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

Tue, 06/28/2016 - 16:32

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 28, 2016

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1:38 p.m. EDT

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

First First of all, I just wanted to note that today through Thursday Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Frank Rose will co-chair the third plenary meeting of the International Partnership of Nuclear Disarmament Verification in Tokyo, Japan. And that partnership brings together 27 countries with relevant expertise to tackle the challenges associated with nuclear disarmament verification. In his remarks in Hiroshima last month, you’ll recall President Obama did speak about how the destructive force of nuclear weapons informs his desire – and, indeed, his Administration’s desire – to reduce their role and number. And the partnership is one of – one major step the United States and its partners to pursuing to help make that a reality.

I did also want to note that tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at the United States Institute of Peace, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power, Ambassador Samantha Power, will discuss the global refugee crisis at their Carlucci Auditorium. Ambassador Power will make the case for the international community to strengthen its response to the unprecedented crisis, address concerns about admitting additional refugees, and also underscore the strategic importance and imperative in providing humanitarian assistance, enhancing refugees’ living conditions, as well as providing resettlement opportunities. She’ll also provide a review of the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees that President Obama will convene on September 20th at the United Nations, a summit that will feature a select group of countries prepared to announce significant new commitments to address the crisis.

And with that, Brad, over to you.

QUESTION: Can we start with the Select Committee’s report on Benghazi?

MR TONER: Sure, Brad.

QUESTION: Now that you’ve had a few hours to look at it, can you give us your initial assessment?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, we are still reviewing the report, certainly, and in that regard I’m probably not going to get a – be able to necessarily debate, nor do I want to debate from this podium, every allegation that’s contained in a – what is a report that’s hundreds of pages long. But as you know, this is a topic that we’ve addressed on numerous occasions from this podium.

I think also it’s important to note a couple of things before we get into your specific questions about the report. First of all, I just want to underscore that no one takes Benghazi and the lessons we’ve learned from it more seriously than the State Department. It’s important never to lose sight of the human element of this story. We lost our friends and our colleagues on that terrible night. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods did represent our very best, and their loss is a tragedy that remains with us. Our thoughts always remain with their family and their friends, those who knew them, those who worked with them. And we work hard every day since this terrible event to learn lessons from Benghazi and to internalize those lessons, and by that I mean, notably, in addressing security concerns.

Speaking specifically to your question about the report, I’d just say the – we believe that the essential facts surrounding the 2012 attacks in Benghazi have been known for some time. There have been numerous reviews, including, as you all well know, the Accountability Review Board report that was released I think more than three years ago. There have been seven congressional committees, and that includes the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And so all of these, we believe, have reached many of the same conclusions about the events surrounding the tragedy in Benghazi, and we have been working hard to incorporate the recommendations surrounding concerns about security that the Accountability Review Board contained in its report, or put in its report. And in that regard, we have closed out now I think 26 out of 29 of the recommendations that they’ve made. So we’re about 98 percent there.

QUESTION: Well, that’s not 98 percent. That’s about --

MR TONER: Some of them are --

QUESTION: -- 90 percent.

MR TONER: Ninety percent, oh.

QUESTION: Yeah, 80-something.

MR TONER: I never claimed to be a mathematician, Brad. You know that. But no, in – seriously – and these implementation efforts, to be specific, include expanding the role – or expanding, rather, the numbers of diplomatic security personnel overseas; enhancing interagency coordination to address threat information; expanding the Marine security guard program; and also, of course, accelerating projects to build and upgrade embassy security.

QUESTION: Do you – some of the members of the committee, the Republican members, pointed specifically at the former Secretary, Madam Clinton, including Congressman Pompeo, who said she was “morally reprehensible.” Do you agree with that position?

MR TONER: Look, we’re not going to get into assessing and certainly characterizing the actions of Secretary Clinton, beyond saying that she, as with all senior members of the State Department on that fateful night, were fully focused on assessing the situation on the ground in Benghazi and trying to provide, working within the interagency, what support we could during that relevant time period.

QUESTION: Do you see anything in the report that points to specific wrongdoing that either you contest or you weren’t aware of?

MR TONER: No, I mean, it’s a good question. Look, I mean, we didn’t – and I spoke a little bit about this just now – is we didn’t – we don’t see anything new there. I mean, accountability has always been an issue here. Accountability has always been important. The ARB, the Accountability Review – or the – yes, the Accountability Review Board, in its findings, did assign some level of accountability in saying that there were bureaucratic failings within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. We all know that. We’re all aware of those findings. And we have worked to address them in a variety of ways. But we still – we don’t believe that there’s anything new in this report that points fingers to any other individuals or entities within the State Department.


QUESTION: Now that this whole investigation has wrapped up and assuming there’s not another one, do you feel, when you look back at everything now, that the State Department erred in having this outpost in Benghazi in the first place?

MR TONER: So – no. Look, there was a lot – and I saw the press conference as well at 10 o’clock this morning. I heard some of the allegations put forth by various members of Congress who worked on this report, so I’m well aware of the context you ask that question in. All I can say is that Benghazi was important. We all know what Libya looked like at that time, post-civil war, post-conflict. Benghazi was an important outpost during the actual civil war. Nobody knew that more than Chris Stevens. Nobody believed in the importance of Benghazi more than Chris Stevens did. But his was not the only assessment that Benghazi was important. It was important that we had representation there, and that was why we were there.

And it speaks – to be frank here, it speaks to the risk-taking that our diplomats do every day because we need representation in a given place and we need our diplomats to go there and to be forward-leaning, if you will. We do our best to protect them. We’re trying to do a better job at protecting those individuals. But we stand by the fact that we needed our people to be in Benghazi.

QUESTION: Do you – I just have one extra one.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: So you support the presence. You would accept more responsibility on the bureaucratic decision-making and security posture elements.

MR TONER: Well, I think we’ve acknowledged that in the past, Brad, that – a couple of points there. One is we did have and took seriously the request for security that the embassy made and tried to provide and, in fact, respond as quickly as we could to their request for increased security on the ground. I think with a few relative exceptions – and I can get into those if you’d like – that had more to deal with, frankly, the profile that we wanted to have on the ground and not necessarily the security concerns, because we tried to address them.

But – and we also – the other qualifier there is, as other past investigations have found and others have spoken to, including those on the ARB, that the attack on Benghazi was uniquely intense and we did not have enough assets on the ground to rebuff that. And it would have been difficult to have the assets on the ground to rebuff that. That said, of course, we’re going to take the lessons from Benghazi and we’re going to work our hardest – and have been working our hardest – to address them.

QUESTION: And my last one.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure. That’s okay.

QUESTION: There seem to be a recurrent theme in the report that – and in some of the comments about the report – that the State Department put diplomatic niceties over the actual security needs, that this concern about not offending the Libyans, not having boots on the ground, that would put them in a tough spot, superseded the actual security needs that would have better protected both the Benghazi mission and Tripoli as well. Do you accept that in that you were hamstrung from actually providing adequate security?

MR TONER: So a couple of aspects to this. First of all, broadly speaking – so taking it broad and then I’ll narrow it down. Broadly speaking, of course we’re always assessing – and it goes into the kind of profile – it speaks to the kind of profile you want on the ground – whether that’s an enhancement or a detriment to your security on the ground. And boots and uniforms can sometimes be a detriment to that security. And you can talk to folks far more expert in this than I am, but sometimes you have a low profile and sometimes you have higher profile, and that’s always a consideration – not just unique to Libya, but around the world when we are trying to assess the security needs on the ground. That doesn’t mean you hold back or you dither or you somehow don’t fully respond to securities – post security needs, but that’s an ongoing conversation when you’re looking at the kind of profile you want on the ground.

Now, specifically, what I heard this morning, and I do want to refute vociferously and vigorously, is that somehow there was a military group or a detachment personnel – DOD personnel who were somehow kept from joining the fight in Benghazi because they weren’t sure, they had to change their uniforms or take their uniforms on and off again. I can say unequivocally that that is not true. I would – I refute that absolutely. At no point would that consideration or did that consideration cause any delay in the deployment of military assets.

Broadly speaking, I will defer to DOD to speak to their actions that night, because it’s really up to them to do that, but I did want to clear that up.



QUESTION: Did the U.S., the decision-makers, underestimate the terrorist threat in Benghazi at the time?

MR TONER: A very good question. And I think that, as we’ve seen – I think the short answer is we did not – and we have acknowledged this – have the assets on the ground that were necessary to rebuff an attack like that. And others have spoken to this before me. Again, and I mentioned the seven-odd-some committees that have looked at this – this question before. And the fact is that we did not have forewarning of an attack of this ferocity, of this intensity. And as many saw in the aftermath, there was a lot of analysis that went into who was behind the attack – was it connected with other events going on in the Middle East at the time? It’s been talked about in the report. It’s been talked about in previous reports. But the fact of the matter is that we did not have any forewarning of an attack of that intensity on that night. Otherwise, clearly, we would have taken more serious precautions in addition to what we already had, which we did have security elements on the ground, just not enough.

QUESTION: Mark, you said that --

MR TONER: Please, Said.

QUESTION: -- you guys met 26 of 29 recommendations?

MR TONER: That is correct. I can find the --

QUESTION: Okay. So what are --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- these three recommendations that you have not met or unable to meet, or why?

MR TONER: Sure. So thank you for asking. As Brad corrected me, I don’t think it’s – 26 out of 29 is not 99 percent done, but 90-ish percent done. The ongoing recommendations – reason we haven’t implemented them fully yet is because they concern long-term security upgrades and construction, and obviously that takes a while. But we are, obviously, dedicating the resources and personnel necessary to do those kinds of upgrades, and that’s obviously worldwide.

QUESTION: And you feel that if you meet these last three recommendations that everyone who has raised this issue and stirring it, so to speak --


QUESTION: -- has been stirring it, will be satisfied if you --

MR TONER: I don’t think we’ll ever be satisfied when you’re talking about security. It’s --

QUESTION: I mean, those who --

MR TONER: Oh, I see what you’re saying, yeah.

QUESTION: -- basically are raising the issue all the time --


QUESTION: -- will they be satisfied if you were to meet those three obligations or recommendations?

MR TONER: I don’t know. All I can say is what our major concern is, and that is providing the best protection we can for our diplomats and personnel overseas. We took the ARB’s recommendations very seriously. We’re in the process of implementing all of them. As I said, we’re going to continue, obviously, given the changing nature of security around the world and constantly reassess our posture and take additional steps. Because you always have to be changing to and adapting to whatever the new threat you’re facing is.

So I mean, I don’t – I guess my point is I don’t know if those out there who are criticizing our security posture will ever be satisfied. I don’t’ think we can ever be satisfied with the status quo. But our responsibility is certainly to our personnel.

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- do you think that the attack on – in Benghazi prevented you from taking further action in Libya? Is that – it sort of dissuaded you from becoming more involved in Libya?

MR TONER: I don’t think so. The – it’s a fair question. I mean, certainly in the aftermath of the attack we had to take security measures to protect our personnel who were still on the ground in Tripoli, as well as those obviously who were evacuated from Benghazi. And that meant, frankly, pulling out for a time.

QUESTION: Forever.

MR TONER: I know. I’m saying for a time, we’re – well, I mean, I would --

QUESTION: As of now --

MR TONER: As of now, right.


MR TONER: Exactly. I’m sorry, Brad. I just – I would say that we are hopeful that we will once again be back in Libya. But I think more broadly, Said – and the President himself has spoken to the fact that in the aftermath of the civil war and Qadhafi’s death and departure from power, we, the United States, and broadly our allies and partners, didn’t do enough to provide stability, to provide assistance to those elements who could have played a more moderating role in the political landscape there. And because of that, Libya has remained in kind of a very unstable state. And we have taken steps, and certainly Secretary Kerry has been at the forefront of these efforts, to work with the new government there, to work with those moderate forces on the ground, to ensure that they’ve got the resources that they need to bring broader security and stability to the country, deal with, frankly, what we’ve acknowledged is an ISIL threat in that country trying to establish a foothold because of the instability there. So yes, we are trying to address some of those issues.

QUESTION: Can I just --

MR TONER: Please. Oh, I’m sorry --

QUESTION: Can I just go back to --

MR TONER: Why don’t you, Pam, and then I’ll get to you, Elise. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- your comments on the changing of the uniforms? Can you clarify what you are refuting? Are you refuting the time factor, or refuting that the changes were made?

MR TONER: Yes. And I – and I’m reluctant to wade too deeply, but I did it, so – but there was an allegation made today – a vignette, if you will – of these forces somehow being kept in a – on a hold and not being allowed to deploy because of some issue over uniforms, whether they could wear them or not. And that’s what I wanted to refute. I’m not saying that the issue of whether, broadly speaking, our presence, our security forces in Libya should wear uniforms or not – that’s always a security posture question that we ask not just in Libya but all over the world – but the direct allegation that there was some kind of delay in responding because of this is just not right. It’s not correct.


MR TONER: Yeah, please. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back to what you were just saying about the kind of chaos in Libya?


QUESTION: It kind of seemed as if Benghazi itself – the Benghazi attack itself was, like, kind of the first real – I mean, although there was, like, growing instability, that that was, like, the first kind of major evidence of the slide into chaos. And things just continued to get worse since then. And I mean, it does seem as if the initial decision to go into Libya, for instance, gave way to all of this instability.

MR TONER: Well, again – and we had a dictatorship – some 40-year-old dictatorship that was upended or uprooted when Qadhafi was killed, and absolutely, there was a period of chaos and instability because of that. We talked a lot about that at the time.

I do think that that instability, ongoing conflict on the ground, did create an atmosphere where something like Benghazi happened, and because we didn’t have our people or personnel on the ground out of security concerns. And that is always fundamentally at the root of our – any type of policy that we have – foreign policy is can we protect our people on the ground. So we had to withdraw.

I don’t necessarily want to draw a direct connection between that – I mean, always it’s desirable to have your diplomats on the ground, engage with the government or those trying to form a government, I guess, in Libya’s case. But I don’t want to necessarily make the connection that because of Benghazi, Libya foundered or floundered.

QUESTION: Well, I know – but okay, so I know you have this new government and there is, like, kind of hope that the pro-government forces will help root out ISIS and terrorism and --


QUESTION: -- get their act together. But what would you say about the state of Libya today?

MR TONER: Well, I was going to say, in response to your question – previous question is I would hope and I think the Secretary believes that we’re turning a corner. We do have this national accord – Government of National Accord that is established now. It’s in Tripoli, which took some doing to get it there and established. We have Prime Minister Sarraj, who’s taking steps to stabilize the country, trying to form a presidential guard, trying to form security forces that are unified, and that’s been a huge challenge. And really, just trying to stabilize the political space there so that they can provide basic services and basic infrastructure to the Libyan people, which is an enormous challenge for them right now. And so I’m not saying we’re over the hump here, but we do believe that progress is being made.

QUESTION: But I understand that you say that progress is being made --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’m – yeah.

QUESTION: -- and there’s hope and possibility or potential, but I mean, in terms of – when you look at Libya right now, what do you see?

MR TONER: Oh, I mean, it’s going to be a long process and nobody’s --

QUESTION: (Sneezes.)

MR TONER: God bless you, by the way. It’s going to be a long process and nobody’s underestimating that, I think. And we’re going to have to be – and partly, we’ve held I think two ministerial-level meetings on Libya focused on the fact that the international community needs to be there to support the new government as it attempts to establish itself and establish these basic services. I think it’s very fragile still, but I think we’re in a better place than we were six months ago.

QUESTION: Would you say it’s a failed state?

MR TONER: I don’t want to necessarily attach that moniker to it. I would say that it was a failing state for some time, but I think we’ve – again, we’ve made efforts – and this is not just the United States, although we’ve been at the forefront of these efforts – but Europe, Italy certainly played a valuable role, and others in the region to turn the corner to get a government into place that can provide some level of stability and infrastructure and support for the Libyan people.



QUESTION: -- very quickly follow up – I’m sorry – on Pam’s question --


QUESTION: -- on your response to Pam’s question?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: How can you say there was no delay if the troops were asked, presumably ordered, to change uniforms four times? Four, was that what --

MR TONER: Again, I just – I don’t want to get into the timeline and I really don’t want to speak to what is essentially the Department of Defense’s equities. I’m just saying that this allegation that somehow we delayed over whether they – it didn’t – I can assure you that there was no back-and-forth over them changing their uniforms that caused a delay in these individuals being deployed to Benghazi. But as to the specific timeline and when they were deployed or why their deployment was delayed in any way, shape, or form, that’s really a Department of Defense question.

QUESTION: Well, there was some talk about the changing of the uniforms and stuff, but I think what – are you arguing that the amount of time it would have taken given the fact that they spent hours at the airport negotiating what to do in the first place – that that amount of time wouldn’t have made a difference? Is that what you’re saying?

MR TONER: No, and again, I don’t want to get into what is essentially – and I am drawing clear interagency lines here, but I don’t want to get into – I don’t want to speak on the part of – for Department of Defense on what are its equities. All I’m trying to say is – and there was this not even veiled allegation at the press conference this morning that somehow they were kept on hold because of the uniform issue. It’s just incorrect. That’s what I’m addressing.

Please, Abbie.

QUESTION: One of the suggestions in the report is that there wasn’t an evacuation plan for the Americans that remained on the compound to get to the airport, and it goes on to say that it was a former Qadhafi – former Qadhafi military officials who ended up coming in and rescuing the Americans to bring them to the airport. Do you have anything to speak to on that? Is that an accurate reflection?

MR TONER: Sure. Let me unpack that a couple different ways. So, aware of the allegations about the Qadhafi militia. So just so people understand, there was an arrangement between our folks in Benghazi – the annex in Benghazi – and the February 17th Militia to provide basically on-compound protection as well as quick reaction support, and that was carried through with on that night. They did both respond for on-the-ground or compound protection, rather, as well as quick reaction. It just wasn’t enough, and we’ve talked about this – the scope, breadth, and intensity of the attack overwhelmed what forces were on the ground. We’ve spoken to that many times in the past.

At the end of the attack – so this was hours later in the dawn, I guess – there was a different militia, and this is the one that they referred to, the one that was referenced in the report as the – being affiliated with Qadhafi – did provide escort for the remaining personnel to be escorted to the airport so they could be evacuated. So that part – that element is where they came into play. But in terms of that night, during the actual attack, it was really the February 17 Militia that did provide a quick reaction.

Your – sorry, I didn’t want to – your part about evacuation plans – of course there’s always contingency plans for any post anywhere in the world for evacuations. As many of you have known who’ve been in hot spots overseas, a lot of times, in the heat of the moment – in an incident or a crisis or a battle or whatever – those contingency plans have to be rethought and re-evaluated, and that was done, of course – and reassessed.

QUESTION: One of the things the report speaks to --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- is the irony of the fact that you had Qadahfi military officials, which, obviously, was the regime that had been ousted the year before, coming in to help 35 Americans get to the airport. Do you have any response to that?

MR TONER: Again, my only – my understanding – the only role that these individuals played was to escort the remaining personnel after the attack to the airport to get them on a plane. I can’t speak to whether they were Qadhafi supporters or ex-Qadhafi people or not. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: How did you organize that? Oh, sorry, go on.

MR TONER: I – that’s okay. How did we organize in that – I don’t have any more details about how we actually reached out to them and got them to provide us with that escort. I’d have to look into it, Brad. I don’t have it.

QUESTION: One more question – and I know that in response, the State Department said that Foreign Officer Hicks had spoken to this in the 2013 oversight committee hearing, but it seemed like the details within this report showing that Secretary Clinton was going to arrive within Benghazi in October of that year, one month after Stevens’ visit, was new. Is that something that was occurring, and do you have any response to the suggestion that it was a desire to create a deliverable for her visit that led to Stevens being down there at that time?

MR TONER: Right. It’s a fair question. First of all, the fact that she was planning a trip to Libya is not new information, as you note. It was raised, I think, previously by, as you noted, Greg Hicks, who was the deputy chief of mission at Tripoli at the time, in his testimony at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Look, the question of whether – and I think it speaks to Brad’s question somewhat as well – whether Benghazi was seen as some sort of deliverable or some desired outcome by senior Administration officials – I would just rebut that by saying that the State Department, the Administration, and frankly, Ambassador Stevens, Chris Stevens, felt it was in our foreign policy interests, international security interests, for us to have a presence in Benghazi. And that was what was driving our engagement there.

QUESTION: But did the secretary have a trip planned for October of that year as the --

MR TONER: I don’t know the exact date, but it was discussed before – as I said, previously disclosed – that she was planning on traveling to Libya. Yeah.

QUESTION: I have one more on the --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the Benghazi report.


QUESTION: At the – you said we believe the essential facts on the attack are known for – have been known for some time. Can you just say just what the essential facts are on the role the video played in the attack?

MR TONER: Oh, on the role that the video played.

QUESTION: Yes, because, I mean, this still seems like it’s – I don’t know what your position is.

MR TONER: No, you’re right. I mean, it still seems like it’s out there, if you will. And it’s being kind of still presented – well, let me address your question. How about this – (laughter) – how about – rather than me trying to characterize how it’s still being presented.

I think it’s – nothing has changed in the fact that we have acknowledged before that our initial assessment took into consideration what was happening elsewhere in the region. And elsewhere in the region we had had protests at embassies – including Cairo, including Khartoum – based on this video that had appeared on YouTube, that was seen as blaspheme against Prophet Muhammad. And so in our initial assessment – again, looking at the region – of course that was taken into consideration. But I think with respect to Benghazi, if – that was part of our initial assessment. After several days or a week or so, we quickly changed that analysis to better represent the facts as we knew them, which was that it was a coordinated attack on our facilities by an armed force of extremists.

And so I guess I go back to the fact that – and it’s not just unique to Benghazi, but in any kind of situation like this, it is hard to get all of the facts right away and to present them to the American people. And we at the time did the best we could to convey the facts as we knew them at the time to the American people.

QUESTION: So just to clarify --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- you no longer believe that the video played any role in motivating these extremists, armed or --

MR TONER: I don’t think we’ve ever been – to be honest, I don’t think we’ve ever been able to categorically say that the video played no role. But what I think we have been able to say is that this wasn’t a demonstration gone awry; this was a coordinated attack.

QUESTION: Right. But so you don’t – you have no evidence to back up any – you no longer have evidence to back up that initial assessment that the video was --

MR TONER: No. And again, I just – and I – but the context, and not just unique to Benghazi or Libya, as I said, in Khartoum, in Tunis, in Sana’a, and certainly in Cairo, as many know, there were serious demonstrations outside our embassies. So within that context – and the video did play a role in those demonstrations. But with respect to Benghazi, I don’t think we believe that – although we can’t rule out that it played some motivation – motivating role, we’ve acknowledged that this was not a demonstration, as I said, gone awry, or a demonstration gone – run amok. This was a serious, coordinated attack.

QUESTION: So you – sorry. So you --

MR TONER: Sorry – okay. I’m sorry if I’m not --

QUESTION: So you don’t believe the – so you don’t believe the video was the motivating factor for this attack? I’m not getting into it to attack this Administration.

MR TONER: Right. Right. I can’t say that it’s – right, exactly.

QUESTION: I’m talking about the video.

MR TONER: Yes. Yes. Yes.


MR TONER: Yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: You don’t believe that?

MR TONER: Yes. We’ve said that before. I can’t say that it was not any – that it played no role, but I just – it was – I’m sorry to be --

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah.

MR TONER: -- I just don’t want to say categorically that it played no role.

QUESTION: Right, okay.

MR TONER: I don’t know that for a fact. I don’t think we know that for a fact. What I can say is that this was not some demonstration motivated by this video that suddenly spun up into an attack on our facility. This was a coordinated attack.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Going to Syria?

QUESTION: Can we change to another subject?


MR TONER: Yeah, I think we can.

QUESTION: Can I go next?

MR TONER: Let me (inaudible). Sorry (inaudible).

QUESTION: The Europeans have been meeting – have met today on Britain leaving the European Union.


QUESTION: Have there – just further – have there been any further calls that Kerry has been making since he returned on this issue?

MR TONER: Good question.

QUESTION: And when does he see the next opportunity to discuss this?

MR TONER: Very quickly, I thought – I apologize. Yes, he did speak to High Representative Mogherini earlier today. That’s what I thought.

QUESTION: On what? To reinforce his message of --

MR TONER: Look, I mean, again, I don’t actually have a readout in front of me. I think clearly they talked about – as they always do – talked about the number of core foreign policy issues that we’re trying to address with the EU, but I’m certainly sure they spoke about Brexit as well.

QUESTION: When is the next opportunity he’s going to have to talk about this with anyone?

MR TONER: Well, with anyone? I mean, he is headed – obviously he’s in Aspen today, but he is headed to Ottawa or Quebec City, I’m not sure – where is it? – Ottawa. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, Ottawa.

MR TONER: And for meetings with the Canadians as well as the Mexicans. And that will be another opportunity, I think, to touch base with his counterparts there. And then obviously, looking next week, he’ll be traveling to the NATO Summit in Warsaw. And again, that’s going to be a touchstone for further discussions and a chance really for us to continue to talk about how this transition will take place with both the EU and with the UK, but with the understanding, I think, that this is a process between the two of them, the two entities. And it’s – the details and the process and how it looks, logistics, timeline, all of that are for them to work out. I want to be very clear that our role here is simply to be what we have been, which is a strong partner and ally to the EU and a strong partner and ally with the UK and to, as much as possible, to help this process move forward in way that’s beneficial to everyone.

QUESTION: Paul Ryan said today that the U.S. should start negotiating the trade deal with the UK now. Does – is that your opinion, the same as what the Administration is thinking?

MR TONER: Look, I know there’s been lots of talk about – first off, what I think is most important to speak to is stability and stability in the process going forward and stability that extends to the financial markets. In terms of trade and investment arrangements in the EU and across the transatlantic community, those aren’t going to change overnight. But we believe that the UK and the EU can deliberatively and in a productive way negotiate forward to ensure that trade and investment can be – can ensure their mutual prosperity. So that’s – I think what’s important is that there be a deliberate process here that sends a strong signal of stability to the region and to the world, frankly.

QUESTION: Go to Syria?

MR TONER: Yeah. You okay? Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Is there – first of all, is there anything that you can – are we done with --

MR TONER: I think so. I was looking at her, but she’s writing.


MR TONER: That’s okay. No worries. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry.

MR TONER: Sorry. No, no worries. Please.

QUESTION: I thought you were done. Sorry.

MR TONER: Yeah. No, no. It’s okay. Go ahead. Go ahead, Said. Your turn.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, can you share with us any kind of progress that you – in which you are involved in Syria, whether be it the talks forward or the humanitarian aid that is going to besieged areas and so on? Is there anything that you can share with us or even conversations with your Russian counterparts and so on, on maybe mitigating these horrible conditions?

MR TONER: I mean, look --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I mean, it’s been – well, first of all, speaking more broadly about all of the aspects of Syria and, frankly, Iraq, I’d refer you to Special Envoy Brett McGurk’s testimony on the Hill today at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he spoke more broadly about our counter-ISIL or counter-Daesh efforts. And there has been real success there. And he obviously can speak to it much more fluently and much more expertly than I can, but the fact is is that there’s been significant – with most recently the liberation of Fallujah, there’s been significant progress and pressure put on Daesh on the ground in both Iraq and Syria. And that pressure continues.

With regard to Syria, with regard to the cessation of hostilities, with regard to the political negotiation track in Geneva, and with regard to the other piece of this, which is humanitarian assistance, we’ve seen, frankly, spotty progress. That doesn’t mean it’s far from the forefront of our efforts by any means. We continue to talk to the Russians; we continue to engage with other members of the ISSG. I know it was a topic of conversation for Secretary Kerry in his meetings yesterday and the day before and in Italy and in the UK and in Brussels, and those are going to continue. And we’re going to continue to try to put pressure on both sides – both the opposition, but certainly increase pressure on the regime – to get a credible and pervasive or nationwide cessation of hostilities in place. But it remains a challenge, I’ll be honest.

QUESTION: Now, let me just follow up --

MR TONER: Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- quickly. Yesterday the Pentagon announced a new program, which is a training --


QUESTION: -- and equipping and so on the Syrian opposition, apparently modeling it after the awakenings or whatever the --


QUESTION: -- mobilizing the tribes and so on. Is that a good idea, considering that your last program – the Administration’s last program, where they spent 400 billion – $400 million worth only to have like five or four or five at the end of the training program --


QUESTION: -- stick around? So what is --

MR TONER: So I think --

QUESTION: What is your reading and --

MR TONER: A couple of quick points to make on this. And I preface my response by saying I would encourage you to follow up with my colleagues over at the DOD, who can speak to this and with – again, with much greater skill than I can or depth than I can. But what I can say is the revised Syria train-and-equip program tried to learn the lessons of the original program. And we all acknowledged that the original program was not doing the job. It was trying to train up groups of forces that could be deployed to the field, wasn’t doing it fast enough, didn’t have enough really bang for the buck, if I could put it that way. So they took a good, hard look at how to revise that program, make adjustments.

So the program now, I would say, looks at trying to improve the capabilities of vetted local forces. And one of the ways it’s doing that is the numbers of folks that are being trained, for lack of a better word, are force multipliers. Rather, these people coming out can now return to, again, these local vetted forces and share their skillset – if that makes sense what I’m saying – versus what the previous idea was, which was to deploy whole groups of people out to the field. So this is a different animal.

And again, just to put it in a broader context, this is just part of our overall efforts. We’re providing support for these Syrian Arab groups, Syrian Kurd groups on the field, who are fighting Daesh on the ground and creating gains. But this is, I guess, a part of a many-pronged effort that’s putting pressure on Daesh.

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: On this point, the Pentagon also said that they train under a hundred to take the lead and hope that they will lead like tens of thousands or 10,000 fighters and so on. Is that a conceivable idea? Is that something that, in your opinion, a strategy that can be achieved?

MR TONER: I think it can. And you’re right. I mean, it says whether – yeah. I think there’s only like fewer than a hundred enablers – is what they call them – train, but that they can – they’ve helped train and field more than 10,000 Arab fighters, is the current number they’re using. I mean, look, it’s not a new system, but it’s a very smart way to take full advantage of training small groups of individuals who can then play, as I said, a leadership role within these forces fighting on the ground.

I got to go really quick guys, so Nike.

QUESTION: Right. You mentioned McGurk. He also said there’s a campaign on the way for – to liberate Mosul now that Fallujah is liberated. What lessons or models could be learned to use and apply for the liberation of Mosul?

MR TONER: What’s that? What lessons learned? In terms of?

QUESTION: The liberation of Mosul.

MR TONER: Well, a couple thoughts. In Fallujah, I think Prime Minister Abadi was able to manage the offensive very carefully and deliberately. He opened these safe corridors or safe passageways for civilians. He made – expended considerable effort and sent a very clear message to his forces on the ground to protect civilians and sent a very clear message that any human rights abuses would be prosecuted and people would be held accountable.

But I think another lesson learned is with an operation like Fallujah, you also can’t underestimate the amount of IDPs or internally displaced people that are going to be generated by this kind of operation, and the need to be able to absorb and react to them. And we’ve talked about the fact that we’re obviously providing additional funds to help those organizations on the ground and we’re also holding a donors conference, if you will, at the end of July to address that.

But we see in every case that the Iraqi forces are getting more capable, getting more confident, being able to interact and cooperate or coordinate better on the ground. So, I mean, there’s always lessons to be learned. Those are some.

QUESTION: He also mentioned that the challenge is not only a military one but also political. What is the most challenging political aspect in terms --

MR TONER: Political?


MR TONER: Well, I think it’s – I mean, I think it’s trying to deal with some of the – if I could put it that way – this way, the sectarian tensions that exist in Iraq and trying to mitigate those and trying to create a conclusive – inclusive, sorry – an inclusive government and political system that allows all of these groups to coexist.

QUESTION: Can I ask a Cuba question?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: I’ve got to go really quickly, guys. I apologize.

QUESTION: Okay, a Cuba question really quick.


QUESTION: Starwoods Hotel is now running --


QUESTION: -- a hotel that’s owned by the Cuban military.


QUESTION: Can you have a comment on that? And is this what President Obama meant when he said helping – allowing investment to help ordinary Cubans, letting a hotel chain take over a military-owned hotel?

MR TONER: So I don’t have the details, Brad, on this deal, and I can’t speak to it in detail in – because we weren’t involved in the negotiations, and frankly, we’re not authorized to speak on the specifics of licenses that are issued by OFAC, which is the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Broadly speaking, there are some pros or some benefits to this kind of investment. Providing adequate lodging and safety and security for authorized travelers will increase people-to-people contact, and that’ll benefit the normalization process, and also, it’s going to help develop that sector-specific knowhow among Cuban employees in the lodging and travel business. And --

QUESTION: But the money goes to the military, right?

MR TONER: Well, again, I’m not sure about the details of it and I’d have to look into it, but I’d also encourage you to reach out to OFAC for more details and to Starwood themselves. This is just one deal, though, but what we want to keep seeing is a steady increase in these kinds of investments in these – certainly in the tourist infrastructure for Cuba.



MR TONER: You, and then you, sir, and then I’m done.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, thank you. At the beginning of the year, a center was set up here at the State Department called Center for Global Engagement that would counter terrorist propaganda. Well, first of all, how is the center doing, and also, has it expanded over the past year? And most importantly, will the center’s mission expand beyond combating terrorism, or it’s just that?

MR TONER: So that’s a huge question to hit me at the – I’m trying to get off the podium. It is – it has been established, it is working hard, it is kind of reinventing how we engage in this – if I could put it this way – battlefield, because it is, in a sense. Countering violent extremism is important and we have to be present in that space. And it has been reinvented in a sense and they’re working hard at that. I can try to get you more information tomorrow or after this briefing on what the future holds for that group. But they’re looking at new ways of kind of engaging in that space and – new innovative ways. And so I’d like to be able to do it justice and talk about it more comprehensively.

And you, sir.

QUESTION: Last, okay. Iran has started bombarding the KRG borders --


QUESTION: -- not only KRG borders, both side of borders. And what does the U.S.A. have to say about this issue?

MR TONER: I think, frankly, that Elizabeth spoke to this yesterday. We’re aware of these reports, but I don’t have much more specifics to share with you at this time. But when we do, I’ll let you know.

Okay. Thank you, guys. I appreciate it. Sorry, I have to run.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 27, 2016

Mon, 06/27/2016 - 16:15

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 27, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:05 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday. I have one item at the top, and then I promise this will be the world’s shortest briefing, so hopefully we can go out and enjoy the afternoon.

First, on Iraq, we congratulate Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Security Forces for the liberation of Fallujah. This is a major step towards the total defeat of Daesh in Iraq. We do send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the Iraqi forces who died in liberating the city. We do remain concerned about the humanitarian situation for Iraqis fleeing the fighting. However, we have seen significant progress by the UN and Iraqis in recent days to provide for the basic necessities of internally displaced persons. As we announced last week, we’re pleased that the United States will host a pledging conference in Washington on July 20th in order to raise support for urgent humanitarian, stabilization, and de-mining needs in Iraq. U.S. is joined in its leadership of this event by Canada, Japan, and Germany, as well as dozens of representatives from around the world, in an effort to help the people of Iraq weather the humanitarian crisis and destruction wrought by Daesh.

And that’s all I have. Matt.

QUESTION: Actually, I don’t – you don’t have anything to add to what Secretary Kerry said earlier in London and Brussels about --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t.

QUESTION: -- Britain and the EU?

MS TRUDEAU: The Secretary spoke extensively on Brexit, as well as in Rome, so I – I’d leave his remarks.

QUESTION: Let me just ask this.


QUESTION: Is there anyone in this building that you’re aware of, or interagency, that’s looking at this and how – and the impacts that it will have on U.S. foreign policy, U.S. diplomacy?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think we all continue to take a look at this. This --

QUESTION: But, I mean, is there some kind of a special task force --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not aware of any special task force, no, Matt.

QUESTION: All right.


MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Lesley, you’re good?

QUESTION: No, I’m good, thanks.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you. So are you confident that Fallujah is completely liberated now?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen the reports. I think DOD also spoke to this today. The Iraqis have spoken on this. Certainly, it’s a fluid situation, but the Government of Iraq has said that all parts of Fallujah are liberated.

QUESTION: Have you seen media reports that the Shiite militias which played a huge role in liberating the city have abused Sunni civilians, and what do you make of those reports?

MS TRUDEAU: So we spoke a little bit about this yesterday, and we’d note Prime – or not yesterday, last week. We’d note the prime minister’s comments. Prime Minister Abadi has been consistent on the need for all Iraqi forces to be under the Iraqi Government’s command and control. He’s also publicly and repeatedly emphasized that Iraqi forces must take all care to protect civilians and property. I’m going to refer you to the Government of Iraq to speak to that, but that’s something we take very seriously.

QUESTION: Just one more Iraq question.


QUESTION: The Iranian Government has been shelling the Kurdish areas in the north, wounding at least five civilians, including children. Have you seen those media reports and do you have any --

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen – yeah, thanks for the question. I’ve seen those reports. We’re not in a position to confirm those. I’m going to refer you to the Government of Iraq as well as officials in the KRG.

QUESTION: But if that happened, which there are pictures – pictures of civilians --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, as I said, I’ve seen the reports --

QUESTION: Okay. Will --

MS TRUDEAU: -- but I cannot confirm them.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Said.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the situation for the civilians.


QUESTION: There’s something like 83,000 people. It seems that the humanitarian agencies or – couldn’t – were not expecting that many, and they are really in dire conditions. Is there any kind of sort of emergency efforts by the United States and by others --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, you saw our announcement last week.

QUESTION: -- to take care of this unfolding – yeah – I saw – I understand.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, on the 20 million.

QUESTION: But – right. But apparently there are a lot more people that are --


QUESTION: -- being placed in tents and so on right outside of Fallujah, a lot more than expected.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So we are very aware of that. We’re working very closely with the UN. As I said, we announced last week that additional 20 million. This is a situation that we take very seriously. I think the pledging conference will be an important next step as we take a look not only at stabilization but rebuilding that area as well.

QUESTION: And just one last --


QUESTION: -- follow-up on the alleged Iranian shelling --


QUESTION: -- of Kurdistan. Would that be, like, a major development as far as you’re concerned? Would that be something – would that complicate --

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I just can’t confirm it. As we had talked about, all I’ve seen are the media reports, so I’m not in a position to say one way or another.

QUESTION: But Iran – Iranian Government has said – has confirmed that they are doing it, and they said it is – they’re going after the anti-Iranian Kurdish rebels.

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm. So on that, I’m going to --

QUESTION: So the Iranian Government, the Kurdish government, they have both confirmed that that’s actually taking place.

MS TRUDEAU: Then I’m going to refer you to the Government of Iraq, and as I said, officials in the KRG to speak to it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS TRUDEAU: Sure, Samir. Hi.

QUESTION: Hi. Did you see the remarks by the Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei inciting young people in Bahrain to revolt against the government?

MS TRUDEAU: No, actually, I didn’t see those remarks.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, of course.


QUESTION: Hold on, can we – Bahrain.


QUESTION: There’s been some developments in the case of Nabeel Rajab. Do you know – what is your --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We are concerned that Nabeel Rajab will face trial for a series of tweets he published last year. The United States believes no one should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly, even if considered controversial. We believe societies are strengthened, not threatened, by peaceful expressions of opinion and dissent. As the Secretary underscored to the foreign minister, we believe recent government actions against civil society will only lead to greater instability, with potentially serious implications not only for Bahrain but for the greater region.

And Ros, you wanted --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Bahrain?

MS TRUDEAU: Sure. Are you staying in Bahrain, Ros?


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We’ll do Said and then we’ll bounce over.

QUESTION: Very quickly, because --


QUESTION: -- there was an editorial today in The Washington Post basically accusing the government of inciting – and the royal family of inciting sectarian rhetoric and so on – and violence.

MS TRUDEAU: I think I’ll leave the comments where I left them, which is Secretary Kerry’s comments last week to the foreign minister, Said.


MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. There was a joint Al Jazeera/New York Times report – rather, I should say New York Times/Al Jazeera report – alleging that some members of the Jordanian intelligence structure may have taken weapons intended for rebels fighting against the Assad regime and sold those weapons on the black market. What is this building’s reaction? What conversations has it had with the Jordanian Government? We all know that weapons turn up on the black market all the time, but given the complexity of the situation in Syria, it does raise some alarm bells.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so thanks for the question. We have no comment on that report. There is an ongoing investigation. The United States remains committed to Jordan’s security and stability, and we’re proud to stand side by side with Jordan in the global counter-ISIL coalition. But on that particular report, there’s an ongoing investigation. I just can’t speak to it, Ros.

QUESTION: The CIA does not comment either on its covert transfers of weapons, and yet, it is a U.S. Government policy. Who else should we ask about this?

MS TRUDEAU: As I said, I have no comment on that.

QUESTION: More of a policy – these weapons potentially ending up in the hands of extremists – is it a consequence that the U.S. is willing to accept in order to prop up rebel forces in Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: As it’s an ongoing investigation, I just don’t have a comment on that report.

QUESTION: It’s a policy. It’s not the only red flag out there. For example, last September, the Pentagon acknowledged that the Syrian rebels that it trained gave at least a quarter of their weapons cache to al-Nusrah. How many red flags do there have to be for the U.S. to stop arming rebels?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’re going to leave it where I left it.

Matt, you had a question?

QUESTION: Yeah, I – who’s doing the investigation?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s actually an interagency investigation, but the State Department is contributing to it.

QUESTION: So what are the other agencies involved?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can’t speak to all the different agencies, but it’s multiple U.S. agencies. We’re contributing information.


QUESTION: But she does raise a good point, that --

QUESTION: Wait, hold on, hold on.


QUESTION: Just one thing. Just, I mean, the White House was just asked about this in their briefing, right?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe they were.

QUESTION: Yeah. You know what they did?

MS TRUDEAU: They refused to comment on it.

QUESTION: No, no. They referred the questions to the State Department and to the FBI.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So – and on this I’m saying there’s an ongoing investigation --

QUESTION: But you won’t even say who’s doing the investigation?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s my understanding it’s interagency. It’s multiple government –

QUESTION: So which ones?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have a rundown of who exactly. If I have anything more, we’ll come back to you on that.

QUESTION: I’m going to hold my breath.

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: How long should I hold it?

MS TRUDEAU: Probably not until the end of the briefing.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you – there were also allegations that these weapons were actually used to kill Americans, American trainers and so on, in Jordan.


QUESTION: Can you comment on that?


QUESTION: You’re not aware?

MS TRUDEAU: As it’s ongoing, I really can’t, Said. I’m sorry.

Okay, Ros.

QUESTION: She was raising – she was touching on a really good point.


QUESTION: Is there any reason why the U.S. Government should be in the business of providing weapons to anyone who is not a part of a nation-state’s military? Because it seems every time that some rebel group gets its hands on U.S.-provided weapons, they end up in the wrong hands, they end up being sold for whatever on the black market. Is this something that U.S. foreign policy and military policy really should even be considering?

MS TRUDEAU: I know you’d like a comment on it, Ros. I just can’t at this point. If we have more that I can offer it, we certainly will.

QUESTION: But just in general terms, is this just --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can’t Ros. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Is this just really a good idea?


QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian --

MS TRUDEAU: Are we done – nope, I don’t think so.

QUESTION: No, but this isn’t about that. This is a --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Hold on --

QUESTION: This is somewhat related.

MS TRUDEAU: -- and then I’ll go to you, Said.

QUESTION: Did you have any comment or do you have any comment on the comments made Friday by the leader of Hizballah, that basically the Iranians are funding and supplying the entire movement?

MS TRUDEAU: So without getting into intelligence matters, I can say that we do believe sanctions on Hizballah and those who support them have made a difference. We will continue to use all tools at our disposal, including sanctions, to target this group, which we have designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Our designations over the past year – designating Hizballah procurement networks, financial/commercial front companies, and so on – have been highly effective. The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act – which we passed earlier this year, further builds on that – has created a climate throughout the world where financial institutions are rejecting Hizballah. We believe that this has had an impact on Hizballah. We’re seeing their response now.

QUESTION: Is it --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, hold on. Did you hear – even hear the question that I asked?

MS TRUDEAU: I did. It was a question on asking about his comments on how we’re – how we are cutting off the financial networks around Hizballah.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. That wasn’t my question, though.


QUESTION: My question was about him basically admitting that the Iranians are paying and supplying them with everything.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We believe that we have tightened the noose around Hizballah so they are no longer able to receive those funds.

QUESTION: You don’t --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with cash.

QUESTION: You don’t think that Iran is still supplying Hizballah? Because --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, no, what we’re saying is we have seen those remarks, but we believe that through this financing act, we are reducing the scope of the money that can go in.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they say he’s getting his money from Iran cash.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, and I’m going to leave my remarks where I left them.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. I’m extremely confused. You don’t – the Administration does not – no longer believes that Hizballah is getting any significant financing from Iran because --

MS TRUDEAU: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: -- because of the --

MS TRUDEAU: I didn’t say that. I said we believe that our sanctions are making a difference. We’re not saying that it’s a done deal. We’re not saying there’s not financing. We’re saying, though, that significant steps have been taken to tighten that noose.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, from – on their financing from Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: Designating all of their networks to reduce their ability to receive funding, yes.

QUESTION: From Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe – yeah --

QUESTION: My question is solely related – look, we – it’s been the position of – since successive U.S. administrations that Hizballah is a Iranian proxy, that it does get – and so now, the guy – now Nasrallah comes out and says yes, that’s actually true, but you’re not – and so I’m just wondering – you are saying that the U.S. sanctions that you put in place in Lebanon and – on Hizballah have curtailed, significantly reduced, slightly --

MS TRUDEAU: Funding.

QUESTION: -- short – slightly reduced funding that the group gets --

MS TRUDEAU: Significant.

QUESTION: -- from Iran?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that’s the case.


QUESTION: On Lebanon --


QUESTION: -- do you have any reaction to the suicide bombings against Lebanese --


QUESTION: -- army in Lebanon?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, thank you. The United States strongly condemns the multiple terrorist suicide bombings in the eastern border village of Qaa, Lebanon. We offer our condolences to the families of those killed, wish a speedy recovery to those injured in the attacks. We applaud the efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces to defend Lebanese territory against terrorism and protect the Lebanese people. We reiterate our strong support and commitment.

QUESTION: Can we go to Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: First of all, do you have any comment about the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, we have. We welcome that.


MS TRUDEAU: We’ve seen that. We think this is a significant step. It certainly adds to regional stability.

QUESTION: Now, let me ask you, in the – during the meeting between the Secretary of State – Secretary Kerry, and the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the focus almost entirely on the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement?


QUESTION: Because that’s what some in the Israeli press are saying, that basically --

MS TRUDEAU: So I think you saw their comments after it. I’ve got a little bit of a readout too I can offer, so let me do that.


MS TRUDEAU: So they had a good meeting; they discussed many different issues but focused significantly on the challenge of beating back terrorism, specifically in respect to Israel’s challenge in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. They did talk about the progress being made between Israel and Turkey. They talked about regional economic challenges as countries confront terrorism and also how we can work together with other countries in the region to deal with those. And finally, they also talked about Brexit and how that might or might not impact all economies. So it was – really, it was a wide-ranging meeting.

QUESTION: Yeah. In other words, they did not talk about restarting the peace talks --

MS TRUDEAU: I think in any meeting that the Secretary has with the Prime Minister, the idea of advancing peace certainly comes up, Said.

QUESTION: So you would say that it was peripheral in their discussion?

MS TRUDEAU: No, I would say that’s always a central issue that we discuss, but I would say it was a very wide-ranging conversation, long meeting.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on a couple things from last week --

MS TRUDEAU: Sure, of course.

QUESTION: -- on the issue of the justice ministry in Israel. Minister Shaked --


QUESTION: -- I think said that they are going to introduce a much wider – more restrictions on social media.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I understand it’s draft legislation.


MS TRUDEAU: So we actually looked into it. Certainly, this building is following it, as well as Embassy Tel Aviv. In general, as you know, we support freedom of expression, free flow of information regardless of the medium. We also, though, do condemn incitement to terror. But again, we understand it’s draft legislation. We haven’t really seen the final version.


