation of these particular migrants. We urge, encourage Burma and Bangladesh to continue to facilitate the unrestricted humanitarian access and to work with international organizations like the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, and to process these migrants in line with their international commitments. And we also understand that the governments of Burma and Bangladesh are working with appropriate international organizations to verify the identities of the migrants who are – who have disembarked. And so that’s the current update that I have to offer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: The U.S. has urged to the Myanmar authority to accept Rohingya Muslim as a minority citizen. So what’s the response of this urge?

MR RATHKE: The – which – whose response?

QUESTION: U.S.-Myanmar respond. U.S. and President Obama has urged to the Myanmar authority the Rohingya Muslims treated as minority citizen. So --

MR RATHKE: Well, our view on this hasn’t changed. I’d refer you back to the Burma/Myanmar authorities for their point of view. But our point of view in this remains consistent.

Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Just on Okinawa. There have been reports that Governor Onaga is scheduling a meeting with Ambassador Kennedy. Do you have any details, or --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details to share. Of course, he was just here. We met with him here in Washington, but beyond the readout we put out of that meeting, I don’t have anything further than that.

QUESTION: One more --

QUESTION: But can you confirm that Ambassador Kennedy will be traveling to Okinawa at the end of this month?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have her schedule details here to confirm.

Go ahead, Ros. Last one.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the lawsuit brought by two Yemeni families alleging that their two relatives were unlawfully killed during a U.S. drone strike back in 2012?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, as with any ongoing litigation, we refrain from commenting on matters while they’re under litigation. I would refer you back to the Department of Justice for anything on that.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: I --

MR RATHKE: Oh, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: -- have one more.

MR RATHKE: Yep.

QUESTION: And that is: The – on June 3rd, there was a notice published in the Federal Register about the changes or potential changes to ITAR, the International Trafficking Arms Regulations, that have – some of which have raised the concern of the NRA and other Second Amendment groups who say that this – these regulations, if enacted, could either ban certain discussions of firearms and ammunition specifications online without prior federal approval. Is the State Department proposing regulations or changes to the ITAR regulations that would restrict the right of free speech on issues like this?

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with this regulation – regulatory change or the question you’ve asked, Matt. So of course we take our constitutional and legal responsibilities seriously.

QUESTION: All right.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have details about this particular case in front of me.

QUESTION: Could you ask someone to look into it?

MR RATHKE: Sure. I’m happy to do that.

QUESTION: Because it has become an issue in those circles.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)


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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 10, 2015

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 14:52

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 10, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:34 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. So apologies for the delay, but with the announcement today about Iraq and the on-the-record call which they hosted, we pushed the briefing back. In the interest of efficiency and point noting that I’ve got a hard stop at 2 o’clock, I think I will refer questions about Iraq and the announcement back to that on-the-record call. And I don’t have anything further to say at the top, so, Matt, why don’t you lead off.

QUESTION: Well, first I just wanted to say thank you for you guys putting out that photo of Secretary Kerry yesterday, and I’m just wondering if you have any updates on that. And then --

MR RATHKE: On the photo itself or --

QUESTION: No.

MR RATHKE: I mean, updates today: He continues – he’s – he remains in the hospital. He continues to make progress. He’s engaged with members of his team. He’s been speaking to them on the phone. He’s also engaged in his physical therapy, but I don’t have any further specific updates today.

QUESTION: Shall we expect more pictures? Action shots, perhaps --

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: -- over the --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to suggest a schedule, but --

QUESTION: -- coming days?

MR RATHKE: But there will be from time to time.

QUESTION: All right. I don’t have any more on that, but if anyone – quickly, I just wanted to ask you – there are people in this building confirming that an American was killed in Syria fighting with the Kurds. Do you have anything on that?

MR RATHKE: I can confirm that U.S. citizen Keith Broomfield was killed in Syria. We are providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Bloomfield’s family, I don’t have any additional details to provide at this point.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what the circumstances were of his death?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have additional details to provide on that.

QUESTION: And what exactly is it that you’re doing in terms of consular activity related to him and his family?

MR RATHKE: Well, the normal consular assistance that we would provide in the instance of a death of an American citizen abroad.

QUESTION: Which would be?

MR RATHKE: Well, our first responsibility, of course, is for identification; and then, depending on the circumstances, then there can be additional steps after death, including issuing a report of death abroad and so forth.

QUESTION: Okay. So how are you – do you have people there? How are you able to confirm?

MR RATHKE: Well, I can get – try to get more detail on precisely how that was done, but what I’m told is that we’ve been able to confirm his death in this case.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: May I be blunt?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Can I be blunt?

MR RATHKE: Excuse me?

QUESTION: May I be blunt?

MR RATHKE: You usually are, Ros. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. How will his body be repatriated?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details about that to share.

QUESTION: Are you able to say that his remains are still in Syria?

MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have further details to offer at this time.

QUESTION: And you’re not able to say when he was killed, where he was killed, anything of that nature?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t – I don’t have those details.

New topic?

QUESTION: Turkey?

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkish press reports a couple of days ago that Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield had recently informed Congress that the U.S. is considering establishing periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey. Is that true?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry. What are you – what communication are you referring to?

QUESTION: I guess they send a kind of letter to 88 congressmen. They penned a letter to State Department about freedom of press issues and pressed State Department to set up a kind of strategic dialogue with Turkey. And in turn of this letter, State Department’s Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield informed Congress that the U.S. is considering establishing periodic strategic dialogue with Turkey. Is that true?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have that – I don’t have the communication in front of me so I’m not in a position to confirm a letter that I haven’t seen. Of course, we’ve had – we have had letters from members of Congress with respect to Turkey, and I’ve spoken from this podium, as have my colleagues, about our point of view on a variety of issues. But I don’t have anything further to add.

QUESTION: But you responded to that letter, yeah?

MR RATHKE: Well, we respond to all letters that we get from members of Congress when they raise issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask a second question about Turkey, different topic?

MR RATHKE: What’s that?

QUESTION: Did State Department advise House Committee on Foreign Affairs not to pass House Resolution 279 which criticized Turkey over a number of issues ahead of the parliamentary elections on last Sunday?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any details of our contacts with Congress on that resolution to read out.

Go ahead, Mary Alice.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, a couple of things going on. There were some live fire demonstrations --

MR RATHKE: I got it right today, Matt. Thanks for checking, though.

QUESTION: Yeah. I was just checking to make sure.

QUESTION: That was very nice. Okay.

MR RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. In eastern Lebanon, live fire demonstrations using U.S. military equipment paid for also by Saudi Arabia. And also separately, not necessarily related, but the State Department approved the sale of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to Lebanon. Do these have anything – I understand neither of these are necessarily new, but is the pacing connected at all to what’s happening in Iraq and Syria and pushing back Islamic State, and the broader strategic approach?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are committed to our partnership with Lebanon and we’re also committed to making sure that the Lebanese Armed Forces have the capacity to defend Lebanon’s territory and its borders – they have that sole responsibility – and that also that they respond to the Lebanese people and to the Lebanese state. So we’ve got a long-term commitment to Lebanon. As you mentioned, our delivery of the TOW missiles is a part of that. Also part of that is the determination on the possible foreign military sale of the A-29 aircraft.

So these are part of our long-term engagement with Lebanon and our support for the Lebanese Government and for the Lebanese Armed Forces. Naturally, they are – they face pressures, including in their region, and so we constantly remain in dialogue with Lebanon in order to make sure that we’re responsive to their requirements, and we take that commitment very seriously.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Syria, UN’s de Mistura is extending the consultations regarding Syria in Geneva – that are happening in Geneva – till mid-July, I think. What do you make out of this? Is it because he thinks there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or is because it’s really difficult and they need more time?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would let Mr. de Mistura speak for himself about the reasons for his extending the period of consultation.

QUESTION: How do you view the talks in Geneva?

MR RATHKE: We certainly are – we support the special envoy, de Mistura, in his efforts to carry out these consultations. Again, these are consultations, not direct talks, so he’s been doing these in series, and I think his office has been putting out updates on them. And we are fully supportive of his efforts. We believe that a political solution is the only possible solution to the situation in Syria, and so we stand by him and we offer any support we can.

QUESTION: This building hasn’t been briefed on these consultations yet?

MR RATHKE: Well, he’s been carrying out consultations with the parties. We’ve also been in consultation with him. Our special envoy was in Geneva and also held consultations. So we’ve been a participant in this, but it’s focused primarily on the parties inside Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the reports – or a report based on a cyber security – a Russian cyber security firm, a report from them talking about the hacking of hotel computer systems in – where the Iran talks have been held.

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re aware of that report. These are claims by a private company about another government, so we’re not going to weigh in on that report.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the U.S. delegation to the – or to various iterations of the various rounds of the Iran talks, that their communications and confidential, private discussions have not been compromised?

MR RATHKE: Well, without getting into the details of that specific report, more generally, I can say that we take steps, certainly, to ensure that confidential, that classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations.

QUESTION: And are you confident that there was no compromise, there was no breach?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, I’ll stick with that. We take steps to ensure that that information remains behind closed doors.

QUESTION: Right. Well, you can take steps to ensure that don’t work, right? So I’m just wondering, other than you saying you take steps to ensure that they – that they – these details remain behind closed doors, you can’t say if the steps actually work. You’re not confident that your stuff --

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not commenting on the specific – on the specifics of that report, which is why --

QUESTION: Well, let’s take it out of the context of the report.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you confident that the negotiating tactics, strategies, details of the U.S. delegation, at least, haven’t been compromised?

MR RATHKE: Again, we pay careful attention to these measures. We take a variety of steps. I’m just not going to comment further than that.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern that they have been compromised?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we – of course, we are always mindful of the need to keep – to take steps to keep our discussions confidential.

QUESTION: But you can’t say that you’re confident that your discussions were kept confidential, and there hasn’t – they haven’t been compromised. You can’t say that.

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything more to say about this topic.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: The report – I can have one more on this.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The story in The Wall Street Journal noted that U.S. officials had been aware of some sort of compromise back in 2014. Can you confirm that detail, and if so, how was that discovery handled? Were there conversations?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further details to add to what I’ve said in response to Matt’s question. Go ahead, David.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you had any reaction to the South Korean president postponing her trip to the United States?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Well, as President Obama looks forward to welcoming President Park to the White House at a mutually convenient time. And of course, that will be an opportunity to discuss the U.S.-Korea alliance, the critical role it plays in regional stability and security, as – and I would say also that the Secretary recently has been in Seoul, as you’re aware, and he had wide-ranging talks there which were focused on our alliance, on regional issues including the DPRK, as well as the Republic of Korea’s growing role around the world on important issues. So we certainly look forward to the visit when it’s rescheduled.

All right. Thanks.

QUESTION: Wait a minute.

MR RATHKE: Oh, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Did you get an answer the question I asked yesterday about these ITAR – revisions to the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations?

MR RATHKE: I did. I’m happy to go through that, if that would be helpful. You asked yesterday, Matt, about a June 3rd publication in the Federal Register by the State Department of proposed changes for public comment to several regulatory definitions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. These proposed changes in definition are part of our broader effort to streamline and modernize a Cold War-era regulatory system to better safeguard against illicit attempts to procure sensitive U.S. defense technologies.

These proposed definition changes – which, as I pointed out, are out for public comment – they seek to account for technologies that were not envisioned when the regulations were initially developed. Otherwise these definitions are intended to be a clarification of existing law and regulations, technical data, and detailed schematics that are required for the manufacture or production of defense articles already require U.S. Government authorization before they can be disseminated by U.S. manufacturers.

Now in contrast, general descriptions, public discussions, and imagery of defense articles, including firearms, have never been the subject of – to these regulations and they would remain unaffected under these proposed revisions. As I said at the start, they were published in the Federal Register for public comment. That’s a period that runs through August 3rd of this year. So I’d refer people to the text of the Federal Register notice for details about providing --

QUESTION: Okay. So these rules would not apply to private citizens, only to manufacturers – and only to highly sensitive technical details? Is that --

MR RATHKE: They apply to the technical data and detailed schematics for the production of defense articles.

QUESTION: So they don’t apply to private citizens.

MR RATHKE: Well, they apply to anything that relates to those areas of subject matter, whether discussed by --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the concern that had been raised by the Second Amendment groups is somehow this is going to restrict or stop or ban discussions about gun – about firearms --

MR RATHKE: Well, I go back to the – also the point that general descriptions – that is general, not technical and detailed ones – general descriptions or public discussions and imagery of defense articles would – have never been subject to these regulations and wouldn’t --

QUESTION: So the concern that has been expressed is misplaced, yes?

MR RATHKE: Yes, that would be our view.

Okay, anything further? Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)


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Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 8, 2015

Mon, 06/08/2015 - 15:39

Jeff Rathke
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 8, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

12:46 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: Good afternoon. Hello. Welcome, everyone. Happy Monday. I have three things to mention at the top and then we’ll get started.

First, today is World Oceans Day, and I think you will have seen the Secretary’s World Oceans Day statement, also in a video which was – which has been released, which he did jointly – Secretary Kerry – with Foreign Minister Munoz of Chile, host of the next Our Ocean Conference this October.

Second item: Turkey. We congratulate the Turkish people for their participation in yesterday’s parliamentary elections. Although we understand the official election results will be announced in the coming days, early indications suggest the elections reflect the will of over 50 million Turkish citizens who exercised their right to vote, as well as the enduring vitality of Turkey’s democracy. The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government. As a friend and NATO ally, we are committed to continuing our close political, economic, and security cooperation.

And last item: The Secretary is in Boston. He is in good spirits and progressing well, remaining engaged. He is doing physical therapy in the hospital, consulting with his doctors, and he also met in Boston with his executive assistant, who briefed him on an array of department matters. He made some management-related decisions, and he’ll make some calls to foreign counterparts – to some foreign counterparts soon, perhaps as early as today. We’ll have more to say about that once those begin to happen, but just wanted to give you an update on his progress.

QUESTION: Could you clarify on that? You said he’s doing physical therapy in the hospital. Is he physically still staying at the hospital, or is he --

MR RATHKE: Yes, yes. He remains at Massachusetts General, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: What kind of management-related decisions did he make?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to give you a readout of all of his management-related decisions.

QUESTION: Well, why mention it?

QUESTION: How about some of them?

MR RATHKE: Well, just to point out that he remains engaged with the business of the department, in addition to --

QUESTION: But does he? I mean, if you won’t tell us what they – what the decisions are, then --

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re not in the habit of reading out every single management-related decision the Secretary makes. The point I’m making, though, is that although he is in the hospital and also concentrating on his physical therapy, he remains engaged with the work of the department.

So with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction, speaking, I guess – well, on behalf of the Administration – to the Supreme Court decision in the Jerusalem passport case?

MR RATHKE: Right. The – so the court’s decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry today confirms the long-established authority of the President over the conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy. The decision also respects his ability to ensure that his determinations regarding recognition are accurately reflected in official documents and diplomatic communications, including in passports. So that’s our reaction to the decision announced this morning.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to complaints from some in Israel that this is somehow – that this violates its sovereignty because you’re refusing to acknowledge a city that is – that it regards as its capital?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I think the – in the case and our reaction to the case, it’s the President’s authority to make recognition determinations on behalf of the United States Government. That’s part of his authority and his responsibility for foreign relations and the conduct of diplomacy. So I think that was pretty clearly laid out in the Administration’s arguments in the case, and so we see it as an important decision.

QUESTION: Okay. Does --

QUESTION: Would you say you’re pleased by it, since it vindicates your perspective on the matter?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s an important decision. Of course, the – when the Administration’s arguments are basically upheld by the decision – pleased by that, but not doing a victory dance. It’s simply --

QUESTION: You’re not doing a victory dance?

MR RATHKE: Not in the habit of doing victory dances. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, just – can you remind us all what city – or what the United States regards as the capital of Israel?

MR RATHKE: Well, since I think – to come to the – maybe the nub of the issue, since Israel’s founding, administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy of recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. So we remain committed to this longstanding policy, and this decision today helps ensure that our position on the neutrality of Jerusalem remains – it remains clear.

QUESTION: That applies to both West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem?

MR RATHKE: Again, no change to our policy to announce.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean the contested part of Jerusalem is just the east part. Not even the Palestinians claim the west part.

MR RATHKE: Again, Matt, I’ve got no change to our policy to announce.

QUESTION: Doesn’t that go to the --

MR RATHKE: Go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: Doesn’t that go to the Administration’s view that the status of Jerusalem has to be resolved in the framework of two-party – two-state talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

MR RATHKE: That’s among the things that would have to be resolved in talks – direct talks between the parties, yes.

QUESTION: What you have there says that the whole city is – the U.S. has no position on the sovereignty of the entire what is now – the whole municipality of Jerusalem? That’s right? Is that correct?

MR RATHKE: Our consistent policy is we recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

QUESTION: All of Jerusalem?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a – I didn’t put a modifier in front it.

QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. ambassador to Egypt called in by the Egyptian foreign ministry today? And if so, why?

MR RATHKE: Do you want to be a little more specific? I don’t have a – I don’t have specific details about his schedule to announce.

QUESTION: You don’t know if he was --

MR RATHKE: But --

QUESTION: You don’t know if he was called in?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have his schedule details.

QUESTION: Well, it’s a little hard to ask the question if you don’t know whether or not he was summoned to the Egyptian foreign ministry or not. My understanding is the issue has to do with Muslim Brotherhood members holding meetings in the United States and the U.S. Administration pursuing its longstanding policy of meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we’re certainly aware of media reports that a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood is in Washington. On that, we’d refer you to the individuals in the delegation for their plans.

QUESTION: Are you going to meet with them?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any meetings to announce.

QUESTION: Do you have – are you going – I didn’t ask if you had meetings to announce. I just asked if you were going to meet with them.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I – but I simply have no announcements about meetings to offer.

QUESTION: But I’m – well, what is the U.S. policy with regard to meeting members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood?

MR RATHKE: Well, we don’t have a policy with regard to individuals or groups that travel in a private capacity to talk about issues that are important to them.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask about that. I asked what was the U.S. Government’s policy toward meeting members of the Muslim Brotherhood wherever they may happen to be, whether they’re in the United States, Cairo, or Timbuktu.

MR RATHKE: Well, as a matter of policy, we’ve engaged with representatives from across the political spectrum in Egypt, so that --

QUESTION: “We have,” which is past tense.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: And my question is whether that is still your policy to continue to engage with --

MR RATHKE: Yeah, as a matter of policy, that has been – that has been our policy.

QUESTION: Has --

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any change to that to announce. But in the same – by the same token, I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make about meetings.

QUESTION: Are you sure that’s still the policy?

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Because you keep talking about it in the past tense, and regardless of whether you have a change to announce, that doesn’t mean – you may not want to answer whether there’s been a change, but you keep talking about the policy in the past tense. Is that still the policy?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, as I said, Arshad, I’m not trying to make this more complicated. I don’t have any change that I’m trying to suggest through that answer.

Yes, Roz.

QUESTION: Can --

QUESTION: Can you – I’m sorry, one last one to finish, Roz. Forgive me.

QUESTION: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Forgive me. Can you check on whether the ambassador or anybody else from the Embassy in Cairo was summoned to discuss this issue?

MR RATHKE: I’m – I’ll see if there’s anything more to say. We don’t get into every detail of our diplomatic exchanges.

QUESTION: No, but you often will confirm when someone has been summoned by a foreign ministry.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

Yeah, go ahead, Roz.

QUESTION: It’s actually a follow-up to Arshad’s question. When you try to find out about the ambassador’s meeting, can you find out whether he was also asked to explain the content of the memorandum that was sent to Congress last month basically saying, yes, we’re going to continue giving Egypt military aid, but we have many problems with how it treats its citizens, how it deals with human rights, how it deals with freedom of expression, political repression, on and on and on? It’s a very critical memo that was signed by the Secretary.

MR RATHKE: So are you – but are you asking – are you asking about the --

QUESTION: I’m asking --

MR RATHKE: -- the certification or are you asking about whether it was discussed somewhere?

QUESTION: I’m asking whether that certification was discussed between the ambassador and foreign ministry officials.

MR RATHKE: Okay. I don’t have anything to say about the discussion that you’re referring to. So --

QUESTION: On the certification itself --

QUESTION: Could you take the question?

MR RATHKE: If – on the certification, Matt, yes.

QUESTION: Can you explain to me – on March 31st, the White House announced – said that the President had a phone call with President Sisi – at least I think it was, or maybe the Secretary had the phone call with him and it was the State Department that announced it. All I remember is that we were stuck in Lausanne at the time. And it was announced that the military – the hold on the – or that you were going to restore all of the 1.3 – the stuff that had been held post-coup – non-coup – you were going to – the military equipment you were going to send to them. What I don’t understand is how this thing that the Secretary signed on May 12th is any different than what was announced on March 31st. Is it?

MR RATHKE: Well, let me – I think the short answer is not significantly different. But to go back to --

QUESTION: Not significantly different?

MR RATHKE: No, I’m not aware of --

QUESTION: It’s not the same thing?

MR RATHKE: I’m not aware of any differences.

QUESTION: Okay, no difference?