QUESTION: And let me just ask you --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second and then we’ll move.

QUESTION: I just want to ask you about the United Nations has warned about the imminent demolition of the – of Palestinian homes and so on in a refugee camp. I wonder if you have any --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. As we have said many, many times, punitive home demolitions are counterproductive. They exasperate – exacerbate an already tense situation.

Okay. Turkey.

QUESTION: Yeah. You just commented on the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, but what about the letter Turkish president has sent to – president of Turkey – of Russia, Putin, it has been reported widely, the – in which he apologized for the downing of the Russian jet. As a NATO member, I want to know whether the Turks had consulted with you prior to sending that letter. And also, what’s your comment about the apology?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I’ll tell you all I’ve seen are the Kremlin spokesperson’s comments, so I’m not in a position really to say either way. I’d refer you to the governments of Turkey and Russia to speak to it. Okay?

QUESTION: So did the Turks in any way, at any capacity, consulted the United States?

MS TRUDEAU: I could not speak to that. As I said, the first I’ve seen was actually out of the Kremlin on this. So if we have more, I’ll certainly come back to you, but I have nothing more to add.

QUESTION: Can I – it does seem a bit unusual that you’re willing to comment on the Israel-Turkey rapprochement but you’re not willing to comment on the Turkey-Russia rapprochement.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, it’s a question that – I’ve only seen the comments from the spokesperson, whereas on both sides people have publicly stated that’s --

QUESTION: Well, yeah, okay, but, I mean, the Turkish side has spoken and the letter is out for --

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, okay. Actually, I didn’t know that, so, thanks.


MS TRUDEAU: Let’s do India, and then we’ll move to Asia.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on – can you – about India joining the MTCR to the --



MS TRUDEAU: So thank you for the question. India demonstrated to all MTCR partners a sustained commitment to nonproliferation and it has a legally based effective export control system that puts into effect the MTCR guidelines and procedures and administers and enforces such controls effectively. All 34 current members, including the United States, agreed India met the standard and that India’s membership would strengthen international nonproliferation.

QUESTION: So there are reports that today at a ceremony India is being inducted into the group. Do you – in the U.S. or somewhere – do you have anything on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Actually, I don’t, no.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on --

MS TRUDEAU: I’ll let you guys sort it out.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Deputy Secretary Blinken meeting with the vice foreign minister --

MS TRUDEAU: I do. Deputy Secretary Blinken met with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama today at the Department of State. They did discuss bilateral and regional issues of mutual concern between the United States and Japan as well as global cooperation.

QUESTION: Do you have anything specifically on what they discussed in regards to Brexit?

MS TRUDEAU: I do not. I think the meeting just ended.



QUESTION: Also on Japan --


QUESTION: -- do you have any comment on the case over the weekend, I believe, of the new DUI case in Okinawa?

MS TRUDEAU: I just saw those media reports before I walked out. I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to them.

QUESTION: Is there --


MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I – literally, I’ve only seen the newsflash on that.

QUESTION: So, wait, wait. On the Blinken meeting with the --


QUESTION: -- deputy foreign minister --


QUESTION: He was at a swearing-in ceremony at 1:30.

MS TRUDEAU: With – in Somalia --

QUESTION: Yeah, then --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s my understanding it happened right before.

QUESTION: Oh. So, then, that meeting didn’t just end?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, “just end” is a relative term. It’s like you holding your breath, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m still holding it. Can you tell?


QUESTION: But I think that it’s not out of the – out of line to ask for something --

MS TRUDEAU: No, fair enough.

QUESTION: -- more specific than matters of regional --

MS TRUDEAU: Regional – let me see what else I can get.

QUESTION: -- mutual interest and regional concern. That’s like a --

MS TRUDEAU: No. Obviously, Japan’s an important ally. If we can get more, we certainly will.

QUESTION: That’s like a SLORC-era readout.




QUESTION: Former Burmese junta.

MS TRUDEAU: Nice, thank you.


MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, are we back on India?

QUESTION: Yeah, just --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, good. Abigail, I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify that when – is there a deadline, is there a date when India will join or like – your statement is that, okay, India is welcome, it has done --

MS TRUDEAU: You know what? I’d refer you to the group or, in fact, to India itself to speak about the accession protocol.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thanks.

MS TRUDEAL: Abigail.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the report out suggesting that Russian intelligence and security services have been harassing U.S. diplomats?


QUESTION: Can you --

MS TRUDEAU: Over the past two years, harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and traffic police have increased significantly. Other western embassies have reported the same thing. The safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very seriously. We have raised and we will continue to raise at the highest level any incidents inconsistent with protections guaranteed by international law, and we will respond appropriately in accordance with U.S. and international law.


QUESTION: One of the incidents they described is someone breaking into their home and rearranging their furniture. How pervasive is that sort of attack on U.S. diplomats?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to individual incidents that were in a media report. What I will say is that we see an increase and we take it seriously.



QUESTION: But is this just in Moscow or is this everywhere? Because the report seems to indicate that it was – that it’s further afield.

MS TRUDEAU: So harassment of U.S. diplomats by host government services is a longstanding problem that does occur inside Russia. While we can’t rule out such harassment that could occur elsewhere, I just don’t have specifics on other countries to read out to you at this time.

QUESTION: The report indicated that the Russians feel that their diplomats have been similarly harassed. Is that true?

MS TRUDEAU: Russia’s claims of harassment are without foundation.

QUESTION: So you said you take it seriously.


QUESTION: What exactly have you done?

MS TRUDEAU: Secretary Kerry has raised this with President Putin.


QUESTION: Is that it?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, and we continue to raise it on all other levels. You may recall in January, we also withdrew our acceptance of credentialing from five of the six Russian honorary consuls in the United States. This action was taken in response to continued Russian interference with our diplomatic and consular operations in Russia, including but not limited to this widespread harassment.

QUESTION: Were – those are the same honorary consuls who were just given an award – just given awards in the Kremlin?

MS TRUDEAU: I – to be honest, I’m not tracking the awards, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. So when did Secretary Kerry raise this with President Putin, and does he raise it with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well?

MS TRUDEAU: I know he’s raised it with President Putin. It’s my understanding that this has come up. I don’t have an exact date on that readout of when that came up.

QUESTION: But you said he’s raised it --

MS TRUDEAU: Recently.

QUESTION: -- like, the last time he saw him?

MS TRUDEAU: You know what, let me double check that, and I’ll get you an exact date.

QUESTION: All right. And it has come up with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well?


QUESTION: It has not?



MS TRUDEAU: Lesley, you had a follow-up?

QUESTION: No, I wondered, how recent was the last time?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, let me see if I can get an exact date. We may not be able to read out those exact dates, but I’ll see what I can get for you guys.


QUESTION: No, I have one more.

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve got one more and then we’re good.

QUESTION: Venezuela.

MS TRUDEAU: That was pretty slick, guys.

QUESTION: Venezuela.


QUESTION: I don’t know if you have anything new on this, but I’m wondering if you do have any updates on the case of Francisco Marquez, the American citizen who was arrested in Venezuela.

MS TRUDEAU: I do, thanks. We’re aware of reports that a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, Francisco Marquez Lara, was arrested. He was charged with money laundering and public incitement. We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens abroad seriously. We’re providing all possible consular assistance. As in any country where a U.S. citizen has been detained, we expect the Government of Venezuela to accord the U.S. citizen the full extent of his rights to due process under international and Venezuelan law.

QUESTION: Do you know – did they – did the Venezuelan authorities notify you that he was – had been arrested?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know that.

QUESTION: Do you know if there has been a consular visit?

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know that either.


MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 24, 2016

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 16:48

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 24, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:43 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: It’s all right. Do you want me to wait for --

QUESTION: I’m going to go get changed first.

MR KIRBY: Oh yeah? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: We are still here.

MR KIRBY: Hey, Goyal. Okay. So, look, I don’t have any opening statement today. That was our opening statement for the day, and I’m glad that he was able to make some time to talk to you. I know how interested you guys were in that. So we’ll just get started.


QUESTION: Let’s start with Brexit.

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: One, do you have any communications of the Secretary’s to read out at this point?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the Secretary did speak with the Foreign Secretary Hammond earlier today. We will have – we’ll be able to provide a more detailed readout of that phone call. It – truth is, it just concluded not long ago, so you will be hearing more from the Secretary on this issue and as a result of his phone call. But it was a good discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. We saw the White House statement. From the State Department’s perspective, how do you view the result of the referendum? Is this bad for American diplomacy, for projection of American moral and physical force in the world?

MR KIRBY: I – we – I think we look at this as expressive of the views and the perspectives of the British people, and we think that it tells us more about that than it does anything else. We obviously respect those views, as we respect this decision. Nothing is going to change about the deep and abiding relationship that we have with the UK, which is, as you know, a special relationship, and we’re going to continue to work hard with the UK and the EU as the – as they work through what this decision means and across an array of specific issues. But we absolutely fully respect the will of the British people here.

QUESTION: On the UK side, when the President visited the country in April, I believe, he made a reference to going to the back of the queue when it comes to trade negotiations and other things, strongly saying that – strongly advocating that the UK should stay in the European Union. Is that something that you reaffirm today?

MR KIRBY: Well, what I would say is we’re currently evaluating the impact of the UK’s decision on TTIP, for instance. We have a close historical relationship with the UK economically and politically, and we will consider how the UK, as it negotiates with the EU, fits into our strategy of pursuing broad trade platforms.

QUESTION: But how does this special relationship – how is it affected? We’ve heard everyone say that it won’t be affected, but on the other hand you have this comment lingering from the President that they would have to get in the back of the queue on trade, for example. That’s not very special, to be at the back of the line.

MR KIRBY: There’s – no I – actually, I would disagree. I mean, the special relationship remains a special relationship, and we’re confident that no matter what the implications are of this vote, that the relationship between the United States and the UK will remain as strong as ever. And also, I would add our partnership with the EU across a range of security, political, and economic issues will remain very strong indeed. And as I said – back to the – your question on the comment about “back of the queue,” we’re going to work closely with the UK and the EU as they work their way through what this decision means, and then we’ll consider what the options are as a result of that process. But we fundamentally do not see any change to the U.S.-UK special relationship as a result of this.

QUESTION: My last one, and it’s the EU side. How worried are you that this will hamper U.S.-EU cooperation given Britain’s prominent role in joint military operations? I understand you’ll still have NATO, but for bringing EU support to some of these things – sanctions against Russia and other shared U.S.-UK objectives that weren’t always shared by the entire European Union.

MR KIRBY: We’re confident that the U.S.-EU partnership will also remain very vibrant, very strong across a range of not just security but political issues going forward. There’s lots of work that we still are doing and will do with the EU. I mentioned yesterday that while in Rome, the Secretary is going to meet with the UN – the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. He looks forward to that chat. I have no doubt that this vote in the UK will come up, but I can also tell you that the Secretary has no doubt that our cooperation with the EU on all these kinds of matters will remain strong.

Will there be changes as a result of this? There very well may be. I mean, there’s – one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that this will be a fairly lengthy process. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but we recognize that this isn’t going to happen immediately. And so now begins conversations between the EU and the UK about how to manage this decision, and the Secretary is convinced that we have to obviously stay closely engaged through that process but remain calm and remain measured and remain confident in the strength of these relationships.

QUESTION: Right. But at the end of the day, when the – when Britain leaves, when the United Kingdom leaves, does the U.S. lose influence with the European Union?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that we believe that that’s the case, no. And you mentioned NATO, and it’s important to remember that the UK remains a key NATO ally and inside the alliance often punches well above its weight in its contributions, and we have every expectation that those commitments will continue.

QUESTION: Kirby, do you have any concern – you talked about the process that now begins which could easily – could take up to two years.

MR KIRBY: By some estimates, yeah.

QUESTION: Well, I think that – isn’t that what the treaty says?

MR KIRBY: I think so.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any concerns that Britain and the remaining members of the European Union are going to be enormously focused on the terms of their disengagement and that they will also be highly focused on what other parts of the European Union may be looking to peel off, including Scotland, and that therefore that may, as some former U.S. officials say, make it harder to have a strong, activist, self-confident, outward-looking European partner in dealing with global challenges?

MR KIRBY: You mean in the EU as a --

QUESTION: In the EU --

MR KIRBY: In the EU as a partner?

QUESTION: -- and with the British. Yes, but both.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, there’s a couple of things there, Arshad. We – supremely confident in the strength of our relationship with the UK. We are also equally confident in the strength of our partnership with the EU. Now, you asked about what other members of the EU may or may not be looking at – those are sovereign decisions that the people of those nations have to discuss and debate, and that’s not for the United States to involve ourselves in.

The – but I can tell you where we stand right now. The Secretary is very confident in our partnership with the EU going forward, and there’s a lot of work to be done. I mean, the EU is a member of the ISSG, for instance. As you know, the Secretary is very, very focused on still trying to move the political process forward in Syria. We don’t see any diminution of their role and their participation in that. They were represented in the Iran deal talks and still are a key player as we move forward for JCPOA implementation. So there’s a lot of work to be done, and the Secretary is focused on keeping that partnership vibrant and strong.

QUESTION: Right, but one of the key – one element of President Obama’s Administration has been to try to enlist greater support from other nations or blocs, like the EU, for major challenges. That can range anywhere from Libya to climate change.

MR KIRBY: Indeed.

QUESTION: And so the question I have is – and I’m not asking for you to comment on whether or what other nations or regions might peel off from the EU – whether you think that this – what is – what seems inevitably to be a protracted period of intra-European negotiation and wrangling over how they divorce from the British is just, as a practical matter, going to make it harder to secure European support on a whole host of things.

MR KIRBY: Okay, I guess I misunderstood your first question. I think – I mean, the short answer is that, I mean, obviously, we’re going to be watching this process closely, as you might expect we would. We’re obviously interested in it. We’re confident, though, that the EU and the UK, as they work through the particulars that you’ve discussed here, that they’ll do so in a measured, deliberate, purposeful manner; that it will take some time; that it’s important for us to let that process play out. And in the intervening time, whatever time that is, the Secretary is convinced that the United States will be able to continue to manage strong, healthy relationships multilaterally and bilaterally all throughout that. And he’s comfortable that we’ll be able to work our way through this without sacrificing the important commitments, be they security or economic, that we have both with the UK and with the EU and with – bilaterally with nations that comprise the EU.

So the short answer, I suppose – and that wasn’t a very short answer, I apologize – but it’s no. The Secretary is confident that we’ll be able to work our way through this and that the relationships will remain strong.

QUESTION: And then one other one. There’s been a – as you know better than me, there’s been a longstanding debate over burden sharing within NATO but also on other matters vis-a-vis the EU. The predictions by virtually everyone are that British growth is going to suffer as a result of pulling out.

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, British what?

QUESTION: That British growth will suffer and that European growth more broadly will suffer and that global growth may suffer because of this. Do you have any worries that if growth – if these countries are not growing as fast, that they will be even less able to spend 2 percent on – of GDP on national defense, which most of them don’t anyway, and will be even less able to contribute to collective security?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s too soon to speculate with that level of specificity with respect to economic growth, development, and contributions. We understand – and it’s not – it comes as a surprise to nobody that this vote – that there’s – as a result of this vote there’s some uncertainty out there. And we understand that.

The Secretary is convinced that we can work our way through that; that this is a process that will take some time; that there needs to be continued dialogue, discussion as the EU and the UK work their way through that. Separate and distinct from this, we also know that some NATO nations have trouble – have made trouble – have had trouble – sorry – making their 2 percent of GDP. The UK is not one of them, but other nations have had difficulty reaching that goal. And I don’t think that he would believe it’s helpful right now to speculate or hypothesize about the degree to which this decision is going to impact those commitments.

What I can tell you is that the Secretary remains committed, as the United States is a NATO member, to those commitments. And we’ve got a NATO summit coming up, where I’m quite certain that the vitality of the alliance going forward will be high on the agenda. But I just don’t think that this soon after the vote that anybody can say with certainty what will be the long-term impacts here. What’s important from our perspective is that knowing this process will take a little bit of time, and retaining our confidence in the ability of leaders both in the UK and the EU to manage that process, as I said, in a measured, deliberate manner, to make sound decisions as they work their way through this.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on a point?


QUESTION: I know it’s an issue of sovereignty, and you emphasized that point. But are you worried that what happened in Britain could, let’s say, that the trend to pull out of the EU could pick up momentum in places like the Netherlands, France, even Germany, and so on? Are you concerned that this might happen?

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re not going to speculate one way or the other, Said. We believe firmly in the partnership that we have, the United States has with the EU, and on moving that partnership forward. There are a lot of issues that we have worked together with the EU on, as I mentioned a couple to Arshad, and there are more that are no doubt coming. And so we’re focused on keeping that partnership strong and vibrant going forward, and I wouldn’t speak to – I wouldn’t speak or hypothesize to the future decisions that other nations would make one way or the other.

QUESTION: Because they do make a point. I mean, the flip side of that: They say why should – Germany, for instance: Why should we take in 2 million refugees that are a result – that come here as a result of civil wars and poverty and famines and so on? Is that a valid point, in your view, that is being adopted by certain elements that push for pulling out of the EU?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we believe that the European Union remains an indispensable partner for the United States in stimulating economic growth and addressing regional and global challenges. Nothing’s going to change about our view about the strength of the partnership and the important work that the EU continues to do across a range of issues.

And I think I’d leave it there. Yeah.

QUESTION: As a follow-up with this question, the vote shows an increase of this anti-globalization, anti-globalization --


QUESTION: -- anti-integration sentiment that we are seeing not only in Europe but also here in the United States. How concerned is the U.S. with this movement?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we respect the voice of the British people. They have – they made this decision and we respect that. And for whatever the reasons or motivations were, I mean, this was – this is the will of the British people and now we have to move forward. And one of the great strengths of our relationship with the UK is that, because it’s so close, we can have honest discussions with one another about these kinds of things. So look, for the United States perspective – and I can only speak for the United States and for Secretary Kerry, for the State Department, for the way this Administration views the world and foreign policy, and that is one of engagement; that it is important, we believe, we are engaged. We believe it is important to stay engaged. And we like to see our friends and partners and our allies also stay engaged with one another bilaterally or multilaterally. The world is an extremely dynamic, complex environment regardless of the vector that we’re talking about – economically, from a security perspective. And so we strongly believe in the power of interconnectedness and engagement between nations and between peoples, because from that can grow better understanding, and from better understanding can grow the kinds of compromises, the kinds of sound decisions that can lead to greater security and stability in so many trouble spots around the world.

That is why the Secretary worked so hard to help fashion together what has now become the International Syria Support Group. That is why the Secretary worked so hard inside the P5+1 process to get to the Iran deal. That is why, when we talk about North Korea launching missiles, we state over and over and again that we want to get back, we’d like to get back, to a Six-Party Talk process. Obviously, the DPRK hasn’t proven a willingness to do that, but the point is that we believe in these multilateral mechanisms. We just talked – I was – in my answer to Arshad a little bit about NATO and our strong commitments to arguably the most successful military alliance in the history of the world. These multilateral platforms matter because they provide fora for the kinds of dialogue, cooperation, and engagement that can help lead to better security and stability around the world.

It’s a long answer, but it was a very good question.


QUESTION: But John, and what I think she was getting at is --

MR KIRBY: You mean I didn’t answer the question. (Laughter.)


MR KIRBY: It was a great answer though. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there U.S. concern that some of the dissatisfaction behind Brexit on issues such as immigration – is there a concern that that might spill over to the United States?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, the American people get to decide what matters to them, and it’s not for me to say one way or the other how they should come down on those kinds of issues. I’m not going to engage in what I know is an issue on the campaign trail.

We believe that we are pursuing smart immigration policy, that smart immigration policy matters. We understand the concerns by many European nations about especially – what the – the challenges that they’re dealing with, with what is arguably the worst refugee crisis that Europe has faced since World War II. And we recognize that, which is why we’ve committed so many funds to trying to help with that and why we are continuing to work with our partners over there as they pursue comprehensive, multilateral approaches to try to deal with this. It’s also why, Pam, we’re working so hard to try to solve the civil war in Syria, so that a major element inside that flood of refugees can be stemmed and so people can have a home to go back to.

But yes, we understand the concerns about what’s going on in terms of migration and refugees around the world. We understand the concerns that are expressed by people over there as well as American citizens, which is why, again, we’re working so hard (a) to try to admit additional refugees in the country, and the President has set new goals that we are working hard to meet, but also, just as critically, to try to solve the problems to prevent the flow of refugees in the first place.

Goyal, I’ll come back to you in just a second. Yeah.

QUESTION: Hi, I just want to know your reflections on David Cameron as prime minister, from your perspective – how will he be remembered in the U.S. as --

MR KIRBY: I don’t think that’s – I don’t think that’s for the State Department to characterize one way or another. The Secretary has great respect for the prime minister and for his leadership and – and the decisions that he has made are – obviously we respect those decisions as well. And we respect, as I said, the will of the British people, but I don’t believe that would be appropriate for us to characterize one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think of his decision to put this to a referendum?

MR KIRBY: Again, these are – these were his decisions to make, and obviously, it was the will of the British people here that was voiced and that he made very clear he respected, and we respect him for that.

QUESTION: And can I just ask – Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations said today the special relationship will be that much less special, the United States will have no alternative but to increasingly turn to and rely on other countries, this is a cloud without a silver lining. I mean, are you saying you disagree with everything he’s arguing there?

MR KIRBY: With all due respect to Mr. Haass, I would say yes, we disagree with that sentiment. We don’t believe that the relationship with the UK will remain anything other than special and strong and deep and abiding, and I think I said that at the outset. We value this relationship very, very much and have every expectation that it will stay just as strong and vibrant going forward.

QUESTION: You said – just one more on this before we move – you said it’s a measure of how close the U.S. and the UK are that you can have honest discussions with the UK.


QUESTION: But when we’ve asked for your opinion on their – the decision by the voters to leave the European Union, you said, “We respect their opinion.” Well, what is your honest – what is your honest assessment?

MR KIRBY: You don’t think I was being honest before?

QUESTION: Well, if – that doesn’t sound like an assessment at all.

MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, again, one of the --

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re not close enough to have that honest – to present that --

MR KIRBY: No, of course – no, of course we are, Brad. I mean, it’s one of the great strengths of the special relationship with the UK that – over so many years – been our ability to speak candidly about our concerns, about our hopes, about our expectations. And you saw us do that before this referendum. We’re comfortable that we were able to do that in this case, just as we are comfortable and confident in the future strength of the relationship going forward.

QUESTION: So what are your concerns with the result of this referendum, then, if you’re so comfortable expressing them?

MR KIRBY: We had already – we had already expressed – our government had already expressed what we – what we felt about the pending vote. But the people of Great Britain have spoken, so that – that argument is now over and now we have to focus on moving ahead.

QUESTION: So – but those concerns that you expressed before the vote that this would be a mistake, you still believe that? Or you stopped believing that because they did what you said was going to be a mistake.

MR KIRBY: What we said was we believed in a strong UK voice and a strong EU.


MR KIRBY: And that was our position in advance of the referendum. The people of Great Britain have spoken and they want the UK out of the EU. That’s beyond dispute. And so we now have to move on. We now have to – it doesn’t mean that our concerns prior to the vote were invalid or are invalid now, but it doesn’t matter now. They’ve made their decision, and so we’re going to move on and we’re going to continue to work at this relationship.

QUESTION: I realize you don’t want – there’s not much value in saying, “You were wrong,” but given that this is going to be a protracted process and it’s not the result that you found to be preferable, do you hope that the UK and the EU will manage to maintain as many bands of connectivity as possible, regardless of how this process ultimately ends?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s a discussion that has to take place between the UK and the EU. What I did say earlier, though, is that we’re confident that they’ll be able to do this – because it will take some time – we’re confident that they’ll be able to do this in a measured, deliberate way and to address the concerns that have now been very clearly expressed by the British people. But I wouldn’t get ahead of that process. We’re just – we’re comfortable and we’re confident that it will be done with measure and deliberation. Okay?

Okay. We’re going to move on?

QUESTION: Two different questions.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. One is: Yesterday, India set the global record by launching 20 satellites in a single mission, including 17 and one from the foreign payloads. Is that including the U.S.? Or what role you think U.S. is playing as far as the U.S.-India space mission is concerned?

MR KIRBY: Goyal, you’re probably talking to the wrong guy. I think you probably ought to talk to NASA about that. I don’t have any knowledge on the space launches. I’m sorry. I just didn’t come prepared for that.

QUESTION: Okay. Second, what kind of message you think U.S. Congress is setting by – when they had a sat-in or on the floors like they were doing yoga? Only two weeks ago, Prime Minister Modi was in the U.S. Congress chamber when he said that this is a temple of democracy. And now these kind of things happens only in the Indian parliament, like sat – sit-in on all the protesters, all that, all in the Indian parliament or many other parliaments around the globe. So what do you – what message you think the U.S. Congress was sending to the rest of the world?

MR KIRBY: What message was the U.S. Congress sending to the rest of the world? You mean as a result of the sit-in of Democratic members on gun laws? Look – well, obviously, the issue itself is not one for the State Department to address – the issue of domestic gun laws. That’s not our focus here at the State Department. The – and I’m very careful not to speak for any member of Congress, a group or individually. That’s also not our role here. But, look, democracy can be messy; democracy can be dramatic at times. And as we say with respect to different issues around the world when I get up here and I talk about democratic freedoms elsewhere, we believe that freedom of expression is important, and the ability to have your voice be heard.

And so I would hope that however you come down on the issues in terms of domestic gun laws, that one clear message of what’s been going on in Congress is that we are a democracy and that we – and that we’re not afraid to make our voices heard one way or the other, and we think that’s important. And we think that to be able to do that in a peaceful way, to be able to do that in a transparent way is important. And when we – and when I stand up here and I talk about some places around the world where you can’t do that, that’s why. And so, again, wherever you come down on the issue, it’s clear that in the halls of our Congress, that they are exercising their right to free speech and to expression.

QUESTION: And finally, U.S. and Bangladesh officials met in Washington at the State Department, and a wide range of issues were discussed, of course, from the press release. What – was this also discussed during this meeting, the attacks on the minorities in Bangladesh? And what kind of assurance do you think the Bangladesh officials gave to the U.S. officials that these things will not happen or they have arrested a number of people in that connection?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, we’ve long talked about our concerns over the situation in Bangladesh, and I – again, I would say that clearly those issues and our concerns were obviously part of the discussions here at the State Department. But I don’t have anything more detailed than that.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR KIRBY: Justin.

QUESTION: Thanks, John. I wanted to get your take on the AP story about the Clinton calendar when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state here and ask you if it’s common practice for the secretary of state to scrub private meetings from the official calendar, as it would appear was done in her case. And – so what’s your take on that whole story?

MR KIRBY: Well – couple of things. The State Department maintained and preserved extensive records of Secretary Clinton’s calendars, and that’s evident from the records provided by the department to the Associated Press in this case. It’s a matter of ongoing litigation, and as such, I’m not going to offer additional details about that. I’m also not in a position to speak to how past secretaries and their staff handled schedules. But again, it’s an ongoing matter of litigation, and I’m not going to be able to get into more detail on it.

QUESTION: When you – you can’t talk about how schedules were kept in the past? That’s your position?

MR KIRBY: I – no, I cannot. I cannot speak to how --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, how is --

MR KIRBY: -- past secretaries or their staff handled their schedule.

QUESTION: How is the current Secretary’s schedule handled with regard to private meetings and how that might be reflected on the official calendar, the official public record for the historic record?

MR KIRBY: Well, a couple of things. I mean, we do keep records of Secretary’s calendar. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are often various internal calendars that are kept. And of course, as you know, we put out a public calendar every day that reflects his public engagements. But his daily schedules are being maintained and preserved as they should be, and they’re being maintained and preserved properly.

QUESTION: But in regards to the private meetings – that’s what this whole piece is about, the private meetings with, in Clinton’s case, people who turn out to be major donors to her campaign and to her family foundation. What is happening with Kerry’s private meetings? Are those being – are those – are the participants of those meetings preserved in the official record? What’s the common practice here?

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak to how it was done in the past, Justin, but the Secretary’s calendars are being properly preserved and maintained, and that includes who he’s meeting with. Okay? I mean, I just don’t know how --

QUESTION: Does that include dinners, like when he’s on the road and he’s traveling, if he goes out to dinner, if he goes out for drinks with an official or with an important person? Does he --

MR KIRBY: I mean, if it – we don’t --

QUESTION: Even if it’s not publicly announced, is that put in the official historical record?






QUESTION: And then you said at the beginning that --

MR KIRBY: It’s put in the – it’s recorded. You said put in the public record.

QUESTION: Recorded. Not – but it’s not in a public – no, I said in the official historical record.

MR KIRBY: I mean, there’s a record of his calendar. But look, when he’s on vacation we don’t keep a calendar for him.

QUESTION: Right. But if it’s a workday --

MR KIRBY: But if he’s doing a working meeting or a working lunch or working dinner, all that’s recorded.

QUESTION: Well, let’s say it’s not a working dinner but he’s on the public dime. He’s going – he’s in Paris or London or wherever, and he meets friends for dinner, and that’s being paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. Is that recorded as a – in the record – who he met with?

MR KIRBY: It’s recorded that – it’s recorded that he will be having dinner, but we don’t – we don’t --

QUESTION: You wouldn’t say with whom?

MR KIRBY: -- list every single participant if it’s a private dinner. But it’s recorded that he’s having a meal. Now, when he’s here in Washington and when he’s at the end of the day and he goes home, do we record on there when he sat down and ate? No.

QUESTION: But you see it as a slight – when he’s on a trip where he’s being – taxpayers are funding for him and his security --

MR KIRBY: I understand. That’s right. And you’ve traveled and you’ve been able to see that we’re not bashful about saying that --


MR KIRBY: -- when he’s going to eat. Most of his – and you also know, Brad, most of his meals when he’s on the road are working meals.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m just asking if the individuals – I mean, I understand these are a little different cases, unless the Secretary plans to run for president in a few years’ time, but it’s a little different. But do these individuals he meets with while he’s on official trips and spending taxpayer money, do they get recorded in that official record?

MR KIRBY: Yes. I mean --

QUESTION: Okay. But those --

QUESTION: The private --

MR KIRBY: I mean, if he ‘s --

QUESTION: I want to draw a distinction here just because I want to – I want to understand the question. I have no view of this. Presumably, if he has a private meeting, some friend of his drops by his hotel in Paris --

MR KIRBY: We would not – there would be no reason to, nor was there a requirement, to list in great detail a completely private non-work related meal that he might be having.

QUESTION: Or in any detail, right?

MR KIRBY: Right, right.

QUESTION: I mean, presumably you take the position that secretaries of state, like other people, get to have a certain amount of privacy, and that includes meeting --

MR KIRBY: I mean, with friends or family, of course. I mean, that’s not something that would need to be recorded or detailed, and there would be no reason to do that. But as you guys know who have traveled with him that there are very few private, non-working meals even for the Secretary. They’re often – he does a lot of business over the course of meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And as you know, those of you who have traveled, we make it known that he’s doing that.

QUESTION: So to be clear, you don’t see any glaring impropriety with the way Secretary Clinton’s schedule was handled?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the manner in which former Secretary Clinton’s calendars were handled.


QUESTION: I have one more on this.

QUESTION: I do, too.

QUESTION: At the beginning, you said you provided extensive records from the set of meetings that the former secretary had. Were you supposed to provide extensive records or complete records?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ve articulated --

QUESTION: Because I think that’s part of the problem here. Well, the issue raised in the story was that things are incomplete, and extensive doesn’t imply complete.

MR KIRBY: Right. So again, I’m going to go back to what I said before: maintained and preserved extensive records. And we have provided those through Freedom of Information to the Associated Press. It’s all out there – well, at least it’s out there to the Associated Press. It’s ongoing litigation, therefore not complete, and I’m really not at liberty to talk about it in any more detail.

QUESTION: But as a general matter, does the State Department believe it has any public obligation to maintain, for the historical record, records of private meetings by any secretary of state?

MR KIRBY: When you say private, you mean --

QUESTION: By – what I mean private, I mean non-work related, totally un-work related meetings.

MR KIRBY: We have – let me put it another way rather than – we have – we know we have an obligation to properly document and record and preserve the record of the Secretary’s tenure and the work that he has done, the policies he has pursued, the decisions he has made. And his official calendar is one component of that much larger story. And we’re confident – again, without getting into great technical detail, we are confident that we are properly preserving the record of his time as Secretary in terms of the official travel he has done, the meetings he has attended, the work that – and the work and the efforts that he has put into advancing American foreign policy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: And we’re comfortable that we are doing that properly through the preservation of calendars.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, but you’re not quite getting at what I think is the nub of the question. Maybe you don’t want to. But I think it’s a reasonable question to ask, which is whether the Department thinks that it has an obligation to maintain records of his private, totally non-work related meetings. I mean, if you are, then secretaries of state really don’t have kind of almost any privacy because they can’t meet a friend for dinner.

MR KIRBY: Let me try it – let me try it again. Maybe I’ll keep whittling away here. We know we have an obligation to preserve his record as Secretary of State. There are obviously some moments of his life that have no bearing on his performance as Secretary of State that are – that are reflective of him as a father, as a husband, as a grandfather. And I think that the American people would understand that that wouldn’t necessarily – those times of his life, be they on a given day or a week or a month – they wouldn’t be reflective of our requirements to preserve his record as Secretary of State.

Does that help?

QUESTION: I think so.

QUESTION: So I don’t --

MR KIRBY: I think that was a – I appreciate you coming back at me on that.

QUESTION: I don’t want to be pedantic, but my lingering question related to this is: What is private and what is public? I understand if he’s on vacation, that’s private. But if you’re on official government travel, for example, where you’re getting paid by the U.S. taxpayer to travel, being followed by a security detail that is being paid by the U.S. taxpayer to provide that security --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t preclude private --

QUESTION: That doesn’t preclude --

MR KIRBY: That doesn’t preclude – that doesn’t preclude some measure of privacy for the use of his time, Brad. I mean --


MR KIRBY: For instance, we don’t record for the public record when he lays down to sleep and when he wakes up. I mean, there are times in your life even on the road that --

QUESTION: But that’s not – yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- don’t require extensive recordkeeping.

QUESTION: But that’s not a meeting. That’s not --

QUESTION: How do you know?

QUESTION: Well – (laughter) – depends.

QUESTION: But as far as I know, that’s not a meeting. And two, that’s not part of --

MR KIRBY: If – let me – let me try to put it another way: If he’s having a meeting on the road or at home that bears directly to his work as Secretary of State, we’re properly recording that.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: I want to bring just one last thing back to Clinton, because it’s really about Clinton. And what strikes me as odd is that you won’t defend her past practices and you’re hanging that or hiding behind litigation, which, as my understanding, really doesn’t involve her past practices so much as it does records of those practices, which the AP is suing for. I assume that’s what the litigation you’re talking about, and I’m just not understanding how you could hide behind that in not being able to defend her past practices.

MR KIRBY: I’m not – first of all, I’m not hiding behind anything, Justin. It’s a case of ongoing litigation and there – and I’m simply not able to discuss it further, and I think you would understand that. If it’s in a case of ongoing litigation, there are limits to what I can say, and I’m simply not going to cross those limits. And as your – for your larger question, I am also – regardless of the ongoing litigation, I am not in a position, nor should I be expected to, to speak to the scheduling habits of a previous secretary of state. I just – I’m not able to do that.


QUESTION: Can we move on to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s meeting, upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, it has been reported that the Secretary is going to sort of suggest a last-ditch, quote/unquote “last ditch proposal” to the prime minister, basically to see whether he’s going to fish or cut bait as far as the two-state solution is. Can you enlighten us on those?

MR KIRBY: As I said yesterday, I think --


MR KIRBY: -- the Secretary plans to discuss a range of regional issues with the prime minister at their meeting in Rome, which includes the fight against Daesh, recent developments in Syria. He will not be trying to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians or offering any new initiatives.

QUESTION: So no new initiative, no new ideas and so on? Because --


QUESTION: -- again it’s been also reported, if you would indulge me – if you would comment on this. It’s been reported that in the event that he cannot get anything going or – whether on past efforts or new efforts, what we are likely to see is probably the United States and maybe the President himself or the Secretary of State saying these are the outlines, these are the parameters of a resolution that will end up with a two-state solution as you see it.

MR KIRBY: Again, I think I will leave my answer the way it was. I don’t have anything more to add on that, Said. As we’ve said many times, we still believe in the importance of a two-state solution. Obviously, as a part of this broader discussion that the Secretary will be having with the prime minister, they’ll talk about where things stand with respect to movement to or away from a two-state solution. Clearly that’s going to be on the Secretary’s mind as well. But as I said at my outset, he’s not going to restart talks. He’s not going to lay down any new initiatives. This is the next in what has been and will remain a series of discussions with leaders on all sides of the issue.

QUESTION: Can I ask a related question? The Israeli justice ministry – Reuters reported that the Israeli justice ministry is drafting legislation that will enable – would enable it to order Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media to remove online postings it deems to be inciting terrorism. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen that report, Said, so we’ll have to take a look at that. We’ve talked about social media in the past. In general, as you know, we support freedom of expression and the free flow of information regardless of the medium, but we also condemn incitement to violence.

QUESTION: Yeah, but this comes in light of a new definition of incitement, really a broad definition by the Israelis of incitement to terror and so on. So if you would look at this, and I mean, look at --

MR KIRBY: Well, you got me a little bit unprepared here.

QUESTION: Sure, okay.

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen this particular thing. But in general, I would tell you what we’ve said before when we’ve talked about social media. We support freedom of expression but we also are mindful of the dangers that can come from inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to violence.

Okay. Pam.

QUESTION: Eritrea.

MR KIRBY: Eritrea.

QUESTION: There are reports from the region that Deputy Assistant Secretary Shannon Smith traveled to or perhaps is still in Eritrea. First of all, can you confirm if she’s there? And then secondly, if so, why is she there and who is she meeting with?

MR KIRBY: I do not have an update on that travel, Pam. Let me take that for you.

I’ve only got time for a couple more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ll be quick. Do you have any – we had an interview with the top North Korean diplomat for the United States, saying they won’t give up nuclear weapons with a gun to their head. Do you have a comment on --

MR KIRBY: You have an interview with a top --

QUESTION: We, the Associated Press, had an interview with the top North Korean diplomat --

MR KIRBY: North Korean diplomat.


MR KIRBY: Look, I would say the same thing we’ve said before. Nothing’s changed about our desire to see a complete, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula, and the kinds of capabilities that the DPRK continues to pursue are doing nothing, obviously, to get us to that goal. We continually – as we have, we’ve condemned their activities in the past and we urge the North to take the necessary steps to prove that they are willing to return to the Six-Party Talk process so that we can get to that goal of a verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula.

QUESTION: And then today in Korea, the Financial Action Task Force met, which I know is not a State Department mechanism per se, but the U.S. and 30-odd other governments decided to suspend but not completely take off Iran from its countermeasures list for money laundering and terrorist financing. Do you hope that this will go some way to satisfying the Iranian demands for greater access to the international financial system?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would say we support the Financial Action Task Force decision. We also – as they have said, we welcome Iran’s high-level political commitment to an action plan to address the deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating of financing of terrorism regime. This commitment to an action plan was key to their – the task force decision to temporarily suspend countermeasures. While the action plan is a positive step by Iran, even with this suspension of countermeasures Iran will remain on the black list until it completes its action plan in full.

So this has no effect on the U.S. Government’s Iran-related sanctions, and again, this – largely, this is going to be up to Iran now to meet the commitments that it has made.

QUESTION: Can you just say what Iran did besides committing to some action plan? What has it already done concretely that lent – that lent to its suspension?

MR KIRBY: Well, it has created – look, this is a better question for the task force because I’m not an expert.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: But I understand – as I understand it, this temporary suspension of countermeasures – it’s actually – and you know this – it’s a recommendation of a temporary suspension of countermeasures because the nations of the task force have to determine for themselves if they are going to, in fact, suspend, and they might not. But it’s hinged upon – what you – you ask what Iran has done. As I understand it, what they’ve done is to make a firm commitment to an action plan to deal with the concerns about money laundering and support for terrorism and the financing that goes along with that. They’ve made this action plan to deal with it, so there’s – so the task force has recommended to the members that they could suspend countermeasures temporarily in the wake of this commitment to develop the action plan. But again, if Iran doesn’t follow through on that, those that do decide to suspend countermeasures can always snap them back.

QUESTION: Theoretically, if they actually do what they say they’re going to do, which is end terror financing within the next 12 months, you could take them off the state sponsor of terrorism list too, right, because they wouldn’t be funding terrorism anymore either?

MR KIRBY: Well, the sponsorship of terrorism exists not just in the financial world. There’s also material support as well as other ways of supporting terrorism. I wouldn’t get ahead one way or another of a decision or speculate where that might go. They are still considered a state sponsor of terrorism. I do not see that changing in the wake of this decision by the task force.

QUESTION: Why would you – given that they are a state sponsor of terrorism, why would you trust them to enact any measures to prevent the financing of terrorism?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to speak for the task force; but as we’ve said before, this isn’t about trust. That’s why the suspension is temporary and it’s still – it’s just a recommendation, really. The nations themselves have to decide whether they’re going to do it. But for us, this has never been about just blind trust. Iran – as I understand it, the task force agreed to make – to recommend the suspension based on their commitment to an action plan, but they made very clear in their statement that Iran’s got to meet that goal now. They’ve got to not only further develop the action plan but implement the items on there to deal with their support for terrorism financing and their money-laundering issues.

QUESTION: What I don’t quite get is – I understand that. I don’t quite understand why you would support recommending even a suspension of the countermeasures for a state that you believe and have believed for years has committed and supported acts of terrorism, including those that have killed U.S. citizens. Why not not make such a recommendation until they’ve actually taken the actions that you want to see done?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, this was a consensus view of the Financial Action Task Force, so I’m not – I can’t speak for every member there. Obviously --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the United States of America.

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we supported this – we supported this decision inside the FATF, as it’s known. We supported this decision. But again, it’s contingent. It’s contingent on them actually meeting the action plan and following through; and if they don’t, then obviously they won’t be able to enjoy the full suspension; it is temporary at best. But --

QUESTION: Well, why even give them a temporary benefit if – I just don’t understand that. Why even give them a temporary benefit if --

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to speak for the task force, but apparently --

QUESTION: But you have --

MR KIRBY: But obviously, the task force felt that the commitment to the action plan was significant enough to warrant this temporary suspension. And again, we’ll see where it goes. We’ll just see where it goes. And we support that decision.

I got just one more, and then I’ve got to go.

QUESTION: Sorry, on China. The Chinese embassy sent a letter of protest to the Senate Armed Services about a flight by senators above the contested Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. I was wondering if you got a similar letter. Are you in contact with the Chinese embassy on this issue?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such correspondence.

Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:38 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 23, 2016

Thu, 06/23/2016 - 18:07

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 23, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:07 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.


MR KIRBY: A couple of things right off the top here. I left my glasses here yesterday, so I now have two pair. (Laughter.) I was wondering where they were. I had to go to the car to get these, and I just have to decide which one I want to use.

QUESTION: They’re both very stylish.

MR KIRBY: Thank you. Today the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on a senior police official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for his role in police violence targeted against DRC civilians, including peaceful protesters. This action against Celestin Kanyama, the commander of the Congolese national police force, or PNC, will freeze his assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction and generally prevent U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with him. We’re deeply concerned about the ongoing political crisis in the DRC, the violence that gave rise to Kanyama’s designation is unacceptable and undermines the country’s stability and democratic institutions. We urge all Congolese stakeholders to refrain from violence and to commit to an inclusive, credible dialogue aimed at advancing national elections in line with the DRC constitution.

A quick note on Under Secretary Shannon’s travel to Caracas. He wraps up his visit there today. As you know, as I said, he went at the request of the Secretary and at the invitation of the Government of Venezuela. He did meet with President Maduro. He met with Foreign Minister Rodriguez as well as civil society representatives and opposition leaders to discuss the challenges in Venezuela and to help foster an environment that would permit a meaningful dialogue among Venezuelans from across the political spectrum. Under Secretary Shannon and President Maduro also discussed the potential for a more constructive bilateral relationship.

And I don’t have additional readout details on his meetings. However, he will come back to town tonight and we are looking at ways to try to make him available to some of you guys tomorrow when he gets back into town. So I think we can have a more comprehensive discussion with him once he gets back home.

And then just a travel note. I think you may have seen this, but just restate, the Secretary will participate in the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival on the 28th of June in Aspen. At the festival, he’ll participate in a conversation with Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, which will cover a wide range of global issues. He will then accompany President Obama on the 29th of June to Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada and President Pena Nieto of Mexico for the North American Leaders’ Summit. The leaders there will discuss their vision for a more integrated North America that provides a prosperous and secure future for the citizens of all three countries and promotes North American leadership on global and regional challenges. I think you can also expect that they’ll discuss concrete initiatives to promote peace, security, and development, protect our climate and environment, enhance our competitiveness in the global economy, and expand opportunities for our citizens. Following that trilateral meeting, the Secretary will also join the President for his bilateral meetings and engagements with the Government of Canada.

And as you know, we already talked yesterday that the trip will be preceded by a short visit to Rome over the weekend and into Monday, where the Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s also expected to meet with the Italian Foreign Minister Gentiloni and the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. So he’s got a full agenda for those couple of days as well.


QUESTION: Just logistically, you really don’t have any anything else on Tom Shannon’s meetings? Like, you can’t say --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have a deeper – I don’t have a deeper readout today.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, did – can – how about just a tenor or an – atmospherics? I mean, did he emerge hopeful that a new relationship was possible?

MR KIRBY: I think, without – the under secretary felt like they had good discussions, constructive discussions. I think he feels positive about the engagements that he had down there. But obviously, as I alluded to in the opening, there’s more work to be done in our bilateral relationship. And I’ll let him describe it when he gets back home, but I think he would tell you that he’s optimistic that we continue – that we can continue to work on that relationship. But look, I mean, nobody’s underestimating the scope of the challenges that remain down there – the food shortages, the public unrest, the political challenges, the economic troubles. I mean, there’s a lot on Venezuela’s plate, and so there’s plenty of work to do.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, unless anyone else has anything on Venezuela, on – logistically – on the Rome trip and the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, it’s my understanding that they spoke yesterday?

MR KIRBY: They did.


MR KIRBY: There was a short conversation yesterday. I don’t have a full readout of it, but obviously, the conversation was predominantly about the logistics of the meeting and the topics to be discussed.

QUESTION: And do you have any reason to believe that this meeting will produce something in the way of a – I don’t want to say agreement, but a consensus on how to go forward particularly as it relates to the Quartet’s report and the recommendations that are expected to be in there?

MR KIRBY: I think, clearly, the Secretary expects to talk about the upcoming Quartet report and about the situation in general on the ground there. I don’t want to get ahead of outcomes of the meeting, a meeting that hasn’t happened yet. The Secretary’s looking forward to having this face-to-face discussion with the prime minister, to also hearing his views about the situation and his views about ways forward. And I think both leaders are looking forward to learning from one another and to hearing their – each other’s views on this. I just wouldn’t point to specific outcomes at this stage.

QUESTION: Is it still the case that you guys have not made up your minds yet on the utility or wisdom of the French initiative?

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that we’re still considering the French initiative.

QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up --


QUESTION: -- on that? Now, is the Secretary – is he likely to meet with any Palestinian – on the – with the Palestinian side?

MR KIRBY: Not during this trip.

QUESTION: I understand, not on this trip. But as a result of this trip?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, Said, and I wouldn’t get ahead, again, of outcomes of this particular meeting. I couldn’t – can’t rule it out that in the wake of these meetings that he might want to have follow-on discussions from – on the Palestinian side. But I’ve got – I can’t confirm that right now.

Now, that said, all that aside, as you well know, he routinely meets and discusses these issues with President Abbas, and I fully expect, regardless of the outcome of the meeting this weekend, that those discussions, that conversation, that dialogue will continue.