MR RATHKE: Now, in March, as you said, Matt, after a careful review of our military assistance program to Egypt, President Obama decided to release withheld weapons systems to Egypt and to continue the request of an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance, and to refine our military assistance relationship to better position it to address our shared challenges. On May 14th, Secretary Kerry certified to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States by continuing to engage with us on shared – on these shared goals, including through critical cooperation on counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai, and through upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. So the Secretary certified that to Congress. There had been a decision by the President that preceded that by a few weeks.

QUESTION: So that certification – the May 14th certification applied to the period of time between April 1st and May – like a month and a half? I just don’t understand why the Secretary’s document, memo, memorandum to Congress – I don’t understand what impact it had on U.S. assistance to Israel. Did it have any impact?

MR RATHKE: Well, it --

QUESTION: Did it free up things that had not already been freed up on March 31st?

MR RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Did it express any new concern about human rights that had not been expressed by the White House on March 31st?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d have to go back and check exactly what the language was in March, but again, I’m not aware of any difference between them.

QUESTION: Are you able to say what – why this – it took six pages of basically recounting every sin that the Sisi government has committed against its citizens, against NGOs, against journalists, including a section on Islamist parties? The government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, jailed most of its leadership, and disbanded many of its social welfare institutions, and it goes on. I mean, it’s a rather detailed criticism of a government’s behavior even though the U.S. feels that there is a national security interest in continuing the relationship. Was this designed to send a message to the Sisi government that, “We’re on to you”?

MR RATHKE: Well, this was a submission to Congress, so I would not – this was a communication of the Administration to Congress, and so I don’t think you should read into it some kind of intended message to a third party. This was a reflection to Congress of our policy and the determination that had been made and all of the relevant factual basis for it. So I’m not going to analyze it further.

Samir.

QUESTION: Do you know the schedule for the next strategic dialogue with Egypt?

MR RATHKE: I don’t know that off the top of my head. I don’t have that – those details in front of me.

Yes, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, a very quick – just follow-up on this. So the overriding message to Egypt is that our security arrangements and – your arrangements with Israel, security arrangements with Israel overrides issues of human rights. Would that be the basic message that you are sending out?

MR RATHKE: No, that’s not the basic message. Our message is two-fold. One the one hand, we have a partnership with Egypt, a strategic partnership, and that’s extremely important to the United States. We have common interests, including counterterrorism cooperation, as well as regional stability and peace with Israel. But at the same time, we have human rights and democracy-related concerns, and those are detailed in the report to Congress. We continue to have frank discussions with our Egyptian counterparts about those concerns, and we focus on engaging to support the freedom of speech and assembly, due process, and an environment in which groups such as nongovernment organizations can operate freely.

QUESTION: If the aid keeps on going, what – so what is the disincentive for Egypt not to go on with its human rights abuses? How could you entice the Egyptians to sort of abide by international standards of human rights and so on?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we have an active dialogue with Egypt across that whole spectrum of issues. And so we raise all of them with the appropriate interlocutors.

Go ahead, Tolga.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jeff. This statement that you shared with us at the stop regarding the elections in Turkey --

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary call someone from the Ankara administration since yesterday after the election results?

MR RATHKE: No, no. He hasn’t made any phone calls to foreign counterparts in the last day or so.

QUESTION: How do you think that – obviously, after these results, the AKP will not be able to form a government by its own. And how do you think this new political landscape will impacts the U.S.-Turkish cooperation in terms of the regional issues and bilateral relations? And one – instead of one single-party government, what will be your assessment of coalition government?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to do an assessment of Turkish domestic politics and of the election that just happened. The official results have not been announced yet. I understand they’ll be released in the coming days. So I’m not going to speculate about the results of the election. But what is clear is that the United States – Turkey is a NATO ally, the United States has a strong relationship with Turkey, and we are going to continue working with – closely with Turkey and with the next government that’s formed. The government that’s currently in place, led by Prime Minister Davutoglu, will remain in a caretaker capacity, as I understand it, until a new government is formed. So we will continue working with Turkey in this interim period, and then also with the new government once it’s formed. But we’ll let that process take its course.

QUESTION: In 2011, after the elections, the first statement that you made, it was – you were applauding the fair and free elections in Turkey, and you were applauding the Turkish people to conduct such an election. Do you have such an assessment this time?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think there was an OSCE election observation mission in Turkey, and if I understand correctly, their preliminary report reported that fundamental freedoms were generally respected. And there will be a final report released in the coming weeks. So we certainly have spoken out, as I said at the top, about over 50 million Turkish citizens who exercised their right to vote, and this is an indication of the strength of Turkey’s democracy.

Yes, go ahead, Namo.

QUESTION: Thank you. A pro-Kurdish party – HDP, as you know – which also represents other known marginalized minorities in Turkey, has for the first time in history made it to the parliament. Is this a significant event from the U.S. perspective?

MR RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to do an analysis of the election results from here. The official results have not even been certified, so I’m not going to get into an analysis. But I think what I said to Tolga about the strength of Turkey’s democracy and the high turnout stands.

QUESTION: Like, in the past there were events where, for – you had a stance about it. For example, when Erdogan was able to bring the military under civilian control, you saw that as a tribute to Turkish democracy. Why don’t you see this event also as a tribute to Turkish democracy?

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have further --

QUESTION: You have (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: -- analysis of the Turkish elections to offer at this point.

Arshad, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about whether the existing government and presidency will respect the outcome of the election?

MR RATHKE: No, I don’t have any particular concerns to offer at this stage, as again, the elections went forward successfully yesterday. And there’s a process that will proceed from them.

QUESTION: I --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- just quickly follow-up on this issue. Seeing how the Istanbul stock market lost like 6 percent; the Turkish currency, the lira, has also lost like 4 percent and so on. Do you see this election perhaps impacting negatively the Turkish economy, one of the strongest economies in that part of the world?

QUESTION: Please, so you can do your analysis of the election now after saying that you wouldn’t for the first 15 minutes of this. (Laughter.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah, I think – I think my previous answers stand.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq --

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and the President’s comments a little while ago? I don’t – I – he’s speaking for the entire Administration, obviously, and appeared to be speaking directly toward the military component of – military assistance to the Iraqi Government when he said in his press conference that this strategy is not complete. Can you, speaking for the State Department, say that – whether the State Department believes that its part of the strategy is complete?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think if you watched and if you read the transcript of what the President said, I think it should be clear that he was speaking about how to accelerate and optimize the training and equipping of Iraqi forces, including the integration of Sunni fighters, and not the overall strategy to fight ISIL nor the intended purpose of the training mission, which is --

QUESTION: Thank you for parsing the President’s words.

MR RATHKE: -- to enable the --

QUESTION: That’s a first from --

MR RATHKE: Well --

QUESTION: But that’s not my question. I specifically pointed to the training and equipping as – in my question. I want to know if the State Department believes that its component – I mean, you have Ambassador McGurk who is out there working on behalf of the State Department on the whole counter-ISIL/ISIS thing. From the State Department’s point of view, is its component of the strategy complete?

MR RATHKE: Well, are you – so again, as I said, what the President was responding to was a question about the training and equipping of Iraqi forces. Of course, the policy and the strategy in fighting ISIL is broader than just the training and equipping part. And so --

QUESTION: Exactly. So you believe that your component --

MR RATHKE: And I think that --

QUESTION: -- this building’s component of the strategy is complete, unlike the train and equip part that the President talked about.

MR RATHKE: Again, I think we’ve had – we have a strategy; it’s agreed with our international partners, with the Iraqi Government, and we’re working hard to implement it across all the lines of effort.

QUESTION: Why isn’t the train and equip part of it ready? I mean, it is about a year now since ISIL began seizing its significant chunks of Iraqi territory, including Mosul. It’s been a year. It’s been, what, nine months since the United States began airstrikes. Why isn’t it ready?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think there are two different – there are two parts of the train and equip program to keep in mind. First of all, with our work with Iraqi Security Forces, which is – has been ongoing for quite some time through the two joint operations centers, and our train, advise, and assist mission, which has about 3,000 U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq working with their Iraqi counterparts. And I think the President spoke to that and to the effectiveness that it has had with the Iraqi forces we’ve been working with. And then the Syria train and equip mission is one where my colleagues, also with the Department of Defense, are in the lead, so they can give you more details about it. Of course, that has taken time to ramp up. We’ve been working closely with our partners in the region – Turkey and with others – to implement it. But that’s a different circumstances, different situation, and has taken longer to ramp up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. The President also said that the Iraqis must take a stand. He said that he’s confident that ultimately the – you will defeat ISIS but also that the Iraqis must do more to do this. Are you concerned that maybe the Iraqis – not so much that they are unable to fight or breaking down easily as much as they are basically having sort of other sectarian or ethnic loyalties, rather than a national loyalty?

MR RATHKE: Well, this has clearly been at the top of Prime Minister Abadi’s agenda, and I think in their bilateral meeting the President and Prime Minister Abadi also spoke to this in some detail at – in their remarks after the meeting. The – Prime Minister Abadi is committed to a unified Iraq, to governing in a way that is – goes beyond sectarian divisions and ethnic divisions, and the United States supports him in that goal. And that’s a goal that is not only Prime Minister Abadi’s goal, but it’s the goal of his government and of his council of ministers.

QUESTION: And absent the world that the Iraqis will fight as a unit, to fight back together, will there be an accelerated armament of, let’s say, the Sunni tribes or the Kurds, independent of the central government?

MR RATHKE: We haven’t changed our approach on that. We have been providing some arms and assistance. Everything is coordinated through the Iraqi central government. Some of the deliveries have been made directly but always coordinated with the central government.

Mary Alice, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What I’d like to ask is: Has the United – is the United States in touch with any Sunni leaders directly? Has the Iraqi Government asked them to contact Sunni leaders and act as a liaison force?

MR RATHKE: Has the Iraqi Government –

QUESTION: Asked Washington to –

MR RATHKE: Well, Prime Minister Abadi has done an active program of outreach to Sunni tribal leaders. We, of course, have our own contacts with Sunni leaders in Iraq, but those are – those don’t replace or compete with the prime minister’s own domestic program.

QUESTION: Could you expand on the U.S. contacts with the Sunni leaders, exactly who you’re speaking to and in what context you’re speaking to them?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to get into that level of detail. We have a broad range of contacts with Sunni leaders in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq. We have had for some time. And that continues, because as it’s important for Prime Minister Abadi, it’s also important for us to have contacts across the political spectrum.

Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment or reaction on the upholding by the supreme court of the blogger’s verdict and punishment by flogging?

MR RATHKE: We are deeply concerned that the Saudi supreme court has upheld the 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes for human rights activist and blogger Raif Badawi for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion. As we had previously said back in January, the United States Government continues to call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence. We strongly oppose laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression, and we urge all countries to uphold these.

QUESTION: So would you like to see this – the court said the only way it could be overturned was with a royal pardon. Would you be – are you looking for the new king to grant a pardon in this case?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t have anything further to say about the internal workings of how Saudi authorities may address the case, but I would go back to our call on Saudi authorities to cancel this punishment and to review the case and review the sentence.

QUESTION: Well, that sounds to me like you’re calling for the king to pardon him.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have –

QUESTION: Well, if you called on them –

MR RATHKE: -- more to say about –

QUESTION: -- back in January to review the case and then to cancel the punishment, they have reviewed it now, the court has at least, and upheld it. So you still want it to be reviewed and – the case to be reviewed and the punishment to be canceled, correct? That’s what I’m hearing.

MR RATHKE: Yeah, that’s our answer.

QUESTION: The only way – the court says the only way that that can happen is if a royal pardon is issued. Ergo, or does that mean that you are calling on the king to issue a pardon?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to go beyond what I said. That’s –

QUESTION: Well, then it doesn’t sound like – I mean, if you won’t call on the king to issue a pardon, which is what the court says is the only way that the punishment or the case can be dismissed, then I don’t understand what the point of you getting up here and saying that you’re deeply concerned about it is because you’re clearly not going to do anything – do the one thing that – or call on the king to do the one thing that –

MR RATHKE: To go back to the verb you used earlier, I’m not going to parse the Saudi court’s decision. But the United States Government’s view remains that we believe that the punishment should be canceled and that the case and the sentence should be reviewed.

QUESTION: But if the only way that that can happen is by royal pardon, why wouldn’t you call on the king to issue a royal pardon?

MR RATHKE: I just don’t have anything further to say on that one.

Yes.

QUESTION: I was wondering if the Department of State has any position on Christians elected to Turkey’s parliament in yesterday’s election. Armenian and Assyrian Christians were elected first time –

MR RATHKE: I think this is similar to the other question I’ve had. I’m not going to do an election analysis for the Turkish election from here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: At the G7 photo spray today, observers noted that it appeared that the prime minister of Iraq wanted to say hi to the President, and it seemed that the President gave him a cold shoulder. Were there any diplomatic overtures to smooth that over? Because the translator sort of threw up his hands up in the air.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you to my colleagues at the White House for any developments on the ground. I would point out that the President met with Prime Minister Badawi today. Prime Minister Badawi was just in Washington back in April for a very productive series of meetings. So I think that speaks volumes about the importance we attach to the relationship with Iraq and with Prime Minister --

QUESTION: Don’t you mean Prime Minister Abadi?

QUESTION: Abadi.

MR RATHKE: Abadi, yes. Sorry. Got my names confused.

QUESTION: Just one more question –

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: -- on the speaker of Iraqi parliament. He’s here in Washington. Do you have anything about that? Is he here on an official visit?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think we spoke to this maybe a week or so ago. Speaker al-Jabouri is in Washington. He arrived yesterday. He’ll be here for about a week. On Wednesday he’s meeting with Deputy Secretary Blinken here at the State Department, and on Friday he will visit the White House and will meet with Vice President Biden. We see this as an opportunity to discuss a range of issues with Speaker al-Jabouri, including our support to Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement and the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL and as well as ongoing political initiatives inside Iraq.

QUESTION: You’ve praised Prime Minister Abadi for reaching out to the Sunnis. Isn’t this like the fact that this Sunni leader is in Washington indicate that the White House wants to be more engaged more directly with the Sunnis as the (inaudible)?

MR RATHKE: No, we’ve always had contact with Iraqi leaders not only with the prime minister. So I – this is just a part of that ongoing commitment to a strong relationship with all political forces and all authorities in Iraq.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just find it curious that you wouldn’t mention his name in response to the question about what Sunni leaders you’re meeting with, and you said that “I’m not going to get into that --”

MR RATHKE: Well, I took that question – I took that question to be – to be leaders in --

QUESTION: Secret meetings --

MR RATHKE: -- Sunni leaders in Anbar.

QUESTION: -- in Iraq?

MR RATHKE: So – yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Is he here on State Department’s call or he’s here by himself, like for his own meetings? Is he a guest of White House or State Department?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’d refer you back to the Iraqi Embassy for further detail on his program and the arrangements.

QUESTION: Is his --

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Is his meeting with Deputy Blinken on Wednesday?

MR RATHKE: That’s on Wednesday. That’s right.

Okay, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to know if you had any update on the Iran situation – well, what’s going on in Vienna, things are broken, when will they start, restart, that kind of thing, if you have any logistical information.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any logistical updates to offer. As soon as we do, we’ll certainly make those – make those available.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 17:48

Marie Harf
Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 5, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

1:02 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to a Friday daily press briefing. I have a few items at the top, and then I will turn it over to you, Matt, in your summer jacket, which I like.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: On Libya, the United States welcomes today’s announcement that the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue will resume again on June 8th in Morocco. Libya’s crisis can only be solved through a political, not a military solution. Libyan stakeholders participating in the UN dialogue are working to preserve Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as they finalize discussions on a draft political agreement that will form a national unity government. We commend the efforts of the United Nations and Special Representative to the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon in facilitating these discussions.

In support of these talks, Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke this morning to Libyan House of Representatives President Aguila Saleh Issa and Nouri Abusahmain of the former General National Congress. Blinken highlighted our strong support for both groups’ decisions to attend the upcoming political dialogue and urged their support of the finalized political agreement and the establishment of a new national unity government as soon as possible. All Libyans will benefit from the end of the military conflict and increased security and stability. A strong, unified government will, again, be the best defense against any terrorist threat which is taking advantage of the current political environment.

A couple more items, guys. Thanks for hanging with me here.

On Macedonia, Deputy Secretary Blinken met this morning as well with EU Commissioner Hahn to discuss the recent EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga and EU policy to the east, particularly focusing on Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Moldova. With respect to Macedonia, the deputy secretary welcomed Commissioner Hahn’s successful mediation efforts earlier this week and praised Macedonia’s government and opposition leaders for reaffirming on June 2nd their commitment to Euro-Atlantic principals, interethnic relations, and good neighborly relations and good neighborly relations in preparation for early elections by the end of April 2016. The deputy secretary underscores that while the path forward will not be easy for Macedonia, the United States together with our European partners will be actively engaged to support Macedonia in meeting these challenges and ultimately the goal of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Two more quick things, and then I promise the floor is yours, Matt.

An update on Secretary Kerry: Secretary Kerry continues to recover in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His doctors feel he is on schedule with his recovery, which is proceeding normally if not better than expected. He has been exercising, walking several times yesterday and again today, and also resting though, and letting his broken bone heal. He plans to take advantage of the weekend to continue this routine and then make decisions about the days ahead. This morning he has already spoken with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, received briefings from Chief of Staff John Finer, Counselor Tom Shannon. I believe if he hasn’t already, he will be speaking again with Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who you all know is in Vienna continuing the Iran negotiations.

And then the last item at the top, which is more of a personal item, I think as many of you know, I started my new position on Monday as senior advisor on strategic communications to Secretary Kerry. That’s focused on big strategic priorities and most importantly, of course, the Iran negotiation. So it’s time to get to work on that, so today will be my last briefing at this podium after about two years, just about two years. And it’s been an exciting, interesting two years if you think the Iran talks were still in the secret channel when I started this, Cuba policy was, what, decades --

QUESTION: Also in a secret channel?

MS HARF: Also on a secret channel, that is true. Good point, James Rosen. Russian tanks weren’t in eastern Ukraine, and also just sort of the daily business of diplomacy. So given all that’s going on, that’s why we do this every day, why I know you do this every day as well – the only podium who briefs every day no matter where the Secretary is – and I appreciate the last two years. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting, it’s been, at times, very difficult for all the issues we all cover and face. So with that I won’t get too emotional, but thank you, and we’ll do a good briefing today. We’ll make it a good one to go out on.

QUESTION: We’ll try.

MS HARF: And Jeff will be briefing next week, and then John and Mark as soon as they’re ready will be up here as well.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: And there have been things like the lights going off. You remember when the podium broke. We’ve had some interesting times in the last two years.

QUESTION: Yes. Yes, we have. It certainly is the end of an era.

MS HARF: It is.

QUESTION: I’m not sure what era it will be called. We’ll leave that to --

MS HARF: The Psaki and Harf --

QUESTION: -- historians and internet philosophers. But thank you --

MS HARF: Philosophers is a nice word for them.

QUESTION: -- for showing up every day and doing what you did.

MS HARF: It’s been fun.

QUESTION: It – I’m not sure that you’re – is that an honest assessment of it being fun?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The spokesperson who launched a thousand memes, your Twitter legions of fans and foes I’m sure will be --

MS HARF: I’m sure they will miss --

QUESTION: -- disappointed in your --

MS HARF: -- will miss it.

QUESTION: But anyway, we will --

MS HARF: But we’ll still all be talking on these issues. We’ll also be working together. You’ll still all be coming to me for questions on things. It will just be not at the podium. And so it’s been a long and interesting and important few years. So thank you all.

QUESTION: We will certainly miss you. Right. Getting down to business.

MS HARF: Getting down to business.

QUESTION: I’m touched by that display of emotion on your part by the way. (Laughter.)

MS HARF: For Matt, that’s actually – (laughter) – that’s actually, guys --

QUESTION: That was effusive. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know, James. Would you like to say a word or two?

QUESTION: I think I speak for everyone who is a regular in this room, which I can’t even include myself in that grouping, in saying that we all appreciated the grasp of the issues and the passion and conviction you brought to your defense of this Administration and your engagement with us.

MS HARF: Thank you.

QUESTION: And to the extent there was very harsh criticism, only some small measure was probably self-inflicted – (laughter) – and it tended not to come from people who dealt with you on a regular basis.

MS HARF: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.

QUESTION: Arshad.

QUESTION: I’d like to say one thing. Best of luck.

MS HARF: Thank you. Thank you.

QUESTION: And thanks – well, thanks for your late night endeavors. I know that a lot of this stuff had been going on late into the night, and you’ve taken our emails and --

MS HARF: That’s true.

QUESTION: -- responded, and we appreciate that.

MS HARF: Thank you. Well, look, in some respects you’re covering – we all care about the same issues. We’re coming from it – from a different perspective, but we’re all doing this so the American people and the world knows what we do in this building. So with that, let’s get down to business.

QUESTION: Right. So --

MS HARF: Ask a good first question, Matt. Come on.

QUESTION: Well, I’m afraid it’s not particularly good.

MS HARF: No pressure.

QUESTION: But it is – it is an important question.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: And it – but it goes back to this IAEA report and the Iran and the --

MS HARF: What better place to start today?

QUESTION: Yes. And the uranium. So I don’t know if you’ve seen this two-page thing that ISIS --

MS HARF: David Albright?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The good ISIS.

MS HARF: The good ISIS, yes. I actually have it right here.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS HARF: I briefly looked at it earlier.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, the main point other than the stuff about shooting messengers is not going to make the issue go away, blah, blah, blah --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: That the crux of this is that they say, as they were cited in this story that you took issue with, that they are skeptical about whether Iran is actually going to be able to --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- take this problem, to deal with it. And --

MS HARF: Right, right. They say that sort of the notion that they have to get back down there at a certain time – they sort of agree with many of things we’ve said. I think they’re skeptical --

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: -- that Iran technically can do it.

QUESTION: But they say given the stridency of their criticisms, meaning this Administration’s --

MS HARF: Meaning ours. Yes.

QUESTION: -- of those who have raised the oxidation issue, the State Department should explain the basis for their confidence. Can you do that?

MS HARF: Well, again, as we’ve said, in both the original JPOA and in the first extension, Iran converted enough of this material, this LEU, from uranium hexafluoride, the form that it was in as it was produced in the centrifuges, to another chemical form such that Iran reduced the overall stockpile back under the limit. The other chemical form of uranium is much for difficult for Iran to use in a breakout scenario. Our experts anticipate Iran will have no problem converting the excess uranium hexafluoride produced during the second extension in the same way.

So again, we have seen them do this twice. The IAEA has taken note of this process before. And we and our experts anticipate Iran won’t have challenges doing that. I understand that David Albright is skeptical. And again, if we’re standing here on June 30th and Iran hasn’t done it, then they would be in violation of the JPOA.

QUESTION: But can you explain the reason – is the basis for your confidence – is that – is your confidence based on the fact – on only the fact that they’ve managed to do it --

MS HARF: No -- to do it before.

QUESTION: -- before?

MS HARF: I think it’s based on two things, primarily. One is that they have done it before, which shows that they know how to do it and they’re capable of doing it. And also, we’ve had technical discussions at an expert level with them about this process, and that is why our assessment is that we believe and anticipate they will be able to get back down where they need to.

QUESTION: Okay. But I’m still – that doesn’t really explain the – I mean, I can understand why you would say that the basis for your confidence was that they have done it in the --

MS HARF: In a process that’s been --

QUESTION: – that they’ve managed to do it before.

MS HARF: -- outlined publicly.

QUESTION: But I don’t get the second part of why that’s – I mean, you’re basically taking them at their word that --

MS HARF: No, because --

QUESTION: No?

MS HARF: -- we’ve had technical discussions with them about how they are going about doing this and will go about doing it. They’ve proven they can do it technically and from a technological perspective. And I’m not exactly sure what the skepticism is on David Albright’s side from a technical perspective. I’m happy to get one of our nuclear experts to debate the finer points of this with him. But having talked to our team, the fact is they know how to do this, they’ve done it before. We’re talking to them about the current stockpile and how they’re going to get it down to the form that is acceptable and the level that’s acceptable.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be – wouldn’t it be in the best interests of the deal and the Administration and the rest of the world who are watching this – these negotiations unfold if you were to be a little bit more skeptical of Iran’s intentions and abilities in this?

MS HARF: Well, I’m – look, Matt, on this one – one issue, which is a – one smally defined issue, right – this isn’t about their intentions overall, this isn’t about their capabilities overall – on whether they can get down under 7,850[1], on that very narrow issue, technically they know how to do it, technically they’ve demonstrated twice before that they can, and we’ve talked to them about how they’re going to. So it’s not that we just take them at their word; we’ve seen their actions to do so. And again, if they don’t, that will be a problem.

The bigger technical question when it comes to a final deal, right – this a question for JPOA implementation; this actually isn’t really a question for the final negotiations – is how they will get down to 300 kilograms. And so these are both important issues, but they’re just a little separate, and the discussions are ongoing about how they’ll get down to 300 kilograms. There’s several ways they can do it. They can down-blend it, they can ship it out of the country, they can sell it on the open market. But those are two separate processes from getting down to 7,850[2]. That is something, quite frankly, technically we’ve seen them do. We don’t have reason to think they won’t be able to do it now when they could six months ago.

QUESTION: Can I follow on this?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go on this? Sorry. There’s just – I want to --

MS HARF: You can both ask questions about this.

QUESTION: Yeah. I want to concentrate on the process of turning it from the uranium hexafluoride into the oxide.

MS HARF: Into the other chemical form. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Yeah. So what is – you – in previous days this week you have said that your experts fully understand why it is that Iran has not – why it is that the amounts have gone up and down --

MS HARF: Right, correct.

QUESTION: -- that the LEU has gone up and down. What ultimately is the reason for the increase – not so much for the increase, but for their apparent inability or choice not to convert the increased amounts of low enriched uranium into the other form?

MS HARF: Well, they are doing that. I think, again, going back to the IAEA report, it’s a snapshot of its stockpile on one date. So it’s not – this isn’t stagnant. That – it’s not that they have an inability to convert it; in fact, they have been. And we’ve seen them – because in a basic – very basic level, the reason the stockpile goes up and goes down is because they are allowed to enrich this very small stockpile and type of uranium hexafluoride. And so this is the product of that. But under the JPOA they have to convert it before the end of the time. And they’ve been able to do that. Again, I would not – I would venture to guess that the stockpile today probably isn’t the same as it was on that snapshot and time the IAEA reported, and they have said publicly and to us that by June 30th they will get where they need to be. And our experts anticipate they’ll be able to do so.

QUESTION: The question that I still don’t understand, though, is – and I fully understand that they’re allowed to enrich --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- up to --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- 5 percent, right?

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: And I fully understand that they’re under an obligation by the six monthly deadlines to have converted --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- beyond the January 2014 levels. So my real question is: What is it – what is your understanding of why the conversion has happened at a – at such a pace that there has been the buildup? You say that it’s not an inability; is it just they’re just choosing not to convert at the --

MS HARF: This is a good question. So I would have to go back and look at the numbers for what the up and downs where, the highs and lows during the previous two time periods. But I guess I can’t stand up here and make the assumption that this is being converted at a slower rate. This may have been the exact same way they did it earlier. And I’m not sure – we would have to all go back and look at the numbers. It’s an interesting question. I don’t think, though, I have the evidence in front of me. I don’t think any of us – I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence that they are converting it more slowly. Now, I can check on that.

QUESTION: Could you? And then --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- if it does happen --

MS HARF: Sort of when it went up and down and at what point they converted it.

QUESTION: Well, the reason I’m trying to get at it is it’s not just how much uranium they’re enriching, but it’s also the speed at which they are converting that enriched uranium. And you said that you guys, that your technical experts understood all of this.

MS HARF: Yes, they do.

QUESTION: And so I’m particularly interested in their understanding --

MS HARF: The speed.

QUESTION: -- of why it is that the conversion process has been at a pace that there have been – that there’s been this buildup in the LEU.

MS HARF: Right. And my – and yes, and I understand the question. I’m happy to check with our team. To follow up on that, though, I’m not sure it’s a different pace than it was before. I just don’t --

QUESTION: I’m interested in both. I’m interested in both questions.

MS HARF: I – right. I just don’t know that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: So I will check on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yes, James.

QUESTION: Speed matters, but also timing matters. And so the question I have for you is whether the two previous instances you keep alluding to, where the Iranians successfully came down to the levels they were expected to come down to, involved timeframes similar to the one we see now, or --

MS HARF: In what way?

QUESTION: -- is the current timeline less than the time they had to reduce the stockpile previously?

MS HARF: Right. It’s the question I just – I don’t know the answer to. And I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: You have twice in recent days – today and one previous day this week – acknowledged that if the Iranians fail to reduce their LEU stockpile by June 30th to the required level, they would indeed be in violation of the JPOA. From where Secretary Kerry sits – and we know he’s just sitting right now --

MS HARF: He’s been up today.

QUESTION: Okay. From where Secretary Kerry sits, would the fact that the Iranians would be in violation in such a scenario, as you yourself have raised, on the 30th of June prevent the United States or any of the P5+1 from going forward with an agreement?

MS HARF: That’s a good question. I think there are so many things that could happen on June 30th. Look, the goal of June 30th is to get to a comprehensive agreement, and in an ideal world, we would have an agreement on that day that says what their stockpile is on that day – 7,650 is where they need to be – and how they are going to get very quickly, early in implementation, down to 300 kilograms.

QUESTION: You yourself from the podium have stated that it would be a problem if they’re not at that level --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- by June 30th.

MS HARF: That is true. What that might --

QUESTION: So it’s --

MS HARF: How that might impact, I’m just not going to speculate.

QUESTION: But in other words you’re not prepared to say that if the Iranians are not in full compliance on the 30th of June with all of their JPOA obligations, that that presents any particular impediment to going forward.

MS HARF: I think I’m just quite honestly not going to speculate on how that would impact exactly what happens on that day. There’s a --

QUESTION: One different way --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- if I might. It is not a condition for going forward with an agreement – it is not a condition for finalizing an agreement that Iran be in compliance with all JPOA terms at the end of the negotiating period?

MS HARF: Well, let’s just – first, to make a few points: Iran has, and continues to be, in compliance. So as of today they are in compliance with all of their obligations under the JPOA, as are we and all of our other parties who are party to the JPOA. What we are trying to do is translate the parameters document, which is separate from the JPOA, translate that into a comprehensive agreement and all the detailed annexes.

So of course Iran needs to be in compliance with the JPOA. That’s very important to us. What is equally as important to us is getting a comprehensive agreement that they will also live up to. So those things are working at the same time right now.

QUESTION: But it’s not a deal-breaker if they’re not fully in compliance?

MS HARF: I just don’t want to speculate on what this might look like on June 30th. We can have that conversation wherever we are in the world on June 29th. Let’s say that.

QUESTION: So can I --

QUESTION: One --

QUESTION: -- ask you a real quick question real quick?

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: A snapshot in time? What does that mean? Is that just --

MS HARF: The IA --

QUESTION: Particular to that particular moment in which it --

MS HARF: Yeah, so the IAEA reports, the monthly reports – they also do quarterly reports and others – are a snapshot on that day that they issue the report of what the stockpile is. It’s not a snapshot of where it’s been or where it’s going necessarily. But when we look at that number, it’s a fixed date in time.

QUESTION: Okay. And so when you see the snapshot, you tell the Iranians and they can rectify or fix this situation or whatever it is?

MS HARF: This isn’t a mystery to anyone.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: It’s – they just need to – they need to fix it by June 30th.

QUESTION: And I wanted to ask you: There are reports that the Israelis are now saying – an Israeli army general, in a closed meeting, said that the --

QUESTION: Can we stick with the Iranian hexafluoride stuff just to get it out of the way?

QUESTION: It’s on Iran.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Well --

QUESTION: I know it’s on Iran; I’m talking about hexafluoride. (Inaudible.)

MS HARF: Let me just finish this one and then I’ll go back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. No, I just wanted to see if you have coordinated with the Israelis or are they beginning to sort of reduce their opposition to the Iran deal?

MS HARF: Well, I’m certainly not going to comment on reports of closed-door meetings. What I would say is that we have had a very large number of conversations and briefings and discussions with the Israelis throughout these nuclear negotiations with Iran, at the both political level and the expert level, and the intelligence level and a number of other levels – diplomatic level. So those conversations have certainly been ongoing.

And I’ll go back to Arshad now.

QUESTION: Just – according to the good-ISIS report, Iran has not fed any low enriched uranium hexafluoride into the EUPP plant that converts it into the other form --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- since November of 2014. If that’s correct, then it means that they have not done any conversion for the first five months of this year.

MS HARF: Unless there are other ways to convert it, which I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. I thought that they had to do it that way.

MS HARF: Let me check with our experts.

QUESTION: Okay, so that’s --

MS HARF: We’re getting --

QUESTION: No, no --

MS HARF: -- another level down in the weeds here where --

QUESTION: I hear you, but it’s – if one’s talking about the question of pace, then one also has to look at, well, gee, in the previous six-month periods did they in fact do nothing or do it in some different way, or not?

MS HARF: Well, and that’s why I said there are two reasons, I think, having talked to our experts, that they believe Iran will be able to – not only the fact that they’ve done it in the past, but also the technical conversations they’re having now about how they’re going to proceed. So even if, hypothetically – and I don’t know this to be the case – the pace is different, our experts, based on the conversations now, believe they will be able to do this.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks.

QUESTION: So I also wanted to follow up on that. You did say that the – your confidence is based on these technical discussions taking place. Is that discussion on the stockpiles happening now?

MS HARF: I – on the 7,650 or on the --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: -- how to get to 300? Because the how to get to 300 conversation is absolutely an ongoing one --

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: -- as part of the comprehensive negotiation.

QUESTION: And 7,650?

MS HARF: I know we’ve discussed with them. I’m not sure how ongoing it is, given we believe they have a path forward here to do this.

QUESTION: Is it – two things brief – very briefly. Is it your understanding that this U – EU – this whole thing is loaded with acronyms --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that are completely impossible --

QUESTION: Bear with it, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The EUPP, is there something wrong with it?

MS HARF: Not that I’ve heard of. I’m happy to check and see if there are more technical details to share.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: There may be, there may not be. A lot of this also I would say Iran can speak to. Iran can and should speak publicly to how they plan to do this. It’s not --

QUESTION: Well, as you noted, they don’t do a daily briefing. So --

MS HARF: I know. But they do have a female spokesperson at their ministry of foreign affairs --

QUESTION: And then the second thing --

MS HARF: -- I would point out.

QUESTION: The second thing in your response --

MS HARF: But they – but really, I mean, all joking aside, they also can speak and should speak publicly about how they plan to do this. This is their stockpile they have to get down. Our purpose in defending what’s happening here is solely to make people understand that the JPOA, which we negotiated, is being upheld and is – currently everyone’s in compliance.

QUESTION: Right. And one of your responses to one of James’ questions – you said something about in an ideal world you would have this deal – you’d have everyone in compliance on the 30th and the deal would get done.

MS HARF: Yep. That is my ideal world.

QUESTION: But as we all know that we don’t live in an ideal world --

QUESTION: What?

QUESTION: -- right?

MS HARF: I’m holding out hope, Matt.

QUESTION: Maybe James might live in an ideal world. But the most of the rest of us don’t, including --

QUESTION: And it’s open late --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s open 24 hours. But --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- the rest of us don’t have that luxury.

MS HARF: That is true.

QUESTION: And so wouldn’t – that’s -- which is why I’m going to go back to my question before is: Wouldn’t it be better and more responsible – not to say that you’re being irresponsible, but wouldn’t it be more responsible to approach this from the standpoint of the skepticism that this ISIS has about whether they can actually do it?

MS HARF: We approach our – and we calibrate our level of skepticism based on the technical underpinnings of the assessments, Matt. And I’m going to go with my nuclear experts who are out there, who have talked to the IAEA and the IAEA’s nuclear experts who have eyes on this program, who know – David Albright knows quite a bit about it, but our experts who have been talking to the Iranians and dealing with them every single day for all of these years – many months and years now – their assessment is – it’s not based on an ideal world, it’s based on technical facts, technical realities, technical capabilities, and those conversations they’re having with the Iranians. It’s not --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Believe me, our experts have a healthy dose of skepticism about many, many issues, I can promise you that, for those of you who’ve met them.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a related question to the Iran talks.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: But first of all if I can add a personal message. You will be missed, and as a European journalist, I really appreciate your commitment to defend and to explain the complex U.S. foreign policy, not only with clarity but also with passion and emotion sometimes. So I wish you all the best for the rest of your career.

MS HARF: Thank you.

QUESTION: That said – (laughter) – are you --

MS HARF: I love the transitions in this. This transcript is going to be one of my favorites. I just want to say that.

QUESTION: About your recent lies. (Laughter.)

MS HARF: I’m really going to frame this transcript and put it in my office.

QUESTION: I’d like to have your thoughts on the meeting which took, apparently, place yesterday between a former Saudi official – government official and a former Israeli official --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- who will be again an Israeli official on Sunday and apparently trying to find some common grounds against a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran.

MS HARF: So a couple of points on that. A), these are reported meetings between private citizens, as you mentioned. And I think they are probably best able to explain their conversations and their remarks. And I also think the governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel are both well able to speak for themselves on this issue, as they have. As for us, we continue to keep our partners in the region updated. As to the status of these negotiations, we’ve done that many, many, many times with all of our partners, including the Israelis and the Saudis.

QUESTION: But were you aware of these discussions between the closed-door – I mean, we’re not asking you – you’ve said already you don’t want to comment on the closed --

MS HARF: Right.

QUESTION: -- on the discussions, but was the U.S. aware of these closed-door meetings, or --

MS HARF: I’m quite frankly not sure. Again, these were reports about meetings between private citizens, so I’m happy to check with our team and see if there’s more to share, but I just don’t have much more comment on it than that.

QUESTION: Marie, with – not the non-official statements like Dore Gold and Eshki, but official statements coming out of this closed meeting in Israel – statements by Khalid Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar and so on – they all seem to be on board or they look at the positive aspect of this potential deal. Do you feel that you have overcome the hurdles along the way to sort of getting to the point where this deal is actually signed and sealed?

MS HARF: In terms of what?

QUESTION: In terms of --

MS HARF: Support in the region?

QUESTION: Yes, and on terms of the deal is done, so to speak.

MS HARF: That the nuclear deal is done?

QUESTION: Yes, the nuclear deal.

MS HARF: The nuclear deal is far from being done, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS HARF: I would say we have a – some intense weeks of work ahead of us to see if we can get this finalized. But I will say, coming out of the GCC meeting at Camp David and other conversations Secretary Kerry’s had in the region and others, we believe – and you can just look at the statements coming out of that meeting from our partners in the Gulf – that they appreciate the incredibly detailed level of briefings that we’ve given them on these talks, that they believe diplomacy is the best way to solve this. And I do think that those conversations have been very beneficial.

QUESTION: As someone who is probably as much of an expert as anyone can be on this issue, since you’ve been very closely tied to it, what could possibly – what could potentially sort of sabotage this deal at the end? What could make it unravel?

MS HARF: Well, I think – look, I think there are an incredible amount of very technical details that have to be worked out to make sure our bottom lines are met, to make sure Iran can get to a place where they support the agreement, and all of our P5+1 partners. I think there are very tough political decisions that have to be made on many of those technical issues that are not going to be easy, and if this were easy, it would’ve been done months or years ago.

So the fact that – again, going back to what I started with, two years ago I was standing at this podium, and we weren’t even having public meetings with the Iranians about this. In that time, we’ve gotten an agreement that’s frozen the progress of their program and rolled it back in some key areas; that’s led to us being a few weeks away from possibly a comprehensive agreement to deal with this issue once and for all. Does that mean we’re going to get there? No. But we have the best chance we’ve ever had for diplomacy to solve this problem.

QUESTION: And finally, could this deal --

MS HARF: And that’s why Secretary Kerry’s up on his feet walking around today and committed to a very rapid recovery.

QUESTION: Well, that leads to my question. So is there any kind of likelihood that this deal could be signed at the United Nations, for instance?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to speculate about locations for the possible ending of these discussions.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject --

MS HARF: We can.

QUESTION: -- and go to cyber attacks?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you point to China as being responsible for these cyber attacks, and do you expect this to – has this been raised in any phone calls over the last 24 hours or more?

MS HARF: Well, this is an active investigation, as you all are aware. The FBI is working with other agencies, including DHS, on this investigation, and at this time we don’t have more details to share publicly about who was behind it.

QUESTION: Do --

QUESTION: Do you know if you – if this building has been instructed or if this building has instructed any embassy anywhere to file any kind of a protest or a complaint about what is being investigated?

MS HARF: I’m just not probably going to have more details on that today to share with you. Again, the investigation’s ongoing and we’re still gathering all the details.

QUESTION: What is the status of the U.S.-China cyber security working group? Because it was – has been suspended since last year, and in two weeks you’re going to have the seventh dialogue. (Inaudible) meetings on this subject?

MS HARF: Well, you are right; in late June we will have the seventh S&ED, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, here in Washington. Although China suspended its participation in the cyber working group, we continue to raise our concerns and exchange views with Chinese officials about general cyber issues in a variety of channels, and certainly that has been ongoing. But that’s a general comment not related to this specific case.

QUESTION: How do you respond to Chinese Government’s call that such allegation to link with the – hacking with the Chinese-sponsored hackers irresponsible? How do you respond to --

MS HARF: Well, I certainly haven’t prescribed any responsibility from this podium; neither have my colleagues. Again, the active investigation is ongoing.

QUESTION: Regardless of whether you or anyone else wants to come out publicly and blame China or any other country or anyone else for this, do you foresee there being – because this is out there, do you foresee any difficulty with the S&ED at all?

MS HARF: As I’ve said, we’re committed to the S&ED. It’s going forward in the same way it was yesterday and the day before.

QUESTION: You haven’t heard anything from the Chinese that they might be less than eager to – for full participation --

MS HARF: I haven’t. I’m --

QUESTION: -- given the accusations of --

MS HARF: I haven’t.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: I’m happy for the Chinese to speak for themselves, though.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: Yes, go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Have you already reached the conclusion who is behind or you’re still investigating?