QUESTION: Abbas today spoke before the European Union in Brussels. And he said that they are open – or the Palestinian side is open to land swaps and so on. Does that in any way impact the meeting between the Secretary of State and the prime minister of Israel?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to get into specific outcomes here for this meeting or even get ahead of agenda topics. I think you can expect that we’ll have a readout of the meeting when it’s over, as we typically do. And I think we’re going to leave it – leave the discussion till then to get into what exactly they’ll be – they’ll talk about. I – I mean, I’ve seen this – these comments. I certainly, again, couldn’t rule out that his comments would be referenced in the meeting. But I just don’t know right now.

QUESTION: And finally, on Matt’s point on the Quartet report – now, the Israelis are saying – or they’re conveying that they are unhappy with the report. How can they impact the language in the report? And will the Secretary say --

MR KIRBY: As I said --

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, I asked you about this yesterday --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I know. And as I said yesterday --


MR KIRBY: -- the Quartet took input from both sides and gave consideration to input from both sides. I’m not going to obviously get ahead of a report that hasn’t been released yet.

QUESTION: Is there room and elbow room for the Secretary of State to sort of impact the language, the final language, of the report?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary has had input throughout the whole process. And I can tell you that he’s comfortable with the input that he’s been able to provide it – to provide to it, sorry.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Just one more on the – you said you’re familiar with President Abbas’s comments to the EU?

MR KIRBY: I just – the ones that he cited.

QUESTION: Are you familiar with the comments – the part of his speech in which he said that there were some rabbis who were wanting to poison Palestinian water?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen the comments. I can’t confirm the veracity of that.

QUESTION: You can’t – I’m not asking you to confirm it. I’m asking you what you think of it.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, is this the kind of – is this the kind of language that you guys want coming from someone who says that he’s a partner for peace and wants to negotiate, and then he accuses the other side of trying to poison his people?

MR KIRBY: We’ve been – without speaking to specific comments, as you know I’m not wont to do, we have been very clear – the Secretary’s been clear about our concerns about inflammatory rhetoric and incitement and --

QUESTION: Well, this is before the EU parliament. What --

MR KIRBY: Again, we want – here’s how I’d put it, Matt: We --

QUESTION: You don’t think it’s --

MR KIRBY: As we’ve said before, we --

QUESTION: You don’t think it might be true, do you?

MR KIRBY: I – again, I’ve seen nothing to indicate the truth of that. But we have long said what we want is for both sides to ratchet down not just the violence but the rhetoric, which can inflame some of the violence. And we just don’t find that sort of rhetoric helpful.

QUESTION: Why can’t you demand evidence from the Palestinian side?

MR KIRBY: Why can’t I what?

QUESTION: Why can’t you demand the Palestinians submit an evidence on this? Will you ask the Palestinians that if that – these are serious allegation, and if they exist, they ought to submit evidence, right?

MR KIRBY: Look, we just saw the comments today, Said. Again, what we want to see is that kind of rhetoric – the kind of rhetoric that could inflame tensions, we want to see that stop and for tensions to be --

QUESTION: And this is that kind of rhetoric?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize each and every comment. As I said earlier, we just don’t – we want to see both sides take affirmative steps to get us closer to a two-state solution, and we believe a part of that is showing the kind of leadership that goes with reducing the kinds of rhetoric that could inflame tensions. I’m not going to characterize each and every comment.

QUESTION: All right. How about I ask you again tomorrow, because I have a feeling you’re going to want to say something a little bit stronger than what you just did. So --

QUESTION: Central African Republic?

MR KIRBY: Now you’re just encouraging me not to change my story.

QUESTION: Well, no. I mean, I just can’t believe that you’re saying that there might be some credence to this.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Well, you’re --

MR KIRBY: I said I’ve seen absolutely no indication that there’s any truth to that.


MR KIRBY: That’s what I just said. I see absolutely no indications that there’s any truth to that.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: So on the Central African Republic, in targeting this particular police official --

MR KIRBY: You mean the --



QUESTION: The DRC. Excuse me, excuse me. Are you trying to send a signal to other people in the – well, let me ask it more simply: Are you considering the possibility of sanctions on additional officials in the DRC?

MR KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of any future actions, one way or the other. We obviously reserve that right if we feel we need to. This isn’t about – I mean, obviously, when you do this, that certainly you send a message of the concern and the condemnation of the actions that led to it, clearly. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a message that goes along with this.

But I don’t want you to come away from this thinking that we did this just to send some sort of public message. We believe there was good cause for it, based on his role. And I wouldn’t rule out one way or the other any future actions that we could take against other officials.

QUESTION: Would you have – well, simple question: To your knowledge, does he have any assets in the United States or that fall under U.S. jurisdiction?

MR KIRBY: I’d have to point you to Treasury on that. I wouldn’t have that kind of information.

QUESTION: Third, would you have preferred to have acted in this case in concert with the European Union, which I believe – where I believe, to the extent that DRC officials are thought to have assets outside the country, they’re for the most part thought to be in places like France or Belgium, where there are significant emigre populations. So would you have rather done this in concert with the EU?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for the EU. We felt – and again, I also want to be careful I don’t speak for Treasury, but I can – as a government, we felt that there was certainly enough cause to do this and felt comfortable in doing it and, again, won’t rule out things going forward. And I don’t believe that – I mean, so we made these decisions on the merits of the case, not necessarily on trying to spur or perhaps impel other international community actions. I mean, we’d leave it to EU nations to make these decisions for themselves. The EU as a body or individual nations as sovereign nations can make those calls for themselves. We did this because we felt it was the right thing to do and there was good cause to do it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Nuclear Supplier Group. In the meeting in Seoul, Korea, do you know if India – was India’s membership taken up for consideration at the meeting?

MR KIRBY: As I said before, Lalit, we’ve made clear our desire to see India’s application be seriously considered. I don’t have a readout from the meetings to give you, but we’ve made clear --

QUESTION: I was asking because --

QUESTION: Well, do you plan on raising it?

MR KIRBY: We have – we’ve raised it consistently.

QUESTION: So then it – so then if you were planning on raising it, then it was discussed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the degree to which it was discussed, Elise.

QUESTION: Can you let us know about to what degree it was discussed and why it was not – there was no consensus inside the group on this issue?

MR KIRBY: I’ll see if we can get you a deeper readout on this. But as I said --

QUESTION: Is the U.S. hosting this meeting in South Korea?

MR KIRBY: I don’t think we are hosting it.

QUESTION: The U.S. is a member of --

MR KIRBY: But we’re a member.

QUESTION: I’m aware of that. I just want to know why --

MR KIRBY: We’re a member.

QUESTION: -- would you know the answer to this question?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the answer to the question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Clearly. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I mean, that’s what I’ve been trying to say in as many words. I do not know the answer to the question.

QUESTION: I know. But you’re --

MR KIRBY: I will see if we can find out for you. But again, we’ve made very clear our support of their application, and I have no reason to suspect that it wasn’t discussed at this meeting. But what was discussed in the room and where they came down, I just don’t know. And I’ll see what we can do to find out for you, but I don’t know how complete an answer I’m going to be able to give you.

QUESTION: I have one on North Korea.

QUESTION: Back over to --

QUESTION: Can I just follow --


MR KIRBY: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. North Korea, Turkey, and you’re what?

QUESTION: Follow on (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: Why don’t we stay in the region, and then we’ll go over here.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: No, no, no. The region would be Korea. (Laughter.)


MR KIRBY: No, I thought the region was India. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Please, Goyal.

MR KIRBY: You guys tell me where you want to go, and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Goyal, please ask your question.

QUESTION: Thank you. According to the think tanks and also press reports, China is punishing India because of the ongoing U.S.-India relations, which China doesn’t like the growing relations between the two largest or oldest democracies. Is that true? Or how can you bring China into this, that relations between the two countries has nothing to do with China? It feels like that maybe it’s threatening by these two relations.

MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for the Chinese here. Again, we’ve made very clear how seriously we want India’s application to be taken up inside the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Chinese can speak for themselves in terms of their views on that. But if you’re asking me a broader question about would we favor healthy bilateral relations between India and China, of course we would. We wouldn’t stand in the way of that at all. But those are – to the degree there’s tensions there over this or any other matter, it’s really for those two nations to speak to.

QUESTION: And also India’s Foreign Minister Madam Sushma was in China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in Tashkent the Chinese president, and also both of them made clear that relations between India and U.S. has nothing to do with the – China it’s different. And also they asked for the support of NSG, but still China was against it. I mean, where do we go from here?

MR KIRBY: That’s a big one.

QUESTION: Now that all of the children are grown.

MR KIRBY: Look, again, I think we would like to see healthy bilateral relations between India and China. We’d like to see them work out whatever differences they have. We have differences with China and we have a strong vehicles for dialogue to try to work through them. It doesn’t mean we get to complete agreement on everything, but we have vehicles and avenues to have a healthy discussion. We would welcome that between India and China.

They’re both two very strong, very growing economies with large – each with a large population and a significant influence, not just regionally where they are, but globally. And so we believe it’s in everyone’s interest to have India and China have good, healthy bilateral – a good bilateral relationship. But where it’s going to go, I mean, I couldn’t possibly predict that, Goyal.

QUESTION: One more quick (inaudible) China. When Dalai Lama met with President Obama in the White House a few days ago and after coming out, and also Tibetans here are saying that China is destroying their culture and also violation of human rights and they are putting people there in Tibet against – Tibetans and the culture is being destroyed. Anything on this has been going on in this building as far as preserve the cultures of Tibet and also the human rights in Tibet?

MR KIRBY: We – I think the President spoke to this after his meeting with the Dalai Lama, and it was an important meeting to have, and he’s a recognized cultural and religious figure. And we’ve been nothing but candid and forthright about our concerns over human rights and religious freedom in places like China. And again, you can go online and look at our report and see that. I mean, we’ve been very open and honest about that.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: North Korea. This Mr. Choi, who was the envoy in Beijing for this conference that Ambassador Sung Kim attended, made some interesting comments suggesting that he might have met with Sung Kim. Can you let us know if there – if a meeting took place?

MR KIRBY: He did not meet with him. I can confirm that.

QUESTION: And can you say why not? I mean, was there any consideration of such a meeting? And --

MR KIRBY: No, there was no consideration. There was no planning to have that meeting. There was no need for him to have an individual meeting with the North Korean representative at the talks, so there was no meeting.

QUESTION: Do you think that this would have been a good opportunity for the U.S. to pass a message about the urgency of stopping its nuclear activities there? I mean, you talk about that you have channels to North Korea – and obviously, the New York channel is one, but this is a kind of senior envoy and seems like it might have been a good opportunity to pass some kind of message.

MR KIRBY: No, I think we’ve made very clear our views of what the North is doing through many different ways. There’s no doubt about what our message is to the North, so there was no need to have a private meeting to carry it.

QUESTION: Well, when you say there was no meeting, does that mean there was no, like, formal, sit-down meeting? They were in the same room together --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not parsing words. There was no meeting. They were not in a meeting. They were not --

QUESTION: So they didn’t exchange any private words? They didn’t even say, “Hello, how are you,” in a one-on-one way, even if it was in a group setting?

MR KIRBY: There was no meeting, and as I understand it, there was no group meeting at which the two were equally present. Now, if they passed each other in an elevator or --

QUESTION: Well, that’s what I mean.

MR KIRBY: -- in a men’s room, I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, that’s the – that’s --

MR KIRBY: But that wouldn’t constitute a meeting, actually.

QUESTION: I don’t know. A lot of stuff – it’s like the golf course. A lot of stuff can get done in odd places, so anyway.

MR KIRBY: There was no exchange between the two.


QUESTION: Turkey. So going to Turkey --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on what the --


MR KIRBY: You’ll get – we’ll get to Turkey.

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, it’s okay.

MR KIRBY: Don’t worry about it.


MR KIRBY: I’ll get to you. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on your assessment of the missile launches?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: So no assessment in terms of whether it was – there was technological improvement from previous firings?

MR KIRBY: Nope. Nope.

QUESTION: Do you expect that there will be one?

QUESTION: Can I have just one more on that?

MR KIRBY: Turkey?

QUESTION: One more on that. There are claims out today that – by the North Koreans that they believe they could hit U.S. territory in the Pacific. Do you have any reason to believe that’s right?

MR KIRBY: I won’t talk about intelligence estimates of their capabilities. Obviously, we’re mindful that every time they conduct these tests, whether they’re successful or not, they learn from them. And these tests are still, obviously, violations of UN Security Council resolutions and their international obligations, and we want them to stop. The pursuit of these capabilities are not good for the peninsula; they’re not good for the region. And we’re mindful of the potential of where these capabilities could go. But I don’t – I wouldn’t speak to specifics in terms of what we think about – our assessment about these particular tests.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So on Monday, Erol Onderoglu, the longtime Reporters Without Borders representative in Turkey, was detained. He’s now, I understand, being charged with terrorist propaganda, allegedly because he covered protests against the closure of a newspaper, which comes under his remit as a Reporters Sans Frontieres representative. Obviously he’s been involved in all of these cases before that you commented on. Does the U.S. Government have any views on the detention and charging of --

MR KIRBY: Yeah – no, we certainly do. We’ve seen the reports. Again, this appears to be just a continuation of a troubling trend that we’ve seen in Turkey to discourage legitimate discourse and freedom of expression, freedom of the press. And again, as we’ve said, as Turkey’s friend and ally, we urge the authorities there to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in the Turkish constitution, which includes freedom of speech. In a democratic society, we believe that critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced. We believe democracies become stronger, not weaker, by allowing the expression of diverse voices within society and the actions and the work and the important efforts of independent journalists.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on Turkey?


QUESTION: Today, a court sentenced a novelist for one year in prison for allegedly depicting a person that is similar to Erdogan in one of his novels – Rifat Cetin is his name. Are you aware of that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that particular --

QUESTION: Would that – would you find that to be really disturbing?

MR KIRBY: I will look and see what we know about it. But if true, it’s certainly, again, yet another example of a worrisome trend there.


QUESTION: And Turkey-related – I’m sorry – the Russians called on Turkey to – again to close its border with Syria. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, but broadly speaking --


MR KIRBY: -- look, I’d say a couple of things. The Turkish Government should be given credit for efforts that they have made to try to get a better handle on the border with Syria. Is it perfect? No. Is there still a flow of foreign fighters and material across that? Absolutely, and we know that. And we’re working closely with Turkey to try to help them get a better handle on it. But they have made efforts and they are working at it and they are mindful of that. And as we have said before, that border – there’s – they have legitimate security concerns because of that border. And they are hosting hundreds of thousands --

QUESTION: Refugees.

MR KIRBY: -- of Syrian refugees and doing the best they can with it. So it’s not a philosophical exercise for them. They’re mindful of the challenges on that border, and we believe that they’re working hard at the challenge.

QUESTION: Some months back there was talk of about 98 kilometers of the border that was quite porous and so on. Is there any update on closing these holes in the border and so on?

MR KIRBY: That was predominantly what I was speaking about, was that 98 kilometers which has remained problematic. And I think Brett McGurk spoke to this a week or so ago in a briefing at the White House, that they are – that they’re working hard on that. It’s – nobody is saying it’s a complete success, but everybody is mindful of that stretch and the importance of it, and we believe the situation is improving.

Yeah. I’m sure you’re going to be on Turkey, too. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Turkey. Thank you. One Turkey-Syria and then only Turkey: President Erdogan has been talking about the al-Nusrah group in Syria, and he has repeated several times – not once, not twice – that al-Nusrah is fighting with ISIS whatever they got, so why would you call them terrorist organization? Do you have a comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Fighting with or fighting against?

QUESTION: ISIS – against, sorry.

MR KIRBY: They are a UN-designated terrorist group. And the U.S. would consider them a terrorist group, and we see absolutely no reason to remove that designation or to treat them in any other way. And they are not party to the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: Okay. In Turkey, just three journalist got arrested three days ago for only because taking part with the newsroom of a critical newspaper. I was wondering if you have comment on this new arrest. They have been still in jails right now.

MR KIRBY: I did – I already commented on that before you came in.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. So you just check the transcript when it’s over and you’ll be able to get everything you need.


QUESTION: Change of --

MR KIRBY: Let’s go to – we’re still kind of on Syria, so go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’ve seen the letter that Riyad Hijab has written to the secretary-general asking for an investigation into what he says is Russia’s use of banned incendiary aerial weapons in Syria, particularly in Aleppo; his demand for protection of Syrian civilians from those weapons; and his call on member-states to – call for member-states to impose consequences for repeated breaches such as this. Do you support his call for such an investigation?

MR KIRBY: Well, let me say first we’ve seen the letter that he submitted. We’re not in a position now to confirm the veracity of his claims. That said, we take those claims and those allegations very, very seriously. And the other thing I’d say is regardless of what weapons the Russians are employing – and I’m not saying that we wouldn’t take these allegations seriously of this particular type of weapon, which, if true, would be deeply concerning. That said – and it’s important for me to have said that – regardless of what weapons they’re using, they shouldn’t be striking groups that are committed to the counter-ISIL fight or to civilians, as we saw – as we’ve seen in the past and certainly saw earlier in al-Tanf down in the south.

The only other thing I’d say is – and we’ve said this before, but Russia and the Assad regime need to be more careful about distinguishing between terrorists, civilians, and parties to the cessation of hostilities. We all agree that ISIL, the Nusrah Front, and other UN-designated terrorist groups pose a real threat to regional and international security and to Syria, but civilians cannot be targets or otherwise victims of the indiscriminate use of force.


QUESTION: Could I have a follow-up on the opposition groups that you guys support? Now, many of these groups seem to find their way either to Jabhat al-Nusrah or to ISIS and so on. So how do you do – I mean, let’s go back to the same old question: How do you do the vetting? How do you go about supporting these groups? Lately, I mean, this Jordan issue, the bombing in Jordan yesterday – apparently, they were groups that even the Jordanians trained and so on. So somehow these groups find – they keep moving from one entity to another. So how could you be certain that those groups that you support will not end up with ISIS or with al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: The groups that are supported by the United States or other members in the coalition are groups that we or they have longstanding relations with or understandings of. I won’t speak to DOD and – they’ve got a new program in place to provide additional training and equipment. How they manage that, I think they should speak to.

But Said – and we’ve said this many times – we understand that membership in these groups can be somewhat porous. And we have seen in the past where – where some opposition groups – legitimate opposition groups, either by design or by accident find themselves comingled with groups like al-Nusrah. And that has created problems in terms of effective targeting against Nusrah in places in and around Aleppo, for instance. And we have urged – we have urged the groups that we’re in direct contact with and we have urged our friends and partners particularly in the Gulf states who also have influence over some opposition groups to make sure that they understand the risks of that kind of comingling. But they’re not all monolithic, chain-of-command organizations through which complete absorption of information can be had. And you can’t control each and every fighter and what that individual may decide to do with his or her time and his or her efforts.

So we recognize it’s a challenge, which is why we continue to call for the Assad regime and for Russia to be as careful as possible in so distinguishing.

QUESTION: Because almost all of these opposition groups are – espouse very extremist Islamist ideology, even Ahrar al-Sham, which you support. I mean, the difference is very little between them and Jabhat al-Nusrah and others and so on. There are virtually no secular groups that you can support. So how do you – how do you say we want to support Ahrar al-Sham, but we are not going to support al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: We have – look, we’ve talked about this before.

QUESTION: Yes, yeah.

MR KIRBY: We’re mindful that not every idea espoused by every opposition group would be one that we would espouse as well. But the ISSG went to great lengths in working through how the cessation of hostilities was going to be organized to make sure that the – that any group recognized by the UN as a terrorist organization – by the UN; not just the U.S., by the UN – would not be a party to the cessation of hostilities. And when you look at Syria, right now, that’s two groups. That’s al-Nusrah and Daesh.

QUESTION: Can I – I have a new topic. This is on the – we talked last week or earlier in the week – I can’t even remember – this point about a Guantanamo detainee in Uruguay and reports that he disappeared – Mr. Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Deyab.


QUESTION: Syrian national released to Uruguay.


QUESTION: There were some reports that he maybe went to Brazil or he just disappeared. But now there seems to be an assessment that he was trying to make his way to Syria, and I was wondering if you have any --

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen reports that – about this individual. I’m not in a position to confirm them one way or the other.

QUESTION: Not in a position or don’t know?

MR KIRBY: Not in a position to confirm one way or the other. I think my colleagues at the Defense Department have also spoken to this a couple of days ago, but we’re just not in a position to confirm.

QUESTION: I have questions on Japan.


QUESTION: Vice President Joe Biden expressed his concern on Japan’s potential to produce nuclear. And he said recently Japan is capable of going nuclear virtually overnight. Do you have any comments or concern on Japan’s ability to go nuclear?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything to add to what the Vice President said.

QUESTION: Is there any adjustment of U.S. policy to nuclear policy to Japan?

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about nuclear weapons?


MR KIRBY: I mean, I – look, I think our policy with that – on that has not changed at all. We take our responsibilities for the security of Japan very seriously and our alliance commitments. There’s been no change with respect to our policy on that.

QUESTION: Unless you have --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Japan. This week --

MR KIRBY: You’re going to ask a Japan question?

QUESTION: Yes. Japan-U.S. --

MR KIRBY: I can’t wait for this one. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. So this week there was a trilateral meeting between India, U.S., and Japan – and Japan. So there was previously a question asked about a readout of it. Do you have it now?

MR KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t think I have that, no.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Uh-uh.

Okay. Just a couple more. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Assistant Secretary Nuland meeting in Moscow?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any updates for her meetings in Moscow. As you know, she is – she’s there today. I think we may have more to say when the – when that’s over. But she did have good meetings in Kyiv prominently centered around the Minsk agreement and our desire to continue to see it be fully implemented. I just don’t have any more updates for her meetings in Moscow.

QUESTION: One more on Pakistan?


QUESTION: Do you have something to say on this killing of this popular singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi this week?

MR KIRBY: I would say we express our sympathies with the people of Pakistan as they mourn the senseless murder of a Qawwali singer, Amjad Sabri. Such acts violate the fundamental freedoms of expression and religion and belief. The arts have long been a forum for new ideas for fighting against intolerance. And again, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to the people of Pakistan.

QUESTION: One more on freedom of speech. The Government of Kuwait has amended its electoral law to bar anyone who’s convicted of insulting the emir from standing in national elections. Do you have a view on that?

MR KIRBY: This is where? I’m sorry.


MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, Arshad. So let me see if I can get you a better, more comprehensive answer. But obviously, our concerns about freedom of expression are universal. But I don’t have anything on that particular one, so you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that.

QUESTION: I’ve got three different topics I need to follow up on. I’ll start with Boeing in Iran. Did you manage to come up with a – or get the answers to my questions from yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I – so which one do you want first?

QUESTION: Well – well, all of them. I don’t – it doesn’t matter which one is first. Which one – start with the best one.

MR KIRBY: Why don’t you tell me what you think the best one was?

QUESTION: I don’t know what the best – no, it’s the --

MR KIRBY: Oh, all of yours – all of yours were equally good, Matt.

QUESTION: It’s the answer, not the best --

MR KIRBY: I can’t possibly judge between them.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I want to know how it is that – how – what did Iran Air do to get off the sanctions list? How did they address your concerns that they were being used by the IRGC to fly weapons and materiel and perhaps even people into Syria and Lebanon, which is what they were – was what they --

MR KIRBY: Okay, so a couple of thoughts there.

QUESTION: -- which is what they were sanctioned for back five years ago today, June 23rd, 2011.

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts there. And I think you know that Iran Air was never actually sanctioned under terrorist – of terrorism authorities. That said, they were designated, as you said, in June of 2011 pursuant to an executive order, 13382, which is an authority aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, isolating them from the U.S. commercial and financial systems. Now, pursuant to the commitments that we made in the JCPOA, Iran Air was removed from the SDN list. And I’m not at liberty to go into the reasons behind the fact that it was removed from the SDN list. All I could tell you is that we wouldn’t have done that if we weren’t comfortable doing so.

That said – and this is important, and I think I talked about this yesterday – the government still retains the full right to use all our existing authorities, including under that same EO, to pursue actions against any Iranian entity for support of terrorism or for, as it was designed, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Should we determine that licensed aircraft, goods, or services are being used for purposes other than exclusively civil aviation end use, or they’ve been resold or retransferred to persons on the SDN list, we would view this as grounds to cease performing our commitments under that aviation section in whole or in part.

QUESTION: So I just find it – I find it interesting and maybe you can explain why it is that they were – that the sanctions – that the executive order that was used was the WMD one, when the announcement from Treasury and then the joint statement from then-Secretaries Clinton and Geithner about this make no mention of WMD in relation to Iran Air and makes mention of terrorism. And in fact, it talks about rockets that they’ve moved, which – rockets, I suppose, could be part of WMD, but it doesn’t use that language at all, and so it’s just kind of surprising when the headline of it is “Treasury Targets Commercial Infrastructure of IRGC, Exposes Continued IRGC Support for Terrorism,” that --

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, there can be a nexus between the use of --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: -- weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. All I can tell you is – I can’t rewrite the history.


MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is the EO that designated Iran Air was 13382, which was specifically for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: So – and you can’t say whether – I mean, is there anything to suggest that these concerns are no longer concerns?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’d say – that we wouldn’t have made the decision we made in the JCPOA in terms of removing them from the SDN list if we didn’t have reason to do that. And I can’t --


MR KIRBY: -- in this forum discuss that in any detail other than to tell you we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t believe we had reason enough to do it.

QUESTION: Yeah, but reason enough to do it is to get Boeing a lot of money and to comply with the JCPO – it could be, okay? So unless you got assurances from Iran Air – there were no representatives of Iran Air in the negotiations, were there? No?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. It is a state-owned company, so perhaps the government was negotiating on their behalf. I just simply want to know, was there a pledge from the Iranians that Iran Air would no longer be used for these kinds of activities? And if there wasn’t, how is it that you’re allowing a U.S. company to sell them planes?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to discuss the deliberations that led to their being removed from the SDN list. We wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t believe we had reason enough to do it, number one. Number two, this isn’t about and never was about helping Boeing conclude this deal when there’s no way we could have predicted Boeing’s decisions back when we signed and approved the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Well, maybe (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: And number three – number three – number three --

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Wait a second. You think that there’s a company out there that might – that stands to make $25 billion that would say no?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – what I’m saying is your implication that --

QUESTION: I’m saying that – no, no, no --

MR KIRBY: -- we had that in mind back when we did the JCPOA --

QUESTION: Well, you did have (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Your – the implication is drawn --

MR KIRBY: We had – this particular deal, Elise – this particular deal.

QUESTION: The – that implication is drawn by the fact that you cannot say, you’re refusing to say – or you can’t – you are not allowed to say what it is that the Iranians did to convince you that Iran Air was no longer engaged in these kinds of activities. And you can’t even say that you don’t think that they’re no longer engaged in these kind of activities.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I think now three times I’ve said that I’m not at liberty to discuss the reasons for which --


MR KIRBY: -- they were taken off the SDN list, but that we wouldn’t have done it --


MR KIRBY: -- if we didn’t have reason to do that. But I want to get to the – a third rebuttal here, which is that --

QUESTION: But the thing is that you say you’re comfortable with it, but that could mean anything.

MR KIRBY: But let me finish --


MR KIRBY: -- my original answer from five minutes ago --

QUESTION: All right. And I want to move on.

MR KIRBY: -- and that is that we’re not ever going to turn a blind eye to Iran’s continuing destabilizing activities and their --


MR KIRBY: -- state sponsorship of terrorism.

QUESTION: So if --

MR KIRBY: And any suggestion that we would --


MR KIRBY: -- that we wouldn’t and don’t have tools available to us --


MR KIRBY: -- to deal with that is simply baseless.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say that if Iran Air continues to do the kinds of things that you said it was doing in 2011, that this license will be yanked? That would be --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Yeah? Okay.

MR KIRBY: If we have any reason, as I said in my earlier --

QUESTION: I hope there are executives at Boeing out there listening to us. Thank you. Second one, Honduras.

MR KIRBY: That’s only one? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That was just one, yeah.


QUESTION: I got Honduras and Bahrain to go.


QUESTION: So yesterday, on Honduras, we – there was quite an exchange in here about these allegations that – or about the fact that you said that there were no credible allegations that --


QUESTION: Well, overnight, it turns out that there – these haven’t come in, but there have been hundreds and hundreds of allegations like this. Are you saying that none of them are credible – that you’ve looked into all of them and that none of the allegations that the police, even U.S.-trained police or security forces, have been involved in extrajudicial killings – none of them are credible at all?

MR KIRBY: What I would tell you is we take all allegations of human rights very seriously. We’ve been in touch with the Government of Honduras on this – on this particular one and others in the past. When we receive credible information about human rights violations by members of security forces, we take immediate action. And we have done this in the past, not just in Honduras but around the world, and we also – when we see those credible allegations, we encourage the relevant foreign government – we’ve done that here as well – to thoroughly investigate and to take action on those cases.

Additionally, we regularly report those allegations publicly in our Human Rights Report, and you can go online and you can see that, and we detail these incidents. Just as an example, over the last 300 calendar days, the State Department has vetted more than 58,000 cases from countries in the Western Hemisphere to ensure that U.S. assistance does not go to anyone for whom there is credible evidence of a gross human rights violation. So again, it’s not as if we’re doing this passively. We constantly – as I said yesterday, we constantly monitor our bilateral military relationships.


MR KIRBY: And when these allegations come up, we take each and every one of them seriously. If you’re asking me do we go out like sleuths and deliberately look for them, we rely on the foreign governments to monitor their own security forces. But when something comes up, regardless of the source – and it can be a media source – we take it seriously.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but you’re still – first of all, do you know – 58,000 in the whole Western Hemisphere. Can you break that down for Honduras?

MR KIRBY: I can’t right now. I’ll have to do that.

QUESTION: And then --

MR KIRBY: I’ll see if we can get WHA to do that for you.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’ve looked into all the allegations that you’ve received, that various NGOS and whoever – human rights groups – have submitted to you, and found that none of them are credible? Or have you found that some of them are credible?

MR KIRBY: If – look, I’d have to get you the case file on Honduras. I don’t have every single case. But I can tell you – and I can tell you this from my prior experience as a military officer – that when there are – when allegations are proven to be credible and true, the aid and assistance by law has to and does stop for that unit.

QUESTION: I got it.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t always apply to the entire army or the entire navy, but it’ll apply --

QUESTION: I got it. I know.

MR KIRBY: -- to the unit that is responsible for them. And we have absolutely no compunction about doing that. So is there still aid and assistance going on and training with the Honduran military? Yes. And there wouldn’t be that if we had a reason to believe that there was a violation.

QUESTION: All right. Even – that’s not my question. It’s whether or not any of the things – any of the allegations that you’ve received so far having to do with Honduras are credible or not, or do – are they all specious?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the entire case file of every allegation received.

QUESTION: Okay. Out of the 58,000 vettings that you say have been done in the Western Hemisphere, how many have resulted in termination of or suspension of aid? Any?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Can – is it possible to find that out?

MR KIRBY: We can see if we can find out.

QUESTION: All right. Last thing on Bahrain. I’m just wondering if there’s been any response – you said yesterday that the Secretary had spoken to the foreign minister about the report that was sent to the Hill, and I’m just wondering if there’s been any response or you’ve seen any kind of action to remediate, to alleviate the problems that you say continue to exist.

MR KIRBY: Since yesterday? No, I can’t point to --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, can you say if the foreign minister said, “Yeah, okay. We’ll take this board”?

MR KIRBY: And – so a couple of things. The conversation wasn’t just about the report. As a matter of fact, I think, by and large, the Secretary spoke in general about our concerns and recent actions they have taken. So it wasn’t a call just to talk about the report; in fact, it was really a call designed to speak to their recent activities and actions and decisions that we have found unhelpful to their own success. And since you and I talked yesterday, I can’t point to something specifically that has been done to remedy or to lessen our concerns. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: 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 22, 2016

Wed, 06/22/2016 - 18:06

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 22, 2016

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2:24 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.


QUESTION: Afternoon.

MR KIRBY: A couple things here at the top: On Iraq, we are pleased to announce that the United States will co-host a pledging conference with Canada, Germany, and Japan in Washington, D.C. on the 20th of July to raise support for urgent humanitarian and stabilization needs in Iraq. This will be an effort to help the people of Iraq weather the humanitarian crisis and destruction wrought by Daesh in the country, and as – to remind, as you know, I mentioned yesterday, we announced yesterday $20 million of assistance for Iraq specifically for humanitarian purposes. And I fully would expect that the pledging conference will see, as I said yesterday, additional contributions by the United States.

Now, while Daesh has suffered continued defeats on the battlefield, we now believe we’re at a critical juncture in the fight. Iraq needs the international community’s support to provide desperately needed items such as food, water, shelter, medicine for those in need, and to assist in the return of displaced families back to liberated areas as quickly as possible. It’s critical that we focus not only on defeating Daesh, of course, but also what comes after that. Reconciliation and long-term peace are simply not possible until Iraq’s acute humanitarian crisis is alleviated and people can return to their homes with access to basic services, to health care, education, and with at least a modest hope for prosperity.

We believe that this pledging conference will provide a unique and important opportunity for the international community to assist in doing just that, and to helping Iraq’s citizens move past some of these challenges and in remedying the harm caused by Daesh and to show solidarity with the people of Iraq as they rebuild their nation.

Now, on Colombia, I think you may have at least seen reports that the Colombian Government and FARC negotiating delegations have issued a communique from Havana earlier today announcing that they had reached agreements on a definitive bilateral ceasefire – a cessation of hostilities, disarmament, and security guarantees. The delegations announced that an event will be held to formalize these announcements tomorrow, the 23rd of June, mid-day in Havana, and will be led by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC leader. The United States welcomes the communique, looks forward to the event tomorrow, which will be attended by our Special Envoy Bernie Aronson, and hopes the parties will continue to make progress toward a final peace accord.

And finally, on a programming note, the Secretary will travel to Rome on Saturday, where he will be meeting with Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu. They plan to discuss a range of issues – including Syria, of course – developments in the region and efforts to advance a two-state solution.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: I don’t --

MR KIRBY: Actually, Matt --


MR KIRBY: I’m sorry.


MR KIRBY: Because if you don’t mind --


MR KIRBY: -- I know Bahrain is on your mind.

QUESTION: I do mind. Actually, I wasn’t going to ask about Bahrain. I have a --

MR KIRBY: Well, but I --

QUESTION: This is a logistical question.

MR KIRBY: -- figured you would and --

QUESTION: Well, I am – I mean, it was in my plans. It’s on my list here, but I just have a logistical question about the FARC announcement, and that is: Envoy Aronson is going to be the only U.S. --

MR KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: -- participant there? Okay.

MR KIRBY: Correct, and I’ve seen some --


MR KIRBY: -- rumors out there that the Secretary was going to travel to Havana for this event. He is not. He is – he’s leaving this afternoon, as you know, for Palo Alto for the Global Entrepreneurs Summit. There’s no change to his schedule. He’ll be participating in events there tonight and tomorrow. Mr. Aronson will be representing the United States.

But Matt, if I could – if I could --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR KIRBY: -- take advantage of this --


MR KIRBY: -- because I know that you’ve been asking about Bahrain and I was remiss there at the beginning here. I want to make clear that yesterday, the Department of State sent to Congress its report on Bahrain’s implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. This report was requested by Congress in the most recent Senate appropriations bill. I think you guys know that.

The report concludes that the Government of Bahrain has implemented some important recommendations of the commission of inquiry, including establishing institutions of oversight and accountability, conducting human rights training for police, and rebuilding mosques that were destroyed in 2011.

However, there are other key recommendations that have not been fully implemented. Limitations on political activism and peaceful assembly, lack of due process, and the criminalization of the exercise of free expression continue to undermine the progress Bahrain has made since 2011. We are alarmed by recent actions by the government which call into question Bahrain’s commitment not only to implementation of the BICI – the commission of inquiry’s report – but also to the core concepts of inclusiveness and respect for fundamental rights that Bahrain first committed to 16 years ago.

Moreover, we are concerned that the intensified crackdown on civil society actors will only lead to greater instability and strengthen the influence of outside actors. We continue to urge the Government of Bahrain to implement fully the recommendations in the report which was accepted by the – which were accepted, excuse me, by the king in 2011, and to, more broadly, reverse recent harmful actions. These include the suspension of the opposition political society Al-Wefaq; the extension of the prison sentence of Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman; the detention of activist Nabeel Rajab; and the revocation of citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim – all of which I have spoken to in just the last week or so.

So I hope you don’t mind me --


MR KIRBY: -- circumventing you. I knew that was on your mind and I meant to say something earlier, and I --

QUESTION: That’s okay.

MR KIRBY: -- I apologize for that. So --

QUESTION: So – but in – is there any consequence for the fact that they’re not meeting their – not meeting all the recommendations, and in fact, as you say, they’re undermining progress by their recent actions? Is what – does the Administration intend to do anything other than tell Congress what its opinion is on this?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s – first of all, it’s important that we did submit this report and offer our views on Bahrain’s implementation. I would say that this report is part of an ongoing dialogue, and we’re going to continue to make the case that these reforms are in Bahrain’s best interest. I think I said that, I think, yesterday or the day before. And as Bahrain’s partner, we have a common interest in that country’s security and stability, and we do not believe that recent actions that they have taken will further those interests. So I’m not going to speculate about specific consequences at this time, but again, I’ll go back to what I said at the outset. We urge Bahrain to make the necessary reforms they need to --

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MR KIRBY: -- to continue the progress that they started in 2011.

QUESTION: So any discussion of consequences at this point is purely speculation? You’re not thinking about – I mean, there were consequences before. You cut off arms sales to them.

MR KIRBY: I’m not – what I’m going to – what I’m not going to do is speculate about what decisions we might make --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate.

MR KIRBY: -- or not.

QUESTION: Will there – well, okay, so --

MR KIRBY: There – this is an ongoing dialogue – an ongoing dialogue between us and the Congress and certainly an ongoing dialogue between us and the Kingdom of Bahrain. And as a matter of fact, the Secretary had a phone conversation today with the foreign minister of Bahrain to again urge Bahrain to make the necessary reforms it needs to make.

So I’m not going to predict repercussions or consequences with any specificity today except to say that this is an ongoing dialogue we’re going to continue to have, and I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you gave the report to Congress because they asked for it, and that’s like a responsibility that you had in terms of Congress asking for the report. But in terms of changing the policy on Bahrain, or as you were just saying, like, imposing any consequences for their behavior, that’s not part of what you were doing in terms of this report?

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t part of the – it wasn’t the function of the report. So, a couple of things, Elise. We didn’t give it to them because they asked for it; it was legislated. I mean, this was a --


QUESTION: That’s – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: -- the – a report – our report – our report on --

QUESTION: That’s the same as them asking for it.

QUESTION: Well, it was legislated, but they asked – but you were supposed to give it to them (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I know, but I just wanted to make clear that this was, as I said at the outset, as part of our --

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t have given them a report if they just asked (inaudible)?

MR KIRBY: It was a mandate in legislation.

QUESTION: Well, I know. I know it was a mandate.

MR KIRBY: And we have to obey the law, so we did – we – we submitted a report on their progress in terms of implementing the commission of inquiry’s report back in 2011, and we take that responsibility seriously. The report was designed to assess their implementation of their commission of inquiry, and we did that. And as I said at the outset, we found that they had made some progress but that there was a lot more work to do. There were some – some things that have not been done, and not been done satisfactorily. That was the purpose of the report. That’s what we submitted to Congress. It wasn’t about adjudicating or speculating or offering recommendations about specific consequences going forward.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, given the fact that you had to do this report in this point in time, and given the fact that in the last several weeks there have been several statements that have come up about your concerns about human rights abuses on the ground, I mean, is there any new recourse in terms of your policy, or are you examining any other new options, or you’re just going to hope that they listen to your calls to make the necessary reforms?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve shown in the past that we aren’t afraid to make decisions that change the level of cooperation that we’ve had, or have had with Bahrain in the past. You know we had – we placed holds on some foreign military sales. Now, some of those got lifted about a year ago; others still remain. So it’s not like we’re unafraid to make those kinds of decisions if we feel we need to. I’m not going to speculate about the future here. As I said to Matt, it’s an ongoing dialogue – one we’re having with Congress, one we’re having with the Kingdom of Bahrain, to include today – and we’ll just see where this takes us.

Obviously, what we’d like to see is there be honest, real efforts to make additional necessary reforms and changes so that our partnership with Bahrain can continue to foster and to grow. But when we see that some of these reforms and – some of these reforms not being made or we see actions and decisions such as we’ve seen in the last week with respect to freedom of expression – when we see those decisions, it’s certainly calls into question Bahrain’s commitments to furthering their progress on human rights.

QUESTION: Or implementing the reforms maybe that they said?

MR KIRBY: Indeed.

QUESTION: Are these reforms on paper?

MR KIRBY: Indeed, it calls those into questions. And again, we want to see the relationship be as successful as possible, but more critically we want to see Bahrain be as successful as possible. And we don’t believe that some of the actions that they have taken and the failure to implement all of the recommendations in their own commission of inquiry – we don’t see that as in their interest.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?


QUESTION: I mean, you keep citing progress that they have made. Can you cite some of the progress made?

MR KIRBY: I did. I did in --

QUESTION: Like what? Because last week, for instance --

MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, Said, they have made some progress in terms of establishing institutions of oversight and accountability, they have conducted human rights training for police, and they have made an effort to rebuild some of the mosques that were destroyed in 2011. So they have made some. But I followed that right up with a clear statement that there’s other key recommendations that they’ve not fully implemented.

QUESTION: But you always have, like, a caveat that there will be no consequences almost – no consequences in terms of – you keep urging them. For instance, last week, when they stripped eight people of their citizenship and they sentenced them to 15 years in prison each, and your response was interpreted in many ways to be a bit tepid, not strong enough. Some people think that if you came out strongly against that, maybe the stripping of Sheikh Isa’s citizenship would not have taken place. I mean, I – if you care to comment.

MR KIRBY: I take issue with the characterization that our response has been tepid. We have been strident, we’ve been clear, and we’ve been public about it right here from this podium as well as having private conversations with Bahraini officials about this. We’ve made no bones about the fact that we’re concerned about this. We’ve done it verbally and now you can – we’ve done it with respect to the report to Congress. We’ve been nothing but strident about this. Bahrain is a partner and we want to see the partnership succeed. We want to see Bahrain succeed. But – and I – look, I totally understand the interest by you guys in knowing exactly what levers are going to get pulled, and I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made. But you don’t have to look much farther back in history to see that we aren’t afraid to make decisions with respect to – in this last case with foreign military sales when and if we feel it’s responsible to do that.

Now, are we at that point right now? I don’t know and I don’t have anything to announce today. But I can tell you that – as I said, this is a subject of constant conversation and concern here at the State Department, constant dialogue and discussion privately and publicly, and it will remain so. And I just won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, but obviously we have options at our disposal.

QUESTION: What other options besides withholding some deliveries on military equipment do you have?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I – we know that that was a decision we had made in the past. I’m not going to speculate one way or the other about options going forward. What – it’s a great academic exercise to stand up here and try to speculate about that, but the – it could – all of this could be resolved very easily should Bahrain just make the necessary decisions that they need to make to complete the reforms that in some cases they’ve started and to stop making some of the what we believe to be harmful decisions and actions that they have made of late. And so that’s what we really want to see happen. Nobody wants to see it get to a point where other decisions have to be made. Okay?

QUESTION: Why was it – I mean, February 1st – why did it take so long?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we talked about this earlier. We were very focused on making sure that we did this report in a thorough, complete, professional manner, and it took a lot of staff work and it took a lot of time. We’re not unmindful of the fact that we were very late. We regret the fact that we didn’t meet the deadline, but more critically, we’re confident in the thoroughness and the completeness of the report.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, given the fact that all these months have passed since the original deadline, have the recent abuses and areas of concern that you’ve raised in your statements included in this report?

MR KIRBY: The report was designed, again, to provide a sense of the implementation of the commission of inquiry’s recommendations and that was its focus. We have talked – we have talked --

QUESTION: Right, the fact that these abuses have taken place would suggest that some of those recommendations have not been implemented. Right?

MR KIRBY: Clearly, yeah. Clearly some of the recommendations haven’t been fully implemented. I’m not going to get into much more detail on the specifics of the report.

QUESTION: How recent is the report?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get much more specific about the content. It was designed --

QUESTION: But for what period?

MR KIRBY: It was designed to give an assessment of Bahrain’s implementation of their commission of inquiry report, which was in 2011. It was designed to be a report card on that report, basically. We have, separate and distinct from that – and again, I’m not going to get into the content more than I already have – we have, separate and distinct, in public and private, expressed our concerns about recent decisions that Bahrain has made.

QUESTION: But Congress can now move if it wants to. If Congress wants to try to force the situation, it can do that now, right?

MR KIRBY: I won’t speculate for what actions members of Congress might make based on the report that was submitted to them.

QUESTION: I think another way to get at this and whether or not you were timely or not, you’re not claiming to – that you responded to the legislative mandate in a timely fashion, correct? You’re not. Because it’s been four months – more than four months.

MR KIRBY: We acknowledged that we were late.

QUESTION: So is there any concern at all that the fact that it was so late might have contributed to the fact that – contributed to these recent abuses? And are all the setbacks that you’re referring to – do those postdate February? In other words, had the report come out when it was supposed to have come out, would it have been more positive or would it have just been – or would it have been pretty much the same? Because it seems to me the period of time that it covers would be important.

QUESTION: Exactly.

QUESTION: And if all the setbacks are post-February, that’s – that’s kind of interesting.

MR KIRBY: Let me see how I can carve this up. As I said, on the recent actions we’ve issued separate statements concerning our concerns over these developments. The report addresses the specific recommendations made in the commission of inquiry, and it describes our concern regarding Bahrain’s curtailment of freedom of expression, violations of fair trial guarantees, lack of progress --

QUESTION: Up until February, or up until now?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to be able to get into more specificity about the content.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR KIRBY: But clearly, what’s happened in the last --

QUESTION: Until tomorrow, when Congress leaks the report and then you’re going to have to respond?

QUESTION: So – yeah. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Look, it’s a report to Congress, and if Congress – if members of Congress wish to make it public, that’s their decision. But it’s not our call to do that. And I’ve gone into about as much detail as I can here. But what --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but you’re parsing. It’s directly relevant if some of these – and I have to go back to some of the statements that you issued, but I’m sure that you mention the commission of inquiry and how this is not in line with some of the recommendations that they’ve called for.

MR KIRBY: The report’s an assessment of their implementation of their own commission of inquiry.

QUESTION: Until when?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I’m not --

QUESTION: Until yesterday, when the report went to Congress?

MR KIRBY: We’ve been working on this for quite some time. There’s been a lot of staff work, Elise. I am not going to get into more detail in terms of what’s included in the report, or up until what date things were considered. But clearly our entire – our approach to Bahrain is absolutely informed by what’s been going on in recent months. But remember what the report was designed to do: to be an assessment of their implementation of the 2011 commission of inquiry.



QUESTION: Can we change the --

QUESTION: Can I – can I just ask --

QUESTION: That was really infuriating.

QUESTION: Can you – obviously, we’ll look at the report, and presumably the report says what time period it covers, right? I haven’t seen it yet.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional detail on the – it was an assessment of their implementation since 2011.

QUESTION: Until – but it was supposed to be – the way the Congress had envisioned it, until February.

MR KIRBY: Until the due date, until February.

QUESTION: Right. So the question is just simply whether or not it had – because you guys were so late, you included stuff in the report, and that the negative things that you’re – the recent negative things are actually in the report itself, or --

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’ve issued separate statements about those events.

QUESTION: I know. But it matters whether this is in the report to Congress or not. I mean, it just --

MR KIRBY: I’ll tell you what. Let me find out --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- if I can even go into that level. Let’s just --


MR KIRBY: -- put an end to this line of questioning right now. I’ll take a look at it. I can’t promise you that I’m going to be able to go into more detail, but I’m --

QUESTION: Well, you were going to go into it – to more detail tomorrow when everyone has the report. Some people have it already.