MS HARF: The investigation’s ongoing.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Could you please explain what’s the difference? Because this is not economic espionage or other, like, attack we mentioned before. This is targeting the U.S. Federal Government. So would you consider this as intelligence gathering, as the U.S. Government is also doing around the world?

MS HARF: Well, any offensive cyber attack – we’ve seen this before on the U.S. Government; we’ve seen this at the State Department, as we’ve talked about before – obviously is something we take very seriously. It’s a threat we take very seriously. We take mitigation steps in the U.S. Government to certainly prevent this kind of thing from happening.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: But can’t you see this affecting the S&ED discussions in any way?

MS HARF: Again, it’s – moving forward, we’re held – it’s being held in late June here in Washington. The Secretary will be there. And we remain committed to moving forward with the S&ED.

James, yes.

QUESTION: Has the investigation to date made any progress toward determining the origins of these attacks?

MS HARF: You’d have to check with the FBI on that.

QUESTION: Is it a serious concern for U.S. national security?

MS HARF: Well, certainly, any time personal information – this really was focused on personal information of federal employees – is – falls into hands it should not be in, that’s a security concern for the variety of nefarious ways it can be used. I think OPM spoke a little bit more specifically to what was taken and how that could impact security.

QUESTION: And in this case, it’s not just any set officials, but federal officials specifically with clearances, correct?

MS HARF: I can check with OPM on that. I’m not positive on that.

QUESTION: I mean, there’s a difference if 100 National Security Council employees have their personal data breached, and 100 employees at the Agriculture Department, for example, correct?

MS HARF: I – yes.

QUESTION: Why?

MS HARF: I’m not sure – let me check on that. I’m not sure about that. Although from a personal security standpoint, anyone getting information that’s personal and being able to impersonate a Federal Government employee, regardless of what department they work in, would be concerning to us, certainly.

QUESTION: But those with clearances, as we’re led to understand was the situation in this case, could then be susceptible to coercion or blackmail on that basis, and I think that’s what occasions the even greater concern here. Do you understand?

MS HARF: I understand. I just – I am sorry, I can’t confirm the piece about it was people with security clearances.

QUESTION: In other words, we hear all the time about breaches of data, it seems anyway, and I just wonder if this instance is more serious than the others or most.

MS HARF: I can’t remember a similar situation happening to Federal Government employees, certainly, across the board. I just can’t remember, certainly since I’ve been here.

Ros, yes.

QUESTION: Marie, the Chinese Government has objected to the suggestion from some in the U.S. Government that hackers with links to the Chinese Government may have been behind the security breach, and they’ve been pretty forceful about it. What do you, as a representative of the U.S. Government, say to them that the U.S. has not actually decided who did this?

MS HARF: Well, that’s why I just said very clearly the investigation is ongoing. And I’m not going to prescribe blame for that at this point.

QUESTION: But certainly the time we got to 7 o’clock Eastern yesterday evening, there were numerous reports, numerous unnamed sources from other parts of the U.S. Government, who were leaving the impression that they had every reason to think that the Chinese had something to do with it. Doesn’t that create some level of tension?

MS HARF: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate on what drives people anonymously to go out and talk about these kinds of issues. As I’ve said, the investigation’s ongoing. And as we have facts to share about it, we’ll make a decision about what makes sense to share publicly.

QUESTION: Ros’ question is an interesting one, which is: Do the mere appearance of such reports create tensions? And even if there’s an investigation going on, is there any tension that you’re aware of between the U.S. and Chinese governments simply over the reports, regardless of their veracity?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our team on this. I haven’t heard of any. I’m happy to check.

Said.

QUESTION: Change topics?

MS HARF: Oh, wait. Let’s stay on – one more on this?

QUESTION: Yes. Is there --

MS HARF: I’m not sure I have much more to say.

QUESTION: Is there any initial indication of the impact of the data breach on the State Department specifically?

MS HARF: So OPM has said they will be contacting current and former federal employees who were affected by this. I know they’re in the process of doing that right now, and I don’t want to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Yesterday, the Taiwanese DPP presidential candidate came to State Department to visit Deputy Secretary Blinken. Do you have any readout? And because it didn’t happen before, does this mean that U.S. Government has adjust its policy guideline to interact with the Taiwanese Government or politician?

MS HARF: Well, we – our position has not changed. We appreciate that Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman visited here. We had constructive exchange on a wide range of issues with her. Our policy has not changed. From time to time, we do meet with Taiwanese officials; certainly the Secretary has, and others have as well.

QUESTION: But not in this building. So --

MS HARF: I’m not sure that’s true, actually. I’m happy to go back and check.

QUESTION: Okay. Please.

MS HARF: We do – we have met – I know that – before. And I’m happy to check where those meetings took place. But our position in no way has changed on Taiwan.

Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. How do you respond to the Chinese Government’s call that the meeting is sending the wrong signal to Taiwan?

MS HARF: Well, again, our policy hasn’t changed. We have developed a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan. This is based on the One China policy, the three joint communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act – things we’ve talked about for years and years and years now. So really there’s been no change in our policy here.

QUESTION: Are you --

QUESTION: Is there --

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you confident of the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in coming years?

MS HARF: Well, we certainly have an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and that is certainly something we’ve encouraged both officials in Beijing and Taipei to continue their efforts that support cross-strait stability.

QUESTION: How would you characterize Chairman Tsai’s meeting here with the different officials?

MS HARF: Well, as I just said, we had a constructive exchange on a wide range of issues with her.

QUESTION: Marie, regardless of whether or not the policy has or hasn’t changed – and you say it hasn’t, so --

MS HARF: It hasn’t.

QUESTION: Exactly. But you must’ve realized that having this kind of a meeting in this building was going to raise the ire of the Chinese, no?

MS HARF: Matt, I’m not sure I have much more to say on this. We have an unofficial and a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan and this is just part of that unofficial relationship.

QUESTION: I understand that, but you know how sensitive the Chinese are about this issue, which is why for decades the guidance on Taiwan always has the three communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the One China policy --

MS HARF: And it will long after I’m gone from this podium, I’m sure.

QUESTION: -- which is – exactly, and which is why in every single meeting that you have – that the secretaries of state have with the Chinese, this goes – is gone through in rote form. That said – given that, wasn’t there any kind of an awareness that a meeting with a Taiwanese official in this building was going to cause some angst?

MS HARF: I’m not sure this – we see this as different from other meetings we’ve had with Taiwanese officials in this unofficial relationship we have, so I’m happy to check and see if there’s more to say on this.

QUESTION: Put it a slightly different way: There’s nothing in the communiques or the other documents that were just referenced here that prevent the United States from conducting meetings in this building or elsewhere with Taiwanese officials, correct?

MS HARF: No, correct. That is correct. And we’ve done so for a long time.

Said, yes.

QUESTION: Can we move to another topic? Today marks the 48th anniversary --

MS HARF: I think there’s – hold on. One more.

QUESTION: Right. Marie, in your recollection, when is the last time a Taiwanese official or a presidential hopeful was meeting with the State Department official at this building?

MS HARF: At this building? I’m happy to check. I know we’ve had many meetings with Taiwanese officials in a variety of places that we’ve talked about publicly. I’m happy to check on that.

Said.

QUESTION: I have --

QUESTION: Did she meet --

MS HARF: I think we’re going to move on. I don’t have much more to say.

QUESTION: The same question. Same question.

MS HARF: Okay. Yeah. I --

QUESTION: So did she meet with the Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken yesterday?

MS HARF: I’m not going to confirm the details of her meetings here.

Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, just – I realize this is harping on this, but it’s --

MS HARF: Why would the last day be any different?

QUESTION: Exactly. But I mean, look --

QUESTION: You did start on time. That suggested --

MS HARF: I know.

QUESTION: -- redemption for all sinners, so --

MS HARF: Aren’t you proud of me today? (Laughter.) I was actually ready like five minutes early. I was just hanging out back there.

QUESTION: Punctuality. The Chinese get upset when you meet – when the President meets with the Dalai Lama as well, and you know, and you expect them to get angry about it and you’re willing to take that hit. So my question is simply the same as what I asked before, which is that what – were you aware that this was going to cause consternation in Beijing? And if you could take the question or have someone look into it --

MS HARF: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: -- that would be great. Thank you.

MS HARF: I’m not sure I’ll have much more to say on that. I’m just going to take a lot of questions today for Jeff on Monday.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, with that --

MS HARF: I’m sure he’s appreciative over there.

QUESTION: -- I mean, I want to add my voice to Nicolas --

MS HARF: Thanks.

QUESTION: -- and thank you for always being there and being responsive and so on. And as he said, having said this, I want to ask you on the – on this occasion, which is the 48th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, half of that time the United States has been involved in trying to reach some sort of a resolution. And I want to ask you: How much longer should the Palestinians wait under occupation before they have this occupation end?

MS HARF: Well, I think if you’ve – if I’ve learned anything in these last two years, Said, it’s how committed this Administration, Secretary Kerry is to seeing, despite enormous odds, if we can get some movement towards a two-state solution. You all have been through all of this with us throughout those last two years, certainly, and it’s difficult, and the two parties have to take steps to show they are willing to move forward here. But we are certainly incredibly committed to see if we can do it. We can’t do it for them. We can’t want it more than they do. But it certainly remains a top priority.

QUESTION: But you have taken the leadership. I mean, the President said the other day that Israel will lose credibility if the settlements – he told the Israeli press, or the Israeli Channel 2, if they continue with their settlements and occupation and so. What about your credibility? I mean, you have taken the lead on this since at least 1991.

MS HARF: Well, the reason the United States has taken the lead is because we believe it’s important to have people who can bring both sides to the table, to encourage both sides to not take steps that escalate tensions or that make peace more difficult, and that we have been a party that’s been able to play a role in that, certainly. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, certainly, and that’s, I think, another thing we’ve learned again over these last few years.

QUESTION: And finally, Human Rights Watch issued a report yesterday or the day before saying that you and the Israelis are trying to exert pressure on Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, not to – to remove – or to remove Israel from, let’s say, the list of shame for mistreating children and people in prison under occupation. Are you exerting a lot of pressure on the United Nations?

MS HARF: Well, I honestly hadn’t seen that report so I’m not going to speak to the specifics in it. But generally, we have stood up for Israel in international fora, including the UN, when they are unfairly singled out in a way that other countries are not. But again, I haven’t seen that specific report and I don’t want to comment on that specific issue.

QUESTION: Going back to the same --

MS HARF: Yes, I’m going to go to the front and then around.

QUESTION: -- same subject but going back to – or same area but going back to the whole Orange --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- France thing from yesterday.

MS HARF: Yes. And I believe Foreign Minister Fabius has spoken to this now as well.

QUESTION: Yeah. But he talked about --

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, he talked about France is opposed to boycotts, but this really isn’t a boycott, is it? Do you regard what Orange did or is going to do or wants to do --

MS HARF: I think Orange may have also spoken to their future plans as well.

QUESTION: Do you – exactly. Do you regard that as --

MS HARF: And said they may not be going forward.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you regard what was being discussed or what has been discussed as a boycott or something that you would oppose? Or is it just a private company doing what private companies do?

MS HARF: Well, as a matter of principle, the U.S. opposes boycotts directed at the state of Israel. I said that yesterday; we’ve said this for many, many months and years now. I’m not familiar with the exact details of what these alleged plans that Orange was going to do were. And private companies – you are right – can make their own decisions about their own businesses.

QUESTION: So --

MS HARF: That doesn’t mean we can’t oppose boycotts. We of course do.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I’m – what I’m --

MS HARF: Would I call what they propose --

QUESTION: So if I – if company X does business in Israel and wants to pull out and no longer do business in Israel because it is getting pressure from its shareholders or whoever about settlement activity or the activity of the Israeli Government in the West Bank or Gaza, you do not have a problem with that. Is that correct?

MS HARF: Well, no, that’s not what I’m saying. We oppose – you’re looking for a definition of boycott, I think.

QUESTION: No, I’m trying to find out if you --

MS HARF: Well, we oppose – we oppose boycotts of the state of – directed at the tate of Israel.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS HARF: Now, we oppose them; we also understand private companies can make their own decisions. That doesn’t mean we won’t oppose those decisions, if that makes sense. So without knowing company X --

QUESTION: So you would oppose --

MS HARF: -- or company X’s rationale or the details behind what company X is going to do, I just can’t venture to guess hypothetically what we would say. But as a principle, we oppose boycotts directed at the state of Israel.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean, though, that then you would encourage every company in the world that has an international branch to do business with Israel?

MS HARF: That’s --

QUESTION: Or – and that if they don’t that that’s a bad thing?

MS HARF: I’m not sure the converse is true.

QUESTION: Or is it just pulling out of --

MS HARF: We --

QUESTION: What is it that you are opposed to in terms of --

MS HARF: -- oppose boycotts.

QUESTION: I understand that, but in terms of private companies.

MS HARF: Right. We oppose boycotts.

QUESTION: But a private --

MS HARF: That doesn’t mean they have to do --

QUESTION: I know, but a private company taking itself out of a market isn’t a boycott.

MS HARF: Well, again, without knowing the details, I have no idea why that private company would be taking themselves out of that market. There could be business reasons.

QUESTION: So it’s a case-by-case basis, is that what you’re saying?

MS HARF: Well, to determine whether or not something is a boycott, yes, it would be a case-by-case basis I think.

QUESTION: If I may --

MS HARF: But it’s not – if we determine something is a boycott aimed at the state of Israel, we do not – we oppose that. We support that – we do not support that.

QUESTION: Absent any kind of political process or any hope for the Palestinians, why not – why not support the boycott? After all, it is really a peaceful kind of resistance. It does bring pressure. It has worked in the past. It’s something that may force the Israelis to do something that you want them to do, which is pull out of occupied areas.

MS HARF: We just don’t support this. Our position on this is longstanding and will not change.

Yes.

QUESTION: This is a question or a set of questions relating to the decision-making surrounding the release of six longtime inmates at Guantanamo Bay detention center to the state of Uruguay in December 2014, decision-making in which the State Department participated.

MS HARF: Correct, along with five other --

QUESTION: Agencies.

MS HARF: -- departments and agencies. Yes.

QUESTION: That’s right. When these six inmates, whom we will call for the purposes of our discussions “the Uruguay six,” were dispatched to Uruguay, the State Department’s special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, Cliff Sloan, wrote on Department of State letterhead to Uruguay’s president to assure him, and I quote, “There is no information that the abovementioned individuals,” meaning the Uruguay six, “were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies,” unquote. And yet on the books, thanks to WikiLeaks, is a large set of DOD assessments of Guantanamo inmates that is now published in The New York Times online archive from 2007-2008 that encompassed the Uruguay six. And the DOD assessments of 2007-2008 concluded that five of the Uruguay six posed a high risk for release because they would likely pose a threat to the U.S. and its interests and its allies. The DOD assessment for one of the Uruguay six, Mr. Ourjy, concluded in June 2007, and I quote, “Detainee participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces” end quote. It further goes on to say that that particular individual was a senior explosives trainer for al-Qaida, had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, and had reported associations with senior al-Qaida members, including Usama bin Ladin.

I just wonder if you can explain how we get to a situation in which the Department of Defense concludes that a particular detainee, quote, “participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces,” and lo and behold, five years later, Cliff Sloan of this agency, this department, could assure the head of state of Uruguay “there is no information that the abovementioned individuals were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities.”

MS HARF: Yeah. Well, I would also note – and I’m going to go through a little bit on this case – the Department of Defense later then joined with the five other agencies and departments in unanimously approving them for transfer. So the Defense Department’s official position, when they were up for transfer, was to approve that. So --

QUESTION: The Defense Department’s position changed?

MS HARF: I mean, you’d have to ask them. I don’t know if these assessments were the Defense Department’s position or just sort of assessments that were part of a larger body of information. You’d have to ask them. But the six detainees transferred had been approved for transfer for nearly five years prior to their transfer in December 2014. They were approved for transfer through the Executive Office task force process. It includes representatives from State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This rigorous interagency process collected and considered all reasonably available information concerning these detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The decision to approve a detainee for transfer required the unanimous consensus of these six departments and agencies, including the Defense Department, and reflects the best predictive judgment of senior government officials that any threat posed by the detainee can be sufficiently mitigated through feasible and appropriate security measures in the receiving country, as we’ve said many, many times.

QUESTION: Okay. So in the course of your answer, you yourself just now went from saying you didn’t know if DOD had changed its position to telling us that –

MS HARF: Well, I don’t know if what you’re quoting was their official position or just information they had. I know when they came up – when the decision was made they should be transferred, it was the unanimous decision of all the six agencies, including the Defense Department. I don’t know if they had a different position before then or if they just had information you’re referencing.

QUESTION: No, the official assessment of the Department of the Defense as is now accessible online --

MS HARF: Again, I haven’t seen that document. All I know is that when – in the official interagency process determining whether someone should be transferred, the Defense Department was supportive.

QUESTION: Last question on this: Would you at least agree that there is a stark difference between our government saying that a given detainee participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces and our government saying that a given detainee, there was no information that the above-mentioned individual was involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities? They would seem to be to any commonsensical approach starkly divergent assessments of the same individual, correct?

MS HARF: And, well, a couple points here first. I really haven’t seen this assessment that you’re quoting from, so I don’t want to speak for the Defense Department or speak for that assessment that I just haven’t seen. We certainly stand by the information in Special Envoy Sloan’s letter. And again, this taskforce takes all of the information that’s available to them concerning detainees and considers all of it when determining transfers and why people are allowed to be transferred. There are some possible explanations which I would let others who – DOD speak to. Perhaps the additional – there was additional information that showed the previous information was incorrect. I don’t know that to be the case, but there may have been. There was an assessment made based on all of the pieces of information that they could be released, that the threat – that any threat could be mitigated, and we stand by what was said in Special Envoy Sloan’s letter.

QUESTION: Last question: Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee wrote to Assistant Secretary Frifield on May 20 requesting access to the 2009 interagency assessment for the Uruguay six and also copies of all correspondence from Mr. Sloan to any other heads of state containing assurances that were similar to those contained in Mr. Sloan’s letter to the president of Uruguay. Mr. Royce informs Fox News he has not received any reply to that letter. Is there a reply to that letter?

MS HARF: We reply to every letter we get from Congress, so I am confident someone’s working on it. But in terms of one of the specific questions, I can say we’re not aware of any additional letters from the Office of the Special Envoy to foreign governments that are similar to the one that you mentioned.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: But I’m sure we will --

QUESTION: Do you know --

MS HARF: -- respond to Chairman Royce.

QUESTION: Just based on this issue, do you know if this assessment – the DOD assessment that James is referring to, was that one of the pieces of information that was available --

MS HARF: I’m not familiar with --

QUESTION: -- to the --

MS HARF: -- what he’s specifically referring to --

QUESTION: I know.

MS HARF: -- but as I said, this interagency team collected and considered all reasonable available information that they – that anyone had, so I would imagine anything that dealt with any of these six was considered.

QUESTION: Right, which would --

MS HARF: I know this is a --

QUESTION: -- include that document.

MS HARF: If it was about one of these detainees, then yes, it would have.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: How is it that – just a simple question. How is it that the United States Government could have imprisoned so many people for such a long time without actually having evidence that it itself found persuasive they should be incarcerated? How is this possible?

MS HARF: Well, it’s a very good question, Arshad. I think we inherited – this Administration inherited a situation where there were a large number of detainees in Guantanamo. And as you know, one of the President’s top priorities has been closing Guantanamo. And to do that, you have to transfer detainees that can be transferred in a way that they don’t pose a threat or that that threat can be mitigated, as we’ve talked about. That requires a pretty lengthy diplomatic process and talking to other countries, making sure other countries are willing to accept these detainees. Often they don’t go back to their home countries for a variety of reasons. There’s a group of people that have been identified that can be charged and prosecuted, and those are moving forward. And then there’s a group in the middle that might be put forward with charges but haven’t been yet.

And so determining the final outcome of what will happen to them is ongoing. But I mean on top of that, we’ve had incredibly restrictive congressional action that has made it much more difficult for us to move forward closing Guantanamo. This really is one of the situations we inherited in this Administration when the President took office that we have worked very, very hard to rectify, but the problem is you have a lot of detainees, and there need to be some place for them to go – the ones you can transfer, the ones you can’t, the ones you can charge, and unfortunately Congress has put incredibly restrictive limitations on what we can do to get this thing actually closed.

QUESTION: Putting the onus, as you seem to be doing, on the previous Administration --

MS HARF: In part. In part.

QUESTION: -- though, suggests that --

MS HARF: Only in part.

QUESTION: -- suggests --

MS HARF: I’m also putting a lot of it on Congress.

QUESTION: -- suggests, though, that these guys were once or at least one of them were deemed – was deemed to be a serious threat and then --

MS HARF: I’m not going to speak to why --

QUESTION: -- was not --

MS HARF: -- they incarcerated people.

QUESTION: -- deemed to be a serious threat, which suggests that the bar --

MS HARF: No, I –

QUESTION: -- for determining was lowered by this Administration --

MS HARF: Not at all.

QUESTION: -- in order to carry out –

MS HARF: Not at all.