MR KIRBY: Look, I can’t speak for what Congress is going to do with the report, Elise. It was a report from us to Congress, and we’re going to respect that channel. I’ve given from the podium today as much detail as I’m going to give today. And I’m not going to speculate about if or when or how it might make its way into the public domain. It’s a report from us to Congress and we’re going to respect that process. I get the line of questioning. Let me look at it and let’s move on.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject, then?


QUESTION: Are you done? Can I go to Venezuela? Tom Shannon has met with President Maduro now. Can you confirm that? Well, we’ve got that from Caracas, but can you confirm it from the State Department?

MR KIRBY: Yes. He was meeting with President Maduro. Now, I don’t know if the meeting is still ongoing, but it was scheduled to happen early this afternoon. So yes, he is meeting with President Maduro today.

QUESTION: Has he met any other officials? How did the meetings yesterday go?

MR KIRBY: He also met with the foreign minister earlier today, and yesterday he met with a series of both government, nongovernmental, and civil society members. And we’ll have a more detailed readout of the scope of his meetings when his trip concludes.

QUESTION: So what did – during – from his meetings yesterday with opposition and nongovernmental, was that going to inform what he was discussing with – is there anything specific he wants from Maduro in today’s meeting?

MR KIRBY: As I said earlier – I mean, I think the purpose for this trip is to help foster a constructive dialogue that can hopefully lead to solutions to so many of the challenges facing Venezuela today – political, economic, social. And all of his meetings in Caracas were designed to help foster that kind of dialogue and to help generate some of those ideas, and I have no doubt that he’ll be sharing with President Maduro some of what he learned and some of what he heard while he was – while he’s been down there.

QUESTION: Is the aim to set up more meetings? Is that what was going to come out of this – these discussions?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any additional schedule items to speak to today.

QUESTION: John, on Venezuela.


QUESTION: Did Under Secretary Shannon bring up the recall effort to President Maduro?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ll have a more detailed readout when his meetings are complete. And as far as I know, the meeting with President Maduro may still actually be going on. It started a little bit later in the day than I think it was originally scheduled, so I just don’t have a readout from that meeting. And I don’t know, quite frankly, and I don’t want to promise --


MR KIRBY: -- that as a result of it I’m going to be able to offer a whole lot of detail.

QUESTION: Can you – just a background question, but can you update us on the situation with the ambassador there? There’s a --

MR KIRBY: The ambassador there?

QUESTION: I – there is no ambassador at the moment, right?

MR KIRBY: What we have – but we have diplomatic --

QUESTION: Of course, yeah.

MR KIRBY: -- relations with Venezuela and direct contact --

QUESTION: It came up in a House hearing today on Venezuela. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen was wondering aloud whether State would be --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any – I don’t have anything to announce with respect to an ambassadorial presence there, but as you know, we maintain diplomatic relations, direct contact. In fact, Under Secretary Shannon’s there at the invitation of the Venezuelan Government.

QUESTION: In that same hearing, some lawmakers raised concerns about this effort to engage in stepped-up dialogue with Venezuela at a time when there is strong concern about human rights abuses and other issues. What do you say to address concerns from those who believe that the U.S. should hold off on higher-level dialogue until Venezuela addresses some of these concerns?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, as the Secretary said himself last week, the United States joins with others in the international community calling on Venezuela to release political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and assembly, alleviate shortages of food and medicine, and honor its own constitutional mechanisms, including fair and timely – including a fair and timely recall referendum. And we support, as he has said before, dialogue efforts facilitated by former Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and former Presidents Fernandez and Torrijos. And we remain committed to working with all OAS member states to help Venezuelans find remedies to the deeply troubling situation there. It is – in the Secretary’s view, it is precisely because the situation is so challenging there and because so many Venezuelans are suffering that the – that he wanted Under Secretary Shannon to go and to have this dialogue and these discussions. I mean, this is the time to foster dialogue and discussion – because things are the way they are.


QUESTION: Kirby, the --

QUESTION: Can we move --

QUESTION: Tomorrow’s the meeting – the OAS meeting in which the head of the OAS has tabled a proposal that would kind of click in or start a process in which they could suspend Venezuela. The Secretary said in the Dominican Republic last week the U.S. would not support that. Is that still the position?

MR KIRBY: Not support --

QUESTION: The – any effort to kind of suspend Venezuela, saying that dialogue now is more important?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know of any change in our position on that, no.

QUESTION: Can we go --

QUESTION: Yes, he said – that’s what he said. He said in Venezuela on Tuesday last week that he – the U.S. does not support that effort.

MR KIRBY: Right, I’m saying --

QUESTION: Oh. That remains --

MR KIRBY: I thought you were asking me if he changed his mind from then.

QUESTION: Oh. I was wondering, given the situation now and the meeting is tomorrow, what is the view of the U.S. going into that meeting?

MR KIRBY: So last week, as you know, the United States joined with 14 other countries to express concern about the situation there, to encourage dialogue, call for respect for human rights and democratic processes. We expect discussions at the OAS to build on that measure and on the consensus declaration that the OAS put out on June 1st. That’s our expectations on that. And there’s no change to the Secretary’s views. I’d – I didn’t understand the nature of the question.

Pam, on – I don’t know if it was your question or Nicole’s, but I did forget to mention that while we don’t have an ambassador, we do have a charge d’affaires representing U.S. interests at the embassy in Venezuela.


MR KIRBY: So there’s no formal ambassador, but there is a charge d’affaires.

QUESTION: And there’s nothing – nothing going to change imminently on --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any changes to that structure to announce today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: But I did not – I neglected to add that fact.

QUESTION: But I mean, it’s not just a personnel – kind of a thing about personnel. I mean, you made the decision several years ago to withdraw the ambassador. And it is – while we do have diplomatic relations, it is kind of a downgrade in diplomatic relations, wouldn’t you say?

MR KIRBY: It’s not a full ambassadorial presence, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: For reasons of policy.

MR KIRBY: Correct.


QUESTION: Didn’t the Venezuelans reject your choice?

MR KIRBY: But I also --

QUESTION: Yes, they did.

MR KIRBY: But – but look --

QUESTION: So it’s their issue.

MR KIRBY: We’re focused – we’re really trying to focus on the future here and to try to foster the dialogue, to make the kind of changes in Venezuela that are needed.


QUESTION: Wait. Colombia, just since we’re in the region, real quick?


QUESTION: I wonder if you might – your statement at the beginning – thank you for that, but maybe I missed – there was a statement that went out earlier? I’m not sure, but does this department welcome the announcement, obviously, or – and are hopeful that this is actually --

MR KIRBY: I said – I said we welcome the communique and we look forward to seeing the events tomorrow unfold.

QUESTION: Is there any --

MR KIRBY: And we congratulate President Santos on the work and the effort that he has put into this to get the process his far.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that the process blew through the March deadline and now here we are; this isn’t the final agreement that everyone was hoping for back in March, but it is a step in the right direction?

MR KIRBY: We believe it’s an important step forward, and look, sometimes diplomacy, particularly this kind of difficult diplomacy, takes time, and it takes a lot of hard work and effort. And we believe that the results that were announced today and will be talked in more detail about tomorrow reflect that.

QUESTION: And do you think – just since we’re on it, do you think that this agreement could ever have been reached without the Obama Administration’s pursuit of the detente with Havana?

MR KIRBY: We believe that it was reached through the hard work and leadership of many, and in particular President Santos.

QUESTION: Right, but I was talking about the current Obama Administration’s detente with Havana. Could this agreement --

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- have been reached without that, do you think? I know it’s a hypothetical.

MR KIRBY: Look, I can’t possibly speculate one way or the other about the impact of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Certainly it helped foster – there’s no question that that helped foster a better climate. But again, this – but there isn’t – there isn’t one factor here that got us to this point. A lot of factors and a lot of leadership, a lot of diplomacy and a lot of hard work went into this. And again, we congratulate President Santos for his particular leadership in this regard in getting us to this point.

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


QUESTION: Where you started with the meeting between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu. First of all, in what context this meeting occurred? I mean, is it, like, part of the follow-up to the Paris process? Is it a prelude to anything at the UN?

MR KIRBY: I think as I said at the outset, Said, there’s --

QUESTION: Right, I mean --

MR KIRBY: First of all, they’re going to talk about a lot of things.

QUESTION: Is that independent of everything else that is going on regarding --

MR KIRBY: No, it’s – they’re – no, meeting with the prime minister is not independent of what else is going on. In fact, it’s very dependent on what’s going on. And as I said, they’re not just going to talk about the potential to get to a two-state solution; they’re going to talk about Syria, they’re going to talk about regional challenges, and there’s a wide swath of issues that you can imagine that the Secretary and the prime minister will have to talk about – counterterrorism. And I suspect they will. I think they’ll touch on all those things. But – so the meeting is being held in the context of all that. I mean, there are plenty of issues of concern to both Israel and the United States that merit this discussion.

QUESTION: Because the Israeli prime minister is vociferously opposed to the Paris effort on the one hand. He opposes the Quartet report that is upcoming. Could it be maybe an effort on his part to sort of soften the language in the Quartet’s report? I mean, it is not really part of what’s going on, let’s say, with the international community, is it?

MR KIRBY: Look, on the Quartet report, as you know, the Quartet is preparing a report on the situation on the ground. It will include recommendations that can help inform international discussions on the best way to advance a two-state solution. It’s going to discuss the situation there on the ground, obviously. Largely it will reflect the Quartet statement from September, which addressed a number of threats dangerously imperiling the viability of a two-state solution. And I would just tell you that the Quartet received input from both sides throughout this process, which the Quartet considered.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up with a couple things on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Yesterday the Israeli army shot a 15-year-old boy who was with other kids celebrating the beginning of summer and so on.


QUESTION: Is that considered as an extrajudicial execution? I mean, I’ve asked this issue many, many times before. Last month they shot a boy with Down syndrome, and he died yesterday. Now the Palestinians are saying they want to go to the UN for investigation and so on. So what is it – in your assessment, what can the United States do to sort of implore Israel to cut back on its excessive use of force?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, our condolences go out to the family of the boy that you’re mentioning, the 15-year-old boy. I guess there were two others that were wounded when they were mistakenly shot by Israeli security forces. We’ve seen also the reports that the security forces were pursuing a group of Palestinians who had earlier thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails at cars, and opened fire on those individuals by mistake. As I’ve said many times, we’ve been very clear it’s critical that every possible effort be taken to show restraint, guard against unnecessary loss of life, and de-escalate the tensions.

Now, I understand the Israeli authorities are – have opened an investigation on this, and we want to see that investigation proceed before we speculate one way or the other about what happened here. Certainly refer you to Israeli authorities if they’re speaking to it; that’s really their place. Okay?


QUESTION: Thank you, Kirby. Do you think UN Security Council resolution take another additional sanctions regarding yesterday North Korean Musudan missile launches?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – let me just back up a little bit, because you’re – just so everybody has the same sense here, we can confirm that the DPRK launched two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. We are continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our regional allies and partners. We obviously strongly condemn these and North Korea’s other recent missile tests which violate UN Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibit launches of ballistic missile technology. These launches only serve to increase the international community’s resolve to counter the DPRK’s prohibited activities, including through implementing existing UN Security Council sanctions. We’re raising our concerns at the UN to hold the DPRK accountable for these provocative actions, including the launches that just happened. And as I said, we’re in close consultation with allies and partners.

QUESTION: What about the – by United States separate? Do you think you need any actions --

MR KIRBY: We have – obviously, we have at our disposal the ability to unilaterally hold the DPRK accountable. I’m – I don’t have anything with respect to that to announce or to speak to today. Those are obviously options that we have at our disposal, but I can tell you that we are raising these particular two launches – we’re raising those inside the UN, raising our concerns, and we’ll see where that discussion goes.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, Alex Emmons with The Intercept. I wanted to change gears and ask about Honduras, and specifically the murder of Berta Caceres.

QUESTION: Can I do one more --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sure, go ahead.

MR KIRBY: I think you’re getting overridden there, chief.


MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Will the missile launch by North Korea affect the pace of your discussion with South Korean Government regarding the THAAD system deployment?

MR KIRBY: Are you asking if – in the wake of these two launches, if there’s been any change in the discussions over THAAD? I’m not aware --

QUESTION: Yeah, or will accelerate the --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any changes. As you know, those consultations are ongoing. I’d refer you to the Defense Department for anything additional on that. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: And how successful do you regard the U.S. sanction on North Korea is, given the fact the North Korean Government is launching the missiles more frequently than before and you only leave the North Korean people suffering?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we’re deeply concerned by these additional launches. That doesn’t change the fact that the sanctions that were enacted through UNSCR 2270 are the toughest in two decades, but they’re only three months old, and sometimes it takes a period of time before you can start to see the effect of sanctions. In fact, it often takes a long period of time. That doesn’t change the fact that they are the toughest ones that we’ve enacted in two decades. It doesn’t change the fact that they do have tougher enforcement mechanisms attached to it that we haven’t seen in the past. And it doesn’t change the fact that the UN may still take up additional options going forward, and that’s why we want these two launches in particular to be discussed at the UN. And we’re in support of that dialogue. Okay?

QUESTION: There is a UN report – there is a UN report comes up pointing out that the North Korean officials involved in WMD-related programs got training at a space technology institute in India that taught courses to North Koreans that violates UN sanctions. So how do you see this investigation by --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report. I’m not going to comment on that today, okay?

QUESTION: Back to the missiles yesterday. I guess the South Koreans and the Japanese have found that the second launch marked some sort of technological improvement. I know you said you’re still assessing the situation, but I guess do you share that preliminary assessment? And then secondly, given that, are you making any – reaching out to the Chinese, or are you going to take any steps following that?

MR KIRBY: On the first question, no, we’re still assessing these two launches, and I’m – we’re just not in a position right now to qualitatively offer a characterization, except that --

QUESTION: Well, didn’t one of them go into space briefly?

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re still assessing information from these two launches, and I’m just not at liberty to characterize them any further. Obviously, we know they happened, clearly violations --

QUESTION: And if it did mark some sort of improvement, like, what steps would you --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Felicia, I just don’t have additional information right now. We’re still assessing these, and I’m not in a position to characterize them one way or the other.

I’m sorry, and your second question was --

QUESTION: I just – are you making any – reaching out to the Chinese or any --

MR KIRBY: Outreach to the Chinese – I don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you today, but as I said earlier, we are raising this inside the UN and, of course, China is a member of the Security Council. So I fully would expect that they would be part of that dialogue.

QUESTION: Sung Kim – is he still there?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know, he is, yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday at the Beijing meeting, the North Korean delegation Lee Young Ho – he said – he strongly comment they never give up their nuclear development. So how you think about this?

MR KIRBY: Janne, we’ve talked about this many times. I mean, we are – nothing has changed about our commitment to a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That remains our policy, that remains our goal, that remains our objective, and nothing has changed about the fact that we would like to get back to the Six-Party process. But the onus is on the North, and when they do things like this, it’s impossible to see how we can get back to that Six-Party process.

QUESTION: So – but he said that normal Six-Party Talk (inaudible) – he mentioned that, the North Koreans. So how you going to make Six-Party Talks without the North Koreans?

MR KIRBY: As I said, the onus is on the North to stop these provocative actions and to resume to that process in good faith. It’s difficult to see good faith here when they keep violating Security Council resolutions and putting the security and stability of the peninsula at risk.

QUESTION: Or perhaps the Security Council resolutions they are passing are not seen as being effective enough.

MR KIRBY: As I said, these are the toughest sanctions in two decades and it takes time. It takes time. It – sanctions are not usually immediately felt – even tough ones.

QUESTION: So I mean if you – so, okay. So if these sanctions are going to take time, I mean, that would suggest that this is going to fall to the next administration to come up with some kind of policy.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not – I couldn’t begin to speculate about what the next --

QUESTION: Well, do you think that these --

MR KIRBY: -- administration will or won’t do or will or won’t take up.

QUESTION: Well, when you say that the sanctions take time, do you think that they’ll have enough effect by the end of this Administration to force North Korea’s hand?

MR KIRBY: We believe that these sanctions are stringent enough and tough enough, that the enforcement mechanisms are clear enough, that they will have an impact, that they will be felt by the regime. But it’s difficult for me – impossible for me to tell you exactly when that’s going to be or what effect it might have. But as we’ve talked about before, these particular ones are designed to really – to impact the regime more stringently than we have in the past. And we’ll – and oh, by the way, in the wake of these launches, we’re taking it up with the UN even today.

QUESTION: For more sanctions?

MR KIRBY: We’re going to have that discussion with the UN on how best to continue to hold the North accountable. I’m not going to rule in or out additional sanctions from the UN. I wouldn’t speak for the UN in that regard, but clearly we’re raising our concerns inside UN channels even today about last night’s launches.

QUESTION: So you said you haven’t seen the report of UN on North Korea but – though I have sent these documents in the morning to your press team. But sir, have you – are you aware about the training of North Korean scientists in India?



MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware.

QUESTION: Amazing.

MR KIRBY: It’s amazing, huh? No, not aware.

QUESTION: For me it is.

MR KIRBY: I know there’s a lot in this book, but it doesn’t include everything.


QUESTION: Are we good on Honduras now? Okay. So I wanted to ask – there was a report The Guardian yesterday from a high-level deserter from the Honduran army that noted environmental activist Berta Caceres was killed by Honduran Government forces, that her name appeared on a kill list of activists and community leaders that was circulated to multiple U.S.-trained Honduran Government army units – some might say “death squads.” How would you respond to the accusation that she was killed by the Honduran Government?

MR KIRBY: We’ve seen media reports alleging the existence of a Honduran activist hit list, as you’ve described it.


MR KIRBY: The U.S. Government has not previously heard any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths ordered by the military, and we do not have any information which would substantiate this report.

QUESTION: You have not – you’ve not heard of these kill lists?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s what I just said. We don’t –


MR KIRBY: We haven’t heard of any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths --

QUESTION: I mean, since --

MR KIRBY: -- and we do have any information that would substantiate this report.

QUESTION: Since the transition of power took place, Honduran human rights activists have documented dozens, hundreds of community leaders, activists, journalists murdered by government forces. I mean, just back in April Honduran rights activists were on Capitol Hill saying that death squads have returned to Honduras. You’re saying you don’t know about this?

MR KIRBY: Sir, I can say it again for you if you want. But we --

QUESTION: You’re saying --

MR KIRBY: -- don’t have any – we have not seen any credible allegations of this list. But if you’ll let me finish --


MR KIRBY: -- if we were to come into information that would prove that credible, we would obviously take it very seriously. It’s important to note the United States has provided its security and military aid to Honduras in the form of training, equipment, supplies, and other non-cash support, and we’re constantly reviewing – as we always do – our support of Honduran security and military forces in accordance with U.S. law.

QUESTION: So this changes nothing in regards to sort of human rights vetting of Honduras?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. Well, first of all, we haven’t seen credible allegations. As I said, if we do, we’re going to take it seriously. Number three, we’re always reviewing our support and assistance to Honduras in accordance with U.S. law, which we obey and we will continue to obey. So if there’s credible information that backs up these reports, we’re going to take it seriously. And we’ll use that in what is an ongoing constant review of our security assistance with Honduras.

QUESTION: One human rights professor called this “smoking-gun evidence.” If this isn’t credible, what is credible evidence in the level you’re talking about?

MR KIRBY: We haven’t seen, in our view, credible evidence to back up these allegations. If we do, we’ll take it seriously.

QUESTION: Have you met with some of these activists that he’s speaking about in the Capitol?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such meetings.

QUESTION: When you talk about you haven’t seen credible evidence to – about these accusations, is it the accusation that there was a hit list or the accusation that the government --

MR KIRBY: There’s no specific --

QUESTION: Hold on. Wait – I just want to – which accusation are you talking about, the one that there was a hit list or that the military or police may have been involved in these killings? Both or one?

MR KIRBY: Both. We have not seen any credible evidence to support the existence of a hit list. I’m not saying that there isn’t; I’m just saying we haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: I get it.

MR KIRBY: And if we did, we’d take it seriously. And at this time, there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights that exists in this or any other case involving the security forces that receive U.S. Government assistance. And we obey the law. If we see it --

QUESTION: Well, there’s pretty much credible –

QUESTION: There have been hundreds of documented accounts in Honduras of either abuses ranging from beatings to torture all the way up to killings, and you haven’t met with any of these activists or journalists who have documented these things? Can you confirm that?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we didn’t. I said I’m not aware of any meetings.

QUESTION: Well, there’s clearly abuses going on. It’s a question of who’s committing them, right? You’re saying that you don’t have any – you haven’t seen any credible evidence that the security forces are playing a role in this?

MR KIRBY: I’ll say it again. At this time, there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights.

QUESTION: Yeah, I get it. I think the reason you’re being asked to repeat it is because it’s kind of hard to believe.

QUESTION: Have you investigated it, or you’re just waiting for credible evidence to land in your lap?

MR KIRBY: We don’t have credible evidence to support --

QUESTION: I know – you don’t – please stop saying that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: I mean, I don’t know how else to --

QUESTION: I’ll return to my question, which is: What credible evidence --

QUESTION: No, no, no, but you haven’t said --

QUESTION: What evidence do I have to bring you --

QUESTION: No, no, no, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

MR KIRBY: Hey. Hey, relax.

QUESTION: You haven’t said that you – have you investigated this?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigations because there’s no specific or credible allegations to support such an investigation. But if the presumption in the question is that we don’t take this seriously --

QUESTION: It wasn’t.

MR KIRBY: -- it’s false and baseless.


MR KIRBY: Of course we take it seriously.

QUESTION: It wasn’t. You said that there’s no credible evidence and the question is: Have you been looking for evidence or you’re just waiting for it to fall into your lap, in which case you would launch an investigation?

MR KIRBY: We constantly – as I said earlier, we constantly review our relationship with security forces in Honduras. It’s not something that we just sit back and wait. We actively, constantly review that kind – that relationship, as we do with other military relationships around the world. I mean, it’s not that we’re just sitting back waiting for somebody to drop something in our lap. And --

QUESTION: Have you contacted The Guardian? And what would be your timeline to investigate this (inaudible) it seems very serious?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we’ve contacted The Guardian – the newspaper – about this. Okay? Thanks.

QUESTION: Wait. No, no, no, no.

QUESTION: Can we – can we do one (inaudible)?

QUESTION: No, no, no. No, no, no, no.

MR KIRBY: You guys are the ones who said you wanted to --


MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just one more on this Honduras thing. Does the United – say it were true that there was a hit list, that these were U.S.-trained people, they had one and they went out and killed these people. Do you – does the United States take responsibility just because these people were trained by the U.S.? Do you feel that you have some kind of a responsibility to either the Honduran Government or people for the actions of security forces that you may have – that you trained?

MR KIRBY: What we have a responsibility to do is to properly manage the aid and assistance that we give to foreign militaries --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: -- and if there’s – no, wait, let me finish – if there is – if there’s evidence that proves that there are human rights violations and abuses by security forces that we are supporting, whether that’s through training, material equipment, we absolutely have a responsibility to alter that relationship and to hold them to account for those human rights abuses, and we do do that. I mean, that is the foundation of the law that we must obey.

If you’re asking, are we going to blame ourselves for the specific human rights violations of another human being in that regard, that’s a pretty difficult connection to make. But we certainly will hold --


MR KIRBY: -- that unit to account.

QUESTION: Can you – it just seems – there just seems to be a level of incuriosity on the part of the --

MR KIRBY: No, I would refute that, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, if you say --

MR KIRBY: I would refute that 100 percent.

QUESTION: Well, can you take the question, then, to find out exactly what it is the department is doing to look into these – you say there aren’t any credible allegations, but an allegation has been made – several, numerous, many. Are you looking into those allegations to see if there’s any credence to them?


QUESTION: Or are you just not?

MR KIRBY: We constantly review allegations of misconduct. There’s ongoing – I’m not going to take the question because I don’t need to. We absolutely – ongoing review --

QUESTION: Well, I --

MR KIRBY: -- of the military relationship.

QUESTION: But does that include this specific allegation --

MR KIRBY: And we take allegations – we take them --

QUESTION: -- that was in the newspaper?

MR KIRBY: We take them seriously, and if they – if they are --

QUESTION: It doesn’t sound --

MR KIRBY: If they are credible, we look into them.

QUESTION: How many times --

QUESTION: Okay. But it doesn’t sound like you’re taking it seriously if you say, “Oh, it’s just in a newspaper report, we haven’t looked into it.” So I just want that – so specifically, what I’m asking is: Are you looking into this specific hit list, U.S.-trained people report, or are you not? Maybe you’re not. I don’t know.

MR KIRBY: As I said, we took – we’ve seen the press report. Yes, we take that seriously, and we don’t have any credible allegation, other than the media report, of hit lists of deaths ordered by the military. Now, if --

QUESTION: So you’re saying that this report is not a credible allegation?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Elise, please. Let me finish.

QUESTION: Well, you’ve said that 40 times, so I --

MR KIRBY: Let me – well, apparently, I need to say it 50. If we – if there – if any additional information comes to light that proves there’s credibility to these allegations, obviously, we’re going to take that very, very seriously.

QUESTION: How do you determine the credibility of the allegation? If there’s an allegation made in a major British newspaper, how many times from that podium have you said, “We’ve seen the reports and we’re seeking further clarification”? And you don’t seem to be saying that here.

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re concerned by the press report, and of course we’re looking at that. Of course we are.

QUESTION: Thank you, end of question.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t have additional, credible information about it.

QUESTION: I’ve got a couple on Iran that go back to some – that go back to yesterday if I could.


QUESTION: I’ll try to make this as quick as possible. Specifically as it relates to the Boeing deal, were you able to find out whether or not the U.S. has, in fact, sold or licensed the sale of aviation – of airplanes, et cetera, to other state sponsors of terrorism?

MR KIRBY: Other agencies, including Treasury and Commerce, have licensing responsibility for authorizing U.S. exports to any other countries designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. So I have to refer you to Treasury and Commerce on that. I don’t have additional information.

QUESTION: All right. As it relates to this sale and the JCPOA – which the JCPOA does allow – but the Administration made the point over and over and over again that the only sanctions that would be eased or lifted as a result of the nuclear agreement would be the nuclear sanctions. Non-nuclear sanctions in place for terrorism, human rights abuses, et cetera, would remain in place.

Five years ago tomorrow, in fact, the Administration imposed sanctions on Iran Air – not for any nuclear reason, but for terrorism – support-for-terrorism reasons. In making that announcement, they said that – the Administration said that Iran Air is a commercial airline used by the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the ministry of defense to transport military-related equipment; said it’s been doing so on behalf of the IRGC since 2006; said that rockets and missiles have been transported via Iran Air passenger aircraft, and that IRGC officers occasionally take control of Iran Air flights carrying special IRGC-related cargo. It says that the IRGC is known to disguise and manifest these shipments as medicine and generic spare parts on Iran Air. It also says that IRGC officers have discouraged Iran Air pilots from inspecting potentially dangerous related cargo, including that being sent in commercial Iran Air aircraft to Syria. It also said that Iran Air flights have been used to transport missile and rocket components to Syria.

All of these were – all of these were made – these statements were made in the terrorism designation of Iran Air. The nuclear talks that led to the nuclear deal, the negotiations, did not include Iran Air specifically, I don’t believe, and yet Iran Air was removed from the sanctions list in the annex – the third annex, I believe, to the sanctions. Can you point me to where the United States Government has said that it no longer has any of these terrorism concerns as related to Iran Air? And if there isn’t a place, except for the two words “Iran Air” being mentioned in the annex of the agreement, can you tell me how a Boeing sale to Iran is a positive thing that you said yesterday you would welcome, if, in fact, they are still – Iran Air is still being used to do all this nefarious activity?

MR KIRBY: On your first question, let me take it, Matt. You’re asking me a very technical question that I don’t have information here to support. But I would tell you that in the text of the JCPOA, the U.S. Government reserved the right in the text to revoke the commitment to license the export of commercial passenger and related parts and services if we determine that licensed aircraft, goods, or services have been used for purposes other than exclusively civil aviation end-use or have been resold or retransferred to persons on the SDN list.

And any suggestion that – and I’m not saying you are, but let me just say this. Any suggestion that in implementing the JCPOA that we would or will or turn a blind eye to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism or their terrorist-supporting activities, again, is completely without merit. We have, as you’ve noted, unilateral tools at our disposal to deal with that – not just in a military presence but on an economic front as well, and we’re going to maintain the right to keep those tools in place.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re not using them, or you’re suspending them as related to Iran Air. I mean, unless the Administration has made a determination that Iran Air is no longer engaged in any of these activities that you designated them for --

MR KIRBY: Well, as you noticed – as you said, Iran Air was taken off the list.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there wasn’t – but without any explanation as to why other than --

MR KIRBY: I will look up and see if there’s more explication to be had about that.

QUESTION: So are you saying that if --

MR KIRBY: But I can tell you that – again, that we have the right inside the JCPOA, without violating our commitments under the JCPOA, to revoke that license if we feel that the – it’s being – determined for anything other than civil aviation purposes.

QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, if Iran Air is being used like it was being used five years ago --

MR KIRBY: We could revoke the license agreement.

QUESTION: You could or you would?

MR KIRBY: We absolutely have the right to revoke the license agreement if it’s being used for anything other than commercial aviation purposes. Now, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Okay. But can you --

MR KIRBY: -- speculate going forward here. We absolutely --

QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain to me, though, why this isn’t a – isn’t a non-nuclear sanction relief?

MR KIRBY: It’s part of the JCPOA that --

QUESTION: Yeah, which was supposed to only involve easing or removing nuclear sanctions.

MR KIRBY: Because these were – because the sanctions in place did not allow the commercial licensing for civil aviation purposes. The sanctions that were in place --

QUESTION: Yeah, but this is --

MR KIRBY: The sanctions that helped lead Iran to the table --

QUESTION: But this is a separate thing. This is a separate thing. This is for terrorism. These – the sanctions on Iran Air were put in place for support for the IRGC and support for IRGC terrorists.

MR KIRBY: And as you noted, Iran Air was taken off that list.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it didn’t do anything to get off the list.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, why don’t you let me --

QUESTION: What did it – unless you can explain it to me, why they were taken --

MR KIRBY: Why don’t you let me try to explain that further.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Wait, just one more. I had --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: It’s your last chance --

MR KIRBY: Two more. Two more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: They vote tomorrow on Brexit.

MR KIRBY: Put the lights back on. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I know that you’ve given the U.S. position before on Brexit, but it’s your last chance before we vote. Anything you want to add or underline about where the U.S. stands on the British referendum.

MR KIRBY: It’s the decision --

QUESTION: We’re going to start voting soon, so --

MR KIRBY: It’s a decision for the British people to make, and we --

QUESTION: Nothing --

MR KIRBY: -- we respect that.

UKRAINERUSSIA">QUESTION: Can you update Assistant Secretary Nuland’s talks with Ukrainian and Russian officials? In particular, who has she met with at this point? And then secondly, has there been any sort of progress in implementing Minsk?

MR KIRBY: You’ve seen the media note, I think, about her travel. I won’t get ahead of her diplomatic meetings, but you might recall that she traveled to Kyiv in April and to Moscow in May. This is a continuation of those conversations and our efforts to see that Minsk be fully implemented. We believe it’s important to keep talking.

As Assistant Secretary Nuland said to the press in Moscow on her previous trip, and as we’ve said many times here from the podium, the United States view is that we want to see Minsk fully implemented as soon as possible. It will be good for peace and security in Ukraine. It will be good for relations between Russia and Ukraine. And it’ll be good for relations between the United States and our allies and Russia if we can move forward on this. And as the President has said also, if and when Minsk is fully implemented, sanctions can be rolled back.

QUESTION: But do you have anything about her current meetings?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – you’ve seen the media note. I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. And after the fact, we may be able to provide more detail when her trip is over.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 21, 2016

Tue, 06/21/2016 - 16:12

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 21, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


1:08 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: What’s so funny? You – you guys were laughing. What’d I miss?

QUESTION: We were naming her bicycle.

QUESTION: My (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: You’re naming your bicycle? All right, I’m not going to go any further there. (Laughter.)

All right, I have several things to get through. You can see by the stack, so I’ll ask your forbearance here as I work my way through these things.

On Jordan, we condemn in the strongest terms this morning’s attack in Jordan, which we understand killed six members of the Jordanian security forces and wounded another 14. We express, of course, our deepest condolences to the victims and to their families and ask that everybody remember that those families are in grief today.

We are going to continue our unwavering support to the Jordanian Armed Forces and we are proud of that partnership. We join the Jordanian people in their resilience and their determination in dealing with the threat posed by Daesh. The U.S. is committed to providing security assistance to Jordan and we’ll continue to cooperate closely in the wake of this attack. Jordan has already made tremendous sacrifices in hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. And as I’ve said many times, what’s going on in Syria is not a philosophical exercise for the Jordanians. It is very real because of the threat posed, as we saw today, but also represented by the work that they’re doing to help so many refugees. We’re committing – I’m sorry. We are committed, of course, to working with Jordan to address this crisis and to ensure that humanitarian support continues to be provided to all those displaced by the conflict in Syria.

Speaking of those displaced by conflict, in light of recent events in Iraq and in response to the UN high commissioner for refugees’ recent appeals for emergency needs in Fallujah, the United States is today announcing an additional $20 million in humanitarian aid to UNHCR’s Iraq response. This will be part of a larger package of humanitarian assistance that will be announced later this year. So there’s more aid coming, and I would note that more than 3.3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since 2014. More are expected to flee in the coming days and weeks. And we’ve seen this, as I said, in Fallujah specifically.

In fact, the UN estimates that about 85,000 people have already fled Fallujah. Yesterday we talked about upwards of 80,000. The UN estimate now is 85,000. The UNHCR has identified camp coordination and camp management as well as protection as its – as its most urgent priorities in the Fallujah response. Other immediate needs include water and sanitation, shelter, and food. Humanitarian agencies are responding to the crisis, but more funding is urgently needed, and we urge other governments to contribute generously to the UN’s Iraq appeals as we have done.

On a travel note for Under Secretary Shannon – the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon is traveling to Caracas today. He’ll be there today and tomorrow at the request of the Secretary and at the invitation of the Government of Venezuela. Ambassador Shannon will follow up on the June 14th meeting between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Rodriguez at the OAS General Assembly in Santo Domingo. Ambassador Shannon will meet with several senior government officials, members of the opposition, and civil society. I do not have a full readout of every individual that he’s meeting with – he just got there – but we’ll be able to read out his visit in more detail later.

On other scheduling notes here, Secretary Kerry will join hundreds of entrepreneur – entrepreneurs and investors at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit later this week in Palo Alto. He’ll be opening up the summit on Thursday morning as well as meeting with entrepreneurs and experiencing new technology on the sidelines of the summit. The summit will be the seventh installment in a series previously hosted by the United States and governments of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Morocco, and Kenya. In bringing the summit back to the United States and with it 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors from around the globe, we hope to highlight our commitment to building bridges that help us tackle global challenges together.

Here at the State Department, as I think you saw, the Secretary this morning spoke at the department’s annual Pride at State event. He was joined by Special Envoy for Human Right – for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry and the Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, the first openly gay head of any service in the U.S. military. Pride at State is jointly organized by the Department of State and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, also known as GLIFAA. Secretary Kerry used this opportunity to reaffirm his own commitment and, of course, that of this department to supporting diversity and to help further GLIFAA’s mission to secure fair treatment of LGBTI colleagues here in the United States and to support people struggling against discrimination and persecution abroad.

Later today, the Secretary will deliver remarks at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. He’ll be joined at that event by former Secretary of State and president of the Truman Foundation Madeleine Albright. I think you all are very familiar with the Truman Foundation.

And then lastly, a bit of trivia. And I think we got this back to you, Matt, but I wanted to publicly talk about how they’re --


MR KIRBY: Yeah, and why it’s 1975.

QUESTION: It’s very interesting, actually. Thank you for --

MR KIRBY: So – actually, I was interested to learn it. But Matt’s question yesterday was why did we only – why does our count of refugees only go back to 1975, and I had no idea. So the answer is prior to 1975 individuals with protection concerns were admitted to the United States under a variety of immigration categories which generally included various types of parole – not the legal kind of parole that we’re used to hearing about – and/or ad hoc legislation that was directed at specific categories of vulnerable groups.

After the fall of Saigon in April of 1975 and the consequent outflow from Vietnam of Vietnamese and other groups of people that lived in the region, new legislation was passed authorizing the adjustment of status of Indo-Chinese originally paroled into the United States to refugees after March of 1975. So the same legislation was followed by the Refugee Act of 1980 which codified the refugee admissions process that had been in place since 1975. It went back five years. So this is why we start to record formal refugee admissions beginning in 1975.

So it was a great question. It forced us all to learn a little something and I wanted to pass that on to everybody.

QUESTION: I already knew that. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: It forced all of us but Justin to learn a little something. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Justin knows everything. He’s omniscient.

MR KIRBY: Oh, you knew it too?

QUESTION: No, no, I’m just saying Justin knew it. So --

MR KIRBY: So as long as Justin knew it --

QUESTION: I actually – I actually --

QUESTION: I wish I was here yesterday and I would have shared it.

QUESTION: I was going to actually – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: I think we all would have appreciated that, Justin.

QUESTION: I was actually going to begin this by thanking you guys for getting back to me with that answer because it was interesting.

MR KIRBY: It was. It was a good question. Okay, Matt, what can we do for you?

QUESTION: Yeah, two logistical things. One on the Shannon trip to Venezuela, I realize you can’t say 100 percent who he’s going to see, but I mean, do you expect him to see President Maduro?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that a potential meeting with President Maduro is not confirmed at this time. So I can’t rule it out, but it’s not – there’s no confirmed meeting with President Maduro right now.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, why would he go if there wasn’t a meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s plenty of other government officials and civil society and opposition members that are worth speaking to and talking to. And part of this, as I said, is an outgrowth of the 14 June meeting where the Secretary made clear that we were going to continue to --


MR KIRBY: -- do what we could to foster meaningful, constructive dialogue there. And it doesn’t – and so there’s plenty of people with whom to do that.

QUESTION: I understand that. But when the invitation was made, did they say, “Hey, come on down and you can see the president as well as” --

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe the invitation was --

QUESTION: That specific?

MR KIRBY: -- you’ll definitely get a meeting with President Maduro. Obviously, we are hopeful for that, but it hasn’t been confirmed.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So it would – if such a meeting did not happen, it would be a bit of a disappointment, yeah?

MR KIRBY: I think it – I think, obviously, we’d like to see a meeting with President Maduro. But that doesn’t mean that if it doesn’t happen that the trip is a failure.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not saying a failure. But I mean --

MR KIRBY: No, I know. But I mean, but would we like to see that? Yes, of course, but it’s not confirmed yet.

QUESTION: When did Caracas extend the invitation? At the --

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it was at the OAS meeting in Santo Domingo.

QUESTION: At that – at that meeting?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, that’s my – to my understanding, that’s when the invitation was proffered.

QUESTION: And there – and was there any back and forth on exactly whom Mr. Shannon would meet with during --

MR KIRBY: Not at that time, Ros. I mean, this was an initial invitation to come down and have – to have a dialogue. And obviously, we accepted that invitation. But as – one of the reasons why I’m not at liberty to go into every single person with whom he’s meeting is because some of the agenda is still being fleshed out. So again, I fully expect that we’ll be able to read out his visit. He’s there for two days, today and tomorrow, and we’ll have, I’m sure, more to say as time goes on.

QUESTION: What is his goal for this round of meetings?

MR KIRBY: That’s --

QUESTION: Given the tensions between these two governments, what is his goal for these two days?

MR KIRBY: The main purpose is to have a series of discussions about the social, economic, and political challenges in Venezuela and to try to help foster constructive, meaningful dialogue towards solutions with a variety of groups in the government and outside the government. And that has been Secretary Kerry’s focus for quite some time here is that the – he – the Secretary firmly believes, and he stressed this in Santo Domingo, that the best way forward is a strong, robust, productive dialogue with all the stakeholders. And to the degree the United States can be helpful in helping foster that dialogue, well, we want to be. We also recognize that it can’t really be meaningful and productive unless it’s happening amongst the parties, and again, that’s what Ambassador Shannon is going down there to try to help foster.

QUESTION: Is the ambassador taking any offers of emergency food aid, given that people have been storming supermarkets in Caracas?

MR KIRBY: No, he did not bring with him food aid or material assistance.

QUESTION: Did you say “social, economic, and political challenges”?

MR KIRBY: Social, economic, and political challenges. Yeah.

QUESTION: I just wondered if “political” was in there. Yeah. Great.

QUESTION: So the second thing on the just logistics – I’m wondering, since yesterday and the Secretary said was going to meet with the authors of the Syria dissent channel cable, has that happened yet? Do you expect that it would – if it hasn’t, is this something that would wait until after there is a response from policy planning or has it been scheduled? What’s the situation with that meeting?

MR KIRBY: He did meet with a small number of them this morning, mid-morning, for about a half an hour. It was approximately 10 of the authors. As you can imagine, the group is sizeable, so it wasn’t possible to meet with everybody. But he did have a collegial discussion with them this morning.

QUESTION: And what did he say?

MR KIRBY: I’m – because the dissent channel memo and the contents of it are meant to be privately conveyed, so too I’m afraid are going to have to be the discussions around it. So I’m not going to be able to characterize the content of the Secretary’s conversation with them, because we want to respect the confidentiality of the process. It was, however – it was – I believe the Secretary came away feeling that it was a good discussion, it was worth having. He appreciated their views and just as critically their firm belief in their – in the opportunity that they have to express those views. And so they had a good 30-minute or more conversation.

QUESTION: Right. But I’m not asking for the content. I mean, we all know what the content is and we’re kind of dancing around this. I mean, it’s been published.

MR KIRBY: I understand that, but --

QUESTION: But – and --

MR KIRBY: -- I have to respect the process --

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR KIRBY: -- regardless of --

QUESTION: I get it, but, I mean, it’s just this kind of – I don’t know – kabuki dance we’re doing here, because you know very well what’s in it and it’s out there in public. It’s not a secret, even though it may be – parts of it might be classified by this – but anyway, I’m not trying to get into the content. Did the – with whatever the content was, did the Secretary say that he agreed with it?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to characterize the discussion much more than I did. And I know that that’s not going to meet with your approbation, but --

QUESTION: Well let’s put it this --

MR KIRBY: Look, let me do this. So I can tell you a couple of things. He thanked them for expressing their views and for using the dissent channel. And he reaffirmed his strong belief in the value of the dissent channel, which we’ve talked about quite a bit here. So he thanked them for expressing their views, for using the dissent channel to do that. He made clear that he takes the dissent channel seriously and he took their views seriously, and also made clear that he read their message with sincerity. And, again, without talking about the specific detail of it, the Secretary also walked them through his own thought process with respect to this particular issue and the efforts that he’s been expending on this particular issue.

QUESTION: Did he give --

MR KIRBY: And why those efforts were still so very important.

QUESTION: Did he give them any indication that he would incorporate their views into his thinking as he goes around and helps the President and the rest of the Administration try to formulate a policy, or provide --

MR KIRBY: Well, there already is a policy.

QUESTION: Oh yeah? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: And it --

QUESTION: What is it exactly?

MR KIRBY: Come on, I’ve been talking about the policy for months up here.

QUESTION: Look, the entire point – the entire point of the --

MR KIRBY: I can’t believe you want me to actually restate it.

QUESTION: The entire point of this cable was to say that the policy, such as it is, these people think is not a good one and is not going in the right direction, and they’ve recommended changes.

MR KIRBY: Look --

QUESTION: So the question is: Did the Secretary – without getting into the content of what it is, did the Secretary tell them that, when he saw them this morning, that he was willing to take their suggestions, their ideas on board in his broader discussions within the Administration about what to do?

MR KIRBY: You’re asking me again to talk about the content of the discussion, and I can’t do that, Matt. But let me put that in a box for a second, separate and distinct. When you guys have asked me about the issue of Syria and what’s going on in Syria – and I’m not confirming the topic of the message was or the topic of the discussion. But when you have asked me in the past --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you’re not confirming it’s about Syria?

MR KIRBY: When you have asked me – when you have asked me about what’s going on in Syria, I have said now for many weeks that while we continue to believe the best solution is going to be a political solution, that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria, the civil conflict in Syria, and – but that it would be imprudent and irresponsible for this Administration not to consider other options. And those other options are still and have been and are still being considered.

QUESTION: All right, fine. But surely you’re not trying to say that this dissent cable could have been Paraguay, are you?


QUESTION: You’re not – I mean, why – you’re saying --

MR KIRBY: I have acknowledged – I have acknowledged --

QUESTION: -- that it is about Syria. Okay. Last one --

MR KIRBY: -- at the outset that the original – that the main topic area was on Syria --

QUESTION: Last one. Did he --

MR KIRBY: -- but I’m not going to talk about the specifics of what they recommended.

QUESTION: Okay. And I’m not asking that. Did he say – did he ask them to come back with him with more, perhaps more detail?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such request.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask a process question?


QUESTION: Does the Secretary --

MR KIRBY: Hang on, everybody. We’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does the Secretary’s meeting, does whatever happened in that meeting, have to be read out, as it were, to the policy planning folks who are tasked with responding to this dissent message?

MR KIRBY: No, because the policy planning director was in the meeting this morning. So there’s no reason to have it read out.


QUESTION: Well, I guess what I’m trying to ask is: Was it proper at this point in the process – someone files a message through this dissent channel, and policy planning is supposed to respond to it. What’s an appropriate --

MR KIRBY: Are you asking is it okay to have the meeting before a response is given?

QUESTION: Right. Right.

MR KIRBY: As I understand, the response is, if not done, very near done. So there wasn’t really an issue in terms of – in terms of timing, in terms of meeting with these individuals. The Secretary read the memo, decided he wanted to meet with some of them; we scheduled the meeting – even as the policy planning group was working on the official response. Which, as I said, if it’s not done – and I can check on this before the end of the day – if it’s not done, it will be done very, very soon.

QUESTION: Were all 10 of the people whom he met with who signed the cable, were they all people who work here at Main State, or did any people come back from overseas?

MR KIRBY: It’s my understanding that they worked here at Main State. I’m not aware of any travel that was done as a result of that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Without getting into the substance in terms of what was in the memo, was this just a discussion for him to thank them, or was this kind of a substantive discussion of the particular points of their dissent channel and the recommendations that they made and whether – what the Secretary thought of each individual point? Like, was it a discussion about policy, or was it just a kind of “Thank you, I appreciate your views”?

MR KIRBY: It was both. I mean, he – obviously, he thanked them for expressing their views, again expressed confidence in his respect of the dissent channel process. But sure, they talked about the thoughts that were proffered in the dissent channel message, and they had a comprehensive discussion about that. I think the way I would describe --

QUESTION: Was it like a back and – would you call it a back and forth?

MR KIRBY: Yes, of course it was. But the Secretary was largely in listening mode. I mean, the purpose was to hear them out even more.

QUESTION: As a – as a --

MR KIRBY: But yes, there was a give and take to the conversation.

QUESTION: Okay. So was this in a show of respect, or can you honestly say that you think that their views will play into the policy process? Because everything that we hear from the White House and such, it doesn’t seem that it will.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into debating specific policies here from the podium, I’d say it’s – it was both, Elise. I mean, certainly, it was a show of respect for the process itself and for their willingness to put down on paper their views. So he was showing respect for that, for their process, and for them.

But he also – you know the Secretary very well – wanted to have a good conversation about the – their views in general, and largely, as I said, he was in a listening mode. He asked a lot of questions, he wanted to get – he wanted to draw out more of their thoughts on these things, and he came away feeling like he had a good opportunity to do that.

QUESTION: So that’s much more than, like, him meeting with them to thank them for their views. I mean, you’re suggesting that this meeting – that he met with them – maybe the dissent cable was the genesis of these people sharing their views with him, but you’re saying that this is just like meeting with other officials that deal with – on this issue that – you think that that might play into his own policy deliberations?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say and I won’t speculate as to discussions going forward with respect to what we’re doing in Syria or decisions that may or may not get made, either as a result of this message or as a result of ongoing routine discussions that have been had and continue to be had on alternatives. So I’m not going to speculate about the role that this message might play one way or the other.

But if you’re asking me, was this just a show for the Secretary, the answer is absolutely not. I mean, it – certainly he wanted to thank them and pay respect to the process because this is an important issue. But he also didn’t waste time in terms of hearing them out and asking questions and listening to their views and asking them to expound on them further. I mean, that’s the way this Secretary likes to conduct meetings and discussions and to inform himself. And again, I think he found the meeting useful in that regard. But I wouldn’t begin to speculate one way or another what this conversation today or that message did last week in terms of altering, changing any of the thinking going forward.

As I said last week, nobody is content with the status quo on the ground and the Administration has been looking at other options with respect to Syria for quite some time. This is not new. And yes, some of those options have included the potential for military initiatives. Again, that’s nothing new. So all these things --

QUESTION: Well, some of the things in the memo – and I know you don’t want to get into it – are areas where the Secretary himself has advocated on their behalf. So if the Secretary – and the Secretary of State and the top U.S. diplomat of this country – is not able to sway the President on a certain course, do you really expect that 50 midlevel officials are going to be able to do that?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’ll let the author speak for their intent, their motivations. That’s for them to speak to. I’m also not going to discuss whatever views the Secretary may present in private to other members of the cabinet or to the President. I think in – you can see in his actions and his travel and the meetings that he’s having that the Secretary is very committed to trying to work on what you guys have colloquially termed as plan A, which is getting a transitional governing process in place, getting the political talks back on track, getting the cessation of hostilities enforced nationwide in an enduring way, and getting humanitarian assistance to the still millions of Syrians in need.

Those are still the three things that we’re working on, that is still the approach we’re pursuing, and everything you’ve seen out of Secretary Kerry supports that.

QUESTION: Were the 10 he met the last people he’s going to meet on this or – because there were more than 10 who signed the thing. I assume they’re on post somewhere or just not available today.

MR KIRBY: Not all of the authors, as I understand it, are in Washington, D.C. He met with a small group of them, about 10.

QUESTION: But is he going to make secure calls to any of the others?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any other direct communications with the authors.

QUESTION: And the 10 that were picked were just because they’re available here, they’re not particularly senior or not seen as the driving force behind this?

MR KIRBY: They were a representative group that he could meet with here in Washington.

QUESTION: Can you give us a steer on what kind of seniority they have without identifying them? Can you say it more broadly?

MR KIRBY: No, I’d rather not.


QUESTION: So in this response that the policy planning committee is – or the Policy Planning Office is supposed to respond to, are they supposed to respond that their views – that the views of the cable are taken into account? Is it supposed to be a rebuttal or an acceptance? I mean, what is the kind of process of responding? What is it about? You said it’s – a process is – a response is --

MR KIRBY: Well, in general, every time – this isn’t the only one --

QUESTION: I understand.

MR KIRBY: -- that we’ve gotten this year. You typically get four to five per year, and each response is different because each dissent channel message is different. So there’s no template, as I understand it – there’s no template for how to respond. And again, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of this response, but I can assure you --

QUESTION: Does it have actionable – I guess my question is: Does it have actionable things, or it’s – like, when you respond to Congress and you’re, like, have actionable things that they’re asking for, or is it, “Thank you for your note. We appreciate it. We take your points”? How substantive is the response?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize the response, Elise, but I can tell you that it will be a serious, sober response to the concerns that were expressed by the authors of the dissent channel message. I’m just not going to go into more detail than that.

QUESTION: From a historical perspective, can you say whether this Secretary or any prior secretary has ever met with people who have filed something through the dissent channel? Do you know?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea, Ros.

QUESTION: Well, you have the dissent awards. Don’t you have dissent awards?


QUESTION: AFSA (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I have no idea, and I don’t know if there’s – there would be any way to even answer that. I just don’t know. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Could you just take the question, though, just – I’m just curious of whether this is a real one-off.

MR KIRBY: Ros, I’ll try to – I’ll try, but I’m not making any promises. I mean, you’re asking for historical record that I don’t even know we have in terms of how many secretaries have met with dissenters face to face and over what issues. I’ll ask the question, but I don’t have high confidence that we’ll be able to answer it for you.

QUESTION: Well, if you could try.

MR KIRBY: We’ll give it a shot.


MR KIRBY: Elizabeth wrote it down.

All right, this’ll be the shortest briefing ever.

QUESTION: Can we move on to --

QUESTION: Can I have one more on dissent channel?


QUESTION: And forgive me if I missed it and you addressed it yesterday, but did you ever get clarity on when it was actually created? You remember we asked that question and you --

MR KIRBY: Best I know is 1971 was the first one. I don’t know when – like how soon before that it was stood up, I don’t know. I’ll --

QUESTION: Yeah, I remember we had asked that. It’s kind of water under the bridge because I had to write my story without knowing that, but you said it was 1971, then you said it was Dean Rusk, who was obviously no longer secretary of state then, and I was just --

MR KIRBY: Thank you for reminding me of my historical amnesia, okay.

QUESTION: Well, this is --

MR KIRBY: But I will find out, Arshad, the best I can --

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: -- when it was started.

QUESTION: Did you say when the response was going to happen?

MR KIRBY: I know they’re working on the response. I am given to understand it’s, if not done, very close to being done. When I get closure on that, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: So it could be today.

MR KIRBY: Could be today.

QUESTION: Amnesia – it’s not amnesia unless you actually did know it at one point.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t know that – maybe I did – maybe I actually did know and forgot it.

QUESTION: Justin --

QUESTION: Maybe you forgot having known it.

QUESTION: Can I go on to Bahrain, unless – I’m --

MR KIRBY: Justin, do you know the answer?

QUESTION: Of course I do. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Can you enlighten us?

QUESTION: What’s the question? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: That is a classic Justin Fishel response.


QUESTION: On North Korea, there are reports that they’re – the North Koreans are possibly going to launch a missile later today. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing to confirm the veracity of those reports. We’ve seen them just like you have. You know we don’t talk about intelligence matters one way or the other. The only thing I’d say is what we say and have said all too often, which is this is the time for the DPRK to stop the provocations, to work toward stability on the peninsula. These kinds of actions, if and when it happens again, do nothing to increase the security on the peninsula and fly in the face of their international obligations.


QUESTION: Are you in communication with Japanese counterparts about potential launch?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters. Obviously we are – we stay in routine touch with our Japanese allies as well as our South Korean allies with respect to provocations by the North. There’s routine on – in many levels, military and diplomatic, many channels through which we stay in direct communication with them. We’re obviously monitoring this situation as best we can and as closely as we can, and we do that in concert with both our Japanese and South Korean allies. But I don't have anything more specific than that.


QUESTION: Any reaction to the Boeing deal with Iran?

MR KIRBY: I think we talked about this a little bit yesterday. I can tell you that the State Department welcomes Boeing’s announcement of this deal with Iran Air, which involves the type of permissible business activity envisioned in the JCPOA. Boeing has been in close contact with the State Department regarding this deal. We committed, as you know, to licensed sales of civil passenger aircraft and will continue to implement this and all of our JCPOA commitments. The JCPOA provides an opening for civil aviation companies, including American companies, to pursue legitimate commerce with Iran, and we note reports of progress in the aviation sector, which is good both – for both the economy and for public safety.


QUESTION: John, on this, while it is true that the nuclear deal allows for this, I’m wondering, are – if you’re aware of any other case where Boeing or another U.S. aircraft – civilian aircraft manufacturer has been given a license to sell planes to a country that is designated a state sponsor of terrorism. You’ll recall that there are – Sudan, I don't know that there are many Boeing planes flying around Sudan, or Syria for that matter. And I don't think that the North Koreans, when they were on the list, had any American planes. Do you know – is this an unprecedented thing to sell --

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not aware of another example in the way you characterize it. But I would like to, if you could just let me, talk about this with a little bit more depth. So I don't know the answer to your question, that it’s ever happened before quite the way you describe it. But --

QUESTION: Well, the way – what do you mean, the way I described it?

MR KIRBY: As licensing to a state sponsor of terrorism.

QUESTION: But that’s what happened, isn’t it?

MR KIRBY: But it’s all – but again --

QUESTION: I know it’s legal under the JCPOA, but --

MR KIRBY: -- the JCPOA specifies --

QUESTION: -- they’re still a state sponsor of terrorism. And I’m just asking if you know of any other case where the U.S. Government has permitted the sale of American planes, civilian aircraft to --

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any. But again, let me stress that the JCPOA states that any license for such aviation sales – and this is a quote: will include appropriate conditions to ensure that licensed activities do not involve and no licensed aircraft goods or services are resold or re-transferred to any person on the SDN, the Special Designated List. Should the United States determine that licensed aircraft, goods, or services have been used for purposes other than exclusively civil aviation end use or have been resold or re-transferred to persons on the designated list, the United States would view this as grounds to cease preforming its commitments under the aviation section, in whole or in part.

QUESTION: Does that mean that Iran Air would have to sell these planes? What if they just, like, lent them to another aircraft company?

MR KIRBY: Resold or re-transferred to --

QUESTION: Okay. So any kind of, like, lending --

MR KIRBY: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: -- is out of the question.


QUESTION: What happens if – is flying flights into Damascus with these planes, is that – would that be okay under the current – recognizing that it’s going to be awhile before they get delivered, but in the current situation, if they – a 777 or a 737 was sold to Iran Air and they started flying whatever into Damascus, would that be grounds for the license to be --

MR KIRBY: I’ll have to take that question. I’m not sure. But again, going back to the language, it’s talking about reselling or re-transferring. It’s not talking about the transportation of – the use of civil aviation to transport passengers to and fro.

QUESTION: There have been a lot of – right. But there’s been a lot of allegations --

MR KIRBY: I see nothing in there.

QUESTION: -- that a lot of the passenger – a lot of passengers on some Iranian airlines flying from Tehran into Syria and other – and Beirut, other places, have been carrying not just ordinary passengers and not just ordinary cargo. But I’m just wondering if those kinds of flights – or to, say, North Korea for example, which is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism, are – would that --

MR KIRBY: I’m not an expert on that particular – you’re asking a very legal question that I will take and get back to you rather than speculate. But again, the JCPOA is clear about reselling and re-transferring or repurposing for anything other than civil aviation. It’s very, very clear. So I’ll take that.

QUESTION: Okay. And as we understand it, under the terms of the deal, it could be worth up to about $25 billion. Is it – is there any provision in this or in the government’s license that would prevent or stop U.S. money from going to help pay for these?

MR KIRBY: Say that one again. There any --

QUESTION: Is there any possibility that American money, U.S. money in the form of, I don’t know, subsidies or some kind of payment – whether it’s taxpayer money or not, could be Boeing itself – could be used in this sale?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe so, but let me check.


QUESTION: If there is misuse of the planes once they get to Iran, is Boeing in any way liable for that, or have they got a – you’ll punish Iran under the JCPOA, but would Boeing share any liability for end use?

MR KIRBY: You’ll have to let me check, Dave. You guys are asking me questions of a legal nature that I just – I’m not schooled on and I’m not going to speculate.

QUESTION: May I add one more to that list? When Matt asked you about whether any U.S. Government monies would be used in the sale, can you explicitly check whether any guarantees from the U.S. Government export credit guarantee organization – I forget what the exact name of it is, maybe the EXIM Bank – but whether there are any U.S. Government export guarantees that are supporting the sale.

MR KIRBY: I’ll – we’ll take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Just – you guys are asking very detailed questions I just don’t have information on.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not like you haven’t had time to prepare. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: That’s right, you’re absolutely --

QUESTION: We’ve been asking about this for a couple weeks. Anyway --

MR KIRBY: You’re right.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

MR KIRBY: No, all good questions. We’ll take them.

QUESTION: No, but thank you for taking them.

MR KIRBY: I’m not challenging that, just don’t know the answers.


QUESTION: No, no, Bahrain. But go ahead.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: One on Japan after that.


QUESTION: I have one on Japan.

MR KIRBY: Japan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Russel is in Japan for the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral. Do you have any readouts for the dialogue?

MR KIRBY: I don’t at this time, but I’m sure we’ll get something --


MR KIRBY: -- as a result of it. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted – just wanted to ask you if there’s any update on the Bahrain report to the Hill.



MR KIRBY: You asked if there’s an update. No, there’s no update.

QUESTION: Tick-tock, tick-tock, okay. So --

MR KIRBY: We – as I said yesterday, we’re mindful that we’re late.

QUESTION: Maybe by January 21st or so --

MR KIRBY: We are working on it very, very hard. I suspect that we’ll have something done soon.

QUESTION: And there have been reports this morning that the Bahraini Government has called the National Guard out into the streets. Have you seen this? Is this --

MR KIRBY: Seen the reports, can’t confirm it. We’re in touch with the post trying to get a better sense of what’s going on, but I can’t confirm those reports.

QUESTION: Okay. But as you will recall, the removal of the military from the streets had been one of the big accomplishments, as it were, of the dialogue. So is this something that you would warn against or tell the Bahrainis that you think is a bad idea?

MR KIRBY: I think we need to know more about the veracity of the reports before we jump to a conclusion, but you’re right – I mean, it was the – it was the use of and presence of, actions of security forces that certainly caused alarm, particularly back in 2011. But again, we just don’t know the veracity of these reports, and so I think we’re going to reserve jumping to any conclusions or making specific comments about it until we know more about these reports.

QUESTION: What – so am I hearing that right that you’re going to wait until after they do it or don’t do it --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no.

QUESTION: -- to say anything?

MR KIRBY: No, I didn’t say that. I said we’re looking into it right now; we’re trying to figure out ground truth here --


MR KIRBY: -- and then when we do, then we’ll figure out what the next best step is to do there. But obviously, we’re very mindful of the fact that it was security forces that were the problem back in 2011, and as you know, when we lifted some of the sanctions, we left some in place --


MR KIRBY: -- on some security forces. So – it’s not like we’re unmindful of the potential here, but I just don’t want to jump to any conclusions.

QUESTION: Well, is that because you think that there might be some validity or that it could be – that it would be okay for them to --

MR KIRBY: No, it’s because we just --

QUESTION: -- call the National Guard?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s because we just don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, then why wouldn’t you say, “Hey, Bahrain, we think that it would be – we’re seeing reports” --

MR KIRBY: Because we don’t even know if these reports are accurate. So I think it’s pretty safe to assume, Matt, that if we have concerns, we’ll express them. We express them privately, we express them publicly.

QUESTION: Well, wouldn’t you be concerned about the possibility that it could happen?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, we’re concerned by the reports. I mean, we’re – that’s why we’re looking into it, but I just don’t have anything --

QUESTION: I mean, you just called – you don’t know that North Korea’s about to launch another missile, but you just called on them not to do it. Why wouldn’t you – here’s a situation where there are reports that this is going to --

MR KIRBY: I don't know that I would put the two in exactly the same category, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I’m talking about things that haven’t happened yet that you would warn against, right?

MR KIRBY: Why don’t we see what’s going on and then we’ll determine the right response for that.

QUESTION: So in other words, there is a – there is a scenario in which they could call out the National Guard to go into the street and you guys wouldn’t have an issue with it, is that correct?

MR KIRBY: It depends on the usage if it was, in fact, happening.

QUESTION: Right. So there is a scenario that it would be okay?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speculate about something we don’t even know is happening yet, so let’s figure out --


MR KIRBY: -- what’s going on and then we’ll – then we’ll respond appropriately. Thank you, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 20, 2016

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 17:03

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 20, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy belated Father’s Day for all the dads out there. Got a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll get right at it.

As you know, today is World Refugee Day, a day when we pause to reflect upon the indomitable courage and resilience of millions of refugees from across the world. I think you’ve seen the Secretary’s statement, and in honor of World Refugee Day, he’ll be attending an interfaith Iftar reception this evening at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling, Virginia, where he’s looking forward to meeting with refugee families and the communities that have so generously welcomed them to the United States. He’ll be joined in making remarks and meeting with community leaders by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt, a tireless advocate on behalf of refugees.

This morning, as I think you know, the Secretary spoke with a group of college students who are visiting the department to participate in our Diplomacy Center’s diplomatic simulation on refugees and forced displacement. And this afternoon, before going to the Iftar dinner this evening, the Secretary and Special Envoy Jolie Pitt will meet with a group of State Department employees who are themselves former refugees or the sons and daughters of refugees.

The United States has been a world leader in sheltering refugees from persecution and danger, welcoming since 1975 more than 3.2 million vulnerable people to our shores. As the President and the Secretary have repeatedly made clear, the United States will continue to safely welcome refugees who want only the peace and security of a life without persecution and physical danger.

Also, on a scheduling note, I do want to let you know that the Secretary will provide closing remarks tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. at the 2016 SelectUSA Summit. I think you know President Obama provided opening remarks earlier today. SelectUSA is the U.S. Government-wide program to promote and facilitate business investments in the United States. This year, nearly 2,400 participants from 65 markets will participate in this summit. Twenty-two chiefs of mission are also leading delegations from their host countries. This year’s theme, “The Innovation Advantage”, highlights American leadership in research and development, entrepreneurship, advanced manufacturing, and other areas.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, just before going to something – can I just ask you about that refugee statistic that you gave? You said 3.2 million admitted since ’75. Why does the count start at ’75?

MR KIRBY: You know what, I don’t know the exact reason for that. That may have been the point at which they started keeping more accurate records, but it’s a great question. I’ll find out. I don’t know why it started in 1975.

QUESTION: I mean, there were refugees before 1975 to the United States --

MR KIRBY: There were, indeed. I do not know the origin of the date.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’d just be interested to know, is why that’s the starting point.

MR KIRBY: Well, now I’d be interested to know myself, so I’ll ask the question.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, let me know when you find out.

MR KIRBY: I will, as soon as I find out.

QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Syria. Earlier today, in one of the events that you just mentioned, the Secretary told our colleague Abigail that he had read the dissent channel memo --


QUESTION: -- and that he – that it looked good to him, or he said something like, “It’s good,” and that he would --


QUESTION: -- he was going to meet them. Can you elaborate at all?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know how much more I can --

QUESTION: Well, what does he mean when he said it’s good?

MR KIRBY: I think – I think --

QUESTION: I mean, does that mean he agrees?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m – again, I’m limited in what I can talk about in terms of the content of a dissent channel message. I think what the Secretary was referring to was the – that he did read it and that I – that he found it to be a well-written argument. But I’m not going to talk about the content. And as for meeting with the authors, he has expressed an interest in meeting with at least some of them. I mean, there’s a lot of them, so I don’t know that we’ll be able to pull off a single meeting with each and every one of them there, but he has expressed an interest in talking to them, and we’ll do that in due course.

QUESTION: So when you say it was a – what did you say, it was a well-presented argument?

MR KIRBY: What I – what I --

QUESTION: Well-written argument?

MR KIRBY: What I think the Secretary was referring to was that he read the paper and thought that it was – thought that it was well written, that it was good in that regard. I won’t talk to the content or his views of the content.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, without talking about what the actual content was, when you say it was well written or the argument is a good one, does that mean that he is prepared to – whatever it says, I’m not asking you about content – that he is prepared to make the case for those – for the positions that are articulated in this cable --

MR KIRBY: Well, two – two thoughts there. First --

QUESTION: -- within the Administration?

MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. First, as you know, the policy planning staff will be preparing a response, as is required. That response is not yet finished, and we don’t publicize – any more than we publicize the contents of dissent channel messages, we don’t publicize the response. But the response is being prepared. As for any espousal of the ideas before, during or after the fact of them being proffered in a dissent channel message, the Secretary very much keeps private his advice and counsel to the President on policy matters, and we’re going to – obviously, we’re going to respect that.

QUESTION: Well, since this became public last week, you will have noticed numerous articles, numerous – or numerous reports saying outright and suggesting strongly that, in fact, the Secretary agrees with many if not all of the points made in this cable. Are you not – are his comments today not indicative of that?

MR KIRBY: His comments today – I would not characterize his comments today as being indicative of a full-throated endorsement of the views in this particular dissent channel message. Again, I can’t speak to content. What I can tell you is a couple of things. One, obviously, whatever views, advice and counsel he presents to the President need to remain private, and they will. And so I won’t get into that. But then also, as I said Friday, he has made no bones about the fact that he is not content with the status quo in Syria. We are not content with the status quo in Syria. Too many people are dying, too many people are being denied basic life-sustaining material – food, water, medicine – and there’s been too little progress on the political track.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR KIRBY: But if you also look – but if you also look at what else he said this morning – I mean, I know that Abigail shouted out a question, but if you look at the transcript of what else he had to say to those college students, he talked about how important it is that we continue to work through a transitional governing process in Syria, and that that is the best way forward – a political solution is still the preferred path forward.

QUESTION: Right, but when you talk about how no one – you’re not, he’s not, no one is satisfied with the status quo – this is a bit of what is actually going on on the ground in Syria – clearly, no one is. But this isn’t a question about the status quo on the situation in Syria. This is a question about the status quo of the policy. So are you not in a position to be able to say that the Secretary is not – that he doesn’t like the status quo, the policy status quo, the U.S. policy status quo?

MR KIRBY: Nobody’s happy with the status quo of events on the ground, and that is why --

QUESTION: Yeah, but what about the policy?

MR KIRBY: -- but – I’m getting there.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: That is why, as – and I mentioned this Friday – that is why we do consider – we are considering, we are discussing other alternatives, other options that may be applied, mindful that we are, that the current approach is, without question, struggling. But as the President said himself, none of those other options – be they military or not in nature – are better than – in terms of the long-term outcome, are going to be better than the political solution we’re trying to pursue.

QUESTION: Okay. This will be my last one. I – because I’m just a – the – so you – you’re – what you’re saying is that his comment, “It’s good,” refers --

QUESTION: Very good.


QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: It’s very good – sorry, it’s very good – that refers to how it was put together, like the grammar and the sentence structure, and not the actual content? Because that strikes me as being a bit --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying he was talking about punctuation. I mean, I --

QUESTION: Oh, okay, so --

MR KIRBY: Obviously – obviously, he read the memo and found it to be a well-crafted argument, well enough that he feels it’s worth meeting with the authors. Now, what exactly did he find in Abigail’s shouted-out – quote, “Very good,” I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about every element of it. And again, I’m not going to talk about the content of it from here.

QUESTION: Well, so you can’t – you’re not in a position to say that the “It’s very good” means that he is prepared to make those same arguments within the – as the Administration deliberates?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not prepared to – I’m not prepared to say that.


QUESTION: Bahrain?


QUESTION: The government has stripped of his nationality the spiritual leader of the Shiite-majority population of Bahrain. You have expressed concern about Bahrain’s human rights record in the past, but you’ve also failed to produce a report that I believe was due of 20 weeks ago.

So, reaction to the latest, and will that be included in the report when you finally --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think, hopefully, we’ll put out a statement --

QUESTION: It’s out.

MR KIRBY: -- out pretty soon. We’re obviously alarmed by today’s decision to revoke the citizenship of Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. We are unaware of any credible evidence to support this action and that assessment is further supported by the fact that he did not appear to even have the opportunity to challenge the charges against him before the decision was made. So we’re going to be following this, obviously, very closely. We’re concerned that it’ll divert the various parties from the path of reconciliation and dialogue that we believe is necessary for reforms to bring about the kind of peaceful change that’s responsive to the aspirations of all the people of Bahrain.

As for the question on the report, I can tell you we’re still working very, very hard at it. As I am given to understand, we are nearing the end stages here, but I don’t have an update for you on when it’s going to be submitted. I can tell you, Dave, obviously, we’re mindful that we’re late here, but we’re working real hard on it. And I think – not to sound flippant, but it’s more important for us to make sure that it’s right and that we’re comfortable with the text than it is to have it in on a certain date. Although, again, we’re very respectful of the deadline, we understand that, we’re mindful, and we know we’re late and we’re working hard to get it there.

QUESTION: Sorry, it’s very late.



QUESTION: But how, why? Like, I mean, was this because of – it was a hard report to do or because – and there’s internal organizational issues, or was it – I just – was there any politics behind why it’s taken so long to finish?

MR KIRBY: It’s late because we’re working hard to make sure that it – that it reflects the best assessments here at the State Department and these things take time and they sometimes take longer than we’d like them to. Again, we recognize that we’re way behind schedule here on this, but I can assure you – because I checked on it myself this morning – that work continues, we believe we’re getting near the endgame here in terms of completion, and when we have something that we’re ready to submit, we will.

I don’t know, day by day, for each day that it was late, what was being done on it. I can just tell you that everybody’s very mindful that we’re delinquent on this and we’re working hard to make it up.

QUESTION: Will it reflect the situation in Bahrain 20 weeks ago or will it have a chapter involving what happened today?

MR KIRBY: I don't know and I don't know that I would want to speak to content right now before it’s done anyway.


MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On North Korea, Ambassador Sung Kim is traveling to Beijing for the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue and the North Koreans are sending their representative, which means that all six countries from the Six-Party Talks will be represented. Do you anticipate any meetings with the North Korean counterparts?

MR KIRBY: There will be no plans to meet with North Korean counterparts.?


MR KIRBY: No, no plans.

QUESTION: Not even in a Six-Party format?

MR KIRBY: No, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Don’t think I can make it more clear than that.

QUESTION: Can we go back just to Bahrain so we can get it off really quick?

MR KIRBY: You really want to know why we’re late?

QUESTION: I do – no, no, no, I’ve got a particular interest just in drilling into the issue at hand. I mean, there’s been this whole theme for years now of different events that stoke tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and our policy in the region is between those two powers. And I’m wondering whether there’s concern in the department here that this move against this cleric is going to stoke those tensions in a way. Are we worried about that? Do we have anything to say about it?

MR KIRBY: We’re certainly worried about any action in the region that potentially stokes sectarian tensions. Obviously, the – we certainly don’t want to see that. Mainly, the concern is about – it’s for – the concern that I expressed just a minute ago in my statement is really about Bahrain’s success and about Bahrain being able to continue to deliver on the kinds of reforms that are necessary for the Bahraini people. And our concern is that actions like this could potentially set those reforms back, which we don’t think is in the best interest of the – of Bahrain or the Bahraini people, okay?

QUESTION: There was a very positive reaction to this move by the government in Bahrain from Riyadh. The Saudi Government applauded it. That seems to be a little bit of a different message from --

MR KIRBY: I can’t speak for the Saudis and how they want to interpret this. I can only speak for our government, and as I said, I think I’ve laid out exactly our views on this particular action.

QUESTION: Well, actually, hold on – while there was a positive reaction from Riyadh, there was a very negative reaction from Iran.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah, I saw that too.

QUESTION: So, I mean, isn’t this odd you should find yourself agreeing with the Iranians over the Saudis?

MR KIRBY: It wasn’t for us --

QUESTION: Or is this now – is this part of the new U.S.-Iranian relationship?

MR KIRBY: There is no new U.S.-Iranian relationship on larger matters, Matt. I mean, obviously, we worked here hard to get the Iran deal implemented. And as we’ve said all along, if that leads to better behavior by Iran and openings for other opportunities, certainly we’re going to stay open to that idea, just like we have with respect to Syria and Iran as a member of the ISSG.

But I wouldn’t read into this particular incident some sort of new refashioned relationship between the United States and Iran, and we didn’t come down where we did on this to align ourselves with one or another party. Certainly didn’t come down on our views on this decision based on sectarian preferences, of which we have none. We came down on this because we believed that Bahran – Bahrain, excuse me, has an obligation for --

QUESTION: Well, some people think it might be “Bahran.”

MR KIRBY: Bahrain has an obligation internationally to due process and rule of law and --

QUESTION: Well – no, but – right.

MR KIRBY: -- and not revoking someone’s citizenship, thereby making them stateless without even talking to them about the charges.

QUESTION: Regardless of where – why you came down on the side – the fact of the matter is you’ve come down on the same side as the Iranians on this, and there is nothing per se --

MR KIRBY: No, we came down on the side – no, we came down on the side of --

QUESTION: Well, the same side – you came down on the same side – the negative side – on this as the Iranians did. Now, there may be many, many, many, many reasons why that is the case, but it is also the case that you’re coming down with – on the same side as them in an atmosphere where you’ve got the nuclear deal, in an atmosphere where the Secretary seems to be meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif, like, every other week and talking now about – as they said in Oslo, as was said there, about things other than the Iranian nuclear deal.

So you’re saying, “Nothing to see here”?

MR KIRBY: That’s what I’m saying.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: Nothing to see here.

QUESTION: Sorry, back to --

MR KIRBY: Except that – obviously, except our genuine, very real concerns about this decision and the – our concerns about what it could portend for the kinds of reforms that we believe Bahrain needs to continue to make. I mean, the – we didn’t come down on any other side except for the side of due process and international obligations and the kinds of political reforms that we believe are important in Bahrain. And I would point you to – I mean, I don’t know what every statement out of Iran was, but there was a couple that I read that were pretty vituperative, which we absolutely would not subscribe to.

So whether Iran agrees that – in their concerns about this action with us or not to some degree is irrelevant when you consider some of the very vitriolic rhetoric that they use to describe their displeasure, which you didn’t see in our statement.

QUESTION: No, no – not true. That may be the first time “vituperative” has been used from the podium, so I --

MR KIRBY: I think it was done appropriately.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not saying it was inappropriate.


QUESTION: I’m just saying it was unprecedented perhaps.

MR KIRBY: (Laughter.) I’m glad to be breaking down barriers every day.

Yep, go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to the meeting in Beijing. The fact – do you have any reaction to the fact that the North Koreans are sending a representative?

MR KIRBY: No. I mean, that’s for the regime to speak to. He’s traveling there for these meetings primarily with Chinese officials and to attack – and to attend what’s known as the Track 1.5 Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue. It’s a well-established forum and U.S. Government officials have participated regularly over the years. There would be no reason for us not to go to this. In fact, we have every reason to want to go to it. And I’ll let the DPRK speak to the degree – their reasons for sending a representative.

QUESTION: And obviously, I mean, North Korea is going to be a major topic. Is Ambassador Sung Kim going to speaking to the Chinese about what the U.S. wants to see from North Korea given the fact that they will also be attending?

MR KIRBY: He’s going to meet with the Chinese Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs and other Chinese officials. He’s also going to meet with the Japanese Director General for Asian and Oceanian – I think that’s the way you say that – affairs. And obviously there’s going to be plenty of discussion about the situation on the peninsula, as you would expect that they would.


QUESTION: NSG and India. You may have noticed that the Chinese Government has said that the admission of India to NSG is not even on the agenda at the Seoul plenary. How do you respond to that?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, during Prime Minister Modi’s visit, the President welcomed – he welcomed India’s application to join the NSG and reaffirmed that India is ready for membership. We continue to call – and nothing’s changed about our position. We continue to call on the participating governments of the NSG to support India’s application at the plenary session this week in Seoul.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up? Other than the public call that you’ve made, have you had any opportunity to take this up with the Chinese officials at any of your conversations?

MR KIRBY: This is something that we have – India’s application is something we have routinely talked to other NSG participating members. This is not a new topic of discussion that we’ve had privately with the members.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) Okinawa. On Sunday tens of the thousand of people gathered in Okinawa in one of the biggest demonstration in (inaudible) against U.S. military base in (inaudible) the arrest of (inaudible) American suspect of the murdering local women, so mass Okinawa demonstrations to demand the Marine leave the Okinawa Island and also drop the plan to move the Futenma to Henoko. So do you have any comment? And also, how does the United States in response their demand?

MR KIRBY: How do we what?

QUESTION: How does U.S. Government respond --

MR KIRBY: Respond to the --

QUESTION: -- their demand?

MR KIRBY: -- demonstrations?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, for request.

MR KIRBY: Well, we certainly have seen the reports of the demonstrations over the weekend. So a couple of things: One, we reiterate, as we did when it happened, our sincere condolences and deepest regret about this tragedy. As you may have seen, the Defense Secretary and Japanese defense minister announced earlier this month we’re working with the Government of Japan to develop comprehensive measures aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement, otherwise known as SOFA. DOD would have more details on this.

And then broadly speaking – well, a couple of more points: One, obviously, we’re going to continue to work with local authorities as they investigate and continue to investigate this. And then number two, we are going to continue to work with the Government of Japan to move forward with the Futenma replacement facility. Nothing’s changed about our policies or our approach on that.


QUESTION: Sir, as a follow-up to that, this is one of the largest demonstrations, as my colleague mentioned, and the organizers have said that the approximate figures of – are around 65,000. That’s comparable to the demonstrations in 1995. Do you feel that relations have sort of reached the crisis point as they have in 1995?

MR KIRBY: Look, we understand the range of emotion here that has gripped so many people there in the wake of this unspeakable crime. At the time, we said we were outraged by it, and we are, and we still are. So we certainly understand the strong feelings that this crime has brought out. And as we do everywhere else around the world, we respect the right of citizens to peacefully gather and to assemble and to protest. And they have – they certainly have that right to do that and they were able to do it in this case, and we take those concerns very seriously.

Now, to answer your question about do I think we’re at a tipping point, I don’t know. And it wouldn’t be my place to speculate one way or another whether we are or not. What I can tell you is what I said earlier: We’re going to continue to work with local authorities as they investigate this, and we’re going to support them in whatever ways possible. The Defense Department is already reviewing now with the defense Ministry the Status of Forces Agreement and we’ll let that process wear on.

And number three, nothing’s going to change about our strong commitment to the Japanese people, to our alliance, to our responsibilities and our security commitments inside that alliance, and to continuing to move forward on the Futenma replacement facility. But if you’re asking me do we understand or regard the passions that have arisen out of this murder, absolutely we do, and we respect the right for – whatever the number is – for Japanese citizens to gather and to express their concerns.

QUESTION: I guess at what point do you see the tensions becoming so exacerbated that you’d have to reconsider the FRF?

MR KIRBY: I can’t possibly answer that. It’s a great hypothetical that I’m not going to engage in. We are committed to moving forward on the FRF, to our alliance commitments to Japan, and to doing whatever we can to support the investigation of this terrible crime. And as I said, the Defense Department is obviously taking this very seriously by sitting down and being willing to take a look at the Status of Forces Agreement and to see if there needs to be changes in that. I mean, that’s a – that is not an insincere gesture. It is – it’s a serious commitment, and we – let that process go, but I think that speaks volumes of how seriously we’re taking this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: Sorry for being late. I wonder if you covered the Bahrain issue. Did you cover --

MR KIRBY: I did.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Then with that behind us, could I move on to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: I have couple – a couple quick questions. Today the EU ministers have approved the French proposal. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think I do, but you’re going to have to give me a second to find it. We are aware of the EU Foreign Affairs Council welcoming the communique that was issued at the June 3rd ministerial. I would just reiterate that we continue to work closely with key stakeholders in the international community to try and advance our shared goal of a negotiated two-state solution. We’re not making any decisions or commitments at this time regarding future efforts, including future efforts undertaken as part of the French initiative. We remain focused on encouraging all sides to take the steps that will allow for meaningful progress.

QUESTION: Now, the Israeli press is reporting – or some sources in the Israeli press are saying that Secretary Kerry will be meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu sometime soon – I mean, so this week – to discuss other ways or alternatives, basically, to the French proposal. Can you confirm that? Can you give us more information on this?

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the Secretary and the prime minister are in discussions about a meeting, but I don’t have anything on the schedule to announce today.

QUESTION: So are we likely to see such a meeting happen before the end of the week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t have any meetings or travel in that regard to announce and obviously, if and when we do, we’ll certainly make it known.

QUESTION: And lastly, on the same issue, there was a meeting between Yitzhak Herzog, the head of the Labor Party, and PA President Abbas where apparently they agreed on like an outline. I don’t know how that fits into whatever discussions that are taking place. I wonder if you have any comment on that – whether you could incorporate whatever they have agreed upon to include in any meeting between the Secretary and Mr. Netanyahu, let’s say.

MR KIRBY: On the first part of the question, I don’t have any details on that. I mean, I’ve seen the reports about it as well, this meeting between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Herzog. You’d have to talk to them and their staffs to confirm the veracity of those reports and what was discussed. I’m just not in a position to speculate.

QUESTION: Let me just take this – the last issue a bit further. Some say that neither Abbas nor Herzog are really that consequential to the whole process. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize individual relevance here. I mean, President Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority. So we continue to have discussions with him, and I suspect those discussions will continue.

Look, the main thing is, speaking on behalf of the Secretary, we’re still committed to trying to get to a negotiated two-state solution. We still believe that it’s possible, and you’re going to see – as I’ve said you’re going to see, you’re going to see him continue to work at this for as long as he’s Secretary of State. And as he said back in Paris, he’s going to keep an open mind and he’s going to be willing to listen to all sides. And if there are better ideas out there and things that we can pursue that’ll get us closer to that goal, then you’re going to see him want to see those things pursued.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Did you guys have any reaction to this additional – the supplementary funding that was approved for the West Bank settlements for – over the weekend, yesterday?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I actually put a statement out.

QUESTION: You did?

MR KIRBY: I did --

QUESTION: I missed it.

MR KIRBY: -- yesterday. I can’t believe you’re not sitting around --

QUESTION: Yeah, Sunday --

MR KIRBY: -- waiting for my statements.

QUESTION: Sunday afternoon, Kirby, I’m just sitting there looking – staring at my phone --

MR KIRBY: Well, if you had been --

QUESTION: -- waiting for your emails.

MR KIRBY: -- then you wouldn’t have had to ask that question.

QUESTION: If you’ve already put something out, then --

MR KIRBY: Okay. I’ll let the statement stand. Seems like everybody else got a chance to read it.

QUESTION: We like to hear it directly from you, though.

MR KIRBY: But you did hear it directly from me. I signed it.

QUESTION: You know what I mean, with your own voice. It sort of gives it an added --

MR KIRBY: We’re aware of the funding package. We’re looking into further details. Our position on settlement activity remains clear and consistent: We strongly oppose all settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace. We continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution, and actions such as these we believe does exactly the opposite.

QUESTION: Well, wait, wait, but this isn’t for settlement activity, per se. This was not to expand or build new homes.

MR KIRBY: It’s approving more than like $18 million for settlements. It’s approving funding for --

QUESTION: But not for building them. This is for, like, helping businesses and security.

MR KIRBY: But it still runs counter to our view about settlement activity, period.

QUESTION: So securing – adding security to settlements is the same as settlement activity?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re still – we are still – we’re aware of this funding package and we’re still looking into it for details. But settlement activity, as we’ve said – there’s nothing – nothing has changed about our concerns about that.

QUESTION: So any money that goes into anything in a West Bank settlement is bad according to you guys?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said we are aware of this funding package and we’re looking into the details.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay.

MR KIRBY: Well, the worry here by the Palestinians is that these kind of steps make annexation of the West Bank all but a foregone conclusion, and they say that some of this money is basically geared to encourage, let’s say, tourism and to expand tourist projects and so on in the occupied West Bank, in the settlements and so on. What do you say to that?

MR KIRBY: As I said in my statement and just a few minutes ago, we’re looking into what this funding package really means. And I think I’m going to leave it at there to – for right now.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a couple brief ones on Iran?


QUESTION: You’ve seen this report this morning about these particles, uranium that was found at Parchin?


QUESTION: What do you make of that? And does it give you any pause about whether or not the question of WMD – I mean the PM – sorry – the question of PMDs was, in fact, really resolved by the IAEA?

MR KIRBY: Well, there’s a lot there, so let me parcel this out as best I can. We fully support the December report by the agency on Iran’s past nuclear activities, which echoed our own longstanding assessment about Iran’s pre-2003 weaponization work, and assessed that weaponization activities took place. So there’s nothing new here. I mean, we already had made our determination about past work. And the – in that report back in December, it says right in a quote from it: “The results identified two particles that appear to be chemically man-modified” – pardon me – “particles of natural uranium. The small number of particles with such elemental composition and morphology is not sufficient to indicate a connection with the use of nuclear material.”

So while the particles appear to be manmade, as the director general reported, their own analysis could not conclusively establish this as fact, thus the nature of their report precludes treating them as technical evidence. We support that IAEA conclusion then and we still do. The existence of these particles would be consistent with our understanding of what we believed about Iran’s past weapons program but by themselves don’t definitively prove anything.

QUESTION: Right. But that’s what you believed, not what the IAEA believes, right? So – and the argument has been made that the discovery of this, while it may not prove, as you said, some kind of nefarious activity, wouldn’t it make sense to go back and – wouldn’t it be cause for doing some more checking to see what exactly was going on there, if you are truly interested in finding out what the extent of the program was?

MR KIRBY: But we had already – but we had already made our conclusions about what had been going on there.

QUESTION: But what your conclusion – and --

MR KIRBY: I mean, you can maybe address that question to the agency, and maybe they would want --

QUESTION: No, I’m talking about for the U.S. Government.

MR KIRBY: -- to take that on, but we are comfortable --

QUESTION: So the U.S. Government doesn’t – isn’t curious, or wasn’t curious at the time, about what these – what the discovery of these particles actually meant?

MR KIRBY: We believe that the existence of them, as I said, are consistent with what our own understanding was of what we believed to be Iran’s past weapons program. I mean, they reaffirm what we had already said we believe we thought was going on.

QUESTION: Okay. And so there was no interest in going beyond that to find out exactly what was going on there?

MR KIRBY: In terms of the United States?


MR KIRBY: Again, we’re --

QUESTION: I understand in terms of the IAEA, they closed it.

MR KIRBY: They closed it.

QUESTION: But they did it because – yeah, but they did it because you basically – you essentially allowed them to, you and the other --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that --

QUESTION: -- the other members of the P5+1.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I would characterize it as “allowing” them to do that, Matt. But we’re comfortable --


MR KIRBY: -- that the existence of these particles, again, reaffirms what we already believed to be the case.

QUESTION: All right. But you don’t find it to be any – alarming? You don’t find it to be of more concern than the non-concern that you apparently had in December, because it comported with what you had thought was going on?

MR KIRBY: No. No. As a matter of fact, I mean, more important than the two articles was the agency’s thorough discussion in the report of technology and structures uncovered by the investigation which appear relevant to a former nuclear weapons program, and in some cases appear relevant to little else. So the report reaffirmed our view that the agency is a highly skilled professional institution and is well positioned to carry out its monitoring and verification responsibilities.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But you still don’t know exactly what was going on there.

MR KIRBY: We believe we know --

QUESTION: Exactly what was going on.

MR KIRBY: We believe we had – we’ve already made our statement and our case about --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- the past military program.

QUESTION: Secondly, has there been any – have – as you know – well, I was gone last week, so I don’t know. This Boeing sale, have you had anything to say about that, or do you have anything more now that it looks like it’s for 100 planes?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to talk about it in any great detail. Last week I just addressed that --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- this was something that Boeing needed to speak to.

QUESTION: And then have you guys ever – I mean, two weeks ago or three weeks ago or four weeks ago, five weeks ago, I think, when I first asked about this – have you guys come – have decided yet whether the S-300 sale is sanctionable?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that there’s been a final determination. And obviously, our position --

QUESTION: Is anyone actually looking at this to make a determination?

MR KIRBY: We have – obviously, we’ve made concerned – made our concerns known about this potential sale.

QUESTION: Yes, to the Russians. But I’m --

MR KIRBY: And we are still examining what the repercussions would be on our end of that.

QUESTION: How long is --

MR KIRBY: And so the answer is yes, we are actively --

QUESTION: By the time – yeah, but I mean, this thing is going to be up and operational by the – it looks like – by the time you guys ever get around to finding out whether or not it violates U.S. law or not. Right?

MR KIRBY: Well, all I can tell you is we’re taking it very seriously and we’re continuing to examine what it would mean for us in terms of the sanctions regime.

QUESTION: All right, last one on Iran. You will have seen probably that they announced that they busted up some huge terrorist plot today.

MR KIRBY: I did see reports of that today.

QUESTION: And given the fact that they appear to have linked this plot to Saudi types, are you concerned at all about – much in the same way that the action by Bahrain – that this will inflame – inflame tensions? Or do you suspect that they are correct?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s difficult to know with great certainty right now. We’ve certainly spoken before about the – how a terrorist group like Daesh is a threat to all nations. Beyond that, I’m going to have to let the Iranian authorities speak to the specifics of the arrests that they’ve made. But clearly, Daesh is a group of great concern and should be of great concern to all nations. But I’m going to let the Iranian authorities speak to it.


QUESTION: The Indonesian navy intercepted a Chinese fishing boat in disputed waters in South China Sea on Friday and detained its crew, and the Chinese accused the Indonesians of using excessive force and injuring one of its crew members. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to let the Indonesian authorities speak to their actions in this regard. All I’ll say about this is what we’ve said about other tensions in the South China Sea: We want these issues resolved peaceably and we want them resolved in accordance with international law. But I’m going to let Indonesia speak to its own actions.

QUESTION: Do you condemn the use of force in this case?

MR KIRBY: Again, we want the tensions to be reduced. We’re not taking a position on claims. And I know this isn’t necessarily a claims issue, but we do take a position on coercion, and we want the tensions reduced and we want them done – that done peacefully in accordance with international law. I’m just not going to wade into this particular incident. Okay?



QUESTION: Can you clarify the situation for us what’s going on in Fallujah? Because the Iraqi Government – I think a spokesman said that it was liberated --

MR KIRBY: That it was what?

QUESTION: It was liberated, suggesting that maybe the whole city or parts of the city or large --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think our own ambassador spoke a little bit about it today in a statement and congratulated the Iraqi Security Forces on the successes that they have had in Fallujah. And I think it’s beyond dispute that they have had a measure of success inside Fallujah. As I understand it, there’s still some fighting going on. That should come as a surprise to no one, particularly the degree to which Daesh has held Fallujah for so long and have been so entrenched. But they have – as I understand it, they certainly have reached the city center and have retaken some government buildings, which is all – all very, very positive.

QUESTION: And any information that you might share with us on the population? Because there were – last week, people were saying or estimates were suggesting that there is upward of 40-, 50,000 people in the city, still remaining in the city.


QUESTION: And they were concerned about their fate as Daesh retreats.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know – yeah, I don’t know how many people are left in the city. As I understand it, tens of thousands, upwards of – as I understand, it’s somewhere between 70- and 80,000 people have been able to flee. I don’t know what that means in terms of who’s left behind. I think estimates of the population of Fallujah was somewhere around 150,000, I think, but that doesn’t mean that there’s still 70,000 left. I just don’t know. But obviously, there are still many innocent Iraqi people that are still in the city. And the Iraqi Security Forces have, with some coalition support, have done a commendable job trying to provide avenues of escape, safe escape, for many people living in Fallujah to give them a way out and then to try to work to take as good care as you can of them once they’re out.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:53 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 17, 2016

Fri, 06/17/2016 - 18:48

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 17, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:33 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: I – not even going to attempt an opening statement today, just going to get right to it.

QUESTION: Can we start on the internal memo that I’m sure you and everyone else in the building is now aware of? Firstly, what can you confirm from the various news reports about its content, its subject, et cetera?

MR KIRBY: I can confirm that we have this dissent channel message. I can confirm that the principal topic of the dissent channel message is Syria. But I don’t think it’ll surprise you that I’m really not able to get into any more detail as to the content or the arguments that were put forth in it.

QUESTION: Did it surprise you that so many people have signed on to a document that – without getting into its details --


QUESTION: -- a document that dissents from what has been the Administration’s policy toward ending the war for now five years?

MR KIRBY: It is unusual for a dissent channel message to have as many signatories as this one. It’s unusual.

QUESTION: And what does that tell you about the current policy, which we’ve spent so much time on this week, this month, this year, this Administration, if so many people inside the building – people directly dealing with it – are so unhappy?

MR KIRBY: I think it tells us several things. I think it tells us that we have a unique process in place here through which employees at the State Department can offer candid and unvarnished views, all the way to the top, as they desire. I think it tells us clearly that Syria matters a lot to the people who work here at the State Department, as it should, and I think it says to me that we need to keep on working just as hard as we can for better outcomes, as the Secretary and so many others are doing.

No one’s content with the status quo, and we talked about this several days this week. Too many people are dying either through starvation or being bombed, too many weeks have passed without getting a political process moving forward, and there’s been too many violations of the cessation of hostilities. And frankly, far too few people are getting the food, water, medicine they need, and too many people are deciding to take a very treacherous, dangerous trek outside the country to survive.