QUESTION: -- what the President wanted to do.

MS HARF: Not at all. I would say a few things. First, the recidivism numbers under this Administration because of the strict guidelines we’ve put in place for transfer have dropped. Since January of 2009, they have dropped for those returning to the battlefield. So if you look at the recidivism numbers, actually, the opposite of what you’re arguing is true. And we can get those all around to you again.

Second, again, I can’t speak to that assessment that James is quoting. I can’t speak to any one piece of information that may have argued something about someone in Guantanamo. And I certainly can’t speak to why they were incarcerated in the first place.

QUESTION: But you can --

MS HARF: What I can speak to is the process we in this Administration – and believe me, the people that do this at the Defense Department and the intelligence community take this incredibly seriously. They will not sign off on someone to be transferred unless they are confident we can prevent them from being a threat to the U.S.

QUESTION: But you can speak to a body of information. And in fact, the particulars of this 2007 DOD assessment about this particular detainee I provided to you in advance of the briefing and --

MS HARF: That assessment?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS HARF: Oh, okay. I’m sorry, I didn’t see the assessment.

QUESTION: I provided the specific quotes that I read off to you.

MS HARF: Okay. I haven’t seen the whole thing. I’m sorry. I’d have to take a look at the whole thing.

QUESTION: But you would have to acknowledge, just on hearing it from me and assuming that I’m not misrepresenting the facts in this briefing --

QUESTION: A large assumption.

QUESTION: -- you would have – because I live in an ideal world – (laughter).

QUESTION: Manifestly false. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: If you’re in the briefing room, then you’re not in an ideal world.

MS HARF: Hey.

QUESTION: No, I’m joking. You would have to agree that there is a large body of information about this particular detainee that would have be overlooked or overcome somehow --

MS HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- to result in --

MS HARF: Let’s --

QUESTION: -- saying he poses no risk.

MS HARF: Okay. But let’s say – two points here. First, you’re quoting one assessment. I don’t know if I would call that a large body of information. You’re quoting one piece of information. But I guess I would put the question back on the Defense Department then. You’re quoting information of theirs. They are part of an interagency team. They were one of the people that approved this detainee for transfer. So I can only speak to the fact that there was a process done for these individuals that looked at all available information, and all of those agencies approved them for transfer.

QUESTION: Including yours, and that’s why I’m asking it.

MS HARF: And including the Defense Department, though. So if you think there’s a contradiction between their assessments, I would probably point you to them.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: New topic?

MS HARF: Yes, let’s move on.

QUESTION: About Japan, they announced the next G7 site for 2016, and it’s going to be near this historical shrine that’s important to the imperial family. And I was wondering if maybe you’re looking forward to the State Department --

MS HARF: I hadn’t seen that announcement. I always look forward to the G7, though, I can tell you.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on this – the fact that it’s not going to be --

MS HARF: Lubeck was lovely. It was. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Any thoughts on the fact that it’s not going to be in Hiroshima and the delegation perhaps --

MS HARF: I don’t have much more assessment of the location of the G7 for you.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have some question on the upcoming general election in Turkey --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- on this Sunday. AKP, the ruling party, is reported to be leading at the moment, but PKK is also expected to win some seats as well. And some reports say that there is some disagreements between U.S. and Turkey over Syria, as in the U.S. is focused on fighting ISIL but Turkey is more focused on getting rid of the Assad regime. And so do you think the election results are going to influence U.S.-Turkey cooperation in dealing with the situation in Syria and ISIL?

MS HARF: I’m certainly not going to hypothesize before an election has even taken place. We believe that, look, in any democracy the electorate should have the opportunity to make informed choices about parties or candidates or platforms, and that’s certainly what we’re looking forward to happen here.

QUESTION: And I have two more questions.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: If the AKP wins enough seats, it’ll try to implement a new constitution that would increase Erdogan’s presidential powers. Aren’t you concerned at all by this?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to speculate on the outcome of the election.

QUESTION: And also one more – sorry, one more question on Turkey and Syria. What about reports indicating that Turkey is joining with Saudi Arabia in helping extremist groups such as al-Nusrah in order to topple the Assad regime? Do you have any comments on this?

MS HARF: I mean, we’ve talked about this for a long time. Turkey is a key part of our anti-ISIL coalition. They have been helping in a number of fronts, including to crack down on foreign terrorist fighters. And really, beyond that I don’t have much more to share.

Yes.

QUESTION: Independent of the elections --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- how do you react to reports that Turkey has been quite active in ferrying jihadis and so on into Syria ever since this rebellion took place back in 2011?

MS HARF: Well, I think we’ve said for some time that we’ve been working with the Turks on how to increasingly crack down on foreign terrorist fighters along their border. And they have taken steps. Certainly, they’ve – understand this is a problem, but there is a lot more that they could do, certainly. We’ve talked about this with them. I think they’ve said so publicly. So it’s an issue we’re certainly working on together.

QUESTION: So do you think that Turkey has been aiding and abetting the entry of foreign jihadis into Syria all along?

MS HARF: Turkey has been a key partner in this anti-ISIL coalition, period, Said. This has been something we’ve worked with them quite a bit on. It’s a tough challenge – it’s a porous border, it’s a long border – and it’s one we’re working with them on.

QUESTION: Despite reports that keep saying they support al-Nusrah, which you have placed on the – in the terror list, and not really fighting and aiding – not fighting ISIS. You agree with that?

MS HARF: As I’ve said, they are a valuable partner in the counter-ISIL coalition, and I don’t have much more to add.

QUESTION: But what about – sorry – what about Turkish president’s crackdown on critics in Turkey? The latest came this week when he accused the editor of Cumhuriyet, which is a very major newspaper in Turkey, of espionage. And his lawyer, Erdogan’s lawyer, has filed a criminal lawsuit against the editor of Cumhuriyet. Aren’t you concerned about the way Erdogan, ahead of the election, is cracking down on the dissent?

MS HARF: Well, as I’ve said a couple times this week, an independent and unfettered media is an essential element of any democratic and open society. We support freedom of expression, certainly. We’ve been concerned and remain concerned about government interference and freedom of expression in Turkey, and urge Turkish authorities to ensure that their actions uphold democratic values, including freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Change of subject? Can we talk about --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.

MS HARF: Anything else on Turkey?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Just --

QUESTION: Syria. Syria.

MS HARF: I’ll go to Syria, but we’ll finish Turkey --

QUESTION: Well, I just want to know: If you’re speaking out on this, do you have anything to say about the spat with the – Erdogan’s spat with the opposition leader over whether this palace has golden toilets or not?

MS HARF: I don’t think I have anything to say on that.

Yeah, Syria.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment about what been reported today, that the Russian are evacuating some of their staff from Latakia?

MS HARF: I don’t have any comment on those – I just haven’t seen them.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS HARF: Sure, Lesley.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the – these reports that eight of the ten men jailed for the attempted assassination of Malala have been released?

MS HARF: Yeah. So we’ve seen them, and we’re trying to get some more information. It appeared it may have happened some time ago, or a few weeks ago at least. We’re trying to get a little more information on this, and we’ll have probably more to say when we do. Obviously, we absolutely want those responsible to be brought to justice. We also have repeatedly called on Pakistan to ensure due process in general on this case and others, but we just don’t have much more on this specifically.

QUESTION: New topic.

MS HARF: Yes, and then Abigail, and then --

QUESTION: Okay. On relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has the Administration decided yet when to notify Congress about its decision to open an embassy?

MS HARF: I don’t think we’re probably going to share that publicly before we share it with Congress. We just don’t have any updates for you on that.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for another round of meetings, or do tight-knuckle discussions continue on the outstanding issues?

MS HARF: We don’t have any date for another rounds, and I just don’t have much more detail about what happens next.

Abigail.

QUESTION: Following up from yesterday.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to the letter from Representative Chaffetz and Vela to the Secretary asking about the security situation in certain cities in Mexico?

MS HARF: In Mexico. I got a little bit on that. Of course, we take security situation very seriously no matter where. That certainly includes Mexico. We take every threat seriously, certainly. We constantly assess our security needs. We’ve also said that multiple times. But we think it’s important to have a diplomatic representation in these places and locations, and that’s why we do. And I remind people that millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for a variety of reasons. So that, I think, is one of the reasons it’s so important for us to have a very robust diplomatic presence, A, to help American citizens who are there, but also to engage with the Mexican Government.

QUESTION: One the questions the letter asks is about the elimination of danger pay for employees working in those consulates and areas that they say the security situation is deteriorating. Do you have any response to that question?

MS HARF: I don’t. I mean, I know in general how danger pay is determined; it’s one of the allowances that may be provided at a post depending on the conditions of the post related to terrorism and political violence. I don’t have much more to say on that. We regularly review all of our allowances to evaluate whether they’re appropriate. And again, we’ll respond, but in general, that’s what I know on danger pay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Okinawa. Yesterday I asked you, but you didn’t answer yet. So Okinawa Governor Onaga – he say he will visited at Washington D.C. again, and also he want to meet with U.S. official again. So does the U.S. Government and – continue to dialogue, hold a dialogue with the governor?

MS HARF: Well, we just a meeting with the Okinawa governor. I don’t have any future meetings to preview for you, certainly.

QUESTION: So continue to the dialogue with the governor?

MS HARF: We just had – I mean, we just had a meeting. I know officials on the ground at our embassy certainly dialogue with a wide range of people there. But I don’t have any specifics to share.

What else? Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is there any update on the discussions with the Qataris about the --

MS HARF: There is not. The restrictions – staying on Gitmo. The restrictions remain in place while the discussions are ongoing.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any effort to recruit those Taliban Five, so-called, since their release?

MS HARF: Well, what I can say since their release is that none of the five individuals has returned to the battlefield. All five men are subject to a travel ban and none have left Qatar. None of the individuals has engaged in physical violence. Many actions have been taken to restrict their activities, of course. And so I know there was a lot of discussion about this earlier about their possible re-engagement, and none of the five have returned to the battlefield.

QUESTION: That speaks to the outcome, but I wonder if you could speak to the question that’s been raised about inputs.

MS HARF: Whether anyone’s tried to? I can’t speak to that. I just know that they have not returned to the battlefield. The discussions remain ongoing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: That’s it.

QUESTION: Thank you, and enjoy your new job. (Applause.)

MS HARF: And we all will still be talking, particularly about Iran, so I’m sure we will all have a lot of contact still going forward. And you’ll see me around, so don’t hesitate to come say hi.

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

 

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 4, 2015

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 16:49

Marie Harf
Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 4, 2015

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TRANSCRIPT:

2:07 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Matt.

QUESTION: Yes? Happy Thursday.

MS HARF: Nothing at the top.

QUESTION: Nothing? You have no update on the Secretary?

MS HARF: I can give you one.

QUESTION: Sure, please.

MS HARF: Secretary Kerry was up again today; he was walking on crutches on the floor of his hospital. Doctors say they are happy with the continued progress in his recovery. He plans to take the next several days to recuperate and then assess when he will return to Washington. State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer was in Boston and gave him a briefing today on an array of Department priorities and issues right now, including Yemen, Cuba, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and climate change. They had a pretty lengthy discussion today. In addition, the Secretary spoke by phone with Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. She’s in Vienna, and she gave him a full update on the status of the Iran nuclear talks.

QUESTION: Okay. Walking on crutches – does that mean he has got a cast on? And is there anything more --

MS HARF: I don’t have more details to share.

QUESTION: And then the subjects that Finer raised with him, you said Yemen, Cuba, Syria, Iraq, climate change.

MS HARF: Ukraine. And Ukraine.

QUESTION: And Ukraine. Okay. And then he spoke with Wendy Sherman.

MS HARF: Wendy, mm-hmm, yes.

QUESTION: Is there anything new on Cuba that --

MS HARF: No, just sort of the ongoing discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I take it that – from he’ll decide in the next couple of days that that means Monday’s speech is still in the air? Or --

MS HARF: I think we’ll make decisions about when he’ll return to Washington, and the schedule is still in the air (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. I wanted to go to something else, but --

MS HARF: Go to something else. I think this is probably all I can say on this anyways, so --

QUESTION: I just want to try and close the loop on yesterday and the day before and the Iran and this --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- and this report that you guys object to so much. A little bit earlier at the White House, your colleague there was asked about this situation, and he said – one of the things that he said was the only reason that you guys are aware of this increase in the first place is because of the greater transparency with the JPOA.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: So yesterday, here, you were asked by Elise and by me, I think, too – but you – if it was true that you didn’t know why this was happening, the increase, and you said that’s not true --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and you – but then when the question was how do you know --

MS HARF: How.

QUESTION: -- you said you would take the question. And I’m wondering if you got an answer.

MS HARF: Well, so I think there are two separate questions. And what Josh was referring to, I think, is the – how we know is that we have the access and the IAEA has the access. So that’s the how we know what’s happening. But from a technical perspective, we have – we talk to the Iranians about this all the time. That access gives us insight into how they’re doing things in their program. I think we’re probably going to let the Iranians from a technical perspective explain what they’re doing, but suffice to say we’ve had conversations with them, we have eyes on what’s happening, and from a technical point of view, we know why this is happening and we have said that they need to get down to 7,650 by June 30th or else we’ll have an issue.

QUESTION: But you can’t say why yourself?

MS HARF: Why what?

QUESTION: Why it’s going up.

MS HARF: Well, our experts have – as we’ve said, they understand what technically is happening here and why it’s going up, given they are allowed to enrich – to continue enriching to this very small amount. That’s not – there’s not a big secret to how they are able to enrich to a less than 5 percent amount, or up to 5 percent amount.

QUESTION: So the why is simply “they can”?

MS HARF: Well, and there are technical reasons that make them able to still continue doing so under the JPOA.

QUESTION: Is it not a question of a shutdown and oxidation?

MS HARF: Well, I know people have raised that. There’s ways they then take that stockpile and reduce it --

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: -- to 7,650.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: So that’s a separate question. That’s not why it’s going up, it’s how they’re going to get it back down.

QUESTION: Okay. So how are they going to get it back down?

MS HARF: I’ll let the Iranians speak to that. They’ve done it in the previous two instances, and from a technical perspective I think that’s something they’re best able to address.

QUESTION: And they’ve done it how in the previous two instances?

MS HARF: Let me check on that. Let me check on those details with our team.

QUESTION: Could you update us on what’s going on now as far as perhaps meetings and technical meetings and --

MS HARF: Yes. So Under Secretary Sherman is in Vienna. She arrived yesterday morning. Yesterday there were talks with our P5+1 and EU political director counterparts. Today the Iranians joined those discussions. There’s also a host of experts there as well, and there will be additional experts going out – going forward. So this is really open-ended. This is the start of sort of the final push towards the end of June 30th.

QUESTION: So if the issue of enrichment is somewhat resolved and the issue of centrifuges has been also resolved, what are they discussing now? What are the things – what are the sticklers?

MS HARF: Well, there’s a number of issues, and in Lausanne the parameters we released exactly addressed a number of those issues – number of centrifuges; Arak; some of those specifics. But there are a) outstanding issues on the details surrounding some of those, right, so timing for when they have to do certain nuclear-related steps and what sanctions relief they’ll get in response. So those are issues right now that are still being discussed. There are outstanding issues when it comes to access that are still being discussed. They agreed to a premise on this, but the specific details – those are still being discussed.

QUESTION: So conceivably there are some outstanding issues that can hinder the outcome of the deal.

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: You’re not just running out the clock, are you?

MS HARF: No, absolutely. There are outstanding issues – look, making those parameters into a very detailed both political agreement document, for lack of a better term, and detailed annexes – translating that into those takes a lot of expert work and a lot of political decisions, I would say. So that’s the work that’s going on right now.

What else on Iran? Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yemen?

QUESTION: Burma.

MS HARF: Yemen? Okay, let’s go to Yemen.

QUESTION: There was a meeting of the Security Council, and they have decided to hold Geneva talks on the 14th of June. Are you aware of that or do you support that?

MS HARF: Well, I think --

QUESTION: There’s --

MS HARF: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead. No, I’m sorry (inaudible). I’ll follow up.

MS HARF: Okay. The UN can, I think, best speak to the timing of these talks. I’m not sure they’ve officially announced them yet, and they will be in Geneva, so they can speak to the timing. We have said for a long time that we support the resumption of these UN-led political dialogue process and these talks and urge all Yemeni parties to engage in these consultations. So we do support them.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, would you support another call for another ceasefire – a humanitarian one?

MS HARF: Well, we certainly believe that steps should be taken to allow humanitarian aid in. When there was a humanitarian ceasefire, humanitarian aid was able to get in. So we believe, regardless of how that happens, it needs to happen given the really serious situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Are you urging the Saudis and their coalition partners to spare civilian areas? Because a lot of these victims apparently, according to reports by Amnesty, by other international organizations – the targets have been civilians.

MS HARF: We certainly encourage all – and urge strongly all parties here to take steps to avoid civilian casualties, absolutely. That’s something that’s very important to us.

QUESTION: I have a small question on Burma.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Like thousands of Muslims have been killing by Buddhist and army people. So what’s going on in Burma, actually – they are killing lots of innocent kids, girls, womans. It’s like when you see Facebook, it’s like horrible things going on in Burma.

MS HARF: Well --

QUESTION: Do you have any update on that? Is the –

MS HARF: -- I don’t have much of an update. As we’ve said, particularly when it comes to this migrant issue that we’ve talked a lot about in this room, that Burma has made progress in the human rights situation in its country. But we are particularly concerned about the ongoing situation in Rakhine state, particularly with the Rohingya and those Burmese having all the rights and being afforded all the rights of everyone else, and as you’ve seen, the Burmese Government taking steps to address the conditions that lead people to become migrants and risk their lives to leave the country because of this. So that’s an ongoing conversation we have with the Burmese. We are concerned about it, particularly, as I said, when it comes to the Rohingya.

QUESTION: When ISIL kills people like they’re cutting their heads off, there’s so many news in U.S. media. But now lots of people, they’re cutting their heads – I’m sorry.

MS HARF: It’s okay.

QUESTION: So many things going on. Please, if you guys focus on that, we really appreciate that.

MS HARF: We’re certainly focused on the situation there. I can’t sort of confirm – excuse me – those --

QUESTION: You can see those in Facebook. It’s too much --

MS HARF: -- reports that you’re referencing, but we’re certainly concerned about the situation.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the foreign minister of Myanmar said – today essentially denied persecution of the Rohingya in his country and said that such alleged persecution – that these reports were (a) not true and (b) were not what was causing the migration. Do you, given the human rights reports – and we don’t have this year’s, but we certainly have past years – do you concur with his assessment that there is not persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar?

MS HARF: Well, I didn’t see his specific assessment, but as I just said and as the human rights report, as you mentioned, has said, the Rohingya have been certainly not afforded the rights they should. We continue to be concerned about the situation and the way they are treated there and the conditions that lead them to become migrants. So it’s something we are increasingly concerned about, particularly on the migration side, but we’ve been concerned about for a long time.

QUESTION: So if it’s not persecution that they suffer, how would you describe the treatment?

MS HARF: Well, I’m happy to go back and look at our previous human rights report and pull that exact language for you.

QUESTION: But you would stick with those descriptions?

MS HARF: I would, yes. I would, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you.

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to return to Yemen, we were hoping for some reaction to an Al-Jazeera investigation that was released today. An ex-al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operative told us that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh worked closely with AQAP. Not only that, his nephew, who was second in command of the national security bureau, supplied the explosives that were used in the 2008 attack on the U.S. embassy. Were you aware of that? Was that a line that you’ve been following as well?

MS HARF: I haven’t seen the piece. I’m happy to take a look at it and talk to our team and see if we can get a response.

QUESTION: Do you know off hand, though, whether Colonel Ammar Muhammad Abdullah Saleh, the nephew of Ali Abdullah Saleh, has received any U.S. or State Department support in the past?

MS HARF: I do not. I’m happy to check for you.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Back to Ukraine, President Poroshenko seems to have stepped up his concern about the Russian involvement in his country. He said to parliament today that there were 9,000 Russian service members in Ukraine in – and they were threatening what he called a full-scale invasion. First, does the U.S. share his concern about this stepped up aggression?

MS HARF: Well, as I said yesterday, and I would say again today, we are concerned about ongoing attacks by the Russian-separatist forces on the Ukrainian Government side of the ceasefire line. That – I spoke to that quite a bit yesterday, and we certainly share his concern about that – those ongoing attacks.

QUESTION: What about the figure of 9,000?

MS HARF: As we’ve also said, it’s hard to put an exact number given the Russian Government actively tries to camouflage who they’re sending in and the weapons that they’re sending in. But we know there are – there’s a large number of Russians there fighting with the separatists.

QUESTION: Is there going to be anyone from this building at the meeting in Germany tomorrow that Ash Carter is leading?

MS HARF: From the State Department? I’m not sure about that. Let me check. I just have a little bit on that. There may be, though. So Secretary Carter will conclude his trip with a stop in Germany, as you mentioned. Yes, he will meet with senior U.S. military commanders and U.S. diplomats – so State Department representatives – from several European countries to discuss our posture in Europe with a focus on Russia. It’s really modeled after the meeting he had in Kuwait where we – which was reported on in the past, but he will discuss the impact of Russian aggression in Ukraine on European security, and really is an opportunity for him to hear firsthand from, certainly from our perspective, the diplomats in the field, and also military commanders about the situation.

QUESTION: Wait, what – the meeting in Kuwait was not about Russian --

MS HARF: No, but he was – brought together people from the region. I believe that was about ISIL, if I remember correctly --

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: -- to talk to the diplomats and military commanders and people serving in the region about that threat. So it’s a similar sort of gathering, according to his team.

QUESTION: So – right. But that doesn’t presuppose you’re going to start to form a coalition to start --

MS HARF: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Pam’s questions?

MS HARF: You can.

QUESTION: What about Poroshenko’s specific statement that he expects a full-scale invasion?

MS HARF: Well, we certainly – look, I’m not going to make predictions here, and he can certainly feel free to do so. What we have said is we are concerned about increasing attacks on the Ukrainian side of the ceasefire line, and that certainly Russia should not take any additional steps.

QUESTION: Well, even – I’m not asking you to make a prediction, but do you have reason to believe that there are preparations for a full-scale invasion?

MS HARF: Well, I just said I’m not going to make a prediction. We’ve seen the Russian --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to predict is there going to be a full-scale invasion. I’m asking you if you see evidence of --

MS HARF: That there may be?

QUESTION: -- preparations.

QUESTION: Well, they – I mean, the truth is, Arshad, they have heavy weapons on the border, on the Ukrainian side of the border. I mean, they have heavy weapons, troops, command and control amassed on both sides of the border, so I’m not sure what additional evidence we would be looking for, but we’re certainly concerned about what they already have there.

QUESTION: I guess what I was wondering is that – I mean, you’ve said for months now that they have troops, heavy equipment, et cetera, on the wrong side of the border.

MS HARF: Right. Is there anything different now I guess is what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Exactly. Has it increased in scale to such a degree --

MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our team and get you an answer on that.

Yes. What else on this?

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday you said the rebels are responsible for the vast majority of violations of the peace deal. You said you would check how you came to that conclusion. What’s --

MS HARF: And I did for you, because I said I would.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yes. And I actually read some of these OSCE daily and weekly reports that you were quoting from. I wanted to get familiar with them.

QUESTION: Some of these or all of these --

MS HARF: Well, I didn’t read all --

QUESTION: -- in two months, in two months.

MS HARF: February – it started on February 15th, was the Minsk implementation, so there’s more than two months of daily reports. But I read some of them just to get familiar with what they look like and what’s in them. And I think just a couple of points here. First, our assessment is, based on OSCE reporting and other sources of information, including the location, the kind of weaponry, and other evidence, that the majority of ceasefire violations, as we’ve said, have been committed by the combined Russian separatist forces.

One thing that struck me about the OSCE reports is that they – their tabulations and analyses by definition do not ascribe blame for who commits these acts. They merely point out where they take place. So I – well, let me finish and then you can follow up. So I’ve looked at some of them and they say, for example, the special monitoring mission noticed this happening in Luhansk. They don’t say who did this. So it’s the analysis that we do with this in addition to location, kind of weaponry, and other sources of information that leads to our judgment that a majority of these were committed by Russian separatist forces. Again, they don’t ascribe blame.

QUESTION: Do you have a number? Do you have a number of violations that you saw in those reports, let’s say, in two months?

MS HARF: Well, there are – the reports, to be fair, don’t always have tabulations in that way. Sometimes they talk about specific incidents in a particular city, but again, they don’t describe blame.

QUESTION: Then how do you come to that conclusion?

MS HARF: Well, as I said --

QUESTION: Do you have a quote from the OSCE spokesperson who says that one of the sides is responsible for the vast majority of violations? Do --

MS HARF: The OSCE does not assign blame for violations. They just note where violations take place and what they look like.

QUESTION: So it is your analysis but without a number. You are saying the overwhelming number of violations, but you don’t have a number. Do you have --

MS HARF: So how we do the – well, how we do this analysis is we take a look at the OSCE reports and we go through them and note where they take place, what kinds of weapons are used, who’s operating in that area, who has the ability to use those weapons. We match that up with other information we have that’s out there in the public domain – certainly other information we have as well – to make a determination, an analytic determination about who was responsible for these different kinds of violations.

QUESTION: So it is your analytical determination. So we’ve looked at --

MS HARF: Based on a body of evidence.

QUESTION: -- at the daily reports of the OSCE for the last two months --

MS HARF: And I did – I did this morning as well.

QUESTION: Well, we counted the violations and – ceasefire violations and weapons withdrawal violations, and the numbers are about the same.

MS HARF: But -- well, the OSCE --

QUESTION: I cited them yesterday and I can do that now.

MS HARF: But are those your --

QUESTION: But okay, for example --

MS HARF: Wait, are those your numbers? Because they’re not – OSCE numbers don’t assign blame.

QUESTION: I understand. So you are analyzing the reports; also, we can do that too.

MS HARF: And you’re analyzing them.

QUESTION: We can see those daily reports. So one of – an example of a report: May 1st, just outside government-controlled Nikolaev, 41 kilometers south of Donetsk, the SMM – the monitoring mission --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- saw three what it assessed to be outgoing tank rounds fired from a location approximately two kilometers to the north. An incoming round followed, impacting approximately 200 meters north of the SMM’s position. So that is an example. And it looks like one side fires and the other responds. You see that in many of the reports. Wouldn’t that make for equal – an equal number of violations on both sides?

MS HARF: Well, in that very limited example you’re noting from May 1st, but we’re taking a look at the entire breadth of reporting from February 15th, when the Minsk – when Minsk took effect, to now, which is much more than two months. And so if you look overall at every single daily report --

QUESTION: What about two months – in the last two months? What --

MS HARF: Well, why are you – I’m just curious why you’re picking two months. Because our assessment is overall since Minsk, which was February 15th – overall since February 15th, a majority of violations has been by the --

QUESTION: Do you have a number?

MS HARF: I’m happy to see if there’s a number to share, but again, it’s --

QUESTION: But you said yesterday that you would see what that share of violations is.

MS HARF: And I think I’ve gotten quite a bit of information for you today on how we do this. I’ve looked at the reports you were citing to make sure I was familiar with them and noted, I think, particularly that, again, the OSCE does not assign blame. They tabulate what has happened, as you mentioned. So we – our team goes through – has gone through every daily report, and it began implementation on February 15th – that’s much more than two months – and our overall assessment, based on that, is that a majority of these have been committed by the Russian separatist forces.

QUESTION: So one of the latest statements from the OSCE spokesperson is visited many heavy weapons – that the mission visited many heavy weapon sites on both sides and have reported missing weaponry. So they mentioned both sides, something that you never do.

MS HARF: That’s not true. I have repeatedly said that we call on both sides here to uphold the Minsk agreement they both agreed to.

QUESTION: Call on them, but what they’re actually doing, you never criticized the side that you are supporting.

MS HARF: As I said yesterday, a majority of these are committed by Russian separatist forces. So by definition that means a minority are committed by the other side. I also said that yesterday as well.

QUESTION: Marie, one thing that is different today, when you have been asked about this in the past you and also Jeff, which seems to have changed today, is that prior to today you had said “the vast majority,” “the overwhelming majority.” And today you’re saying just the majority.

MS HARF: There’s – I --

QUESTION: Is that intended to be --

MS HARF: No, there’s not.

QUESTION: You haven’t gone back --

MS HARF: I’m not trying to change from yesterday.

QUESTION: So you still think – it is still the U.S. Government’s assessment that the vast or overwhelming majority of violations are coming from the separatist side?

MS HARF: That’s certainly my understanding, and I would also point out --

QUESTION: But that’s not what you – but that’s not what you said.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, I just want to make sure that --

MS HARF: Thank you for being – no, I appreciate that. But I also think, Matt, it’s important to remember the big picture here and the context of what is happening. Between the September Minsk agreement and the February implementation plan, combined Russian-separatist forces seized hundreds of square kilometers of Ukrainian territory in direct contravention to the agreement they had just signed. The OSCE cannot get access to separatist-controlled areas to verify the ceasefire, and I have this map up here; I’m happy to give anyone afterwards that shows the area the Russian-separatist combined forces are preventing the OSCE from even getting to. So I think it’s important, again, to step back and take a look at the bigger context here.

QUESTION: Okay. But I just – I --

QUESTION: But it’s not only – just one --

QUESTION: My question, though, is just on the --

MS HARF: Let’s let Matt ask his question.

QUESTION: Well, I just want to – but the removal of --

MS HARF: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- the word “vast” or “significant” or “substantial” from in front of the word “majority” does it --

MS HARF: I’m happy to say substantial, significant, vast – whatever word you would like.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in providing access. So in the last two months, it’s not just the rebels that are --

MS HARF: Why are you choosing two months? I’m curious.

QUESTION: Because I read – we read the daily reports from these --

MS HARF: Well, there are some from before two months, though.

QUESTION: Just as an example to give you numbers.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: So 18 violations by the Ukrainian forces, and 27 by the rebels.

MS HARF: Well, that’s not what the reports say, though. The reports do not assign blame. So you’re assigning blame based on their numbers; the reports do not assign blame, to be very clear.

QUESTION: But – but --

MS HARF: I’ve read the reports as well.

QUESTION: You’re – aren’t you doing the same thing?

MS HARF: Based on a whole of analysis.

QUESTION: You’re analyzing their daily reports, right?

MS HARF: But so – just be very clear, that’s your analysis.

QUESTION: We are analyzing them too.

MS HARF: Right, right.

QUESTION: They’re in public domain.

MS HARF: Right, but --

QUESTION: Everyone can do that.

MS HARF: But wait, let me finish. To be clear, that’s your analysis of what the OSCE is reporting. The OSCE does not say X number of violations by either side. The OSCE does not say those in those reports. And if you want to see this map, this red part --

QUESTION: But when you’re saying the overwhelming number --

MS HARF: Wait, no, let me finish. This red part right here is the area that the Russian-separatist forces won’t let OSCE monitors in. How --

QUESTION: Do you have the area where the Ukrainian forces do not let them in?

MS HARF: Yes. It’s this very tiny yellow tip right there. And I’m happy to give this to you after the briefing, if you’d like.

QUESTION: Where is that? Where does it come from?

MS HARF: It comes from the British Government. I’m happy to give it to you after the briefing.

QUESTION: But not from the OSCE, right?

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: It doesn’t come from the OSCE, does it?

QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?

MS HARF: We can move on, yes.

QUESTION: On Ukraine? I have one more.

MS HARF: Oh, sure. Yes.

QUESTION: The head of the Poroshenko bloc earlier today called for a food blockade on Donbass region. He said, until the terrorists give up prisoners, we’re going to continue firing, and we’re not going to give them food. Any – he asked the Ukraine citizens that they’re obligated to move to Ukraine free territory. Do you agree with these proposals? What is your reaction?

MS HARF: I’m sorry, I hadn’t seen those. I’m happy to check with our team for you.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Okay. Quick one on Russia?

MS HARF: Okay. Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday there was a report the Pentagon is seeking to ease sanctions on RD-180s rockets. They need the rockets. What is the State Department position on this?

MS HARF: I’m – I haven’t heard of that. I’m happy to point you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Just one short question about your statement on the --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- shelling of Marinka. Right, you had a – you made a statement yesterday about that.

MS HARF: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Did you have a statement? Did you have anything to say about the shelling of the city of Donetsk the day before on June 2nd?

MS HARF: I’m --

QUESTION: There was heavy shelling on June 2nd.

MS HARF: Okay. I’m happy to check into that question with our team on the ground.

QUESTION: Why do you focus only on the violations by the rebels?

MS HARF: I don’t think that that’s the case. I pointed out a number of aggressive violations into Ukrainian Government territory across the ceasefire line just in the past 24 hours. I’m happy to look into any report you give me and to make a comment on it based on the facts on the ground and what we actually see there. I’m happy to.

QUESTION: But you choose to focus on one thing and not the other.

MS HARF: I’m glad that that’s your opinion, but again, we call it like we see it, and this is how we see what’s happening in eastern Ukraine.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on an Egyptian court ruling that Mubarak should face a second and final retrial over the --

MS HARF: That Mubarak should?

QUESTION: -- Mubarak, correct – over the --

MS HARF: Is that – did that just happen in the last few hours?

QUESTION: It happened today. It was --

MS HARF: Let me check with our folks on that.

QUESTION: Fine.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So back during the heady days of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – (laughter) – the Secretary made some comments in Munich that were not well received by Israel and its supporters about what might happen if the peace talks failed. One of the things that he said might happen would be the growth of the so-called BDS movement. Now, there is --

MS HARF: Which we, of course, don’t support.

QUESTION: -- a serious kerfuffle going on between Israel and France over Orange Telecom and its relationship with --

MS HARF: I saw that.

QUESTION: I realize that the U.S. is not a direct party to this, but I just wanted to make sure or to find out if the U.S. position on the wisdom or the ethics of such divestment or – of BDS is the same. Is it?

MS HARF: It is the same.

QUESTION: So that means that you oppose it.

MS HARF: Correct. Now, let – I haven’t --

QUESTION: Does --

MS HARF: -- talked to anyone about this specific – I saw the news reports. I haven’t talked to anyone about this specifically, but our position in general on the issue has not changed.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you are still advising or urging European governments or governments anywhere against – or telling them that you think that it’s a bad idea to do this?

MS HARF: I think we make our position clear. I don’t have --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: -- any specifics, again, on this case to share with you.

QUESTION: Because during the Israeli election campaign, there was a lot of talk and a lot of friction between here and Israel, and a lot of discussion within the Administration about looking into perhaps new – looking into revising how you approached the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and that you – tactics and strategies might change.

MS HARF: Right. That hasn’t – that issue, though, has not changed, the --

QUESTION: So – okay, so --

MS HARF: -- boycott issue.

QUESTION: So the – okay, so --

MS HARF: Our position on the boycott issue has not changed.

QUESTION: So that is not part of the – first of all, I mean, is that review going on?

MS HARF: It wasn’t sort of an official review. I know we talked about this at the time, but we were looking at what the next steps were going to look like. We needed Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a government. We need to see sort of what steps each of the sides are willing to take before, I think, we determine what the best path forward is.

QUESTION: So in other words, it’s still possible that you – that the Administration might change its mind about whether or not this is --

MS HARF: On boycotts?

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: I --

QUESTION: Or no? That’s off the table?

MS HARF: I would seriously doubt that.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if, in this case, because there – the French Government does have a stake in this company, if there has been any contact between --

MS HARF: I do not know.

QUESTION: Can you check?

MS HARF: I can check. I can, yes.

QUESTION: And do you have any comment on this specific incident? Because Prime Minister Netanyahu is – well, let’s say he’s not pleased, to put it mildly.

MS HARF: I don’t – again, I haven’t talked to our team about this specific incident, so let me check with them after the briefing.

Yes, Nicolas.

QUESTION: So to follow up on Matt’s question, so this is your position in general, even if Orange and – the French Government has not reacted, I think, but even if Orange said that its decision has nothing to do with politics and it’s because they didn’t want to have their brand in Israel when they – where they don’t have a network?

MS HARF: Well, that’s why I don’t want to comment on the specific case because I just haven’t talked to our team about it and I’m not familiar with all the specifics. In general, though, our issue – our position on boycotts hasn’t changed, but let me talk to them about – I understand there’s some complexity to this issue.

QUESTION: But – and when you say that, it is also, though, the position of the Administration that private companies can do business, or foreign governments can do business or recognize --

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: -- countries or – what – it’s up to them.

MS HARF: Right, as long as – right. I mean --

QUESTION: So that – so --

MS HARF: -- as long as something’s not prohibited for a reason, but yes.

QUESTION: Right. But with that in mind, can you find out – I mean, because then – if that’s the case, I don’t understand why you would be urging foreign governments not to do this.

MS HARF: Well, I’m not sure that we are.

QUESTION: Right, okay. So that’s --

MS HARF: So that’s what – I will check on all of this, I promise.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iraq, actually, could you give us a sense of the significance of the pledge of allegiance from various Sunni tribes in Anbar province to ISIL?

MS HARF: Well, I appreciate the question, certainly. I think that, quite frankly, I’m not sure exactly what sheikhs or leaders you’re referring to specifically. We’ve said since the beginning of this crisis that the situation in Anbar is complex. Many top Sunni leaders are supporting the government in their efforts against ISIL; some don’t. So it’s pretty complex, and I wouldn’t want to categorize everyone, certainly, in one way.

I think we’ve said the U.S. is supporting the plan that was announced by the Iraqi council of ministers to accelerate the training and equipping of local tribes in coordination with Anbar authorities. They announced that on May 19th. This also calls for expanding recruitment into the Iraqi army coming from Anbar. And we’re also encouraged by the announcement on May 27th by the Iraqis of the induction of 800 additional tribal fighters into the PMF, the Popular Mobilization Force.

So again, the prime minister has been clear that this plan has to be centered around leaders in Anbar, and Anbari fighters being part of the solution here. I don’t know exactly who you’re referring to, but the situation in Anbar is, of course, a complex one, and there may be some people who support ISIL, but there are many who don’t.

QUESTION: The al-Jumailis, I guess, is the main --

MS HARF: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The al-Jumailis, I think, are the main tribe in the --

MS HARF: Look, I’m happy to check on them specifically.

QUESTION: It is striking, though, how similar – how what’s happening currently does chime in with the prediction we now know that the Defense Intelligence Agency made in 2012 that a Salafist principality might grow up in eastern Syria and western Iraq, and that – in fact, that was the policy. That’s what – the goal of the GCC countries, your allies in the region. Would you accept that that’s what’s happened?

MS HARF: Well, I think you’re making a number of sort of sweeping generalizations.

QUESTION: That was the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012.

MS HARF: Well, I haven’t read the whole DIA report. I’m happy to go back and pull that and take a look at it. There was a lot of assessment done at the time about the possible futures – directions that Iraq could take, certainly. So I’m happy to go back and look at those, but --

QUESTION: You don’t think it’s the goal of the GCC to have some sort of Salafist area there to be a sort of bulwark against Iran?

MS HARF: I think the fact that GCC and regional countries are taking direct military action against ISIL in the region now, I think, should make it pretty clear how they feel about ISIL.

Yes.

QUESTION: Marie, two quick questions on different topics. There’s a bipartisan letter today from Representatives Chaffetz and Vela from Texas citing concerns about security around compounds in Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Guadalajara, Mexico, saying that security there has deteriorated to an alarming extent. Chaffetz says he wants to know from Secretary Kerry why are the consulates in those towns still open. Are you all concerned about security around those consulates and --

MS HARF: I --

QUESTION: -- and is there any --

MS HARF: Yeah --

QUESTION: -- plan in place to assess that?

MS HARF: -- I haven’t heard of the letter. I’m sure we’ll respond as we always do. I’m not sure we’ve received it yet. We may have, but I’m happy to get something for you.

QUESTION: And then beyond that, North Korea. Officials there with their space agency have told AP Television that they plan to launch a second observation satellite, that they don’t basically care what the rest of the world has to say about it, and that it’s America and its imperial allies who are trying to persecute them. What’s your reaction to the potential launch of a second satellite?

MS HARF: We have seen those reports that the North Korean space agency officials say they’re developing a more advanced earth observation satellite. To be clear, any satellite launch that uses ballistic missile technology would be a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions that require North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program, re-establish a moratorium on missile launches, et cetera, et cetera – it goes on and covers quite a few things. Any rocket capable of placing an object in orbit is directly relevant to the development of long-range ballistic missiles, as many ballistic missile and space launch vehicle technologies are virtually identical and interchangeable. So we’ll be watching this. It could very likely contravene UN Security Council resolutions. But again, I think they just said they’re working to make one.

QUESTION: Working toward. Do you guys have any indication from your aspect that you’re seeing more activity?

MS HARF: I don’t have much more on that.

QUESTION: Wait, on this --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- can you get a satellite into orbit without using a ballistic missile or a technology that might be banned?

MS HARF: What our experts tell me is that the ballistic missile and space launch vehicle technologies are virtually identical and interchangeable.

QUESTION: So no satellites --

MS HARF: Can you without it? I don’t know if there’s a way you could.

QUESTION: No – so North Korea is not allowed to have satellites?

MS HARF: North Korea has to live up to its obligations regarding ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: How about if North Korea had someone else fire their satellite into --

MS HARF: I can check with our lawyers and see if that would be in violation.

QUESTION: I want to know if --

MS HARF: But regardless, it would be an escalatory move. It would be one that contributes to tensions and that we would urge them not to do.

QUESTION: A satellite?

MS HARF: Well, if they had another country do certain things for them. It depends on what that was, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I – I realize you’re not being --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, Arshad.

MS HARF: Let’s – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, I just want to know – I mean, is it the rocket or the missile that’s the concern, or is it both the rocket and the missile and the satellite?

MS HARF: It’s the technology that underpins it that is almost identical to ballistic missile technology.

QUESTION: Yeah. But if they found a way that they could use a giant slingshot to get a satellite into orbit, would you be opposed to it, then?

MS HARF: I don’t think slingshots are --

QUESTION: Well, you know what I mean.