So as I said earlier this week, we’re going to continue to explore options. Obviously, our focus remains on the three big muscle movers in front of us: getting the political track – getting the political talks back on track, getting the cessation of hostilities to truly be accepted and enforced and adopted nationwide, and getting more people more of the aid that they need. But we are – it would be imprudent for us not to explore other options that may be available to us, and we’ve talked very openly about the fact that we’re doing that.

So back to this message. We welcome alternative views. We welcome input. We welcome dissenting opinion. Before this week, I had never heard of a dissent channel. And the more I learned about it, the more in admiration I became of it. It’s a pretty unique tool that you don’t see in government, this thing that’s been in place since, what, 1971, that allows people that work here at the State Department to proffer their views – even if, if not especially if, those views differ from stated policy. So it’s a pretty unique tool and vehicle. The Secretary very much respects the tool itself. And as I think you may have heard him say earlier, he’s – he looks forward to getting back and to taking a look at this.

QUESTION: I have just one more and then I’ll yield. How effective can you be in pushing your current policy when it is clear that so many people directly involved in this policy don’t believe in it?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’m not going to speak to the content of this message. We have – we have always said that we have to work hard at getting to better outcomes in Syria. And we’re going – we have and we’re going to continue to explore our options within the policy that we’re pursuing as well as options that may at this time fall outside the current policy. We have to do that. But as the President has said and as the Secretary has said, as we look at other options, none of them are great options. The best option forward for Syria is a political process that leads to a transition to a government away from Bashar al-Assad, a political solution. And we still believe that a political solution is the best solution for the people of Syria and for the region.


QUESTION: Can I ask a – some follow-ups on this? What – one, to your knowledge, has there been in any change in the Obama Administration’s policy toward Syria not to attack Syrian Government forces or targets?


QUESTION: Do you expect any change in the policy as a result of this dissent?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or the other.

QUESTION: Has there ever been, to your knowledge – you said it was unusual for 51 people to sign a dissensional message. Is that the most that have ever signed a dissensional message?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Is there a way you could take that one?

MR KIRBY: I’ll promise you this: I’ll take the question, but I cannot promise you that we can provide that answer. This procedure, this vehicle has been in place since Secretary of State Dean Rusk [1] was in office in 1971. I don’t know that there is a continuous record of every single dissent message that has been sent forward since that time. So I don’t know that we’d be able to answer that question, but we’ll go ahead and take it. Typically, these are sent forward by single individuals or very small numbers. That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: And just – can we be clear about when it actually began? Because Rusk, I think, was gone by ’69 when the Nixon Administration came in. So I don’t think he was Secretary of State in 1971, but I could certainly be mistaken.

MR KIRBY: I think it was 1971 and --


MR KIRBY: -- my reading of the history said that Rusk had something to do with it. But I’m not going to quibble with you --


MR KIRBY: -- over the history of the program.

QUESTION: I just want to get it right. And then on – the most famous example that I’m aware of of a dissent – of a dissenting cable – although it’s not clear to me that it was in the dissent channel, is the so-called “Blood telegram” of 1971 which argued – which is from the U.S. Consulate in Dhaka, and it argued that the U.S. Government should have done more to prevent the then-unified Pakistani Government from preventing massacres and what they said was genocide against Bengalis in east Pakistan, which, as we all know, became Bangladesh. It didn’t actually change the policy, but that was signed by 20 people. And so I’m interested in understanding if it’s possible to get an answer if this really is far and away the most that have actually signed something, so if you could try --

MR KIRBY: Again, we’ll take a look, Arshad, but I’m not going to promise you that we’re going to have that kind of information.


QUESTION: Why – a couple more for me. Why – do you have any sense of the – I mean, obviously they disagree with the policy, but do you have any sense of the motivations of the people who signed it? And the reason I ask is that normally one dissents with a policy when it’s at an inflection or a decision point, and I don’t sense that we’re at an inflection point in the last

seven, eight months of an administration. Do you understand why – have any understanding as to why now?

MR KIRBY: I don’t.

QUESTION: And has the Secretary yet seen it?


QUESTION: And he said, I think in Copenhagen, that he planned to or he expected to meet with some of the authors. Do you have any idea when that may happen?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe that’s what he said. I said he – I believe he said he was looking forward to reading it and to probably or potentially meeting with some people back here. I don’t believe that he said that he had an intention to meet with the authors.

QUESTION: Okay, I misunderstood then.


QUESTION: And any idea when that’ll happen?

MR KIRBY: I don’t, I don’t have any updates on his schedule.

QUESTION: John, you make a good case for the respect you have for this as an alternative source of opinions. If the authors of the dissent, though, were confident that the dissent channel was the right place to put this, why did they also leak it to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea how this message made a way – made its way into the public domain. I have no idea how that happened.


QUESTION: Could I just ask you on the diplomatic part of it – I mean, they say 50 diplomats. Are they diplomats the way we would understand diplomats to be, or are they just mid-level employees? I mean, what is the difference here in your definition? I want to understand.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to speak to the identities, obviously, of the authors or describe or characterize their employment here at the State Department. I think if you were to ask Secretary Kerry, he would tell you that all of us here at the State Department are diplomats in our own right, but I’m not going to get into characterizing each individual, what their job is, and characterizing that in terms of diplomacy.

QUESTION: And they are all sort of responsible for the Syria desk, or do they --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk --

QUESTION: -- do they cover --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to provide any additional information about the authors of this message.

QUESTION: And let me just ask you to pontificate, if you would, I mean, on the issue of striking Syria or striking Assad. To what end, in your view? I mean, what would be – what is the desired outcome for such a --

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk to the content of the message that was sent forward. And as I said, separate and distinct from that, we continue to be focused on the core elements of our policy in Syria, which is to try to get the political discussions back on track, try to get a cessation of hostilities nationwide enforced, and get humanitarian assistance to so many desperate people in need. We continue to believe that a political solution is the best solution for the people of Syria.

QUESTION: And finally, is it just coincidental that this came out a day after the statement made by Secretary Kerry on the patience – his patience running out?

MR KIRBY: I know of no connection.



QUESTION: How is the State Department viewing the fact that this document was leaked to the press? Is it – are you guys okay with that or is there some kind of investigation pending into that?

MR KIRBY: I know of no investigation as to how it ended up in the public domain, and we don’t know how it ended up in the public domain. What I can tell you is the authors of this particular dissent channel message sent it forward through the dissent channel, and so we’re treating it accordingly, as we would any other dissent channel message.


QUESTION: John, how does the State Department deal with the ramifications of this memo being in the public arena from a foreign policy standpoint, especially in terms of relations with allies that are also engaged in Syria? There’s some initial reaction from the Russian foreign ministry, the deputy foreign minister reacting to the portion that showed support for strikes against the Assad regime, saying in his view this would be absolute madness. Considering these are rank-and-file people who work day to day on implementing the U.S. policy, and this shows some dissatisfaction at that level, how do you go forward and deal with allies with this out there?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not speaking to the content. I’m certainly not going to speak to the authors and how many --

QUESTION: Right (inaudible) speak --

MR KIRBY: -- there are or who they are – I know where you – I know, just give me a second. That it’s in the public domain is beyond dispute now and people can react to it as they wish. What I can tell you is the Secretary continues to be focused on making sure that we get food, water, and medicine to the people that need it, get a cessation of hostilities that can be enforced nationwide, and that we get the political process back on track. That’s where his head is. That’s where his focus is. That’s where it’s going to remain.

Now, as I said I don’t know how many times earlier this week, we continue to explore other options. It would be irresponsible for us not to. But I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion in any way whatsoever.

QUESTION: Is there concern that the memo may undermine U.S. credibility in Syria with allies?

MR KIRBY: We – you have to remember, Pam, that this isn’t just about the United States. It’s about the International Syria Support Group and the United Nations, all of whom – all the members of whom have signed up to the same approach that I just outlined for you as our policy. It isn’t just this idea about a political solution and a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian assistance.

All of that is embodied in a UN Security Council resolution, and what, three or four communiques that were signed on not just by us, but by every other member of the ISSG. So this isn’t just about – and I get where the question’s coming from – it’s not just about U.S. credibility on any one of those things, it’s – the international community is focused on all of that together.

QUESTION: Oh, I have a --


QUESTION: I’m going to do two.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On the signatories themselves, how widespread are these kind of sentiments within the State Department?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And are you concerned that John Kerry’s efforts for a peaceful political resolution of the conflict in Syria could be undermined by a new administration that would favor these kind of things?

MR KIRBY: Wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. The American people have decisions to make this fall. They’ll do that. There’ll be a new president one way or the other, and it’s up to the new commander-in-chief to determine how he or she is going to approach the conflict in Syria. What I can tell you is that as long as this Administration is in office, and as long as Secretary Kerry is Secretary of State, he’s going to remain focused on trying to get a peaceful resolution through political means to the conflict in Syria.

QUESTION: When will you make this document public?

MR KIRBY: There’s no plans to make it public.

QUESTION: Will there be an official State Department response to the dissenters?

MR KIRBY: There typically is. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, there is a process by which dissent messages are replied to, and we will be preparing the appropriate reply.

QUESTION: Will that be made public?

MR KIRBY: There’s no intent to make that public.


QUESTION: John, could I --


QUESTION: -- follow up very quickly? I mean, you said since 1971 – that was the Vietnam War, a big catalyst for dissent. There are many issues that happened in between. The mechanism to do this, what are – somebody draft a petition, and they go around collecting signatures, is that what happens?

MR KIRBY: I have – I do not know the specific process by which this message was prepared. As I said, typically, in general they’re drafted by a single individual or sometimes small groups, but there’s no rule that says that there has to be a limit on the number of authors. And how the author or authors of a dissent message go about crafting and then delivering their views is up to them. I have – I wouldn’t have – I would have no idea how – what the physical process of preparing something like that would be.

QUESTION: A couple more on this?


QUESTION: As you know, the Foreign Affairs Manual says that there shall not be retaliation or reprisal against people who avail themselves of the dissent channel to register their disagreement with policy. It’s one thing to sort of act against someone soon after this has happened. It’s another thing if use of the dissent channel is used in subsequent administrations or years or decades to prevent people, for example, from rising.

And I want to know what the Secretary thinks about whether the mere use of the dissent channel should ever be used to prevent someone from getting a promotion or getting another sensitive job or moving up in the hierarchy or becoming an ambassador.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that Secretary Kerry would absolutely find abhorrent any intent or desire by anyone in this Department from holding against someone, for purposes of promotion or advancement, their right to use the dissent channel. I mean, that’s absolutely abhorrent. It’s not only against the Foreign Affairs Manual, it’s against all standards of ethics, conduct, and integrity, and he would never abide by something like that.

QUESTION: Thank you for that answer. I asked the question because I’ve talked to two people in the building today already who talked about the fear that this could happen because Archer Blood never made ambassador and was, in fact, systematically prevented from moving up, as I understand it, and because Fred Hof, who is well known in this building and well known in the Syria – in the U.S.-Syria policy community, also talks about – in a public statement about how these people have risked their careers by doing this. So to the extent that there are anxieties out there that this is going to hurt these people and their careers, your view is the Secretary would not tolerate that?

MR KIRBY: Not one bit.


MR KIRBY: I can assure you that no one has risked anything by submitting a dissent message with respect to Syria or any other policy that the State Department pursues. That is the purpose for the dissent channel.

QUESTION: Okay, a couple of other very quick ones. Is it your understanding – it’s my understanding that what was leaked was a draft, not the actual memo, and that it was leaked before it had gone through the classification process. Is it your view that leaking something while it’s a draft and before it’s been classified is a violation of the letter of State Department rules even if it isn’t a violation of the – even if it is of the spirit?

MR KIRBY: I couldn't possibly speak to, again, the process by which this got into the public domain. We keep talking about leaks here. I don’t know that that’s what happened. We do not know and nor are we particularly interested in how the contents of this dissent channel message made its way into the public domain. What we are interested in doing is preserving the sanctity, the integrity of the dissent channel process through which this was submitted. And it was classified by the authors, I might add, and so we’re going to respect that, too. And just as critically – back to Brad’s question – we’re going to respect the process by preparing the appropriate response as we should.

QUESTION: And then just two quick ones. When did you – when did the Department receive the dissent channel? Was it yesterday as some of the published reports --

MR KIRBY: To the best of my knowledge, we received it yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay, and then a last one. You’ve made the argument today and many, many days in the past that the Administration believes that a political solution is the best solution, is the only solution.

MR KIRBY: Indeed.

QUESTION: There are people who argue that the ability to achieve a political solution is enhanced when there is the credible threat of the use of force. Does the department believe that there has not been, particularly since the decision not to carry through with airstrikes in 2013 over the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons – that there has not been a credible threat of the use of military force against the Assad government and that the absence of such a credible threat has made it harder to negotiate, force through, achieve a political solution?

MR KIRBY: We believe that the best way to achieve a lasting, sustainable peace in Syria is through the political process – a political solution. And for anybody seeking leverage through consequences, look no more than the continued devastation inside the country. It should be, although it doesn’t appear to be – to the Assad regime, anyway – readily apparent that you don’t need any more reason to try to find a political, peaceful way forward here. I mean, when you look at the millions of people who have left the country and those that are starving, the ones that have been gassed and barrel bombed, the expansion of groups like Daesh and al-Nusrah in Syria, you don’t – just look – taking 10 steps back from this issue and just looking at it in general, it’s hard for any reasonable person to try to make the case that you need more leverage than the current status quo.

QUESTION: The question goes more to – less the – less what is the horror of the status quo. The question goes more to whether your diplomacy to achieve a political solution would be more effective if the Assad Government, which clearly is unmoved by the current status quo, felt in any way threatened by the possible use of military force. That’s really the question.

MR KIRBY: Again, without speculating as to other potential options here – none of which, as the President has said, are great options – it’s puzzling to see. It’s certainly discouraging to see that the Russians have – are not – for some reason have chosen not to use the influence, the considerable influence that we know that they have over the Assad regime to get them to make the right decisions for their own people and to move this process forward. We’re going to continue to make that case; we’re going to continue to press that even as we continue to look at other, less desirable options that might be available to us, and that’s really as far as I can take that question.

QUESTION: Last one on the Russians: I know you’re aware of the reports of what President Putin has said in St. Petersburg, and he has this comment about saying he endorses or approves of U.S. proposals to add members of the opposition to the current government, to the active government in Damascus. Is there any U.S. proposal for opposition members to join the Assad government or a government in which Assad remains in power?


QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?


QUESTION: The Secretary hasn’t broached any such possibility in his many conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR KIRBY: No means no.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Wouldn’t the violent toppling of the Syrian Government directly benefit ISIS?

MR KIRBY: The toppling of the Assad government benefit ISIS?

QUESTION: That would be directly to the benefit of ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Look, I – I’m not going to speculate about what would or what wouldn’t benefit Daesh. I mean, to some degree – and the Secretary has talked about this – there is a symbiosis between the Assad regime and Daesh, and he’s said that many, many times. It is through Assad’s brutality that Daesh has been able to fester and grow into some – into ungoverned spaces. And one of the things that we’ve talked about routinely, although we haven’t said it – we haven’t talked about it recently, is we understand that while the future of Syria cannot include Bashar al-Assad, as we work through the – as we work through this political process to a transitional governing body, we recognize that some institutions of government – for instance, the security forces – in some form or fashion has got to stay intact so that there isn’t a complete collapse of an appropriate governing infrastructure inside the country as we work through this very difficult transitional process.

QUESTION: If the Syrian Government were to just immediately fall, what would happen to Syrian Christians? What would happen to Syrian Alawites?

MR KIRBY: It’s – look, I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals about a situation that we’re actually obviously trying to avoid. It isn’t about the fall of the regime. We are trying to get to a transitional process of governance that preserves even some of the existing infrastructure going forward, but that at the end of that process gets us to a government that is put in place by the Syrian people with their voices being heard and that doesn’t include Bashar al-Assad.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the statement made by President Putin to – actually warning the United States not to target Assad that was made today?

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that particular comment.

QUESTION: How would you react to such a warning?

MR KIRBY: There isn’t any U.S. efforts to target Bashar al-Assad, Said. That’s not part of the calculus. I’ve been standing up here now for 15, 20 minutes saying that we’re trying to work through a political process – a transitional process – that is Syrian-led. That’s the goal. That’s still the policy; that’s still what we’re pursuing.


QUESTION: Could I just – yeah, clarify one thing about the dissent channel memo? The Foreign Affairs Manual does, as I understand it, call for disciplinary action against people who share dissent channel messages with unauthorized personnel, but are you saying that there will be no attempt made to find out who leaked this memo and discipline that person?

MR KIRBY: We’re not – we – I can’t speak to and we’re not focused on how it made its way into the public domain. It came to us yesterday through the dissent channel process. We are going to protect the sanctity of that process, and our focus is on – the moment it came through the dissent channel process, it became a dissent channel message, and it’s from that time on that we’re focused in terms of protecting the sanctity of the process and the content of the material of the message.



MR KIRBY: Turkey.


QUESTION: John (inaudible) --

MR KIRBY: I never thought that I’d be glad to get to Turkey. (Laughter.)

Oh no, you’re dragging me.

Go ahead, Carol.

QUESTION: John, I don’t understand. The Secretary calls this an important memo that was sent, but everything you’re saying here today is very similar to what has been said for months. Is there any chance that this memo will lead to a modification in U.S. policy?

MR KIRBY: As I said, Carol, no one is content with the status quo about – of what’s going on in Syria. And even as we continue to pursue what you guys have commonly referred to as plan A – right? Political process, cessation of hostilities, humanitarian – a political solution – even as we continue to pursue that, we are – as we must, because it would be irresponsible if we didn’t look at other options. None of those other options are better than the one we’re pursuing. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to look at them and the potential for them. And the Secretary’s contributing to that process as a cabinet official. And as is his responsibility as the

Secretary of State, he continues to examine those other options and he will provide his advice and counsel to the President appropriately.

So we’re obviously interested in looking at other views and other alternatives. And in that vein – again, without getting to the content of this message – we welcome those views being proffered by employees here at the State Department regardless of their number, regardless of where these individuals are serving. This is the purpose for the dissent channel. It’s a valuable tool and the Secretary greatly respects it. And so he wasn’t wrong to call it important. When you have your own employees using this very special channel to provide their views all the way to the top, that’s a special thing and he wants to respect that completely. He looks forward to, when he gets back, to working his way through the message. And where that takes us, if it takes us anywhere, I don’t know, and it wouldn’t be proper for me to speculate one way or the other.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Carol?

MR KIRBY: On Carol?



QUESTION: You just said no one is content --

MR KIRBY: Your question on Turkey is, like, so getting lost now. (Laughter.) Look, I’m just like – (laughter) – it’s going to be an unsatisfying briefing, my friend.

QUESTION: As you stated, you said that no one is content with the way things are now in Syria and that other options are being considered. But is there a reluctance within the heart of the Administration to launch a dramatically different policy in Syria so late in the Obama Administration’s term? Is that one of the hesitancy – you’d launch something and it, in essence, could not be carried out until the next president took over?

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking if the Secretary, by dint of the calendar, is simply not going to remain hidebound and not willing to try new approaches or to propose new approaches to the President to consider, the answer is absolutely not. You know the Secretary as well as anybody, Pam. You know how engaged he is and how energetic he is on Syria, how seriously he takes the situation there and the amount of time and energy that he has personally invested in diplomatic efforts to try to get to better outcomes in Syria – and I can assure you that for every day he remains Secretary of State, he will remain focused and fixed on trying to get that political solution in Syria so that life can be better for the millions of Syrians that are still there and hopefully the ones that will eventually one day want to go home. And he is going to remain open as he has remained open to different ideas, different approaches, new alternatives – and frankly, Pam, not even new ideas that just come from the United States Government or here at the State Department.

But he remains in close touch with all the other foreign ministers of the nations in the ISSG and at the UN, and continues to solicit views from them as well. This is the Secretary of State who, above all things, remains open minded. And I think you can be secure in the knowledge that that will remain so for as long as he’s in office.

No, I promised this guy we’d go to Turkey.


MR KIRBY: Nope, see? Yeah, you shouldn’t have told me what it was about. (Laughter.) We’re going to go to Turkey first and then I’ll get back to you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. Just today, the governor of Istanbul declared that he has banned LGBT individuals from holding a pride march which has been held over a decade in Istanbul peacefully at the heart of Istanbul and is just coming after apparently Orlando attack. Do you have a comment? What do you think of this?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that I’ve – look, let me put it this way: We’ve seen the reports that the governor of Istanbul will not allow the pride parade. We strongly support, as I think you know, the rights of LGBTI individuals to assemble peacefully and to exercise their freedom of expression, and we would certainly like to see that be able to happen in Istanbul.

QUESTION: Okay. This is basically another part of the human rights erosion that happening in Turkey. It has been happening for a while. How worried you are about the direction of the democracy in Turkey?

MR KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before. Obviously, we’re troubled when we see Turkish leaders make decisions that are not in keeping with their – the democratic principles that are enshrined in their own constitution. Turkey is a friend and an ally. We want to see Turkey succeed. We believe that one of the best ways for Turkey and the Turkish people to succeed is to live up to those democratic principles, and we – yes, it concerns us when we see decisions like this and trends towards closing down freedom of expression, as we’ve seen in Turkey of late. It’s deeply concerning.


QUESTION: Eritrea. Okay.

QUESTION: So the Government of Eritrea is accusing the Government of United States of instigating a heavy fight over the weekend along its border with Ethiopia. And my question for you is: Is there any truth to this accusation?


QUESTION: And then --

MR KIRBY: Well, it was an easy question.

QUESTION: Okay. And then what --

MR KIRBY: No, there’s no truth to it. Look, we – the United States, including our missions in both capitals and our mission to the UN in New York, continue to engage with both Ethiopia and Eritrea to urge restraint and to prevent escalation. Last week’s United Nations commission of inquiry report on Eritrea recommended UN member states and international organizations insist on the implementation of the 2002 decision by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission on the delimitation of the border. We call on Eritrea and Ethiopia to respect commitments that they made on this border dispute.

QUESTION: Is there other diplomatic-front efforts that you can tell us about to maintain – to address Eritrea’s concerns?

MR KIRBY: I think we’re – look, we’re in touch with officials on both sides, as you would expect that we would be, and certainly in consultation with the UN on this.

QUESTION: Secretary’s travel very quickly?


QUESTION: Can you confirm if he’s going to --

MR KIRBY: I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry about that.

MR KIRBY: It’s okay. No, it’s all right.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask, is he going to Qatar, the Secretary?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing new to announce on the Secretary’s travel today.

QUESTION: Because some news outlets are saying that he’s going to go and meet with (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I have nothing new to announce on the Secretary’s travel.

Yes, sir, go ahead. You’ve been very patient.

QUESTION: Thank you. According to AP, Associated Press, there is a heavy fighting between the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan Peshmerga forces and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military crop in the Kurdish city of Oshnavieh (inaudible) in Iran. I would like to know whether you have any information on this and if you – what can you tell us in this regard?

MR KIRBY: No, and therefore no. I don’t have any information on this.


QUESTION: Ukraine.


QUESTION: I have two questions on Ukraine. The first one is regarding Crimea. As we know, the EU agreed on Friday to extend for one year its sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea. Could you comment? What does it mean for the efforts to restore borders of Ukraine and post-War Europe?

MR KIRBY: We welcome the European Union’s decision today to roll over sanctions that were enacted in response to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea. Our own sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as Russia’s occupation continues. And we are heartened to see that our friends and allies in the EU, excuse me, have decided to extend their own sanctions for another year. Our view is well known. Crimea is and will always remain a part of Ukraine. We cannot allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun. We condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea.

QUESTION: And the second question, about Secretary Kerry’s plans to visit Ukraine. The office of Ukrainian president said today that there is a probability that U.S. Secretary of State to visit Ukraine in the near future, as he promised during the nuclear summit in D.C. Could you confirm these plans?

MR KIRBY: Nope, I have nothing on the Secretary’s schedule to announce today. But if and when we do, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Are you working on this?

MR KIRBY: I have nothing – (laughter) – I have nothing on the Secretary’s travel schedule to speak to you today.


MR KIRBY: All right, guys. Have a great weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 16, 2016

Thu, 06/16/2016 - 18:14

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 16, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:16 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a couple things at the top here. First, just a comment about the very disturbing murder in the UK. We are shocked and appalled that a member of the UK parliament, Ms. Jo Cox, was murdered today in Birstall near Leeds in Northern England while doing her public duty. Of course, we offer our sincere condolences to Ms. Cox’s family and friends and all the British people. Obviously, we’re going to refer to UK authorities for this, who we understand are already investigating this heartbreaking incident. But again, we felt it was important right at the top here to express our condolences for this terrible crime.

An update on the Secretary’s travel today. As you may know, the Secretary travelled to Svalbard, Norway, where he and Foreign Minister Brende visited Blomstrand Glacier and other areas impacted by climate change in Norway’s extreme north. The Secretary also had the opportunity to talk to scientists and to experts about the impact of climate change on the polar regions and how it impacts all of us as well.

He’s now in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he will hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rasmussen and attend a dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Jensen. He’s expected, of course, in both these meetings to discuss a broad range of bilateral issues with both.

Then tomorrow, the Secretary will visit a Danish NGO that works with less advantaged youth. He’ll also have an audience with Queen Margrethe. And on Friday afternoon, the Secretary will travel to Greenland, where he will witness firsthand the effects of climate change during his visit to the Ilulissat Icefjord. I worked hard to get that last one right.


QUESTION: I wanted to start on the UK, where you started. Does the – not only the subject of the referendum, but now the increasingly tense atmosphere with the referendum give you increasing worry?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t call it worry, Brad. I mean, these are obviously – this is an internal matter for the British people. And British police and law enforcement officials are obviously extraordinarily capable and competent at their jobs. So I don’t know that I would characterize it as worry. We’re obviously concerned by the – by this turning – by turning to violence today. But we’re confident in our special relationship with the UK, and with the knowledge – and we’re also confident in the knowledge that that special relationship is not going to be diminished one way or the other.

QUESTION: Do you feel, given that the unsure polling and the possibility that Britain could vote to leave the European Union, plus now the violence that we’ve seen, that it was a mistake to hold this referendum at all?

MR KIRBY: That’s really a decision for – or a – it’s a decision for British leaders to speak to, not us. It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to weigh in on that. This is – again, this is an internal British matter.

QUESTION: I think just given that the vote is only days away now, can you tell us what message you’re conveying in your various discussions with British officials?

MR KIRBY: We’re not conveying a specific message in recent days here to British officials. As you know, the President went to London. He made clear our view that a strong UK and a strong EU is to the benefit of all. But there’s been know exchange of additional messages or anything in the last several days.

QUESTION: You’re not saying to anyone at any level that, “Hey, it would be great if you stayed inside the European Union”?

MR KIRBY: I think the President spoke very clearly when he was over there for our views here. But again, we also want to respect that this is an internal British matter. So we’re not involving ourselves in messaging here near the endgame.

QUESTION: But following on that, what would be the implication for the U.S. policy? Will – would the U.S. keep its special relationship with the UK, or as the President said, would the U.S. have a better relationship with the EU and leave the UK aside?

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said just a few minutes ago, we don’t anticipate anything changing the special relationship that we have with the UK. So I think we can put that off the table immediately. But I’m obviously not going to speculate or hypothesize about what way this referendum’s going to go and what that’s going to mean going forward. Again, these are – this is a decision that the British people have to make.

QUESTION: I’d like to change topics if we’re done.


QUESTION: Masrour Barzani, the head of the KRG’s national security council, and the son of KRG President Masoud Barzani, has said that he believes Iraq should be divided into three separate entities once Islamic State is defeated. And he speaks partly about confederation, where there would be three capitals: one for the Shias, one for the Sunnis, and one for the Kurds, equal to one another, or just outright separation. Do you have any – think I know your views on this, but do you have any comment on this idea?

MR KIRBY: I would just restate our views on this, in that – that have not changed. We continue to support an Iraq that’s federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified. Been no change.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Because a year ago, I asked Mr. Barzani this very question. And he basically gave a very logical explanation as to why. I mean, the population does not speak Arabic; they basically function as an entity. I am certainly familiar with Kurdistan; I spent a lot of time there and so on. So why not support that kind of effort? It is likely to mitigate conflict rather than exacerbate it.

MR KIRBY: Well, again, Said, nothing’s changed about our position and what we support going forward – as I said, a federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified Iraq. And that’s been our policy; it’s going to remain our policy. And I don’t really – since I don’t see that policy changing, I find little value in sort of arguing the opposite case in terms of why wouldn’t we change the policy. We believe that this – that our view here of a unified Iraq going forward, the policy that we’ve espoused, is the best policy for the region, quite frankly.

QUESTION: But is it true that since 1991 at least, Kurdistan has really functioned as almost an independent country, with your help and with your aid? So why this – I guess I don’t – incoherent policy in this very regard? I mean, on the one hand, you are supporting; you helped the Kurds form their almost semi-independence and autonomy, and on the other deny them that right.

MR KIRBY: It started by helping them survive the atrocities put upon them by Saddam Hussein in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And as we – you fast forward to where we are now in the fight against Daesh, even the assistance that flows to the Peshmerga in the north goes through Baghdad. So we don’t just say these words; we live by them and we work with these words as a foundation in terms of even the fight against Daesh.

It’s not about denying anybody anything. It’s about trying to help Iraq – especially right now – defeat this very deadly threat and continue to make the kinds of political, economic, even military reforms that they are in the effort of doing right now and helping them do that successfully. Because that’s what we believe will make for a strong, unified Iraq going forward, and we believe that a strong, pluralistic, unified Iraq is good for the region as well.

QUESTION: Is your concern that maybe this division will also be replicated in the south, where you have this mega Shia region that is independent and closely tied to Iran, with very rich oil revenues and so on?

MR KIRBY: No. We believe that – we believe the approach that we’re taking’s the right approach, period. And we’re not ascribing it as some sort of litmus test to one region of Iraq or the other. We want a whole, unified Iraq. Okay?


QUESTION: John, what’s your assessment of the new localized ceasefire for Aleppo that was announced by Russia earlier today? There were some reports of airstrikes shortly after it took effect. At this point do you consider it to still be in place?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s difficult to know so soon. I mean, we’ve certainly seen the reports of these new days of silence. This is not something that we haven’t seen before. The only thing I would say is what – we would like to get beyond a point where we’re looking at days of silence in localized areas and get to where the cessation can be actually enforced and enacted nationwide. But it’s just too soon to know the degree to which strikes we’ve seen are violations of this or of – or violations in other parts of the country. We just don’t know right now.

QUESTION: Is there a point in which the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the ceasefire task force, will formally agree to move beyond these localized ceasefires and, as you say, look at getting a broader agreement that would impact the whole country? Or at what point do these localized mechanisms sort of lose their effectiveness?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, that’s hard – it’s difficult to say at what point do they lose their effectiveness, because they haven’t necessarily been all that effective to date. I mean, look, anytime you get a reduction in the violence, that’s a good thing, and I don’t want to minimize that. So even if it is just a 48 hours here or a 72 hours there, it’s at least 48 or 72 hours where the reduction is – the violence has been reduced. And so obviously, that’s welcome. But we are continuing to work, with the Russians in particular, to try to develop mechanisms going forward that can get us to a cessation of hostilities that is better enforced and better sustained over periods of time over the entire country in terms of geography rather than localized areas.

So look, nobody is happy about where we are right now. And that’s why we’re going to continue to work closely with the Russians going forward to try to get some of these – some new mechanisms in place to do this better.

QUESTION: And one more. Have you seen these comments from Foreign Minister Lavrov, who seems to suggest that the U.S. wants to keep al-Nusrah in place in Syria for some kind of battle against Assad? And if so, what’s your reaction?

MR KIRBY: Well, yeah, we’ve seen the comments. And look, we’ve been clear from the very beginning: al-Nusrah is a designated terrorist organization, it’s not a party to the cessation of hostilities, and it’s certainly not a party to the political future of Syria. Coalition airstrikes against this group will continue.


MR KIRBY: Against --

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.

MR KIRBY: -- al-Nusrah.


QUESTION: Coalition airstrikes against al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: There have been coalition strikes against --

QUESTION: When was the last coalition strike against al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know, but they have – I don’t know, but there have been.

QUESTION: I thought it was a coalition for fighting ISIS.

MR KIRBY: It is, but al-Nusrah is a terrorist organization.

QUESTION: Can you check the last time the coalition --

MR KIRBY: I’ll check the last time.

QUESTION: -- struck al-Nusrah?

MR KIRBY: If Russia and the regime truly wish to focus efforts on defeating Nusrah, we would urge them to seriously consider, as I said, our proposals to reinforce the cessation of hostilities in northwest Aleppo – that is, to get the regime to cease its offensive against the moderate opposition in that area. An effective cessation in northwestern Aleppo would allow the regime to realign its forces against Nusrah in regions where Nusrah actually controls territory. And I do correct myself – U.S. airstrikes – I said coalition – U.S. airstrikes have been conducted --

QUESTION: There’s never been any --

MR KIRBY: You’re right. U.S. But we’re part of the coalition. And that was my mistake, so I appreciate the correction there. But U.S. airstrikes will continue against al-Nusrah.

QUESTION: John, also Mr. Lavrov said that he was struck by what the Secretary said about losing patience and so on, or that his patience was running out and so on, that you guys should have a lot more patience, and that’s how you get to the goal of a smooth transition or a political change in Syria. Would you agree with him, that this – there has be sort of – in a way, he’s suggesting limitless patience.

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the Secretary spoke very clearly to his view of, as you put it, limitless patience.


MR KIRBY: And he made very clear – I can’t say it better than he did – that his patience is wearing thin. He was very clear about that. Look, the cessation of hostilities continues to be too fragile, and there’s really two main reasons for that – one, first and foremost of course, are regime violations, and secondly are the threats continued being – to be posed to the Syrian people and to the opposition by al-Nusrah, which in the way it operates and it resources itself places the Syrian people and opposition groups increasingly at risk.

We’ve discussed this many times with the Russians. There’s nothing new there. And as we’ve also said many times privately and publicly, we need Russia to use the influence that we know it has with the regime to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is adhered to, to ensure that full and unimpeded humanitarian access can be had to the millions of Syrians that are in need throughout the country, and to ensure that we can get the political process back on track.

QUESTION: So on the issue of aid, some opposition group are claiming that 95 percent – I mean, something staggering, a staggering figure – that most of the aid that is going – UN aid that is going to the besieged area has gone into territory controlled by the Assad regime. They are complaining about that. Do you have any comment on this?

MR KIRBY: I’ve seen – look, we’ve seen all kinds of reports like this, where they either restrict, pull out medicine at the last minute, or pilfer away aid that they can, which is just reprehensible, when these are their own citizens who are dying and suffering.

QUESTION: So do you agree that the Syrian Government has taken advantage of this UN humanitarian aid to sort of --

MR KIRBY: What I think they’re doing – and I didn’t – that didn’t include – I didn’t do a good enough job yesterday, I don’t think, talking about this, but I mean the regime here is really who’s responsible for the bulk of the cessation violations and certainly for the privation suffered by the Syrian people and for not allowing the aid, which is within their power to let in, to let that aid go. And we have seen reports not only of them blocking access but of stealing from aid shipments and particularly, most reprehensibly, taking out medicine.

Yeah, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Sir, you spoke about the situation at Pak-Afghan border yesterday and day before yesterday. We have seen your comments.


QUESTION: But sir, after this episode and the clashes between the security forces of two countries, what is the future of recon process, the Afghan peace process now?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, as I said yesterday, we’re obviously very concerned by the border clashes, particularly there around the Torkham crossing. And we – as I said yesterday, we want both sides to ratchet down the violence and begin a dialogue to try to reduce the tensions, keep the crossing open, and have it done peaceably. Separate and distinct from that, we still believe that the right approach is an Afghan-led reconciliation process. And we continue to support President Ghani as he continues to try to get that process back on track.

Now what effect the border clashes are having on reconciliation, I don’t know. I haven’t seen any practical effect of it to date. These clashes have only just popped up in recent days. But that aside, we still want to see the reconciliation process move forward.

QUESTION: Sir, but the parties who are trying to get Taliban on the table for the dialogue process are now fighting with each other. I mean, don’t you think that these clashes at the border expose the real sincerity or whatever of the both countries?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to speak to the motivations of each and every border clash. Obviously, we don’t want to see this kind of violence between those two sides. There are plenty of shared threats and common challenges between Afghanistan and Pakistan and plenty of reasons for them to look for ways to work together, and quite frankly, they have. They have made some progress in terms of cooperation across that border and communication and in counterterrorism efforts.

So nobody likes to see the clashes and the violence that we’ve seen to date, but it’s too soon to say, well, just because there’s been some of this, that the whole reconciliation process should be just thrown out the window, or that the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan are irreconcilable and therefore not worth continuing to pursue dialogue and cooperation. We’re just not there yet.

QUESTION: So what efforts are being done by the United States to calm down the situation? Is there any kind of mediation U.S. is doing towards – between the two countries?

MR KIRBY: We’ve not taken a mediation role, and we’ve talked about this before. I mean, this is an Afghan-led process. We obviously support it and we want to see it succeed. We’ve expressed that support privately and publicly. But this is President Ghani’s initiative; he’s taking it on. We know he wants to get it back on track and we fully support him in that effort, but this is not about mediation between – for the United States taking – mediating between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We want them – as I said yesterday, we want them to work through these differences bilaterally, which we know that they can do because they’ve done it in the past. And this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen clashes even at that crossing, and they have been able to work through it in the past and we’re absolutely confident that, with moral courage on both sides, they can continue to work through it.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: But have you reached out to them directly, and what level have you reached out to Afghanistan and Pakistan? Who is talking to them?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of private diplomatic discussions. You know I won’t do that. But I can say that we’ve discussed it at high levels with both governments.

QUESTION: But SRAP was there over the weekend, talking to the officials in both the countries. Did this issue came up? What did he talk to them?

MR KIRBY: He talked to them about a range of the issues that continue to present challenges to both countries, and quite frankly, to our interests, the United States. And I’m not going to detail every item on his – on the agenda or every item that was discussed. But clearly, broadly speaking, they talked about ways in which the cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan can improve and the situation can get better and the reconciliation process can get restarted.

QUESTION: Has this border clashes impacted the supply of U.S. routes, U.S. things through the Torkham border?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware, but you really should ask DOD that. I am not aware of any impact to supplies to U.S. forces, if that’s what you’re asking about, in Afghanistan. You really should go to DOD. I’m not aware of any impact. And I would remind you that the Defense Department has many, many ways in which – logistical avenues in which to resupply U.S. troops, wherever they are in the world. Not everything goes through the Torkham Gate.

QUESTION: Just to clarify on this question, on your answer about – you are not doing mediation between Afghanistan and Pakistan on their tensions, or not doing mediation on the Taliban talks?

MR KIRBY: Either.




MR KIRBY: Either, both – yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You do – you have no role to play at all? (Laughter.)


QUESTION: You have no role to play at all in this?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I mean, come on now. I mean, but we’re not going to – we’re not putting ourselves in a mediation role here. We want Afghanistan and Pakistan, as they have proven capable of doing in the past, we want to work – have them work it out bilaterally. Okay?

And the reconciliation process is Afghan-led, by President Ghani, and now he obviously needs and will continue to need Pakistan’s support for that. And he knows that, and he has already – he’s reached out to Islamabad and he’ll continue to do that for that kind of support. That’s important. But this is – the best chance of success, both in terms of the tensions on the border right now and the reconciliation process, the best chance of success lies between Kabul and Islamabad, and the United States is not going to inject itself in the middle of that. We think that there’s enough capacity – certainly there’s been enough experience – for them to work this out bilaterally. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question on UN, United Nations, if you’ll allow me?

MR KIRBY: On what?

QUESTION: On United Nations, the Saudi Arabia and United Nations. So the question is that so the – as you know, the UN Secretary General has admitted that he temporarily removed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from a UN blacklist for violating the child rights because its supporters threatened to stop the fund of many UN programs. So we have seen Mr. Toner’s statements in this regard, but don’t you think that it seriously undermines the credibility of United Nations?

MR KIRBY: Well, you’ve already seen Mark’s statement, right?

QUESTION: I have seen that.

MR KIRBY: So what else do you need from me?

QUESTION: But I’m talking about what do you think about – I mean, is it seriously undermines the credibility of the United Nations?

MR KIRBY: Look, we’ve seen reports of the Saudi-led coalition’s request to the UN to reveal its sources of information used in the drafting of the Child and Armed Conflict report. We reiterate our support for the joint review and have encouraged the Saudis to participate in it. We note the anonymity of the UN sources is paramount if the UN is to carry out its responsibilities pertaining to human rights and the protection of children without fear of reprisal. We also understand that the secretary-general has invited the coalition to send a team to New York as soon as possible for detailed discussions on the report, and we encourage the parties to engage in that discussion in an expeditious manner.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States is resolute in its commitment to strengthen the protection of children through the framework created by the council. As we’ve said before, we remain concerned by the effects of the conflict on children in particular in Yemen and continue to urge all sides of the conflict to protect civilians and comply with their obligations under international law.

QUESTION: Sir, you said the United States has concerns, but do you condemn that bombing of the children? Like 1,953 youngsters were killed and injured in Yemen in 2015.

MR KIRBY: We – look, we don’t – we have talked repeatedly about our concerns about civilian casualties in this particular conflict, and we have – and I’ve stood up here time and time again and said that we urge all sides, all parties to do what they can to limit, to minimize, to stop damage to civilian infrastructure and, certainly, to cease any killing or injuring of innocent people. We have been very clear about our concerns on this. But if you’re asking me to re-litigate a particular strike, I’m not going to do that, okay?

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? You don’t doubt the sources – the veracity of the information that the UN presented, do you?

MR KIRBY: We’re not in a position to doubt the veracity of the report.

QUESTION: You don’t see the need for them to make their sources public?

MR KIRBY: As I said, we note that the anonymity of the sources is paramount if the UN is going to be able to carry out its responsibilities.

QUESTION: So why – yeah.

MR KIRBY: So we support the fact – we support the protection of the anonymity of the sources.

QUESTION: So under what basis do you see the request to review the sources as legitimate?

MR KIRBY: Well, this was a – the secretary-general made this offer. He invited the coalition to send a team to – you’re not asking about that, though, are you?

QUESTION: No, no, I think you’re getting to --

MR KIRBY: I don’t know if you’re – as I started to answer, I thought maybe I wasn’t answering your question.

QUESTION: No, that makes sense.

MR KIRBY: He invited them to New York for detailed discussions on the report, and we encourage them to go. Now, how those discussions are going to go and what information’s going to be revealed is really between the parties, not the – and the United States isn’t taking a position on that.

QUESTION: But he made this offer under pressure, according to himself. So, I mean, is this something that – you’re not questioning the veracity of what they say or their need to protect anonymity, but you’re noting this is somehow legitimate that he should have to review it because a powerful state exerted pressure on him.

MR KIRBY: Again, that’s his call, not ours – his call to invite them. We note the invitation and we encourage everybody to participate in it, but this was something the secretary-general generated himself, and so we’re not – again, we’re not taking a position on whether the invitation was – in what manner it was extended, but we note that it was extended and we encourage everybody to participate.


QUESTION: The United Arab Emirates announced today they are stopping – ending their military operations in Yemen. Is this something good or bad?

MR KIRBY: You’d have to ask the officials in the UAE. We’re going to let them speak to their military decisions one way or the other.

QUESTION: But they did fight al-Qaida in Yemen previously.

MR KIRBY: No, I’m aware that they have had a practical effect against al-Qaida, and there’s no question about that. But decisions about the use of military force and the use of military forces, those are sovereign decisions to make and we’re going to let the UAE speak for itself on that.

QUESTION: Could this be a prelude to sort of winding down this Yemen war, and wouldn’t that be a good thing? It would be a good thing, right?

MR KIRBY: Would the winding down of a war be a good thing?

QUESTION: Of the war, yeah. I mean, that’s --

MR KIRBY: Oh, absolutely.

QUESTION: They’re pulling out and so on. It seems that --

MR KIRBY: We would – as we’ve said many times, we’d like to see peace restored in Yemen and a political process move forward. There’s no question about that, not to mention humanitarian aid and assistance getting to so many Yemenis that are still in need. But I can’t speak to the veracity of the reports coming out of the UAE. I don’t know what the leaders in the UAE have in mind for their military or for their military operations in support of the coalition. That is for them to speak to. What we continue to want to see, now that you’ve introduced the question, is that political talks continue to move forward and a political process move forward so that real peace and stability can come to the people of Yemen.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak to the crown – he spoke to the crown prince, I think, last week in Abu Dhabi. Did they discuss winding down this operation?

MR KIRBY: They – what I can tell you is that they absolutely discussed the situation in Yemen and both shared the desire for a political process to come together here so that the war can end.

QUESTION: Today’s reports didn’t come as a surprise to you?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to comment further on the conversation in Abu Dhabi, but they did talk about Yemen and a shared desire for peace and stability there.


QUESTION: Can you confirm reports that several U.S. Government officials were expelled from Nicaragua yesterday? And if so, what is your understanding on what took place?

MR KIRBY: Give me a second. So, yes, the expulsion of three U.S. Government officials from Nicaragua on the 14th of June did occur. We believe it was unwarranted and inconsistent with the positive and constructive agenda that we seek with the Government of Nicaragua. All three officials were on temporary duty status in Nicaragua and recently arrived in the country. Such treatment has the potential to negatively impact U.S. and Nicaraguan bilateral relations, particularly trade, and we’ve conveyed our strong displeasure to Ambassador Francisco Campbell here, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States.

QUESTION: Has there been any response from Nicaragua to the concerns raised?

MR KIRBY: I’ll let the Nicaraguan Government speak for itself there. We’ve made clear our concerns about this expulsion.

QUESTION: Did you call the ambassador here in --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the specific details of how it was conveyed to him.

QUESTION: Was there any reciprocal action being considered?

MR KIRBY: By Nicaragua?

QUESTION: By the United States.

MR KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry, by – I guess --

QUESTION: A lot of times, it happens in history when our diplomats are – U.S. diplomats get kicked out, you kick out other people’s diplomats.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have anything in particular to speak to in terms of further actions right now. Again, we’ve made our concerns known.


QUESTION: The official Chinese media today saying that India is inching closer to become a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group. I know there was a meeting this month last week in Vienna, where this application – there were some objections from other countries, including China, and later this month, there is a meeting – they are meeting, I guess, in Seoul. How confident you are that your move – or India’s move to become a member of NSG would get through this – in this meeting?

MR KIRBY: Well, as you know, when the prime minister was here, the President welcomed their application to the NSG, and the United States calls on NSG participating governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG plenary, which I think is next week. I’m not going to get ahead of how that’s going to go or hypothesize and speculate about where it’s going to go, but we’ve made clear that we support the application.

QUESTION: But do you think India will – India will get the nod, that its application will be approved in this meeting?

MR KIRBY: I just said I’m not going to speculate.


QUESTION: Can I move to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?


QUESTION: Okay. First of all, a follow-up on yesterday: You took a couple of questions, if you have a response.

MR KIRBY: Which ones did I take?

QUESTION: You took the question on the building of the settlement in Silwan in particular and on the detention, the --

MR KIRBY: Well, on the settlements, I think I answered that. I mean, the settle --

QUESTION: Right. But also on the detention --

MR KIRBY: The detention --

QUESTION: -- the administrative detention, extending the administrative detention. And one on Facebook and – one on Facebook and --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, that’s right. So, look, I’d refer you to our annual Human Rights Reports on our views on administrative detention. We’ve been very clear about that. For specific information on these cases, I refer you to the Israelis.

On the social media sites, we’re aware that the – we’re aware that some social media sites have been removing content that they deemed hateful, are clearly encouraging violence based on their terms of use. These are private companies so I’m not going to comment further on their decisions. As I said yesterday and as you know, we support freedom of expression and the free flow of information regardless of the medium, but we also strongly condemn incitement to violence.

QUESTION: Okay. But the Israelis have really broadened the definition of incitement of – inciting terrorism and so on to encompass many things, where it has become really restricted. Would that worry you? I mean, is – anything could be deemed --

MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re always concerned about incitement of violence, but these are --

QUESTION: I understand, but --

MR KIRBY: -- these are decisions made by these private companies and we’re going to respect those decisions.

QUESTION: Okay. I also have a couple questions on the water supply – the Israelis cut off water supplies to the inhabitants --


QUESTION: -- of the West Bank. Now, the Israelis, including settlers, they get about 300 liters per day, Palestinians get 70 liters per day, and this is basically Palestinian water. They siphon it from Palestinian areas. I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR KIRBY: I do, actually. As we looked into this, we understand that it was a mechanical failure, not a deliberate act. It was a – for lack of a better phrase, a plumbing problem.

QUESTION: But if you look at the history of this thing, every summer the Israelis cut off water by 50 percent to the Palestinians. I mean, I understand they want to keep the lawns of the settlements green and so on, and the pools filled up. But this is not just one incident. Would you call on the Israelis not to do this as a practice and to ensure that they do have a functioning system that takes the water to the Palestinians?

MR KIRBY: Well, without getting into specifics or speculative – speculate about decisions that haven’t been made yet, obviously we would – we think it’s in everyone’s interest there to have fresh water to cook, to clean, to subsist on. So that’s – I mean, I think that’s a universal, obvious idea here: food and water and the ability to live your life – to live your lives, and water’s a key part of that. So we want to see that access to water is there. But I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet. As I understand it with respect to this, it was truly a mechanical malfunction of some kind.

QUESTION: And another question on Israel. Have you heard anything about possible military exercises with – between Israel and Russia?

MR KIRBY: I have not.

QUESTION: You have not? Okay, thanks.


QUESTION: A follow-up --

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, follow-up on a question from yesterday about China and its incursion into Japanese territorial waters. Has there been any communication between the State Department and Japanese counterparts about --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any communication to read out to you today about it. And as I said yesterday, I’d refer to Japanese authorities for this incident.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: John – sorry --

QUESTION: Bahrain?

QUESTION: -- follow-up one more. Sorry, Brad. So today, a Chinese intelligence vessel entered Japan’s contiguous zone, and I wanted to – as you have noted, or as my colleague have talked about, there have been spurts of activities like this in the last few days or so. So I wanted to know how do you assess these activities, and how concerned are you?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m going to refer you to the – to Japanese authorities to speak to this – to this particular incident.


MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific communication to read out to you about it. We have been in touch with Japanese authorities about it. But really they should speak to it.

QUESTION: Okay. So you can’t tell us whether you’re concerned about it or not? I mean, I guess the question is, do you see this solely as a Japanese maritime enforcement issue, or do you think that this is something that has strategic significance to our alliance and to the region?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know that we’re in a position right now to characterize it one way or the other.


MR KIRBY: And this is – this is something that the Japanese are looking into. And I think – I just don’t want to get ahead of what they’ll find or what posture they may take about it. So I know that’s not a great, satisfying answer to you, but it’s really where we are right now.


MR KIRBY: We’re aware of it. We’ve monitored it best we can. We’re in touch with Japanese authorities. But really, this is for them to speak to.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.


QUESTION: Bahrain?

MR KIRBY: Bahrain.

QUESTION: There’s increasing reports about various Shia preachers and individuals – public individuals coming under pressure, including arrests. Are you worried that this crackdown is becoming even more pervasive?

MR KIRBY: We do continue to have concerns about the human rights situation in Bahrain. And we continue to raise our concerns with Bahrain publicly and privately about continuing limitations on peaceful assembly and political activism, the criminalization of free expression, and of course we talked to them about the importance of reconciliation. All of these things are documented, of course, in the Human Rights Report. But if you’re asking me, do we continue to be concerned, yes we do. And obviously we are relaying those concerns directly to Bahraini officials.

QUESTION: Are you – do you see the situation as returning to where it was in 2011?

MR KIRBY: Nobody wants to see it go back there, Brad. And I don’t know that we’re at a position now or a point where we can characterize the – we see the slide. Certainly, there’s a worrisome trend here. But I just don’t know that we’re at a point where we think it’s reaching that level.

QUESTION: Let me put it this way. Do you see Bahrain reversing the progress that you’ve spoken of in the past days? Do you see them erasing that with this latest pressure campaign?

MR KIRBY: I would say that recent events certainly don’t contribute to the progress that they have been making.

QUESTION: And then the last one: When we spoke about Mr. Rajab earlier this week, the head of the Bahrain human rights center, you said at the time you didn’t know his charges. I think his charges have since been made public, and they include things like spreading falsehoods about the state, which – I mean, I’m not familiar with in terms of the U.S. legal code as being a particular crime, but I guess in Bahrain it is. Do you see this as a legitimate criminal charge that – saying something the government doesn’t agree with?

MR KIRBY: We’re deeply concerned about the fact that he’s been detained on charges that we read as spreading false news, but you may have a more accurate reading of it.

QUESTION: Something like that, sorry.

MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to follow his case very closely. We believe that no one should be prosecuted or imprisoned for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly, even if it’s controversial. We believe that societies are strengthened, not threatened, by peaceful expressions of opinion and dissent.

QUESTION: But to follow up on Brad’s, today a Bahraini court sentenced eight people to 15 years in prison and stripped them of their citizenship under these allegations – just today. Can you comment on that?

MR KIRBY: I wasn’t aware of that particular case, Said, but it does point to what I said in – to my answer to Brad. I mean, we’re certainly seeing a worrisome trend here, and we have – we’re going to continue to express our concerns to the kingdom about this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

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

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 15, 2016

Wed, 06/15/2016 - 18:13

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 15, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:19 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Just a quick update on the Secretary’s travel. As I think you saw in the readout earlier today, the Secretary met in Oslo with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif, to discuss progress on the continuing implementation of the JCPOA, including issues related to banking and relief of nuclear-related sanctions. They also addressed the situation in Syria, where the Secretary stressed the need for full access for humanitarian and a nationwide cessation of hostilities. As always, the Secretary raised the status of Americans still missing or detained by Iran.

He also delivered remarks at the Oslo Forum – I think you’ve seen those remarks by now – and he meet with Norwegian King Harald V and the prime minister. He participated in a signing ceremony at the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Conference, and he attended a working dinner hosted by the Norwegian foreign minister. Tomorrow, I think you know the Secretary heads to Denmark where he will also have bilateral discussions with the Danish prime minister and the foreign minister.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: I don’t really have a lead today, so I’ll yield.

MR KIRBY: You want to yield?



QUESTION: Can we start with Afghanistan?

MR KIRBY: With what?

QUESTION: Afghanistan.


QUESTION: There are sort of conflicting reports about how – well, maybe not conflicting, but there are reports that the British defense secretary told reporters that Secretary Carter told them that the question of whether or not to cut troops is under review, the U.S. troop commitment to Afghanistan is under review. The White House says there’s no timetable for making such a decision, and I’m trying to understand how the U.S. Government thinks it’s going to be possible to keep its NATO allies in the boat in Afghanistan if it is going to proceed with its plans to nearly halve its troop commitment by the end of the year, certainly by the end of the President’s term?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, you know I’m a little reluctant to get into military matters, so I’m not going to do that today. I’m not going to speculate about decisions one way or the other that the Commander-in-Chief hasn’t made, or recommendations, quite frankly, from his commander that haven’t yet been submitted, or at least decided upon as far as I know. All I can say is that we still remain committed to the mission. Certainly here at the State Department we continue to support the mission there in Afghanistan, which, as you know, is twofold. It’s got a counterterrorism element and then, of course, there is the advise and assist element for Afghan national security and defense forces.

So we’re very committed to that. The Secretary spoke to that very strong commitment when we were in Kabul not long ago at a press conference with President Ghani. And just as critically, we’re committed to a long-term strategic, even more normal, not just security-based, relationship with Afghanistan going forward.

What the troop presence looks like is really a matter between the commanders, the Defense Department leadership, and the Commander-in-Chief, and Secretary Kerry is not going to insert himself into that decision-making process.

Now, I understand that wasn’t exactly your question. Your question was really about NATO allies. And as I understand it, that the NATO foreign ministers reaffirmed back in May that the Resolute Support mission is going to continue beyond 2016; that they continue to look at force posture options that will support a flexible regional approach beyond this year; and of course, we support those deliberations. Obviously, it’s up to NATO to make these determinations themselves – each nation, each contribution nation.

Broadly speaking, we’re obviously mindful that many NATO countries remain keenly interested in the force posture decisions that we make. That’s been the case in the past as the numbers of U.S. troops fluctuated in Afghanistan over recent years. I have every expectation that that will remain the case going forward. We’re mindful of that. But ultimately, again, these are decisions that have to be made and have to be consulted in the defense lanes.

QUESTION: Are you getting complaints from your NATO allies about the President’s planned reduction?

MR KIRBY: I am not aware of any such complaints.

QUESTION: And why shouldn’t NATO countries all cut their troop commitments in Afghanistan nearly in half by the end of the year since you are doing the same? Why shouldn’t they do that? Is there any reason why they shouldn’t do that?

MR KIRBY: Well, these are sovereign decisions that each nation has to make. And not every nation – I mean, every nation contributes in their own unique way. And so it wouldn’t be for us to tell them how to manage force levels on this very important mission. What we have to do is look at it from our perspective and from the relationship that we want to have going forward with Afghanistan as well as our perspective as a NATO-contributing country. We are a member of NATO too, so we have to look at this from our commitment to the NATO mission, which obviously, as I just said, is very, very strong.

But these are sovereign decisions these nations have to make. We respect that and we understand that some of them may be on different timelines due to domestic concerns to make these decisions, and certainly we respect that.

QUESTION: Well, without telling them what to do, if every other nation that currently has troops in Afghanistan besides the United States cuts them in half by the end of the year, is that okay with you?

MR KIRBY: It’s – these are decisions for them to make and for the alliance to consider, not for the United States to pass judgment on. We are proud of the contributions that we have made unilaterally because we had for – until recently there was a U.S. presence or a U.S.-only mission. And obviously now we’re very focused on contributing to the NATO mission and we’re proud of our commitment and contributions to that NATO mission, a mission that we believe is important and which we have already said we’re going to continue to support.

But we also are mindful that every nation, every contributing nation, certainly every NATO nation, has got to make these decisions for themselves, and it’s not for us to pass judgment one way or the other.

As I said earlier, we have always recognized that many nations make their considerations based on knowledge of what the United States will do. We understand that. And we’ve always been mindful of that as these decisions have been made. But that doesn’t mean you rush to a judgment. General Nicholson is, as far as I know, still working through his review, and when he’s done with that it’ll get reviewed there in the Pentagon. It’ll be reviewed by the Commander-in-Chief and decisions will get made. And those decisions, just as importantly, will be communicated to our NATO allies so that they have a better understanding of what direction we’re going to go in, and then they can use that as they wish to inform their own decisions.

QUESTION: Absent word to the contrary from the White House, is it not fair to assume that the decision that the President announced last October still stands, that he’s going to 5,500 or so before he leaves office?

MR KIRBY: I have seen no – I have seen nothing that would indicate that the President has made any other decisions.

QUESTION: Change topic?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Where do you want to go, Said?


MR KIRBY: Syria? Let’s go to Syria.

QUESTION: Okay, very quickly to the statement that the Secretary made in Oslo. He said something – I’m paraphrasing – that we would not sit by, idly by, while one party breaks the so-called cessation of hostility and so on. So what is the message that is meant by that? What is step two then in this process once the whole issue collapses or the regime goes on, let’s say, the offensive?

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, Said, it’s been no secret – and we’ve talked about this – that we’ve been thinking through our options should the processes that we have labored so hard to put into place ultimately fail to stop – to help the international community bring peace to Syria. We’ve made no secret of that. And I’m not going to get into internal discussions or decision making, so I want to put that aside. But broadly speaking, beyond any options we might pursue, there’s going to be absolute, inescapable consequences for the region, for Russia, for Syria if the current track we’re on continues unabated.

QUESTION: When will you get – I mean, when will you recognize that you are – you hit the brick wall, so to speak, that there is nothing beyond this? When do you get to that point? What kind of marker do you have?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. And I don’t believe that there is a marker for that, Said. I think you’ve seen the energy and the effort that the Secretary has applied to this effort and that he continues to apply to this effort. And I think you’re going to see that – I think you’re going to see that going forward. But I don’t – I couldn’t put a date on the calendar for you. I couldn’t give you a list of metrics that would say, well, this is – this is how we know that we’re at the bitter end. It’s a Navy phrase, “the bitter end.”

QUESTION: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: It’s not --

QUESTION: If everybody in the country dies or leaves, then it’s failed, right, because there’s nobody left in Syria?

MR KIRBY: All I --

QUESTION: There’s got to be a point where, like, you say this failed, otherwise --

MR KIRBY: I’m sure that there will be a point, Brad. I just can’t sit here and describe it for you right now and I wouldn’t try to.

QUESTION: Are you – my last question. Are you in discussion with the Russians on this very point, that you guys raised – that time is completely run out? Are you telling them, “We can’t sit idly by, we’ve got to take some action”?

MR KIRBY: I think I’d let the Secretary’s comments --


MR KIRBY: -- speak for themselves. He said, “Our patience isn’t infinite here.”

QUESTION: I understand. But did you, let’s say, today, discuss this with the Russians?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Did he talk to his Russian counterpart, let’s say in the last 24 hours, conveying that message directly to him?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any calls with Foreign Minister Lavrov to read out.

QUESTION: John, on this --

QUESTION: Here’s a mike.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. On this issue, when the Secretary said that our patience is not infinite, and in fact it’s very limited with whether or not Assad is going to be held accountable, what were you expecting from Russia to do to hold President Assad accountable?

MR KIRBY: The same thing that we have expected Russia to do for quite some time, which is to use their influence in a constructive way to help us bring an end to the conflict in Syria, to help us make sure that the cessation of hostility is fully adhered to by the regime all across the country, to help us ensure that humanitarian access can get to communities that are still in need, and to help us get the political talks back onto a track – a successful track – get the process moving towards political discussions between the regime and the opposition.

QUESTION: And since your patience got very limited, what are you planning to do? What are your options now?

MR KIRBY: I just answered that, I think, with Said. I said that it’s been no secret that we’ve been thinking through our options. If – if we get to a point where all the processes that we’ve worked to put in place with the international community fails to help us get success in Syria, we are – we still are as we must, it would be imprudent not to – I’m not going to discuss here at the podium internal discussions or decision making. I wouldn't – I think you can understand why that wouldn't be a prudent thing to do.

But beyond that, aside from that, there are very real consequences for Russia, obviously for Syria, for the region, but for Russia. More war in Syria, the attraction of more terrorist elements in Syria, the potential attraction of terrorist elements in Russia as the war continues to go on as well as a much worsening – potentially much worsening migration crisis, as Brad alluded to, with people just continuing to flow out of Syria looking for some kind of safety. Certainly, there’s going to be more pressure put on already pressurized refugee situations in Turkey and in Jordan, which all puts more pressure on the whole region.

So there are very real consequences for Russia and the region if they don’t start to use their influence in a productive way.

QUESTION: My last --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

QUESTION: Sorry, Brad. My last question is: Was the Secretary trying to draw a new redline for the Syrian regime, for Russia, for the international community?

MR KIRBY: I’m just going to let the Secretary’s comments speak for themselves. I think he was very open, very candid, very honest about his frustrations.


QUESTION: The problem with saying your patience is not – it’s finite or not infinite or whatever – time is running out on this Administration. So if you have a year of patience, that doesn’t mean anything because you’ll be out of office by the time it runs out. So if you can’t define a point in time where you will have had enough, it doesn’t mean much because you’re not going to be around that much longer. Do you understand that that doesn’t carry much of a threat when you’re going to be out the door fairly soon?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t – I just don’t – I’m not going to dispute the reality of the political calendar, Brad, but I don’t think that given the strong influence of American leadership and the strong capabilities that we have at our disposal – not just militarily – and given the real need and the desire for U.S. leadership in this process, I don’t think that we don’t have leverage. I don’t think it’s fair to say that just because the clock is ticking on the Administration, we still don’t have options available to us that are real, that can be consequential. And I don’t think that you’re going to see this Secretary of State in particular slowing down or ceasing to be as strident as possible as – on these issues just because --

QUESTION: Strident doesn’t --


QUESTION: -- necessarily lead to a policy outcome. He can be as strident as he wishes, but the policy outcome has not – has – the – the – the --

MR KIRBY: Well, we – look, we can debate – we can debate that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, two weeks ago today --

QUESTION: Hold up. My point on patience was that if you say it’s not infinite, if – can you tell me at this point if this situation, as it currently stands, is the same on January 20th or 21st, 2017, there will have been a U.S. policy change? Because if you can’t say that, you can’t say that your policy – that your patience is finite.

MR KIRBY: If I can’t say that --

QUESTION: If you can’t say that this situation, if it stays all the way through to the end of the Obama Administration – stays the same – that you won’t have a policy difference, then you can’t talk about your patience ending.

MR KIRBY: Now, look, Brad, I --

QUESTION: You have – I mean, otherwise, it’s a hollow threat.

MR KIRBY: We don’t make hollow threats. It wasn’t a hollow threat. It wasn’t even a threat. The Secretary was simply expressing his frustration with the fact that the Russians have not used their influence in a manner which we know they can and have in the past to have the right effect.

I totally understand the line of questioning, and I can also appreciate that you would like me to be able to provide some clarity in terms of what exactly we’d be prepared to do on exactly what date or when you’re going to know, but --

QUESTION: I wasn’t even asking for what exactly. I was asking if anything different would happen between now – if this policy doesn’t – if the situation as it currently stands doesn’t change by the end of the Administration.

MR KIRBY: Well, the whole point is we don’t want it to stay the same. The whole point is we want the situation to get better and we’re still going to work towards that end. And even as we continue to push on processes which admittedly have struggled – the political talks, the cessation of hostilities, the humanitarian aid – the Secretary’s been extremely honest about the fact that all three of those are struggling right now and facing challenges and have failed in some places and at certain times.

But even as we continue to push on those, we are, as we must consider to – must consider other options that are available to us. And you know what? That discussion is ongoing and I wouldn’t want to say anything here from the podium that would close it down or bound it in in terms of timelines.

So I think, if I understand your question, you’re assuming that we’re just going to – that --

QUESTION: I’m not assuming. I’m asking if anything will change if the situation doesn’t change, if anything in policy – if there will be a policy response before the end of this Administration, if the situation as it currently stands today – because if you can’t say that, then you can’t say that your patience is finite.

MR KIRBY: I can tell you we are actively looking at options available to us if – as I said, if the processes that we’ve labored so hard to put in place ultimately fail, to help the international community bring peace into Syria. We are actively considering. But I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: Because then –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Is there any different – wait, can I follow up on this? Is there any difference --

MR KIRBY: Guys, we’ll – guys, guys, hang on, hang on. Let --

QUESTION: Is there any difference to the active consideration of policy options if the current policy proves to be a failure now than, say, six months ago or a year?

MR KIRBY: It’s been --

QUESTION: Is there any qualitative difference or is this just part of the ongoing review of options that I think any prudent administration does?

MR KIRBY: I think everybody – everybody is – and you heard it in the Secretary’s voice today – everybody’s mindful that the situation is not on a good trajectory right now and that our frustrations are growing and are mounting.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t answer my question, which is whether there is a qualitative difference to the review of options now than a month or six months or 12 months or 18 months --

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to talk about internal discussions.

QUESTION: -- or 60 months.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details of internal discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. One other one. You guys said – and you talked about “We don’t make hollow threats,” but you made a commitment that as of June 1, you would support the immediate commencement of airdrops. It’s been – humanitarian airdrops if there wasn’t sufficient access. It’s been two weeks. Why hasn’t that happened?

MR KIRBY: We said that we would by June 1, if the humanitarian aid hadn’t gotten in, we would support the WFP exploring options for humanitarian airdrops. Nobody said that we expected airdrops to happen on June 1st.

QUESTION: I’m looking – I don’t think the word was “explore options,” and I will find the exact language.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that we expected airdrops to begin on June 1st. In fact, I’m positive that I didn’t say that.

QUESTION: Right. But I’m not saying that you said that. But you did say that you would support --

MR KIRBY: The WFP moving forward with planning to do airdrops.

QUESTION: The word “immediate” was in there, whether it was – maybe it was --

MR KIRBY: Okay, well, let’s – let’s --

QUESTION: -- immediate planning. But it’s been two weeks. How finite or infinite does the patience of people who are starving have to be?

MR KIRBY: We all share the same sense of urgency, Arshad. And I can tell you that we’re all committed to trying to get humanitarian aid to the people in need. The best way to do that is through ground missions. And there have been several – not enough. Clearly not – nobody’s doing a victory lap here, but there have been additional ground support relief efforts in the last couple of weeks. And we continue to support the WFP in their potential planning for airdrops. As far as I know, the WFP has made some proposals, has been in communication with and has made proposals to the regime for airdrops. And I don’t believe that those proposals have gotten all the way through. But they have done the planning, they have submitted proposals, as well as they’ve worked with the regime on ground deliveries. And some of those ground deliveries have made it through.



QUESTION: -- on the calendar. Conversely --

MR KIRBY: One more point there. One more point there.

QUESTION: I want to finish – I got another question on this. Please, yeah.

MR KIRBY: The airdrops – because you had focused on the airdrops. The airdrops are the least efficient way of getting aid assistance – food, water, medicine – to people in need. The best way to do that is on the ground.


MR KIRBY: And those – and there have been some convoys that have gotten --


MR KIRBY: -- through in the last couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Not adequate – correct? I mean, you yourself said it’s not adequate.

MR KIRBY: Not enough. Not enough.

QUESTION: So here’s what the exact statement said, from the May 17th ISSG statement: “Starting” – quote – “Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and airdrops for all areas in need,” close quote. Not options, not planning.

MR KIRBY: “Carry out a program.”

QUESTION: And “immediate.”

MR KIRBY: “Carry out a program.”

QUESTION: So that means what? Not actually delivering food to people?

MR KIRBY: It means coming up with a plan, Arshad. You can be as indignant as you want today, but it’s about conducting a program and putting something in place so that they can do this. And they did do that, Arshad. They did make proposals.

QUESTION: Carried out a program?

MR KIRBY: They submitted proposals and plans to the regime, and they have not gotten to a point where they have been able to carry it out. But there have been --

QUESTION: So submitting proposals to a regime is equivalent – to a regime that’s denying access on the ground – is equivalent to carrying out a program to begin immediate airdrops?

MR KIRBY: They did what they were supposed to do, which was to start to work on proposals, which they did.

QUESTION: You talked about stridence, right? But the issue is it doesn’t matter – your words don’t matter if you don’t carry through on them. And your words here were – if any ordinary person were to read this, it would imply that starting June 1 --


QUESTION: -- and here we’re two weeks beyond June 1 – that there would be air deliveries, right?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it hasn’t happened.

MR KIRBY: But there have been additional deliveries on the ground, hasn’t there?

QUESTION: Yes, I concede that.

MR KIRBY: Okay. So --

QUESTION: But not to all areas.

MR KIRBY: So since that statement was made --


MR KIRBY: -- it’s fair to say that more people have gotten aid, probably more than would have had the pressure from that statement not been had.

QUESTION: That I don’t know.

QUESTION: But it said any aid, any humanitarian deliveries – I think.

MR KIRBY: In any event, there are additional ground deliveries. They are happening. That is the best way for this to happen. And who’s to say that the statement itself and the proposals put forth by the World Food Program to conduct airdrops didn’t in fact have some measure in helping induce the regime to allow additional ground deliveries to make it through.

QUESTION: In fact, there was like 17 convoys to 15 different places on the ground last week.

Let me ask you on the calendar --

MR KIRBY: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- on two things.

QUESTION: I mean, do we now praise countries for allowing starving people to get aid?

QUESTION: No, I’m not --

QUESTION: It’s just getting crazy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I mean, you – it’s like praising somebody who didn’t beat their kids for four hours yesterday. I mean, it – the point is all people who are in need of aid should get aid. You shouldn’t get credit for allowing some people to get food.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t ask for credit.

QUESTION: But then why do you keep repeating the line that some aid is getting through as if that’s a virtue or something? That should be normality.

MR KIRBY: It’s better than – it is better than none happening, Brad. Look, we’re all – look, nobody’s saying it’s enough. I said it at the outset. It’s not enough. We don’t want to see anybody in need. We don’t want to see them barrel bombed or gassed either. But – and that’s why I think you heard some frustration in the Secretary’s voice today about this. But it is at least some progress. It’s not enough. Nobody’s saying we’re happy about it, nobody’s saying it’s okay, and this notion that just because there haven’t been airdrops that we’ve failed here or that we’re not – our stridency is not being heeded to I think is a false argument. Airdrops --

QUESTION: I think he was saying the rhetoric wasn’t matched by the action, which I thought was a pretty fair assessment.

MR KIRBY: What rhetoric?

QUESTION: The rhetoric that if any humanitarian aid is blocked, that you will proceed – you will call on the WFP to proceed with immediate airdrops.

MR KIRBY: Right, and up until – up until that time --

QUESTION: And that didn’t --

MR KIRBY: Up until that time --

QUESTION: That didn’t happen. Whether or not the pressure somehow had an auxiliary effect – I mean, that’s theory. I don’t know, but the action didn’t --

MR KIRBY: Up until that time there had been virtually none, and now there’s been several. Is it enough? No, but it’s an indisputable, mathematical fact that more aid on the ground is getting through now than was just two, three weeks ago, and we want to see that continue. We want to see it expand.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on the refugees. You mentioned the refugees. Now, we’re – the calendar is also running out on the fiscal year, which is in October.


QUESTION: And so far something like 2,500 Syrian refugees have been allowed in as part of the 10,000. What is going on --

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, what number did you give me?

QUESTION: About 2,500. I think you guys said that something like 2,500 refugees have been taken in.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think we’re actually up around near 4,000 now.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

QUESTION: 4,000?

QUESTION: -- it is likely to accelerate over the next few weeks?

MR KIRBY: I think you’re going to see – we take the goal very seriously and we’re working at this real hard. We’ve devoted more resources there in the region to it. The number is going up, and I would expect that you’re going to see that number continue to go up. We take the goal that the President set very seriously.


QUESTION: I have some non-Syria questions --


QUESTION: -- if we can. One, there was some to-do over the White House’s response to the NDAA draft from the Hill, particularly regarding Israeli missile defense figures.


QUESTION: And I was wondering if you could explain why the U.S. or the Administration thought that the amount suggested was too much money for Israeli military defense.

MR KIRBY: Well, what – our view is is that the request to increase U.S. support by some $455 million above the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request is the largest such non-emergency increase ever and, if it’s funded, would consume a growing share of a shrinking U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s budget. So given that the funding for Israeli missile defense comes out of the same account as U.S. domestic missile defense systems – I’m sorry, defense programs – additional support for Israel means fewer resources that are available for critical U.S. programs at a time when the missile threat from North Korea, in particular, is increasing.

QUESTION: Why not just ask for more for the U.S. as well?

MR KIRBY: Again, we believe that the request made in the President’s budget was the appropriate amount to deal with the threat.

QUESTION: It was on a long sheet of complaints, so I realize it was one of several objections, but is that a vetoable – there was a veto threat in that statement. Is that something you would consider vetoing a NDAA over?

MR KIRBY: That is a question for the White House, not for the State Department.

QUESTION: And then separate from Israel, I wanted to ask, in Russia the St. Petersburg Economic Forum is taking place. In years past – well, at least in the last two years, I think – the U.S. has discouraged American companies from attending, but it seems like a growing list of American CEOs are returning, including, I think, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil is there. Is this something you think is okay now, or would you still discourage American CEOs from attending?

MR KIRBY: I think, first of all, our position hasn’t changed on this. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has continued since President Putin’s forum in St. Petersburg last year. And the U.S. Government will not attend on any level, and we’ve been very clear in our engagements with U.S. companies that we believe there are clear risks both economic and reputational associated with top-level engagement with a government that is flouting the most fundamental principles of international rule of law by intervening militarily in a neighboring country.

QUESTION: And just one follow-up. Given that a number of the sanctions on Russia related to oil and natural resource exploration, does this – does the idea of a major American energy company sending its top official undermine the sanctions, you think, in any way?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, again, we’ve communicated our policy on Russia to the U.S. business community in multiple fora. Ultimately, each company’s leadership needs to make its own decision. Most U.S. companies, however, recognize that attending this forum sends a poor message out there about the acceptability of Russia’s actions.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

QUESTION: Pakistan?


QUESTION: Pakistan.

MR KIRBY: Let me go back here and then we’ll come up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Going to Japan. A Chinese naval vessel entered Japan’s territorial waters for the first time since 2004. What is your reaction, and do you have any concerns about this Chinese activity?

MR KIRBY: I’m going to refer you to Japanese authorities on this. This is really for them to speak to. I’ve seen the reports, but this is really something for the Japanese Government to speak to.


QUESTION: Quickly on Russia, according to a Russian news report, a gay couple outside the U.S. embassy was – were arrested by Russian police when they were trying to lay the flowers and then lay the sign to express condolence after the Orlando shooting. My question is: Was any embassy staff or other officials informed about this incidence?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know the degree that we were informed. We’re certainly aware of this – of reports of this incident. We again call on Russia to uphold the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We also remain concerned by the treatment of LGBTI persons in Russia and we fundamentally disagree with the idea that diversity poses a threat to Russia or to any society. We believe diversity, of course, helps societies thrive. But I don’t know the degree to which our post was informed at the time or how they got informed. We are aware of these reports here in D.C.

QUESTION: Generally speaking, what is your assessment of Russia’s practice in protecting LGBTI rights? Because I note – I noted that during the Annual State Department Human Rights Report there are some tough words about it.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think the report speaks for itself. And I just said in my answer to you that we remain deeply concerned by the treatment of LGBTI people in Russia, and we fundamentally disagree with the idea that diversity poses a threat to that country or any country.

QUESTION: Another question on His Holiness Dalai Lama’s meeting in the White House. Do you know if any officials from this building attended that meeting?

MR KIRBY: I don’t believe they did. No, no. Said.

QUESTION: Can I move to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, and then I’ve got to go back to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay, very quickly, there was a statement by the French foreign minister yesterday where he said – where he suggested that the train has left the station. He was addressing the Israeli prime minister in terms of the process for an international conference. If this comes to pass, will you support it? I know you have spoken about this before, but since this has occurred and is a new statement --

MR KIRBY: I’m just not going to hypothesize one way or the other, Said.

QUESTION: All right. But will you support the French effort in that direction in any way?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary – look, he attended the meeting in Paris. He said he’s open to all ideas from all corners, anything that can get us to a two-state solution. I mean, he’s interested in listening to all ideas. But I’m not going to speculate one way or another about this conference.

QUESTION: Two quick follow-ups. The Israeli – or the Jerusalem city council approved the building of a new Jewish-only or for-Jews-only building in Silwan. It’s an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. I thought I had something in here. I would just say, look, our policy on settlements in East Jerusalem or the West Bank have not changed. Don’t find them to be conducive to getting to a two-state solution and to peace.

QUESTION: And lastly, the Israelis increasingly are banning or accusing people on Facebook and Twitter of incitement for any – whatever posts and so on, and increasing the administrative detentions of journalists and others. The last one was someone named Hassan Safadi yesterday; they renewed the administration detention. It is not something that you have addressed before, how – where you stand on administrative detention in these cases. So is that something that you’re aware of?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of this case, Said. But we’ve talked about this before. I just don’t have anything new to offer. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Do you consider that Israel, let’s say, pressuring Facebook or Twitter to delete posts or not to accept posts and so on --

MR KIRBY: Again, I just don’t have anything – I don’t have anything on those specific reports, Said. You’re getting me blind here.

QUESTION: But you do have – but you do have a position. You do have – it’s okay; bear with me, Brad.


QUESTION: It’s all right. I bear with you all the time, so calm down, okay?

So you have a --

MR KIRBY: Boy, it’s feisty in here today.

QUESTION: No, I mean, it’s okay. Because he does that many times. So --

MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports. I think our positions on --

QUESTION: I want to ask you on this: What is your position on this increasing censorship of any post by Palestinian children, kids, students and so on, where the Israelis accuse them for the least kind of statement of incitement? I want you – your position on this. Does this fall under free press or free expression?

MR KIRBY: Said, I am not familiar with the reports that you’re citing. But you know that we have been very clear about freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of people to express their views. We’ve been clear about that in places all over the world, and nothing’s going to change about our views on freedom of expression. I just don’t have – you’re catching me a little blind here.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR KIRBY: I just don’t have anything on that. I’m happy to take the question and we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any fresh comment on the situation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where the Pakistanis – the Pakistan military says it has fired heavy artillery and mortars at Afghan positions?

MR KIRBY: We’re concerned by the recent clashes at the Torkham crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know – we’ve gotten reports that casualties have been taken on both sides. We’re also concerned about reports of the presence of heavy weapons at the border. We continue to encourage the governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan to resolve their disagreements at the crossing point and to de-escalate tensions. As we’ve said many times, we think good relations between the two countries are key to the stability to the region.

QUESTION: One small follow-up on this. You said that you received reports of casualties on both sides. Are those – is it clear from your guidance whether those are new casualties as a result of today’s heavy artillery fire, or is it the casualties over the last several days?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it was in the last day or so.


MR KIRBY: But I’m – I don’t have a timeline of exactly how many or when. But this was recent, over the last 24 hours or so.



MR KIRBY: Nic. Take us out, Nic.

QUESTION: Very – it’s very rare that I ask a question about France, for obvious reasons. But I have to --

MR KIRBY: What would that reason be?

QUESTION: I don’t know; you guess. I’d like to know if there is a concern for the safety of American citizens, thousands and thousands of American citizens who live or who visit France, because of the combination of threats and violence, whether it’s related to terrorism, to social strikes, to violence around the soccer Euro championship.

MR KIRBY: There concern about --

QUESTION: About the safety of --

MR KIRBY: -- safety of U.S. citizens traveling overseas?


MR KIRBY: Well, look, we talked about this when we put out the most recent Travel Warning1 for Europe. And I said at the time we absolutely don’t discourage American citizens from traveling overseas or to Europe this summer. There are amazing things to see and to do in Europe, and we encourage Americans to travel abroad and to see those things and to do those things, and to share with people around the world a little bit of our own values and characteristics. So we want Americans to continue to travel, particularly to Europe.

The reason we put the warning out was just so that – to make sure that – because we have an obligation, as we always say, to look after the safety and security of Americans overseas to the degree we can, to give them information to inform them as they make their travel decisions. And as the Secretary has said himself, we want people to go, but we certainly want them to be vigilant. We want them to be mindful of their surroundings and aware – self-aware – of what’s going on around them and who’s around them, and just like here in the United States, if they see something, to say something to authorities, because the threats are real. No question about that. They’re real there, they’re certainly real here at home.

But no, there’s no overarching concern here from the State Department’s perspective in terms of Americans traveling overseas.

QUESTION: And the violence of the recent days, whether it was in Marseille or in Paris, didn’t raise your concerns?

MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re concerned when we see violence like that. We haven’t issued any new travel warnings, if that’s what you’re asking, but certainly we’re watching these events closely and we’re always concerned about violence overseas, particularly any violence that could put in danger American citizens. And like I said, we take our responsibilities seriously to that.

But just as critically, it is – it’s important not to put on hold everything in one’s life because of the potential threat of terrorism in any one particular place. If you do that, then they win. And just as critically, our citizens lose. They lose the opportunity to see and to be exposed to people and cultures and history, art, all over the world, and we don’t want to see that happen.

Great. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)

1 A Travel Alert for Europe was issued on May 31, 2016.  There is no active Travel Warning for Europe.

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 14, 2016

Tue, 06/14/2016 - 17:53

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 14, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:12 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody.


MR KIRBY: Why are you smiling, Samir?

QUESTION: It’s nice to see you back.

MR KIRBY: It’s been a long time.

QUESTION: Did you miss us? (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: Oh, you have no idea. What’s that? (Laughter.) All right. Because I’ve been gone so long and miss you so greatly, I do have a few opening comments to make, so just please bear with me as I work my way through this.

First, I think and I hope that you’ve seen my statement we just put out on the situation politically in Bahrain. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing for you but I do want to make clear that we are deeply troubled by today’s alarming move by the Government of Bahrain to dissolve the opposition political society Al-Wefaq. We are following this situation closely, as I think you can imagine we would, and we urge Bahraini officials to reconsider this decision. As we’ve consistently maintained, peaceful criticism of the government plays a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic societies. Bahrain has made some progress recently in addressing the concerns and the grievances of its citizens since the events of 2011. The government’s action today against Al-Wefaq is not consistent with the commitment to sustaining that progress or to pursuing unfulfilled reforms.

On Ukraine, we welcome Russia’s decision to exchange Yuri Soloshenko and – I’m going to try to get this right – Hennadiy Afanasiev, Afanasiev – for separatists that were convicted in Ukraine. These two individuals, like many other Ukrainians still in Russian custody, were convicted on trumped-up, politically motivated charges. Their release is another important step in fulfilling Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements and should now provide impetus for the complete implementation of those agreements, including releasing all other hostages and unlawfully detained persons.

Just a note on the Secretary’s travels. I know you know he is in Santo Domingo today. He is participating in the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, the Western Hemisphere’s premier multilateral organization. This morning – and if you haven’t seen his comments, they are posted on our website now – he spoke about the important role that the OAS plays as a platform to promote a hemispheric commitment to the values of representative democracy, human rights, inclusive development, and hemispheric security. He also discussed our support for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and efforts to combat corruption and increase transparency in the hemisphere. And he reiterated our longstanding position of the need for a national dialogue in Venezuela to address their challenges. He also called for the release of political prisoners.

The Secretary expressed our concern as well for the situation in Haiti, and he made clear that the people of Haiti deserve a chance to express their will and elect a president without further delay. Now, as also a part of his schedule today, he met with the conference’s host, Dominican President Medina, and reinforced our commitment to a strong bilateral relationship. He underscored in that meeting the need to resolve the risk of statelessness facing Dominican-born people of Haitian descent and uphold the country’s obligation to combat discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and national origin.

Finally, today, as you – the Secretary is, as we speak, meeting with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rodriguez. The meeting is providing the Secretary an opportunity as well to exchange views and to reiterate our call for national dialogue in order to find solutions to the political, economic, human rights, and social challenges that are facing Venezuela right now, as well as to call for respect for the constitutional mechanisms, including the recall referendum process. I think we’ll probably have a more detailed readout of the meeting when it’s over.

Finally, as part of the White House’s Unite – the United State of Women Summit, First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver remarks here at the State Department this evening. The dinner, co-hosted by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women, will highlight women’s economic empowerment and the government-wide efforts surrounding Let Girls Learn as well as new commitments by organizations in the private and nonprofit sectors to support adolescent girls’ education.

With that, Brad.

QUESTION: Can I start with Bahrain?

QUESTION: Can we start with Bahrain? Oh, okay. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just wanted to ask, firstly, what are the consequences if Bahrain doesn’t reconsider this as you urged?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t think it’s useful to get into consequences at this point. Bahrain knows what a close friend and partner the United States is, how deeply we are committed to that relationship, and committed, quite frankly, to Bahrain’s success. And as I said in the opening statement, this decision itself is not – we don’t believe – in the spirit of and certainly not in keeping with the kinds of progress they have been able to make on the human rights and – on the human rights front in just the last couple of years. So it’s not about – it’s not about a threat of some sort of specific consequence here, Brad. It’s about a good friend expressing a very deep and genuine concern to another good friend.

QUESTION: We’ve heard a lot – we hear from you talk about – vague talk about progress, but it’s becoming harder and harder for a lot of independent observers to see – opposition party shutdown, independent Center of Human Rights president or head arrested, pressure on independent media. What is this progress that you speak of?

MR KIRBY: They have created some new institutions in the government that have helped improve oversight and accountability over the security institution as, as you remember, it is still the security institutions that we – that we continue to have the most concern about. But we’ve also been honest that more work needs to be done. So there has been some oversight and accountability progress made, but we – again, we’re very honest about the fact that there needs to be more work.

QUESTION: Do you actually --

QUESTION: And then I have just one more. Why didn’t the Secretary raise any of these issues in-depth when he visited Bahrain? I mean, they’re not new issues – the lack of implementation on its human rights reforms. I think he made very sparing reference, but he didn’t really address crackdown on civil society, crackdown on independent press. He kind of just brushed over the whole problem.

MR KIRBY: No, I would – I totally disagree with that, Brad. I mean, he absolutely raised our concerns over the human rights situation in Bahrain when we were there. And it’s because we have such a close relationship with Bahrain we can have those kinds of very frank discussions, and he very much raised it.

QUESTION: I don’t --

MR KIRBY: And it has --

QUESTION: How did he – he didn’t – he didn’t condemn any specific action. He even – I think he stood there – and since he hasn’t done that much, even though it took, I don’t know, months for someone they promised right in front of him to be released immediately, he was very restrained at the time.

MR KIRBY: You’re talking about in the press conference. I’m talking about in the actual meetings. And I can assure you that he did raise our concerns about the human rights situation there and about our desire to see Bahrain be as successful as it can be. And we continue to believe that that kind of success is derived best through free and open expression of views and in espousing an opposition that can peacefully articulate the concerns that they have about the decisions that the government makes. That is not something that he was at all bashful about in speaking with Bahraini leaders.

Now, we could argue whether or not you thought there was enough emphasis placed on it when he came out and did the press conference, but I can assure you, having been in the room for the meetings myself, that the Secretary was very, very candid about it.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to his counterpart, or has any other senior State Department official spoken to Bahraini officials about your dismay at this latest court ruling?

MR KIRBY: We have – I can tell you that we have raised our concerns about this decision at various levels. I don’t have any communications specifically by the Secretary to read out to you today, but I can tell you that we have raised our concerns about this decision at various levels here at the Department.

QUESTION: Does that mean beyond the embassy, in other words, here from Main State?

MR KIRBY: Various levels, so beyond the embassy.

QUESTION: At high levels?

MR KIRBY: At high levels, various and high levels here at the State Department. I don’t have any specific communications on the Secretary’s behalf to read out to you.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who? I mean, if it’s high, was it Assistant Secretary Patterson or --

MR KIRBY: I don’t have the list, but I can tell you that it has been raised at various levels here at the Department.

QUESTION: And have there been any consequences for Bahrain since its increasing suppression of dissent since 2011 from the United States?

MR KIRBY: Well, you know there was – there was a prohibition on certain security assistance that had been – that had been imposed since 2011. And just several months ago, of course, we lifted part of it, but not all of it, because we still had some concerns about some of the security forces – concerns which, as I mentioned to Brad, still exist. So it’s not as if we have lifted all restrictions and completely absolved ourselves of the concerns that we still have with Bahrain. And again, I can tell you this is something – this is a topic that we routinely raise with Bahraini leaders.

QUESTION: And how do you address – just last one for me. How do you address critics who argue that the United States – the value that the United States places on its strategic relationship with Bahrain and the basing of the Fifth Fleet there means that it acquiesces in human rights violations and the suppression of democratic expression there?

MR KIRBY: Well, I would tell such a critic to go look at our Human Rights Report, where we lay out our concerns very openly and honestly right there online. I would also tell that critic to take a look at some of the decisions we made post-2011 to withhold some security assistance material, which, when you think about, if you want to – if – and I wouldn’t agree with this characterization, but if you were going to characterize our bilateral relationship from a security perspective – I’m not arguing that that’s what your question implies – but if that’s the – if you want to consider that the limit, then that decision alone I think speaks volumes about the fact that we’re not bashful about being clear and firm about our concerns on the human rights front, because that is where some of the restrictions in that sector were placed.

So I think we’ve been open, we’ve been transparent, we’ve been forthright. It’s all in black and white if you go look at the Human Rights Report. And if we weren’t – and if we didn’t feel comfortable enough in the relationship – because it is a strong bilateral relationship, and we greatly appreciate the assistance of Bahrain and the fact that they host our Fifth Fleet there and their contributions in the region to larger security and counterterrorism efforts. But if it wasn’t for such a strong partnership and such a strong bilateral relationship, I wouldn’t have felt quite as free and easy as I did today in bringing this up right at the top of the briefing – rather than wait to be asked about this decision, just to go ahead and lay it out and be very clear about what our concerns are, because we do have that kind of a relationship. It’s that strong that we believe that it can not only weather these sorts of disagreements over these developments, but that we can use this to work our way through it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more? And then I’ll yield on Bahrain as well.


QUESTION: If Kerry wasn’t bashful in his meetings and the relationship is so strong, how do you explain that they’re doing exactly what you say they shouldn’t be doing? Did they not get it? Are they just not intelligent enough to see it or do they not care what you say or what?

MR KIRBY: I think that’s a great question for officials in Bahrain, Brad. I can’t speak for motivation here. They have to speak for the reasons – they have to speak to the reasons for the decisions that they’ve made. What I can speak for is our view of the decision, which we obviously don’t approve of.

QUESTION: But if you are trying to push respect for human rights, respect for democracy in all places --


QUESTION: -- Bahrain included, what’s your – don’t you try to figure out why your strategy is not working if it’s not working?

MR KIRBY: Would --

QUESTION: Don’t you – you come up – well, we pushed this, but it clearly didn’t work; they’ve done exactly what we didn’t want to do. Do you try to figure that out or do you just say, “Well, they just didn’t agree with us on democracy this time”?

MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think we take quite that glib approach to foreign policy, Brad. Obviously, we certainly would like to have this decision overturned. We are more concerned with that and with a process in Bahrain that values freedom of expression than we are with trying to dissect the particular reasons why this decision was made.


QUESTION: Just to follow up on the previous questions, now, you mentioned the base in Bahrain. That ought to be like leverage for you, because you are providing Bahrain with a great deal of security that it needs. It did not need to be so insecure about its minorities and so on, or the accusation that they levy on them, that they have connections with other countries and so on?

MR KIRBY: Look, as I said to Brad, though, Said, this isn’t about holding something over somebody’s head, using leverage. It’s about freedom of expression and our desire to see this decision changed.

QUESTION: But my point is that you’re saying that a friend-to-friend – you mentioned something like this – there’s an element of some sort of equanimity. But in fact, you invited – I mean, you should be leveraging your power in that part of the world, and the fact that you have provided them with protection for over decades, not only years, and to basically say in public what you say in private. You say that in private you raise all these issues, but yet in the press conference you’re not saying that.

MR KIRBY: We have – the relationship with Bahrain is long. It exists on many levels, not just security. As I said, we’re grateful for them hosting the Fifth Fleet and we’re grateful for their contributions to regional security. We have every expectation that that relationship, their contributions and ours – not just to the relationship but to the region – will endure and it will continue, not just because it must, because of the threats, but because we continue to believe that a multilateral approach to security issues in the Middle East is absolutely vital.

So it’s in no one’s interest, theirs or ours, to try to render moot any one part of the bilateral relationship with Bahrain going forward. What matters to us, as I said at the outset, is Bahrain’s success. Obviously, what matters – our bilateral relationship matters too, but Bahrain’s success matters to us. And we’ve seen them make progress on some human rights issues – not all. Recognize there’s still a lot of work to be done – I’ve said that. But they have shown that they can and they are willing and able to make progress. This decision seems to be stepping back from that, certainly not in keeping with the kind of progress we know they can make. And so we’re going to continue to urge them to do the right thing in this regard and to reverse this decision. And I just think it’s way too premature at this point to try to talk about repercussions and consequences as a result of any reluctance on their part to do that, to overturn it.


MR KIRBY: Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: On this issue. Bahraini Government has said that Al-Wefaq Society was promoting the Iranian regime ideology, or Wilayat al-Faqih ideology. In this case, do you support their decision?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m going to let them speak to why they made the decision. We believe that this opposition group represents, in its being, opposition political views peacefully expressed. And we continue to believe in freedom of expression there and everywhere, and we don’t think this is in Bahrain’s interest ultimately, this decision. We don’t think it’s in their interest.

QUESTION: But in case they were promoting that Iranian ideology --

MR KIRBY: I have nothing – I’ve seen nothing to indicate that that’s the case.