MS HARF: -- are a part of UN Security Council --

QUESTION: If they found some other way to get a satellite into orbit or had someone else do it for them, would you still be opposed? That’s what --

MS HARF: I’m happy to check with our --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS HARF: -- experts on that. I understand the question. I do.

QUESTION: Why would it be intrinsically escalatory if someone else were to launch something for them?

MS HARF: Well, I think that what the international community needs to do is put more pressure on North Korea to get them back in line with their international obligations, not assist them to advance technologically, even if it’s not ballistic missile technology; that we need the world to put pressure on them, not to do the opposite.

QUESTION: But it would mean that they would be flouting your wishes but not necessarily that they would – it would be escalatory.

MS HARF: Well, not – well, not necessarily that it would be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, I would say.

Yes.

QUESTION: Different country?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Turkey’s President Erdogan accused New York Times, CNN, and BBC of trying to weaken and divide Turkey – this was couple of days ago – and then yesterday followed up in a way, saying journalists, Armenians, and homosexuals are trying – are representatives of sedition. Do you have any comment about a allied country’s leader speaking about American media outlets?

MS HARF: When it – right, when it comes to journalists, certainly, the U.S. supports freedom of expression, and we remain concerned about government interference in freedom of expression in Turkey. We’ve said that for a long time and we remain concerned. An independent and unfettered media is an essential element of any democratic and open society, and as, I think, Turkey’s friend and as their NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold democratic values, including due process, judicial independence, and freedom of expression, including access to media and information.

QUESTION: Do you think his statement is related to forthcoming parliamentary elections?

MS HARF: I’m just not going to speculate on that.

QUESTION: So you would denounce or decry or criticize or whatever the negative word is for him criticizing homosexuals, Armenians and journalists.

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: What about gay Armenian journalists? (Laughter.)

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Marie, you called again Turkey an ally, but according to --

MS HARF: Turkey is an ally – a NATO ally, in fact.

QUESTION: So according to Kadir Has University, which is in Turkey, 35 percent of Turkish society sees United States as a threat to Turkey, that America is among four big threats to Turks. According this – according to the statistics, on the top it’s Israel, United States is a second, Syria up third, Armenia ranks fourth. Do you follow this growing anti-Americanism in Turkish society and Turkish politics? Are you concerned about this?

MS HARF: Well, I’m not sure I would take one poll – and I’m going back to my previous life here – I’m not sure I would take one poll and extrapolate out to show that it somehow indicates a larger trend. One poll is one poll, and I haven’t seen it; I don’t know the methodology. And again, we are a NATO ally and very close partner of Turkey, so I’m not sure I would use --

QUESTION: Well, the president is saying those things about CNN and New York Times. This is not poll, president.

MS HARF: Well, I understand that. But again, as we’ve said, Turks need to have unfettered access to media. That’s something we feel very strongly about and we’ll continue speaking up about.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have three question about Okinawa. Yesterday I asked about Department of State released a media note about a meeting with the Okinawa Governor Onaga. I have never hear that state government did put out a media release when Okinawa governor visited here. Why? And also governor --

MS HARF: I’m not sure that’s true. I know that the governor of Okinawa has had similar meetings in the past with similar officials at the State Department.

QUESTION: Also have released a media note (inaudible) times?

MS HARF: I’m happy to go check our archives to see if we released a media note then.

QUESTION: Okay. And also, Governor Onaga is tells U.S. Government to stop the construction of new airbase in Henoko. And also he will use his authority to (inaudible) Henoko relocation plan. How do you think about that, and you’re disappointed that he using to the – his authority?

MS HARF: Well, as we said yesterday in the media note and as I said as well, during the media – or during the meeting – excuse me – Director Young, which was one of the American officials, and one of our Deputy Assistant Secretaries, Abercrombie, underscored that the governments of the U.S. and Japan share a commitment to the construction of the Futenma replacement facility. So this is something that was discussed and I really just don’t have more to add than we already released yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay. I have one more question. Does the U.S. Government continue to engage in the constructive dialogue with Okinawa governor?

MS HARF: Continue our engagement?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Continue to the meeting to and continue to dialogue --

MS HARF: I mean, I’m sure our engagement will continue as it has.

QUESTION: Okay, and he want to come here again and also autumn, other this year, so --

MS HARF: I don’t have anything specific to announce.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: Anything else?

QUESTION: Also on Okinawa.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The mayor of Nago, where – which will host the FRF – he characterized the memo that you released – speaking especially to the fact that it’s not a new facility or a new base, but an existing base – he called that a fallacy. Do you have a response to that?

MS HARF: I don’t. Again, we put out our information yesterday and certainly stand by that.

QUESTION: Do you have any details of Ambassador Max Baucus’s trip to Tibet?

MS HARF: I do. Just give me one sec. U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus visited the Tibet Autonomous Region May 26th through 30th with his wife and officials from Embassy Beijing and Consulate General Chengdu. During his visit, Ambassador Baucus visited Namsto Lake, the centuries-old Potala Palace, and at each site Ambassador Baucus learned more about Tibet’s culture and traditions and as well as the practices associated with Tibetan Buddhism. He had meetings with government officials. He highlighted the tremendous potential he saw in the Tibet Autonomous Region, stressing the many advantages that could be realized by cooperation in clean energy development, environmentally-sustainable growth and wetlands protection, among other areas. In other meetings, he also urged Tibet Autonomous Region officials to engage with U.S. officials to promote trade and investment cooperation.

QUESTION: Did he have unfettered access while he was there? In particular, was he able to get inside of some of the centers where political prisoners are kept, some of the re-education centers?

MS HARF: Well, he met with a cross-section of Tibetans, including government officials, provincial leaders, entrepreneurs, and students, and he looks forward to visiting again. I just don’t have more details than that.

QUESTION: Marie, there was a time when the U.S. – when the Government – the U.S. Government was trying to – was negotiating with the Chinese to open a consulate --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- in Lhasa. Is that still – can you check to see if that’s still something that you --

MS HARF: I believe that’s still our goal. Let me check with our team.

QUESTION: Do you know if that came up during his visit?

MS HARF: I don’t. Let me check with him.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a quick one on Pakistan and India.

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The secretary of foreign affairs from Pakistan is in Washington, and he said – he accused this morning India of being responsible for the suspension of the dialogue. So one, do you have a position of who is --

MS HARF: Of which – of which dialogue?

QUESTION: The dialogue between the two countries. They were supposed to meet – the two secretaries were supposed to meet --

MS HARF: Not a U.S. dialogue.

QUESTION: No, no, no, the India-Pakistan dialogues.

MS HARF: Got it.

QUESTION: Do you have a position on who is to blame for that?

MS HARF: We don’t. And I hadn’t seen those comments, but we have always said we welcome sides – steps that each side could take to have more dialogue, certainly, but I don’t have much more analysis to do than that.

QUESTION: And the U.S. – is the U.S. acting behind the scene to convince the two countries to resume (inaudible)?

MS HARF: I just haven’t heard much on this and don’t have many more details to share.

Thank you, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)

 


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 3, 2015

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 17:29

Marie Harf
Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 3, 2015

Share Index for Today's Briefing

TRANSCRIPT:

12:47 p.m. EDT

MS HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing. I know, I’ll echo Matt. Welcome, Lou, to the briefing in Washington. Almost a full front row.

QUESTION: We do have a bit of an echo here.

MS HARF: Hello? It’s better than the rushing water sound above yesterday, which I was worried was going to result in some sort of downpour. I have a couple updates at the top and then, Matt, I’m kicking it over to you.

Just a quick update on Secretary Kerry. You saw the statement from his doctor last night, hopefully. As his doctor said he would be in that statement, today the Secretary Kerry was up and out of bed. He had a good night, was up early today and started physical therapy. So he – we may have more to say later. That is the latest on his condition.

Moving on to Pakistan. Earlier today, Under Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel and Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson launched the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies. Arizona State University, the University of Utah, and the University of California at Davis will partner with three world class Pakistani universities to research innovative energy, water, and food security solutions.

Two more items, and then over to you. For – in terms of something happening in Russia, we are troubled by the violent ransacking and attacks today at the offices of the NGO Committee Against Torture in Grozny, Chechnya. It is our understanding that a crowd of nearly 3,000 people protested outside the office, broke into the building, and destroyed property while police failed to respond. This follows the burning of the previous Committee Against Torture office space in Grozny last December. We call on Russian authorities to hold those involved in these attacks responsible for their actions and to protect the ability of civil society groups to perform their essential functions.

And lastly on Ukraine, we are disturbed by reports, including those from the OSCE that combined Russian-separatist forces launched coordinated attacks overnight against Ukrainian positions near Donetsk – near Donetsk city in Pisky, Luhansk, and Maryinca. We are now seeing unconfirmed reports that the town of Maryinca may have fallen. These attacks by combined Russian-separatist forces are on the Ukrainian side of the ceasefire line. They have reportedly utilized Grad rockets and other heavy weapons that should have been withdrawn under the February Minsk plan, and they’ve reportedly killed at least one and injured 20 Ukrainians. Any new attack or aggressive action by combined Russian-separatist forces is unacceptable and contravenes the Minsk agreements. Russia bears direct responsibility for preventing these attacks and implementing a ceasefire. Any attempts to seize additional Ukrainian territory will be met with increased costs.

Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. Before – I’m sure we’ll get back to Ukraine. And just before getting into the meat of things --

MS HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on the Secretary, is there any more detail you can give us about what exactly the procedure was that – what was involved in this surgery? Is there a pin or something put in --

MS HARF: I don’t have more details today to share about the surgery specifically or his medical condition. As we have more to share, we will do so.

QUESTION: And then it – he was scheduled to give a speech on Monday here. Is that up in the air? Is he still planning on doing it? What’s the --

MS HARF: We haven’t pulled anything down off of the schedule yet. Obviously, we’re waiting to see how the surgery went. His doctors – he’s talking to his doctors about the recovery, and we’ll keep folks updated on the schedule.

QUESTION: Okay. But so everything is --

MS HARF: We just don’t know yet.

QUESTION: And you would expect him to stay in Boston for how long? Maybe --

MS HARF: We’re not sure yet.

QUESTION: All right.

MS HARF: As – again, we have more to share --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: -- on that, I’m happy to.

QUESTION: Can ask I – when you said that he was up and about, do you mean he’s walking?

MS HARF: I don’t have more specifics to share for you than that. Last night, his doctor said he would be up today, and I think this is a fairly standard thing after surgery to make sure they get up on their feet. But I don’t have much more to share than that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: You talked with him?

MS HARF: I have not, no. Not yet. Not today.

QUESTION: Is he wearing a cast?

MS HARF: I don’t have more to share on his condition.

QUESTION: All right. Let’s go to Iran.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: I was not here yesterday, and I understand that you – this came up yesterday.

MS HARF: It did.

QUESTION: But in light of the fact that you – you --

MS HARF: I did.

QUESTION: -- felt the need to --

MS HARF: I did.

QUESTION: -- take to social media this morning to restate your objections to yesterday’s New York Times story, I wanted to ask about it --

MS HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- again.

MS HARF: What specifics?

QUESTION: What exactly is the problem that you see with the story? The facts of the story, what the IAEA reported, what people’s – what experts think about that do not seem to be in question, correct? What is the issue?

MS HARF: Well, I think a couple points here. And a lot of nuclear experts now have started chiming in online as well. And I, to be clear, tweeted the exact same things I said in the briefing yesterday. So I’m happy to go back through those again and we can – I’m sure people will have follow-ups.

There’s a couple, I think, notions in this story that we disagree with, one being – I think it was the second paragraph – that Western officials are unaware of why this is happening. That’s just not the case. This type of stockpile, under the JPOA and the extensions, can go up and down – that is perfectly acceptable – as long as, at the end of the time period, which in this case is June 30th, it’s back below 7,650 kilograms. In the past, the IAEA has reported they’ve gone up, and then they’ve gone down, and they’ve always met their requirements. And we fully expect they will do so in this case.

That second piece is just context that wasn’t in the story. I think one of the biggest notions is it made – it insinuated strongly that they were doing something they shouldn’t be doing by raising the stockpile. That’s not accurate. Also the notion that this is a major obstacle – diplomatic obstacle inside the room. Talking to Under Secretary Sherman, other of our top negotiators, this isn’t. This issue, again, is perfectly acceptable; it can go up and down. What matters is that in the JCPA, Iran has committed to getting down to 300 kilograms. They’ve already committed to doing that. How they will get there is an ongoing topic of negotiation. But as I said yesterday, quite frankly, it’s not one of the big outstanding issues. It’s an outstanding one, but it’s not by any means one of the toughest, and it’s by no means a major obstacle inside the room.

QUESTION: Okay, I don’t think that it was called an obstacle.

MS HARF: It was called a major obstacle in the story.

QUESTION: Obstacle or challenge.

MS HARF: A major obstacle. It was called a major --

QUESTION: So --

MS HARF: Let’s go through Matt’s, and then --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: I mean, I was very precise in my wording. That’s what it was called. The story also called into question whether Iran’s nuclear program is frozen based on this one fact. And it indeed is, given that they have to get back to the number that they agreed to, which is 7,650. They can go up and down, but at the end of the day, they have to get back to that number – frozen in place at that number.

QUESTION: So your issue is whether it’s an obstacle or a major obstacle?

MS HARF: That it’s either.

QUESTION: It is not an --

MS HARF: It’s not. This issue is not.

QUESTION: Well, but it is an issue that has to be addressed.

MS HARF: No. The fact that this stockpile has gone above 7,650 is not an obstacle in the negotiations. It is allowable under the JPOA as long as they get back where they need to be. They’ve always gotten back where they need to be, and we expect they will here.

QUESTION: Right, but --

MS HARF: There’s a separate question, which is how they will get down to 300 kilograms. There are a couple of different ways they can do that: one is shipping it out; one is diluting it; one is selling it on the open market. We’re working with them for what that will look like, but that’s also really not – to be honest, Matt, that’s not really an obstacle in the room. It’s an outstanding issue, but it’s not an obstacle to getting to a deal here.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: Well, isn’t selling it on the open market --

MS HARF: Let’s – let me finish with Matt, Elise.

QUESTION: Well, I mean – no, we don’t – we don’t have to do like 10 minutes with one person. Can’t we kind of mix it up? We all have questions on --

MS HARF: Well, let’s just not interrupt people. I’ll do one more with Matt, and then I’ll go to you. Okay? So pick your next --

QUESTION: I’ll defer to Elise.

MS HARF: He’s ceding the floor to his colleague from CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you. Well, are you saying that it doesn’t matter what the stock size of the stockpile is at all currently, and it just matters what it is on June 30th?

MS HARF: Under the terms of the JPOA, that stockpile, correct, can go up and can go down, as long as at June 30th, they can get it down to 7,650. In the two previous instances, they’ve gone up and down – these are normal fluctuations – and they’ve always gotten back where they needed to be.

QUESTION: But if they keep increasing it – and I’m taking you at your word that it doesn’t matter right now, but if on – if it keeps going up, isn’t it going to make it that much more difficult for them to reduce it by June 30th? I mean --

MS HARF: Well, that’s something they have to do.

QUESTION: -- even if right now technically they’re not in violation, isn’t there a concern that they won’t get there by June 30th?

MS HARF: Honestly, I have talked to all of the nuclear experts on this. There is not a concern that they will get down to the right amount by June 30th. In the two previous times, the initial JPOA and then the extension, they’ve done the same thing, and they’ve always gotten back where they needed to be. If they don’t, that’ll be a problem; you’re right. We expect that they will, and we don’t – we just don’t have concerns about them being able to do that.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t --

MS HARF: I’ve talked to all the --

QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t it make more sense to be skeptical upfront about it instead of just assuming that they’re going to do it? I mean, you --

MS HARF: No one’s assuming anything. They have an obligation to do so, they’ve said they will, in the previous two instances they’ve done, and we believe they will do so. And if they don’t, that’ll be a problem.

QUESTION: And also, you --

MS HARF: Again. But let’s not get – let’s not got ahead of where we are today. The fact that today they are where they are is not a violation of the JPOA. The IAEA has previously reported that the stockpile’s gone up, and then gone back down. And they’ve continued to report that they’re in compliance. So I’m not trying to downplay this by any means, but the facts are what they are about what Iran has to do or not do.

QUESTION: There were also some – in your – on your online tweets --

MS HARF: I said – everything I tweeted I said in the briefing yesterday --

QUESTION: -- no, I understand, but --

MS HARF: -- for all of my Twitter followers who watch the briefings online.

QUESTION: So you’re – I’m an avid follower, but not, maybe, as diligent as others. (Laughter.) You’re – you were questioning that – you do know why it is happening. You said it – you took --

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- umbrage with the part in the story that you don’t understand why this is happening. Why is it happening?

MS HARF: Right. Well, our technical experts, as I said, are aware of what – of how Iran is doing things in terms of their nuclear program. Under the JPOA, the IAEA has gotten access that they never had before to see what’s going on. And I’m happy to see if our technical team can provide more details about technically why this is happening, but they are, again, allowed – permitted under the JPOA for this number to fluctuate. So technically this no mystery to us that it would; it has, certainly, during the talks. And our top experts, including some former negotiators, have said publicly they just don’t see this as a problem. There are big problems that we have to contend with, and issues we have to address, to get to a comprehensive deal. And this just is important, certainly, but it’s not the kind of major obstacle, I think, that it was portrayed as. And I think that’s what our negotiating team was expressing concern about.

QUESTION: If it’s not a mystery, can you explain to us: Why is it going up?

MS HARF: I just said I’m happy to see if our experts can provide some more language on that.

QUESTION: But – so you say that it’s not --

MS HARF: This stockpile – they are permitted for the stockpile to go up.

QUESTION: I know they are. Okay, fine. They --

MS HARF: And the IAEA has access to see it.

QUESTION: They might be allowed to, but do you know why --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- it is going up?

MS HARF: And the IAEA has reported on it multiple times. I’m – and I said I’m happy to check with our experts if we can get a more technical explanation. But they are allowed to continue this kind of enrichment as long as they stay at a constant level at the end of the period of time.

QUESTION: Right. But this is an issue, though, that exists and has to be resolved.

MS HARF: The issue – no. The issue that has to be resolved is how they will ultimately take that stockpile at the end – which is their entire stockpile – and get it down to 300 kilograms.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: That’s the outstanding issue in the talks.

QUESTION: Yeah. But right now --

MS HARF: Right. But that’s separate from --

QUESTION: Right now they wouldn’t be in compliance if this was the end of the – correct?

MS HARF: No, they are – no. Well --

QUESTION: Exactly. So --

MS HARF: -- this isn’t June 30th, though. They are in compliance today.

QUESTION: I understand. So they have 28 days --

MS HARF: Correct. And in the JPOA and in the other extension, their stock fluctuated and went up, and they got it back down where they needed to get it back down to. So again, if they don’t on June 30th, Matt, we can have a different conversation. But – so that’s issue A, right, the 7,650 and getting the stock back down before June 30th. Issue B – so that’s not a topic of conversation for the joint comprehensive plan of action. That’s – so I think there was some conflating of two issues in the story, too. That’s just an issue they need to continue complying with the JPOA on. The issue for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which got a little muddled in the story, I think, is how to get to 300 kilograms. That is an ongoing topic of discussion and there’s a couple of different technical ways they can do it. We are confident we’re going to get to agreement on how they do it, and this is not one of – anywhere close to one of the stickiest issues inside the room.

QUESTION: You said one of the ways they could do it is by selling it on the open market. Isn’t that the same as shipping it out of the country --

MS HARF: It’s not. Not exactly, no. You could ship it out to another country. You could sell it on the – there’s just different mechanisms for doing this.

QUESTION: Who would – well, if it stays in the country, isn’t that a problem?

MS HARF: There are ways it could stay in the country that they could take steps and do things to it that would make it not a proliferation concern for us. And we’re just talking with them about the final disposition. Again, there’s a couple, as we’ve talked about, really thorny issues inside the room, and this is nowhere near the top of that list.

QUESTION: So what would you say are those real thorny – really thorny issues that are --

MS HARF: Well, we’ve talked about --

QUESTION: Are they still the same ones?

MS HARF: We’ve talked about some of them.

QUESTION: Sanctions relief?

MS HARF: Yes, sanctions relief, the timing and scope of – and pace of that. I think certainly we’ve talked about publicly how important access and transparency is for us, certainly. So those are much more complicated issues. I mean, getting down to 300 kilograms, there’s a couple ways we can do it. They’re going to agree to one, and we are confident we’ll get there.

QUESTION: But isn’t getting down to 300 kilograms part of access and transparency, or not?

MS HARF: No, access and – I mean, we consider that – I mean, not really – obviously, we’ll have access and transparency into how they do that. Access and transparency, when we use it colloquially, tends to refer to inspections, how often, where, the issues of PMD, military sites, all of that.

Elise, did you have something else on this? Sorry.

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that we’re clear. So your dispute – you have problems with Mr. Sanger’s analysis, but you’re not disputing David Albright’s assessment that Iran has fallen behind its pledge under the JPA, correct?

MS HARF: I would dispute that. Iran’s pledge under the JPOA is on June 30th to be at 7,650 kilograms of this particular, as we’ve said, kind of lower enriched uranium. It’s – it can’t be above 6,750[1] kilograms of up to 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride. In the – this is something they, throughout the first JPOA, certainly the initial JPOA implementation, then through the first extension, they’ve gone up and by the date they – their requirement is by that date to be back down, and they’ve done that. So again, if on June 30th they haven’t done that, then that’s a problem. But as of today, they are in compliance with the JPOA, as the IAEA – don’t take it from us, take it from the IAEA – has repeatedly reaffirmed.

Yes.

QUESTION: And also, so you’re saying that the increase in the stockpile doesn’t necessarily have to do with them actually enriching more uranium?

MS HARF: Well, they – well, no. It’s the stockpile of lower enriched uranium, so that it’s this 5 – up to 5 percent, it’s this lower type of enranium – uranium – excuse me. As we’ve always said, they can’t enrich above 5 percent under the JPOA, and they haven’t. They can’t install new centrifuges under the JPOA, and they haven’t. They can’t make progress at Arak, and they haven’t. And the reason the IAEA can report on all of this is because under the JPOA they have gotten access we didn’t have before into the program. So this has really been enhanced monitoring that has allowed the IAEA to make these kinds of judgments.

QUESTION: Marie, I’m sorry, I just can’t – I don’t understand why this isn’t more of a concern. If we’re only 28 days or so away from a deal, wouldn’t you be expecting the Iranians to be reducing their stockpiles to get in line with what they might eventually – what eventually is the deal?

MS HARF: I mean, Matt, our nuclear experts tell me – and again, don’t take it from me, you can take it from them – that this has just been the normal course during the JPOA, that what we have built into these negotiations, the fact that on June 30th they have to be back to 7,650, and what really matters is how to get that down to 300. I mean, what people are losing sight of here – and I think this is actually an important point – is that Iran has already agreed to go from that huge number, to reduce that, what, 96 percent to 300 kilograms. So we can talk about what they’re going to do for the next 28 days or what their stockpile looks like now versus two weeks ago; but if we can get a comprehensive joint plan of action, they’re going to take that stockpile and reduce it --

QUESTION: Right. But --

MS HARF: -- hugely down to 300 kilograms.

QUESTION: Right.

MS HARF: So in terms of the overall stockpile, I just think that’s an overall sort of meta point that people aren’t – aren’t paying maybe enough attention to.

QUESTION: Yeah. But we would – I mean, if I was engaged in a negotiation with someone and they were supposed to reduce their amount within 28 days, and instead in the previous month or so they were increasing it --

MS HARF: Well --

QUESTION: -- I think that would be a cause for concern.

MS HARF: That IAEA number, though, is a snapshot of one day in time. It fluctuates before, after. So that’s – I would say --

QUESTION: So it might not be the same number?

MS HARF: It might not be the same today. It probably isn’t. And the point is on June 30th they have said they are going to be where they need to be. They always have been in the past. Again, I’m not – if they’re not on June 30th, I’m happy to have that conversation.

QUESTION: Right, but just because they always have been in the past doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always going to in the future, right?

MS HARF: Fair. And again --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: -- fair. That’s a fair point.

QUESTION: So it could be an issue? And it is an issue that does need to be resolved?

MS HARF: Well, it won’t be – no.

QUESTION: Right?

MS HARF: The 7650 is not an issue that needs to be resolved in the joint --

QUESTION: No, the reduction is --

MS HARF: Correct, to 300. That’s separate, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS HARF: And --

QUESTION: So has this issue come up at all in the talks recently?

MS HARF: Which issue?

QUESTION: The issue of reducing it and what they’re going to do.

MS HARF: To 300?

QUESTION: To 300, and what they’re going to do and how they’re going to --

MS HARF: Yes. So that is one of the – at the expert level, particularly, one of the outstanding issues – how they’re going to get down to 300 kilograms. We obviously have said that needs to happen early in implementation. That’s a key part of cutting off the four pathways, and it’s a big commitment that Iran has made and an important one. So how they’re going to do that is absolutely still a topic. There are many topics still on the table.

QUESTION: And it’s discussed each time they meet?

MS HARF: I mean --

QUESTION: Or can you give us some sense of how much this is being discussed?

MS HARF: I mean, they’re meeting sort of continuously now.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: So there’s meetings on a whole host of subjects. I don’t think I would say this is discussed every time they meet. There are big nuclear issues that need to be finalized to get to an agreement here. This is one of them, but it’s by no means the most challenging.

Lou, yes.

QUESTION: The Iranians have in the past insisted that they would not ship their stockpile out of the country, or any large portion of it. And David Albright seems to suggest that he doesn’t think that the Iranians will necessarily be technically capable of doing it in-country. Do U.S. experts believe that Iran would be technically capable of doing that without selling it on the open market or shipping it out of the country?

MS HARF: That’s a good question, and I would say those three things I mentioned were hypotheticals. Those are just a couple ways you can do it. Whatever we end up agreeing to, whether it’s out of the country or in the country, it will have to be something that we are confident gets down to that 96 percent from a – or, excuse me, to the 300 kilograms down that – I think it’s 96 percent if my calculations are close – in a way that we are confident in technically. So there’s a variety of technical ways to do that. I know that’s an open question, but we are – we will not accept something that we are not confident in.

QUESTION: So can I just ask: I think the EU announced earlier today --

MS HARF: They did, yes.

QUESTION: -- the next round of talks is tomorrow.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Who will be going from this building, and what to anticipate?

MS HARF: So Under Secretary Sherman actually arrived in Vienna this morning. Today there are – the EU and the P5+1 political directors are meeting today internally in coordination. Tomorrow they will begin meeting with the Iranian delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi, and their team of experts. So experts have started heading back out to Vienna. Some went with her, some are still here and will be going shortly on a sort of rolling basis. So we will be sending people out to Vienna as needed, but I expect this will be where the action is on these talks for between now and June 30th.

QUESTION: So is the idea that Deputy Secretary Sherman could stay out there? Or --

MS HARF: That’s a possibility. She --

QUESTION: You don’t have a timeline for when this round might end?

MS HARF: We don’t. We don’t. I think this is pretty open-ended, given we’re getting pretty close to June 30th.

QUESTION: Is there --

QUESTION: Would you say this is like the final push now, then?

MS HARF: I don’t think we’re at the final push, but I think this is really starting – starting the final push maybe, I would say.

QUESTION: And have you any idea – I know it’s obviously early days yet, but have you any idea when and how and if Secretary Kerry might be able to join those?

MS HARF: We don’t have details on that. As I said, I think two days ago, he will be part of these talks at the end. We just don’t have more details yet.

QUESTION: And still no idea if they’re going to move to the States? (Inaudible.)

MS HARF: Don’t know anything more. Don’t know anything more.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is there any discussion about possibly moving these talks to New York because it’s a UN – it’s a UN kind of – it would give it a – I know that it’s important to the Iranians that it’s in a --

MS HARF: It is.

QUESTION: -- it’s in a UN city. So, I mean, I know that technically New York is also a city of one of the parties to the agreement, but it’s also a UN city. So --

MS HARF: We really are just still working through those details.

QUESTION: Is that an option?

MS HARF: I just don’t want to get into what the options are or aren’t.

What else? Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: I have a tangential to Iran.

MS HARF: Okay. Then I’ll go in the back. Tangentially take us to something else.

QUESTION: Well, this has to do with this joint statement with the Pakistanis --

MS HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: -- that you guys put out this morning.

MS HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Pakistan, as I recall, and I’m sure you do too, was the source of one of the biggest proliferation of nuclear --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- nuclear technologies, nuclear weapons technology. So I’m just wondering, when this statement says the delegations reaffirm the high importance that both countries attach to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, this is something that the Administration takes seriously, believes fully, 100 percent, given the AQ Khan network and all this kind of thing?

MS HARF: Well, this is something we take incredibly seriously. And it’s a pretty long joint statement --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: -- as you’ve seen – and pretty detailed, actually – discussing the conversations that we had with the Pakistanis on this issue, and we do take what they say to us seriously in these kinds of forums – fora.

QUESTION: All right. The very next paragraph after that says the Pakistani delegation welcomed the understanding between – reached between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 and --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: So you have the Pakistanis, who covertly developed a nuclear weapon, coming out and supporting this deal. Do you not see a potential problem here?

MS HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: No? So --

MS HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the Ukraine stuff?

MS HARF: Sure.

QUESTION: So Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that the fresh fighting was – had stalled the peace plan – I’m sorry, stalled peace talks. Is this your understanding as well?

MS HARF: Well, I saw some of those reports, and as I said, Russia bears direct responsibility for what’s happening here. These are combined Russian separatist forces that launched coordinated attacks overnight against Ukrainian positions on the Ukrainian Government’s side of the ceasefire line.

QUESTION: Do you know if – this is all happening just before the EU discusses whether to keep sanctions against Russia. Has the U.S. been advising them in any direction?

MS HARF: Well, we’ve certainly been in close coordination with our European counterparts on this issue of sanctions particularly.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. considering anything new or continuous on the sanctions as well?

MS HARF: Well, we’ve said if Russia continues its aggressive actions and violations of international law, the contest – the costs, excuse me, will continue to rise. But we’ve also said if the Minsk agreements are fully implemented by Russia, we can roll back some significant sanctions. So the choice is really on Russia here on sanctions.

QUESTION: So is this your – is what’s happening now, given that you’re blaming Russia for this, that you believe that the sanctions should be increased, or --

MS HARF: We’ll continue to impose additional costs, and we’re having those conversations internally, certainly, and with our partners. And I don’t have much more detail to share today.

Michael, yes.

QUESTION: Marie, on Ukraine.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: This terminology, “combined Russian-separatist forces,” I think was introduced here a few weeks ago --

MS HARF: Mm-hmm, it was.

QUESTION: -- in a statement. Could you explain that a little more? It seems to me that what you’re referring to are – they’re Russian conventional military forces with separatist forces, but actual Russian troops? Or what do you mean by “combined Russian-separatist forces”? Are they under Russian command and control? Are they regular Russian army troops? Do you have any numbers as to --

MS HARF: As to how many?

QUESTION: -- how many personnel are involved in this --

MS HARF: Numbers are --

QUESTION: -- what sort of asset – weapons systems they have?

MS HARF: Yeah. Numbers are a little hard to come by on this given that Russia actively tries to camouflage its soldiers that are going in. They take off their insignias; they’ve covered up their insignias on tanks, for example, and trying to scrub them. But the Russian military has advanced air defense systems in eastern Ukraine. Russian and separatist forces have a large concentration of command and control equipment in eastern Ukraine together. Combined Russian-separatist forces have conducted complex training together in eastern Ukraine. And really, the complex nature of this training leaves no doubt that Russia was involved itself in this training. And this training has also incorporated Russian UAVs, an, I think, unmistakable sign of Russia’s presence. Russia’s shipped additional heavy weaponry into eastern Ukraine. Combined Russian-separatist forces maintain artillery pieces and multiple rocket launcher systems within areas that are prohibited. So they’re really operating together here. Russia’s taking steps to cover this up and to mask what they’re doing, but again, given the kinds of weaponry, given the kinds of command and control, certainly these are combined forces operating in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Just two quick clarifications.

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are they under Russian command and control? That seems to be what you’re asserting.

MS HARF: Well, no, I said the Russian-separatist forces are jointly operating command and control equipment together in eastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: And these are Russian army troops?

MS HARF: I don’t know if it’s army. I’m happy to check on specifics. But we’ve said Russian troops, yes.

QUESTION: And the UAVs are being flown from within Ukrainian territory, or across the border from Russia, or both?

MS HARF: Well, they’re Russian UAVS. Let me see if we have more details about where they’re being flown from.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS HARF: You’re welcome.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Ukraine. Last week, your colleague here at the briefing said that Ukraine’s rebel forces are responsible for, quote, “the overwhelming number of violations of the Minsk agreements.” I’m looking at the OSCE daily reports for the last two months – daily reports of violations – and here’s what they show: Ceasefire violations – in nine of their reports, it appears that Donetsk and Lugansk forces were – have violated the ceasefire. In eight of their reports, it appears that the Ukrainian Government has violated the ceasefire. In nine of the reports, it was not clear who violated that ceasefire. Now, withdrawal of heavy weapons: rebel forces, 33 reports of violations; government forces, 35 reports of violations. This is hardly a vast majority behind --

MS HARF: I haven’t seen --

QUESTION: A question.

MS HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Where do you – and I mean the State Department – get the information that the rebel forces are responsible for the vast majority of violations?

MS HARF: From a variety of sources, including the OSCE. So I’m happy to take a look at what you’ve quoted specifically and look at the numbers underlying that.

QUESTION: I’m looking at all their daily --

MS HARF: But there’re a lot of numbers here, and a lot of people can use numbers in different ways, and I want to take a look at them myself. But what we know from the OSCE – again, I can take a look at what numbers you’re quoting, and I’m happy to get into them specifically and see what more we can say.

QUESTION: The daily reports – their daily reports do not show an overwhelming majority.

MS HARF: I think our experts who look at them say something different, so let me go back to our team. But everything we’re getting from the OSCE and other sources of information indicates that a vast majority, as my colleague said, are from the Russian separatist combined forces. So we can go through the numbers, and I’m happy to do that, but again – I would also mention that the Russian separatist forces are preventing OSCE access in many places and they’re not letting them in to see what’s actually going on.

QUESTION: A simple question: Do you acknowledge that the Ukrainian Government too is violating the Minsk agreements?

MS HARF: Well, I think by saying a vast majority are the Russian separatist forces, that would then indicate --

QUESTION: But --

MS HARF: -- that a small, a very small minority are on the other side. But let’s also remember here --

QUESTION: That is not clear from the OSCE daily report.

MS HARF: I just told you I would look at them, and we can get into a numbers game here and see what numbers you’re using and what other experts, including our team, says. Broadly speaking, though, this is Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves when Russia sends into their territory heavy weapons, tanks, fighters, across that – just today across the ceasefire line into Ukrainian territory.

QUESTION: But that was not my question. Can I – it’s a simple yes or no question.

MS HARF: I think I just answered your question.

QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that the Ukrainian Government too is violating the Minsk agreements? Yes or no.

MS HARF: I think I just – I think I – we don’t do yes or no’s here. I think I just answered your question when I said if a large majority is the Russian separatist forces, then there’s a very small minority that is on the other side. I think I answered your question.

QUESTION: Is that a yes?

MS HARF: I’m not going to play that game with you.

QUESTION: It is not a game.

MS HARF: Justin, let’s move on.

QUESTION: OSCE reports --

MS HARF: I said I --

QUESTION: -- show violations on both sides.

MS HARF: I said I would look into these reports, and I don’t have anything else for you until I’ve seen them myself.

QUESTION: Why do you feel so uncomfortable to acknowledge --

MS HARF: I don’t.

QUESTION: -- that the Ukrainian Government too is violating the Minsk agreements?

MS HARF: I don’t feel uncomfortable about – I just answered your question.

QUESTION: Then why – you did not answer it. Yes or no. Did you answer question --

MS HARF: I’m not going to say yes or no.

QUESTION: -- do you acknowledge that the Ukrainian Government --

MS HARF: I’m going to answer the question in the way I think is appropriate, and I just did. And I’m going to move on now.

QUESTION: Which is not answering.

MS HARF: Justin.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Just on this, Marie.

MS HARF: Yeah. Or Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you – as far as I can tell, you are acknowledging that there are some violations. You say --

MS HARF: We’ve said that publicly.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But why did it take so long to get to the point where you would acknowledge them? I mean, two weeks ago there was no answer to the question at all, not even what you said --

MS HARF: I think often information is just conflicting and we don’t have all the information we need to answer that question.

QUESTION: And --

MS HARF: In part, again, because OSCE monitors can’t get into a lot of these places.

QUESTION: Given – if we accept what you say is happening is happening, and there are certainly independent reports of --

MS HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- big fighting going on, isn’t Minsk dead now?

MS HARF: Well, we firmly believe that Minsk is the path forward here. And the Russians signed it, the Ukrainians signed it. And the Russians, when we were there, said privately and publicly they would implement it, which they haven’t done yet. And we believe it is the right framework moving forward to de-escalate here; that it has in it the ingredients we need. What needs to happen isn’t some new framework; it’s the Russians actually implementing it.

QUESTION: Well, given what you’ve said today, do you – are you saying then that we were – when we – that when we were in Sochi, that President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov lied to the Secretary?

MS HARF: Not at all. Not at all.

QUESTION: Oh. Well, what --

MS HARF: They said it – Foreign Minister Lavrov said it in his press availability.

QUESTION: Right. But you seem to be taken aback a little bit by the fact that there is fighting going on and saying that the Russians are violating it.

MS HARF: Well --

QUESTION: So I just want to know: Do you think the Russians are backing out --

MS HARF: I mean --

QUESTION: -- going back on their word that they gave the Secretary?

MS HARF: I’ll let them speak – I’ll let them speak to the reasons why they haven’t fully implemented Minsk yet. That’s what I would say.

QUESTION: And – and then this is going to get back to the Secretary, but do you know if he’s made any calls about this, and – or on other subjects while you’ve been --

MS HARF: He has not today. He has not today.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Changing topics.

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: On Islamic State, Deputy Secretary Blinken said today that about 10,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes since the campaign began last year. First, can you explain how he arrived at that number?

MS HARF: Well, I would say what he said was a bit more specific, but not really anything particularly new as we’ve been saying for some time that our airstrikes have taken out thousands of ISIL fighters in Iraq and in Syria, along with numerous commanders, vehicles, tanks. I could go through the numbers. So we’ve been saying for quite some time that we’ve taken out thousands of ISIL fighters. I don’t think I have much more specifics to add in terms of methodology. He was saying – certainly, this is a more specific estimate of what we’ve said in the past, and that’s all he was trying to indicate today.

QUESTION: Where is that number coming from, and also can you explain – do you have a breakdown on about how many would be in Iraq and how many would be in Syria?

MS HARF: I don’t have a breakdown by country. We have a variety of ways of doing these estimates. I don’t have much more detail to share for that for you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MS HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: At the beginning of the conflict back in March, May last year, initial figures said that there were about 20,000 members of ISIL, and then that went up to about 30,000 members.

QUESTION: It did.

QUESTION: If this figure is true – 10,000 – that’s a third of the force.

MS HARF: Well, but they’ve – they have replaced – as fighters are taken off the battlefield, there is – they have attempted to and have been able to, in cases, replace fighters from – either internally or from other places. It’s something we’re concerned about. So it’s not a – I wouldn’t just subtract.

QUESTION: Okay. So what’s your best estimate now for the total number of ISIL forces?

MS HARF: That’s a very good question. Let me check with our team and see what it is today.

QUESTION: Because I think about 10 days ago, it was still at 30,000. We had a background briefing.

MS HARF: Let me check on that. Let me check on that.

QUESTION: The other question --

MS HARF: It’s a good question.

QUESTION: The other question would be: At what rate are they recruiting since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve?

MS HARF: Right, and replenishing their forces.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS HARF: And they certainly understand, given the firepower that’s coming towards them, that they need to actively take steps to try to replenish their ranks, which they are trying to do. So I can see if there’s some updated numbers.

QUESTION: And if they’ve been at 20,000 throughout this time, it would suggest that they’re replenishing at the same rate that you’re killing them.

MS HARF: I understand the question. I’m happy to check. I would also say that this is just sort of one fact and figure, that this is certainly not the metric by how we judge the effectiveness of the military action. There are a variety of ways you can do that, and it was sort of – I think the second-to-last question he got asked. And I understand why people are focused on it, but it’s certainly not the metric we use to judge success here.

QUESTION: But you’re not disputing the 10,000 figure?

MS HARF: No, no. I’m just trying to put it into some context.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: There are – I’ve just seen since it’s come out – in the brief period since it’s come out, there are a lot of skeptics questioning that number and suggesting that it’s far too high. Given the type of strikes that you’re doing and the number of strikes that have been conducted, the Pentagon’s own assessment is that it’s some number over 6,000, and a lot of it is like hitting oil refineries and buildings, and there’s nobody on the ground to check these numbers, do a body count --

MS HARF: Well, it’s just an estimate, as he said and as I just said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is it a good estimate, though, is the question.

MS HARF: Well, I am certainly not going to dispute the estimate. And you’re right, these are hard estimates to make often, given the situation on the battlefield. We said for many months now that we’ve taken out thousands of fighters. So it’s just sort of a more specific estimate than we’ve been saying for a while.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Can I just go back to that?

MS HARF: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Also the question about recruitment is pertinent, I think, because since one of the pillars of the anti-ISIL coalition is to actually actively target recruitment, if recruitment is going on at the rate that – the same numbers are being recruited as being killed, that would suggest that that channel is actually not being terribly effective.

MS HARF: In – well, in which channel are you referring to? Sorry.

QUESTION: Well, your – one of the things that you wanted to target --

MS HARF: Right, one of the lines of effort.

QUESTION: -- one of the lines of effort, thank you --

MS HARF: Right, yes, yes.

QUESTION: -- is to actively target recruitment of --

MS HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- foreign – particularly foreign fighters. So if your number is still – that there are still around 30,000 fighters and yet you’ve killed 10,000, that would suggest that the channel – the effort to stop the recruitment is not being terribly successful.

MS