QUESTION: Does it concern the U.S. that, despite the Secretary’s strong criticism of how the Bahrainis have handled human rights, that they went ahead and did this? Does it make the U.S. question whether the Bahrainis are taking this government’s concerns seriously? And if that is the case, why won’t you say what the U.S. is prepared to do in order to make the Bahrainis understand that human rights isn’t just something that seems attractive when it might be politically expedient, that it has to be underscored no matter what?

MR KIRBY: I think Bahrain very much understands our concerns about human rights issues.

QUESTION: And yet they went ahead and shut down Al-Wefaq.

MR KIRBY: Right. I can’t, again, speak for their motivation to do it. But I can tell you that they are very well aware of our concerns about human rights in that country. These are concerns we routinely raise – and we have, in fact, raised in this particular decision. We want them to do the right thing here, and we believe the right thing to do is to overturn that decision. And we’re not at a point – since it just happened, we’re not at a point right now where it does anybody any good to speak to specific consequences or repercussions. Let’s continue to have the discussion, let’s try to get to a better outcome, and then we’ll take it from there.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that there might be a period of time that is acceptable to the U.S. Government for Al-Wefaq to be closed or for any opposition political entity --

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not suggesting that at all.

QUESTION: -- in Bahrain to be closed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not suggesting that at all, no.


QUESTION: DNC – Democratic Party officials say Russian Government hackers penetrated --

MR KIRBY: Wait, are we done with Bahrain?


QUESTION: Democratic Party officials say Russian Government hackers penetrated the computer network of the DNC and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on Donald Trump. Can you support the claim?

MR KIRBY: I would refer you to the DNC for comment on this.

QUESTION: Is the government looking into this?

MR KIRBY: I’d – you’d have to talk to the DNC and to law enforcement authorities on this.

QUESTION: Are U.S. authorities looking into this?

QUESTION: We did and they said it happened, they – we all talked to them, they said it happened. So – all right.

MR KIRBY: Okay. So there’s your answer.

QUESTION: Now that we’ve established that it happened, what do you think about Russians hacking into the DNC and stealing files?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m – I am – I’m not going to get into a law enforcement issue here, particularly one where I’m not steeped on the details. The U.S. Government is the subject of countless cyber intrusions and attacks every day from all kinds of places. And it’s a concern that we take very, very seriously, and it’s a concern, frankly, that we raise internationally all the time with other countries as we deal with them. So it’s something we take seriously. I’m not going to speak to law enforcement authorities or to the DNC on this particular issue. They need to speak to that.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, you don’t know if the authorities are looking into this claim?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I don’t have any more knowledge about this than I’ve just given you. I mean, I – these – just seen these recent press reports. I don’t have anything to corroborate them. I’d refer you to the Democratic National Committee and to law enforcement authorities to speak to this – to these reports. I just don’t have additional info.


QUESTION: Just more generally, under what circumstances is a hack considered an act of war, generally?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about that.


QUESTION: But previous people who have held your position, John, have talked about hacking into U.S. businesses, whether it’s from China, whether it’s from North Korea, whether it’s from Russia. Given that we’re talking about an organization that, while it is technically a nonprofit, is a political organization and is part and parcel of the U.S. political system, is there, one, no real concern within the Obama Administration about this? And two, have officials from the U.S. Government expressed their concerns to the Russian officials about this incident?

MR KIRBY: Well, on the first question, “Is it of concern,” the reports – and again, I’m only speaking to press reporting here – I don’t have any direct knowledge about this case. Obviously, they’re concerning, and if they’re true, it would be of deep concern. And yes, you’re right – it’s not a U.S. Government – the Democratic National Committee is a political organization, not a U.S. Government organization. But sure, that would be deeply concerning to us if it’s true.

I’m sorry, your second question was?

QUESTION: Have U.S. officials --

MR KIRBY: Oh, have we --

QUESTION: Yeah, have you expressed any concerns – I mean, it’s been done before when it deals --

MR KIRBY: Speaking --

QUESTION: -- with private companies and the U.S. Government has spoken out about attempts to hack into private companies. Why not talk about an organization that is part and parcel of the political system? It may not be an official government agency, but it is part of the system.

MR KIRBY: Right. I’m not aware of any conversations that have happened. I can only speak for the State Department. I don’t have any conversations or communications to read out with respect to these reports. Again, these reports have just come in today and I’m talking off of press reporting solely, so I have no communications on behalf of the State Department to read out. I’d refer you to law enforcement authorities for if they have done any outreach based on this press reporting. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Sorry, are any representatives from this building speaking to law enforcement officials on this issue?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any conversations.


QUESTION: Saudi Arabia, concerning the Secretary’s meeting last evening with the deputy crown prince – I saw the readout. It looks like they discussed a wide range of issues.

Two questions: Did the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act come up? And then secondly, at this point, based on this meeting, how would you gauge at this point the level of Saudi concern about this measure?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, I’d refer you to Saudi authorities to speak to their levels of concern about --

QUESTION: It wasn’t part of --

MR KIRBY: I think the readout was pretty comprehensive, and I’m not aware that it came up. Not aware that it came up.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on the readout?


QUESTION: Okay. Now, it says that they focused on Syria, and apparently there are differences between your views and their views. They basically want to arm the – the Saudis, they want to arm the opposition with, let’s say, anti-tank weapons, ground-to-air missiles, and so on. So you don’t see eye to eye on this issue.

MR KIRBY: On the issue of --

QUESTION: On the issue of arming the opposition until they are able to bring down the Assad regime. That’s basically what the Saudis want.

MR KIRBY: So I’m – you’re – I’m trying to understand --

QUESTION: I mean, okay, Syria was a focus. Let’s put it this way: Syria was a focus in these discussions --


QUESTION: -- as Yemen was and as Libya was and so on. But the Saudis – on Syria, the Saudis want a different policy from you where you arm the opposition group, the Syrian opposition group with the kind of weapons that will empower them, let’s say, in inflicting heavy damage that can bring the regime down, such as ground --

QUESTION: He’s waiting for a question.

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: He’s waiting for a question.

QUESTION: Well, there is my question. (Laughter.) My question is – no, wait a minute --

MR KIRBY: I still didn’t hear it.

QUESTION: Let me --

MR KIRBY: But so let me – I’m not going to make you do it a third time.

QUESTION: Let me ask you – okay --

MR KIRBY: I think if you’re asking if there’s this big philosophical divide --


MR KIRBY: -- between the Saudis and the United States on how to move forward on the ground in Syria, the answer’s no. Look, the Saudis were a founding member, quite frankly, of the ISSG. And if it were not for Saudi leadership, we wouldn’t have had that first meeting of the Syrian opposition groups back in December in Riyadh. They have been at this right at the – right from the beginning with the United States and with Russia and with Turkey, moving this process forward. Everybody – and I can – and I don’t want to speak for a foreign government, but I’m comfortable in this regard saying that the Saudis share our concerns about trying to get to a negotiated political process in Syria for a transition – a transitional process to get to a government in Syria that’s not headed by Bashar al-Assad. And they have been leaders, quite frankly, in trying to help us get to that outcome. Now, we’ve got a long way to go.

On the fight on the ground, I would remind you two things: It’s – for the United States, anyway, and for the coalition, it’s about going after Daesh. It’s not about militarily going after the regime. In fact – second point – that’s why we have a cessation of hostilities in place, fragile though it may be. And the Saudis were key figures and key leaders in helping us get to that cessation of hostilities through, what, two, three different communiques and a UN Security Council resolution.

So we’re all working at this problem very, very hard. I’m not going to speak for what they specifically want to do differently; that’s for the Saudi Government to speak to. But I can tell you that on the issues that matter – getting a cessation of hostilities that’s nationwide and enduring, getting humanitarian access to the still thousands and thousands of Syrians that are still in need, and moving a political process forward that gets us to a government that’s not led by Bashar al-Assad – Saudi Arabia has been with us step by step.

QUESTION: Okay. My last question on this.

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: In light of Assad’s statements last week that he is intent on liberating every inch of Syria, are you likely to change your policy towards arming the opposition with the kind of weapons that --

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me based on his comments – comments that were predictable – if we’re going to change the approach that we’ve taken inside the International Syria Support Group towards where we’re trying to get to in Syria, the answer is no.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on the readout about their conversation about Orlando? It mentioned in there that they spoke about that.

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, it was a general discussion. Obviously, the crown prince [1] expressed their condolences for the losses, and I think both he and the Secretary in the context of speaking about the tragedy in Orlando focused – used that as an opportunity to focus the conversation on the need to continue to fight the threat of terrorism in the region and particularly the fight against Daesh. I mean, it was – what happened in Orlando is a grim reminder of how real the threat still is from terrorism, and an opportunity for both men to talk about the ways in which we need to continue to cooperate towards that threat.

QUESTION: Was there any discussion of Saudi funding for Wahhabist schools outside of Saudi Arabia?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything beyond the readout in terms of the communication to talk about. The readout of the discussion, though general, is inclusive.

QUESTION: Did Secretary – I’ll give it one more shot. Did the Secretary raise the matter of LGBT rights with the Saudi crown prince? [2]

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to go beyond the readout.

QUESTION: When you say that the readout, though general, is inclusive, do you mean that there was no topic that was discussed that is not referenced in the readout?

MR KIRBY: I think the topics that were discussed at the dinner were expressed in the readout.

QUESTION: But the – so there were no other topics that came up?

MR KIRBY: I’m comfortable with the inclusiveness of the readout. I don’t have a more exhaustive list of topics to read out to you. It’s an accurate portrayal of the discussion over dinner.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, I just – the reason I’m harping on the word “inclusive” is I’m interested in the completeness of the readout. Do you regard it as a complete readout?

MR KIRBY: None of my readouts are complete in a literal sense. In fact, you guys never fail to let me know that. They are readouts; they are summaries of what can be very long discussions. I’m comfortable that the readout accurately portrays both the tone and the tenor of the discussion as well as the major topics. I don’t have any more additional detail of the conversation to read out to you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: What is the Secretary’s assessment of Vision 2030?

MR KIRBY: Boy, this got you guys all riled up, the readout?


QUESTION: Just before we got on Vision, I just – before we leave the question of Orlando, you said the Saudi crown prince [3] expressed his condolences and that this – the matter was – the specific attack was discussed in general terms, which while not exactly --

MR KIRBY: I mean, it – obviously there was no --

QUESTION: Also, for the record, he’s the deputy crown prince.


MR KIRBY: I’m sorry, the deputy crown prince. Thank you for the correction. The – look, the – of course it came up, I mean, having just occurred and having been so tragic. But as I put in the readout, talking about what happened in Orlando and the manner in which people either become self-radicalized or ascribe themselves or even travel to the region to become members of or affiliated with groups like Daesh, obviously led to, as you would expect it to lead to, a larger, deeper discussion on counterterrorism in general in the fight against Daesh.

QUESTION: Right. And my question is: In the realm of that discussion, was there anything that the Secretary, on behalf of the United States, asked of the Saudi deputy crown prince and his government?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I don’t have any additional detail about that part of the conversation than what was in the readout.

QUESTION: Like specifically, is there more – do you get the sense there’s more cooperation to be done with this specific case and the Saudis? We know that he, Omar Mateen, traveled there twice. Was there any request of the Saudis to see if he had done anything – had been radicalized over there or had any suspicious engagements over there?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of an open investigation, and I can assure you that the Secretary’s dinner last night was not intended to do that either.

QUESTION: In light of the fact that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar in particular to stop funding these extremists and so on, was that in any way this topic, or at least Saudi Arabia’s portion of this --

MR KIRBY: Well, I think the former secretary referred to --

QUESTION: -- implicit --

MR KIRBY: -- citizens of --

QUESTION: Right, citizens.

MR KIRBY: -- those countries who fund terrorist networks. Again, I’m not going to go into any more detail from the readout.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: I can tell you that they talked about – they certainly talked about what happened in Orlando and the need to continue to press the fight against terrorist groups. But regardless – look – go ahead.

QUESTION: She didn’t say “citizens” technically.

QUESTION: She didn’t say these funding – these funding drives happen --

MR KIRBY: “People of.”

QUESTION: -- in public and in full view of the governments. They happened in public.

QUESTION: She said their government allows their citizens to fund --

MR KIRBY: All right. Well, again --

QUESTION: Right. Yeah, thank you. That’s exactly it. Thank you, Robin. So, yeah, I mean, this is --

MR KIRBY: Look --

QUESTION: Just to clarify.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to debate, as I’m not – as I refuse to debate comments made on the campaign trail, all right? We all know that terrorist groups get resources and get funding from a variety of sources. It’s one of the reasons why – and you heard the President talk about this earlier today – that we’re going so hard at Daesh’s financing, because we know that that can put a stranglehold on their ability to operate and to resource themselves and to train and to equip and to sustain themselves. And we believe that all nations everywhere have an obligation to do what they can to try to combat the spread of terrorism and extremism through all manner of different efforts.

And if you look at just the fight against Daesh, it exists on many levels. We often talk about the military level of effort, but we all know there’s other levels of effort there, and we want all countries – and all countries who are threatened by terrorism have a stake in this to do what they can to help --

QUESTION: But then why --

MR KIRBY: -- to help limit the ability of terrorist groups to finance themselves, to resource themselves, to man themselves, and to operate.

QUESTION: But that’s – why can’t you say, then, that the Secretary then raised these very points with the Saudi – senior Saudi official he met yesterday?

MR KIRBY: Because I’m not going to go into more detail than what I put in the readout of the dinner.


MR KIRBY: But --

QUESTION: What, out of principle or what? I mean, it’s a meeting with an incredibly important official from an incredibly important country in the Muslim world the day after a major terrorist attack in the United States.

MR KIRBY: If you’re asking me have we never raised the issue with Saudi officials --

QUESTION: No, that’s not what I’m asking you now.

MR KIRBY: -- of course we have raised the issue. I’m going to stick with the readout. I know you guys don’t like this readout – for some reason, this has really stuck in your craw – but that’s the readout that I have from the dinner last night. And that’s as far as we’re going to go on it, and I’m not going to take any additional questions on the details of the dinner last night.


QUESTION: Sir, as far as this terrorism is going on, many countries, many governments and many --

MR KIRBY: Goyal, let me stop you there. If you’re going to ask about the dinner last night, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, my friend.

QUESTION: Can’t he ask for something --

QUESTION: Many people around the globe are shocked that the --

MR KIRBY: That I can probably give you.

QUESTION: -- most powerful country like the U.S., all these things can happen. And the – somebody somewhere is providing weapons to these people, ISIL or ISIS or whatever, on – with different names they come up. And also at the same time, much debate is going on around the globe, including in India and here in the U.S. among think tanks, that the funding, just like you said earlier, is coming in the name of charity from Saudi Arabia, but – because they want to keep terrorism out of their countries, but to other countries is okay.

But my question is you hear what the think tanks are asking: Why can’t we really stop these fundings and weapons, and we had had so many summits and international organizations and all that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, that’s – it’s a great question. It’s also a very difficult one to answer. As I said, we recognize that terrorist organizations, whoever they are, get resourced through many different ways, some of them donations. Not all of them, but – not all their money comes from donations, but some do. And we continue to press on countries around the world to do what they can to put a stop to – whether it’s – whether they’re implied loopholes that allow for this stuff to happen or express policies that don’t prohibit it, whatever it is, to help us put a stop to the ability for individuals, entities, groups to fund terrorist networks.

But we also have to recognize that donations are not the only source of revenue. As a matter of fact, you look at a group like Daesh, and by and large, it’s oil revenues and their own extortion – that is the largest manner in which they fund themselves, which is why we’re going after their oil revenues so much. So it’s a complicated question to answer and it’s something we’re – we are constantly focused on.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we switch topics, John?

QUESTION: John, quickly – a diplomatic question quickly. When Secretary meets so many – his counterparts, foreign ministers and so forth, just like President meets presidents and prime ministers, you think maybe Secretary maybe thinking now to bring all these ambassadors and have a diplomatic talk with them about these individuals that come from their countries?

MR KIRBY: Well --

QUESTION: And brief these ambassadors and input and output?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know about a conference, Goyal, but I can tell you that these are conversations that we have all the time, routinely, with our counterparts all around the world. This is not a new topic of conversation. It’s not something we haven’t tried to tackle before or that we’re going to give up on trying to tackle going forward. It’s something that we’re very, very keenly focused on.

QUESTION: Because only innocent people are victim around the globe of these terrorists.

MR KIRBY: Yes, they are.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Olson was in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the weekend and last week. Do you know what were the issues they discussed – he discussed with the leaders of the two countries?

MR KIRBY: I think we’ve already --

QUESTION: Yes. And did the issue of Torkham border, the clash between Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s armies came up?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I don’t have additional details to read out. But in Islamabad, Ambassador Olson met with government officials there, including the adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs, the chief of the army staff, and he discussed a range of bilateral, regional issues. In Kabul, he met with Afghan Government officials, to include President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and the National Security Advisor Atmar. He also met with General Nicholson, again, to talk about --

QUESTION: But the readout makes no reference to the tension between the two countries. When he was there, there was clashes between the Afghan and Pakistani forces across the border. And one senior Pakistani army official was killed.

MR KIRBY: I don’t have additional details to read out from his conversations. I could tell you we are all watching the tensions very closely, that we are in touch with officials on both sides. We continue to urge a calm resolution to the tension. We obviously don’t want to see clashes; we don’t want to see violence; we don’t want to see it get worse. And I can assure you that Ambassador Olson shares those sentiments. Now, I just don’t have additional details to read out to you from those meetings.

QUESTION: And secondly, on – in Karachi, in the last few months, even last week, there have been few extrajudicial killings by the park rangers and the army. Are you aware about that?

MR KIRBY: I have – let me --

QUESTION: Those are related to the MQM leaders.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Well, I can’t speak specifically to those cases. I can tell you that we are concerned about reports of continuing extrajudicial killings and deaths in custody, as well as disappearances and abductions around the world. We raise these human rights concerns regularly in the bilateral discussions that we have across the region. We also encourage the investigation of all allegations of these kinds of violations and abuses in a manner that’s transparent, open to the public, and that meets international standards of human rights. We want to see these people being held to account. I don’t have anything additional with these specific cases.

QUESTION: There is a Leahy amendment which restricts U.S. to provide civilian and military aid to armies which are involved in extrajudicial killings. Does this Leahy amendment apply to Pakistan in this case?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to specific cases on Leahy vetting. We don’t do that. But I can tell you that we fully apply the Leahy law in Pakistan, and no aid to the Pakistani military can or does go to any units that are credibly implicated in abuses.

QUESTION: So in this case, do you think the Pakistani army is involved in extrajudicial killing?

MR KIRBY: I am not going to speak to specific cases, as I said.

You had one?

QUESTION: Yeah. A couple. On Iran, an Iranian minister says that Iran has reached a deal to acquire Boeing aircraft. Do you know if that’s true? And though I realize this is largely a Treasury matter, do you know if all U.S. government approval required for such a deal to go through have been obtained?

MR KIRBY: Okay. I can maybe, I think, get to some of that. Without commenting on specific announcements by private companies, I would remind you that under the JCPOA we issued a statement of licensing policy that allowed for case-by-case licensing of individuals and entities seeking to export, re-export, sell, lease, or transfer to Iran commercial passenger aircraft and associated parts and services exclusively for commercial passenger aviation. Although I can’t speak to this specific report regarding Boeing, I can say that we have seen a number of major companies make tangible plans to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities afforded by the JCPOA. As we’ve said before, we’re not going to stand in the way of permissible business under the JCPOA with Iran, and we are going to do what we can to meet our commitments as long as Iran continues to meet their nuclear-related commitments. Beyond that, I’d have to refer you to the private company.

QUESTION: Okay. And you can’t, then, address whether or not Boeing has gotten a license --

MR KIRBY: Right, I can’t.

QUESTION: -- to sell aircraft? Okay.

MR KIRBY: That’s right, I can’t.

QUESTION: Then on the other issue of the JCPOA, Foreign Minister Zarif is quoted as having said in Oslo that he believes that the United States has removed sanctions on paper but that it needs to do more to remove the, quote, “psychological remnants,” close quote, that prevent banks from going ahead to lend. Do you think he’s right that you need to do more to address the non-legal barriers to trade, and is this going to be one of the main topics if the Secretary sees him this week?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the Secretary’s schedule to read out. What I would tell you is just a couple of things on the first part of your question. We have and we will continue to meet all our obligations under the JCPOA. We have and we will stay actively engaged with partner governments and the private sector to clarify the sanctions that were lifted on implementation day. So to be crystal clear, the United States is not standing in the way – as I said on your earlier question about Boeing, not standing in the way nor will we stand in the way of business that can be legitimately done and permitted with Iran since the JCPOA took effect.

And I think, as for psychological remnants, it would be I think fair to remind that what might help lift some of the psychological remnants, to use that phrase, would be Iran’s ceasing the destabilizing activities that they continue to carry out, their support for terrorism which they continue to foster. So what makes business nervous, what makes business reticent isn’t some lack of education or effort by the United States, but when they see missiles being shipped to Hizballah, missiles being fired at U.S. aircraft carriers, and support to terrorist groups. That’s what makes business nervous. Those are the psychological remnants which need to be lifted.

QUESTION: One more from me: Has the Legal Adviser’s Office made any progress in its continuation of its review of the excising of the briefing?

MR KIRBY: They continue to do their work. We’re going to respect that process and let them continue. I don’t have any updates today.

QUESTION: John, can – quick one on --

MR KIRBY: I got time for just – yeah.

QUESTION: -- Iraq. Very quickly, is there anything that you care to share with us on Fallujah, what is going on in Fallujah? Because Secretary of Defense Carter said that U.S. Apaches are involved in the fight against Daesh, and I was wondering whether they are involved in the fight against Daesh in Fallujah.

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t speak to – I can’t speak to DOD equities, Said. I know that the Iraqi Security Forces continue to try to move on the city center in Fallujah, which is where the bulk of Daesh forces remain. I – but I’m going to push you over to the Defense Department for updates on the progress of that campaign.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)


[1] deputy crown prince
[2] deputy crown prince
[3] deputy crown prince


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 10, 2016

Fri, 06/10/2016 - 16:35

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 10, 2016

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2:09 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everyone. Happy Friday. I got the day of the week right, David. That’s accomplishment, I think, of the week for me.

QUESTION: Boy, that’s setting a pretty low bar to --

MR TONER: It is, but I was wrong, I think, two out of three days this week, so that says – tells you something.

Anyway. Welcome to the State Department, everyone. Just to start off, I wanted to announce that the Secretary of State will travel to the Dominican Republic, to Norway, Denmark and Greenland next week. He’ll travel to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Oslo and Svalbard, Norway; and Copenhagen, Denmark and also Ilulissat, Greenland – excuse me – Ilulissat, Greenland. And that’s from June 13th through 17th.

While in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on June 13th and 14th, the Secretary will participate in the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, the Western Hemisphere’s premiere multilateral organization. The Secretary will also meet with Dominican President Danilo Medina and will engage in bilateral discussions and consultations with regional counterparts on issues of shared interest.

Secretary Kerry will then travel to Oslo, Norway, on June 14th through 16th, and will join Norwegian Foreign Minister Brende at the Oslo Forum, a gathering of world leaders involving conflict mediation, and will meet separately with Prime Minister Erna Solberg for bilateral discussions. Secretary Kerry will also deliver remarks at a conference on deforestation and visit Svalbard, Norway, to engage with Arctic researchers.

The Secretary will then travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, June 16th through 17th, where he will have bilateral discussions with Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen. Secretary Kerry will also travel to Ilulissat, Greenland, on June 17th to meet with Greenlandic and Danish officials and discussed shared – and discuss shared challenges in the Arctic.

That’s it. Matt.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one thing about this trip?

MR TONER: Sure. Why I can’t pronounce all the names? (Laughter.) That’s --

QUESTION: No, it’s just like – I mean, he’s going from the tropics to Iceland. Who packs with him? (Laughter.) I mean, from Hispaniola to the Arctic Circle in the space of one day.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I mean --

QUESTION: Matt, who packs for you? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s really the question. No, I --

MR TONER: I’d say bring a fleece.

QUESTION: No, I have a serious question.

MR TONER: Okay, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you give us a general idea of the issues to be discussed at the OAS meeting?

MR TONER: Well, there was a backgrounder, I think, on that earlier today. Obviously, it’ll be issues of hemispheric importance, including, certainly, the situation in Venezuela, but elsewhere in Latin America. I’m sure Cuba will be on the agenda as well. But beyond that I don’t have a list in front of me.



QUESTION: I have lots of stuff.


QUESTION: Any – the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has suggested that Israel’s cancellation of entry permits for Palestinians following the attack in Tel Aviv may amount to collective punishment. Do you regard it that way?

MR TONER: We’ve seen those remarks, certainly. Look, I’m not going to get into characterizing what the suspension is. All I’ll say is basically what I said yesterday, which is that while we strongly support Israel’s right to ensure the security of its citizens, in general we hope that any measures that it does take will be designed to minimize the impact on the lives of Palestinian civilians who are going about their daily lives.

QUESTION: Isn’t – I mean, can’t you make an argument, though, that it’s not collective punishment, that it’s rather – it’s a security measure rather than a punitive measure? Or do you regard it as a punitive measure? And if that’s the case --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- then why is it not collective punishment since those people presumably were not the gunmen here?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into calling it this or that. What I – what we said yesterday and what we’ll say again today is that we understand in the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack in Tel Aviv that Israeli authorities are putting in place security measures. They have said that this is one of those measures that they’re planning to take, but this certainly will have a broader impact on the lives of many Palestinian civilians, as I said, who are simply going about their daily lives. And we would ask in any of these situations, while understanding the precautions and the understandable security measures that Israel is taking in the wake of these kinds of attacks, that we don’t see an escalation in tension, that we don’t see measures taken that will add to tensions.

QUESTION: Could I --

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

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that real quick?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Because, I mean, these are really draconian measures. I mean, aside from the checkpoints, whole towns are closed off, the whole West Bank; people are not allowed to go to Jerusalem, definitely not to Israel, and so on; Gaza is completely besieged. Even – they plugged all the holes in the wall, so to speak. So, I mean, that is a whole population that is being punished or restricted under security measures. I mean, this is not something that happened today. It has happened day after day, year after year for a very long time. So why is it difficult for you to say that this is actually collective punishment?

MR TONER: So, Said, what I’d say is a couple of things. One is that we strongly condemn the terrorist acts, the violence, and there’s no justification for it. We were very clear about that the other day. I said this – I said as much again yesterday. What we’d like to see, certainly, are affirmative steps, affirmative actions to restore calm, to de-escalate tensions, and to bring about an end to the violence. And that’s incumbent on both sides, and certainly we want to see, as we talked a little bit about yesterday, statements that help relieve that pressure, relieve those tensions, that condemn the violence and de-escalate tensions.

But we also understand in the immediate aftermath that Israel – Israeli authorities are trying to put in place security measures --


MR TONER: -- to protect their citizens. I’ve said this. But they need to do so with the understanding that this will impact, as you note, the lives of tens of thousands of people. And we hope that they do so in a temporary fashion and acknowledge that this will have an impact beyond the – providing security for Israeli citizens.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, there has been nothing temporary about this occupation, but let me just take you to what the French foreign minister said. I don’t know if you saw his comments.

MR TONER: I’ve seen his remarks.

QUESTION: He – his remarks. They were a bit stronger, and he’s saying that this could have some dire consequences and so on. He’s, in fact, called on Israel to undo this and allow Palestinians to go about their lives, as you said – allow them to go about their daily lives.

MR TONER: Again, anytime you take sweeping actions like this, there are the possibility of – that these actions will only inflame tensions and escalate tensions, and I’m guessing that that’s what Foreign Minister Ayrault was referring to in his comments. Again, I’m not going to characterize these actions in any way. All I’m saying – all we are saying – is that we want to see any actions to be temporary in nature and to not impact the lives of normal Palestinian citizens.

QUESTION: Well, my last question on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, have you ever – or do you recall at any time that Israel closed off a settlement when there was a settlement-borne attack or settler-borne attack from these settlements and so on, and disallowed people – or, in fact, the Palestinian Security Forces, which Israel coordinates all actions with, going after the settlers and so on? Have you ever seen anything like this?

MR TONER: No, I’m not aware of such a circumstance.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: So, let me just pick this up a little bit. Does the Administration believe that Israel has the right or does not have the right to control who gets into its – who crosses the border, who crosses the line between the West Bank and --

MR TONER: Well, in general, any sovereign state should be able to control its own borders if that’s what you’re referring to.

QUESTION: So regardless of whether or not you won’t take a position on whether this is collective punishment or not, you do acknowledge that they have a right to regulate --

MR TONER: And I’ve – yes, and I’ve said as much, yes.

QUESTION: -- the flows of people in and out of the country.


QUESTION: So – and I think that you said in response to one of Arshad’s questions that it was understandable, is that right? Maybe I misheard you.

MR TONER: No, I said that. They – it’s understandable in the wake of a terrorist attack that they are going to take measures to protect their civilian population --


MR TONER: -- of which this is one, I believe, is how they’ve characterized it.

QUESTION: Right. And yesterday, you talked about restraint.


QUESTION: Do you recall this building or the Administration – any administration, more broadly, urging restraint on other governments after their countries have been the victims of attack, notably, I would say, France, Belgium in the most recent?

MR TONER: I think --

QUESTION: Or is – no, go ahead.

MR TONER: No, no, that’s okay. It’s a legitimate question. I think very often, as I said – and I believe I’ve been clear in this case as well – in the wake of terrorist attacks such as we’ve seen in Israel, such as we’ve seen in Europe, such as we’ve seen sadly throughout the world, that government, local authorities often take immediate security measures, again, with the goal of protecting their citizens. All we would ever say about those measures is that they not violate basic human rights and that they’re done in a way that doesn’t serve to escalate tensions on the ground and exacerbate a sensitive situation. But again, I think we understand the motivation behind these actions.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say --


QUESTION: -- all you ask is that they don’t violate basic human rights, so do you believe that what the – what – the measures that Israel has taken violate basic human rights?

MR TONER: I think – I’m not going to characterize it that way, and all I’m going to say is that they – obviously, as I said already – they do inconvenience a large number of people. But I don’t think they’re – I don’t know that I’d characterize them as a violation of human rights, no.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, because inconvenience is not – I mean --

MR TONER: I understand. I understand the difference.

QUESTION: I’m not exactly sure that convenience is --

MR TONER: I understand the --

QUESTION: -- a basic human right.

MR TONER: But they do impact the lives of Palestinian citizens --

QUESTION: So – so --

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR TONER: -- or civilians, rather.

QUESTION: All right. So can I just --


QUESTION: So why is it you won’t either say that this is, as Arshad pointed out the human rights people say, may – this may be a collective punishment, or say it’s okay --


QUESTION: -- we are – as you said, it’s understandable, but you don’t want it to affect – to violate basic human rights, I mean, and if it doesn’t, then is there an issue? Is there a problem?

MR TONER: I guess, Matt, in answer to your question or in response to your question, it’s – I don’t want to – I don’t want to put a moniker on it or attempt to characterize it because it’s not a black-and-white issue in that sense. It does impact the lives. Without any doubt, it will impact the lives of normal, regular Palestinian civilians going about their daily business. That’s without doubt.

But that has to be balanced with Israelis’ – sorry, let me just finish – Israeli authorities’ desire to put in place security measures – enhanced security measures to protect their citizens in the wake of a terrorist attack. They do so with the knowledge, I guess, that that will – may have an impact exacerbating tensions. We are only acknowledging that that is a possible side effect. That’s all I’m saying.

QUESTION: But – well, I guess I’d just – if you think that the impact it’s going to have on innocent – on innocent --


QUESTION: -- Palestinian civilians is too much, why won’t you say it?

MR TONER: I believe I am by raising it.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So --

MR TONER: By saying that --

QUESTION: So you disapprove, then --

MR TONER: I’m saying – no, Matt, but let me – no, no. No, no, no --

QUESTION: -- of the measures that – okay.

MR TONER: No, no, but what I’m saying is – sorry, just to clarify, what I’m saying is they need to – we would hope that any measures would be temporary in nature and would refrain from escalating tensions. That’s all we’re saying here. That’s the only caveat we’re putting out.

QUESTION: Yeah, but at the same time you’re saying that it is escalating tensions.

MR TONER: I’m saying it could.

QUESTION: So your position is the same as the French position or the French foreign ministry’s.

MR TONER: I don’t have his comments in front of me.


MR TONER: All I’m saying – I don’t know. I’m not trying to – no, you’re trying to box me in. I --

QUESTION: I’m trying to – well, I’m just trying to get a straight answer. I don’t --

MR TONER: But my answer is we understand why they’re taking these measures. We understand in the wake of this terrorist attack the rationale behind it, but when you do take these, they – we’ve – and we’ve said this before, Matt, in the wake of terrorist attacks when they have taken measures to – that have impacted innocent Palestinians, that they do so on a temporary basis and they do so with the understanding that nobody wants to see a further escalation of tensions.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, the last one.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Can you – do you recall, and this is going back to the first --


QUESTION: -- my earlier question, which I don’t think you answered, which is: Do you recall ever feeling the need to advise, to warn, to urge governments in Europe to use restraint as they respond – when they respond to terrorist attacks?

MR TONER: I can’t come up with an instance, no.

QUESTION: Okay. So why is it – can I --


QUESTION: Is the situation with the Israelis and the Palestinians just so unique that you think that it is required? I mean --

MR TONER: Well, you – again, I – so a couple of thoughts on that actually. First of all, these are – this is an ongoing conflict --

QUESTION: Clearly, yeah. And I mean --

MR TONER: -- and that involves two parties.


MR TONER: We don’t want to see tensions exacerbated on either side, and we realize that when these senseless acts of violence and terrorism take place, that they only escalate tensions, understandably. We want to see a diminution of – we want to see an end to violence. We want to see a diminution of tensions. It’s with that understanding and that awareness that we do comment on the actions that Israel’s taken. And frankly, and I’m not pointing the finger at anyone else, but if another country we felt were taking severe or draconian measures in the wake of some kind of an attack, we might also comment. I’m not saying that this is that case, but I’m saying we might.

QUESTION: Okay. So you --

MR TONER: But you’ve actually done well because you forced me to answer a hypothetical, which is always a bad idea.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but – so but – so you do not believe – you do or you do not believe that the measures that they have taken, that the Israelis have taken, are severe and draconian?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to characterize them.

QUESTION: All right, I give up.

QUESTION: I just – on this very point, you’re not correlating the dynamics, let’s say, between France and terror groups like al-Qaida or ISIS and so on with that – with the dynamics of Israel, with an occupied population, are you? You’re not correlating that? I mean, there is a military occupation ongoing, correct? You do acknowledge that.

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to correlate between what’s happening in one part of the globe to another part of the globe, one issue to another issue. All I’m speaking to is the situation in Israel in the wake of a terrorist attack that took place two days ago in Tel Aviv and the measures that the Israeli Government has taken as a result of that attack. I don’t want – I said from the get-go I don’t want to characterize it in any way. I tried to give – or offer what I thought was our assessment of the stakes here and what might happen as a result, but in no way do I want to characterize this. In no way do I want to draw comparisons despite your efforts to make me do so. Okay?


QUESTION: Change topic?

MR TONER: Are we done with --


QUESTION: Georgia?

MR TONER: Yeah. Let me do Georgia and then I’ll get to Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you. European and U.S. officials – among them, American ambassador in Tbilisi – made a lot of statements about largest television station, Rustavi 2. Shareholders of this television company lost appeal today in court of appeals in Tbilisi. Opposition and some NGOs say that this is a takeover of television station just four months before elections. I was wondering if you have any reaction on that, please.

MR TONER: Sure. You’re talking about the Tbilisi appeals court, right – the decision they took on Rustavi 2 ownership. Well, again, my understanding of this is that the Tbilisi appeals court decided to uphold the ruling of a lower court that, in fact, transferred ownership of Rustavi 2 to the claimant. And our understanding is also that Rustavi 2 management will stay in place until the appeals process has been exhausted.

I guess we would just say that it’s important to bear in mind that freedom of media, political pluralism, independence of the judiciary, are essential foundations in any democracy and remain critical to Georgia’s successful Euro-Atlantic decision. So we would just call on all sides in this particular case to exercise restraint and to work to resolve the case through judicial process in a way that supports Georgia’s democratic development.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry, you said Syria.

MR TONER: (Off-mike).

QUESTION: Yeah. So yesterday you said that --

MR TONER: Sorry.

QUESTION: -- there had been reports that food convoys would be allowed through. We understand that some have been allowed through, others not. And also, there are now reports that after the aid was distributed in Daraya, which obviously hadn’t had food a number of years, that dozens of barrel bombs were dropped on the town --


QUESTION: -- by Syrian --


QUESTION: -- military helicopters.

MR TONER: So you’ve given a pretty accurate assessment. Frankly, it’s --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) your response (inaudible).

MR TONER: No, it’s – look, as you said, yesterday we did confirm that Daraya received its first food delivery since 2012. But while this step was positive, it was only a partial delivery, and we would call on the rest of the supplies to be delivered as soon as possible. Excuse me.

And then I talked about this yesterday; we want to see and expect to see all the food, all the supplies, all the assistance, as determined by the UN and as requested by the UN, reach all the besieged areas that are defined by the UN. This should be – this should be a UN-designated and UN-led process here. It shouldn’t be a situation where the Syrian government, for example, decides which areas receive humanitarian assistance.

We do understand that another aid convoy, I think, has begun to arrive or has arrived in the besieged area of Douma today. So again, another small measure of progress. But you, of course, noted the very tragic incident that the Syrian regime conducted multiple barrel bombing attacks in Daraya this morning, and that was – came just hours after the UN convoy arrived. Obviously, such attacks are unacceptable in any circumstance; but in this case, they also hamper the delivery and distribution of badly needed assistance.

QUESTION: And these were – you’re certain they were barrel bombs --

MR TONER: Our understanding is that they were.

QUESTION: -- conducted by the regime?

MR TONER: Yeah, they were barrel bombing by the --

QUESTION: Because somebody --

MR TONER: That’s our understanding.

QUESTION: Reports were saying that they’re – some crude bomb, perhaps suggesting that there may be a different group behind it.

MR TONER: Yeah. Our understanding is that they were the regime barrel bombs.

QUESTION: Mark, can I ask a couple questions about Raj Fernando?

MR TONER: Sure. Let me do – she asked Afghanistan. I’ll get to her first --

QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine.

MR TONER: -- if we’re switching sort of topics. Yeah, sure. Go.

QUESTION: As I understand, under a new authority that President Obama approved, U.S. forces will assist Afghan forces not only in defensive instances but also in their offensive campaign against the Taliban. Is that correct – about this --

MR TONER: Sure. And I believe the Department of Defense is actually either spoken to or is speaking to this as I brief you guys right now. But yes, President Obama has decided to authorize additional authorities – so those are modifications to existing authorities, I guess is how I’d put it – for the Department of Defense to be exercised within the realm of our two ongoing missions in Afghanistan. And those missions, just to remind folks, is – are first, the United States along with NATO has the non-combat mission of advising and assisting the Afghan Defense Forces. And then the second component to this mission is a counterterrorism capability to go after remnants of al-Qaida, ISIL as well, and other terrorist groups in the region. So those are the two components. And this, again, is just an additional modification to those existing authorities.

QUESTION: Well, now that --

QUESTION: It doesn’t reflect a change in strategy in that you’re no longer attempting to talk to the Taliban; you want to shoot them now?

MR TONER: No. I mean, I think it’s – I think fundamentally this is about better support for Afghan Security Forces.

QUESTION: But specifically attacking the Taliban.

MR TONER: Indeed. Well, again, what I talked about is the ISIL-K, I think is what the designated group are, but also al-Qaida and then those elements of the Taliban who are intent on carrying out terrorist attacks.

QUESTION: But where does it leave the Administration’s position that there has to be a reconciliation process involving the Taliban? Are you still committed to that?

MR TONER: Yes, we are.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. going to be attacking the Taliban until they too commit to a reconciliation process?

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, I mean – and I don’t want to necessarily lump all the Taliban together. What we’ve been clear about is that we hope there’s a point when the Taliban come to realize that what’s needed in Afghanistan is reconciliation, and we’ve long supported Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation – peace and reconciliation talks. It’s frankly the best and surest way to end the conflict in Afghanistan,

But let me just finish. But it’s always been a component of our ongoing mission in Afghanistan is, one, to ensure that the Afghan Security Forces are able to carry out their mission effectively, and this will help that; and then secondly, that we go after the remnants of al-Qaida, that we go after these ISIL-affiliated groups, that we continue our counterterrorism operations. Because let’s remember what brought us to Afghanistan many years ago, which in the wake of 9/11, which was an effort to go after al-Qaida, which had positioned itself, had set up shop in Afghanistan with the intent of carrying out terrorist attacks in the West, including in the United States.

QUESTION: The U.S. does not recognize --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) authority to take on ISIL and al-Qaida. The change today is a broadening of its authorities to attack the Taliban.

QUESTION: Which the U.S. does not recognize as a terrorist organization; is that correct?

MR TONER: Yeah, I think --

QUESTION: Nothing has changed in your authority to attack al-Qaida. That’s been a core part of the mission forever. And you actually exercise that authority all over the world, not just in Afghanistan.

MR TONER: Right. But this offers us – again, no, but I mean, I guess I’m maybe presenting it a different way. But I mean, what this allows us to is it offers greater opportunities for U.S. forces who are accompanying – to accompany and enable Afghan conventional forces both on the ground – because we had already been providing this support for Special Forces.

QUESTION: Right. But the Afghan conventional forces are fighting the Taliban.

MR TONER: They are fighting the Taliban. And again, as – but we’ve been very clear about this as well. While Afghan – sorry. While the Taliban are not a designated terrorist organization, foreign terrorist organization, we have taken out their leadership, we have carried out strikes against them. When we understand – and we do understand – that they are intent on carrying out attacks aimed at killing Afghan Security Forces and U.S. security forces --

QUESTION: I’m not arguing that that’s a bad thing. Just that the thing that’s news today is that. You just keep mentioning al-Qaida, which is irrelevant to the news today, no?

MR TONER: Right. What I’m trying to say is it’s an expansion of our authorities, yes. So I mean – yeah. Sorry.

QUESTION: Does this change affect – does this change have any impact on what the State Department does?

MR TONER: No. I mean, it – I mean, it enhances --

QUESTION: So why are you standing up here? Why are you talking about it?

MR TONER: Well, granted – and I did mention that --

QUESTION: Well, you went on – you went on and on. I can understand why the question was asked, but I just want to know: Does it have any relevance to what the State Department’s mission is in Afghanistan? Does it change any of the State Department’s or U.S. diplomats’ authorities --

MR TONER: Direct mission? No, but it does affect our overall mission in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Okay. And that which remains trying to promote Afghan reconciliation.


QUESTION: Right? Despite this change; is that what you’re saying?

MR TONER: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Does the – does the Afghan Government --

QUESTION: But does this change help or hinder that reconciliation –

QUESTION: -- want a reconciliation?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Does the Afghan Government want a reconciliation with the Taliban?

MR TONER: Yes, as long as they’re willing to come to the table and discuss it in a peaceful way. Again, but this is not – I mean, we want to see both sides – as I said, Afghan-led, Afghan-owned. That’s --

QUESTION: What is the – what is the endgame? Where does the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan end, as you see it?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, first of all, that we do have an Afghan Government and Afghan Security Forces that are able to provide security for the Afghan people. Second, that we continue our counterterrorism mission, which is, again, aimed at remnants of al-Qaida, ISIL, and other terrorist groups that operate in that sphere. And that we have stability and peace and security in the area and that we are able to solidify the gains that the Afghan Government has made over the past decade-plus since we initially went into Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Continuing --

MR TONER: I’m so sorry. Nicole, why don’t you go first and then I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Okay, I’ve got a series about this. The first is that it seems that even State Department officials were a little puzzled by Mr. Fernando’s appointment to the ISAB.

MR TONER: I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time hearing you. I apologize, Nicole.

QUESTION: Sorry, I’m just --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) hear you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not feeling particularly well. I’m just here to get the job done.

MR TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: So Mr. Fernando, he was appointed to the board. This seems to have puzzled even some State Department employees. If he was at all qualified, why – why did he resign so suddenly after ABC News started asking questions?

MR TONER: I mean, you’d have to ask him. I mean, look, all I know and can say about this story – and I’ve read the story, obviously – is in looking at – he served on the International Security Advisory Board, and that was established to provide State Department with independent insight and advice on different international security matters. The board should reflect, according to its charter, a balance of background, points of view, so he was chosen as part of that process of trying to choose members that represent a broad range of views, I assume.

I don’t have any more details into his selection process, and I certainly don’t have any details into why he resigned so briefly – or so quickly after he was appointed.

QUESTION: Does State have any concerns that the decision to appoint him was purely political, was without any national security considerations?

MR TONER: Do we have concerns that it was purely politically motivated?


MR TONER: No, I don’t think so. It’s not unusual for, as I said, a broad range of individuals to be vetted and chosen for these kinds of positions.

QUESTION: Okay. Has he – had he had any other engagements or encounters with the State Department prior to the ISAB appointment?

MR TONER: Good question. I’m not sure what his – I apologize, I don’t think I know. You’re talking about whether he had worked for the State Department --

QUESTION: In any capacity.

MR TONER: -- or had any kind of capacity.


MR TONER: I’ll see if I can get you any information about that. I don’t have it in front of me.



QUESTION: Are there any other appointments made by Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff or Secretary Clinton herself that the State Department had any concerns about or that --

MR TONER: No, not that I’m aware of. No.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR TONER: Thank you. Goyal.

QUESTION: I have one --

QUESTION: When you say --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- the board’s supposed to represent a broad range of people, does that mean that --

MR TONER: Balance in background and points of view, as --

QUESTION: Does that mean that it’s open to anybody?

MR TONER: No, certainly not. I mean – and again, anybody who’s going to be chosen would be vetted.

QUESTION: I mean, could I be --

MR TONER: I mean, it’s not – look, I mean, if you’re looking at a board that is supposed to provide independent insight and analysis of security matters, it’s not unthinkable to imagine that a journalist who works in-depth on issues of security would be considered.

QUESTION: Right. All right. But – okay.

QUESTION: How about (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Here’s a question --

QUESTION: How about Arshad?

QUESTION: How about – how about --

QUESTION: Yeah, I --

MR TONER: Arshad, you’re (inaudible). (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no. How about high-frequency traders? I mean, that’s what this guy did. He was like a trader.

MR TONER: He came from a business background, yes, and I don’t have --

QUESTION: Not just a business, a markets background.

MR TONER: A markets background.

QUESTION: He didn’t come from a security background, did he?

MR TONER: I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: Does he know anything about security matters, to your knowledge?

MR TONER: Again, I just don’t have his – I apologize. I don’t have his CV in front of me. I don’t have a – all I know is that the charter does lay out, stipulate that looking for a broad range of experiences. It’s not, again, unimaginable that a businessman, international businessman might bring a certain level of expertise or knowledge or experience to such a job. My understanding is that he was fully vetted. He did, as you noted, Nicole, resign shortly after. I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: I have one more on that.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, go ahead, and then I really – I have to take one more question, which – Goyal.

QUESTION: I don’t know if this is something you’re going to have the answer to, but --

QUESTION: Can you talk about Iraq?

MR TONER: I don’t have time, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- on the State Department website for the board itself, it lists former members.

MR TONER: Yes, yep.

QUESTION: But he’s not listed there. Is that – is it a comprehensive list or is it just highlighting --

MR TONER: Apparently not. (Laughter.) Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You know what, I – yeah, I can check on that, actually. I don’t know why it wasn’t included – he is not listed on the website. I don’t have an answer.

QUESTION: Can you find out who it was who called the person who cut it off the website and who called them to tell them to do that?

MR TONER: Okay. (Laughter.) We’ll do so immediately.

QUESTION: Speaking of which, is there anything new on that?

MR TONER: Thanks, David. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Want me to answer that one?

MR TONER: I really don’t have anything – no. I mean, we’re – as we talked about the other day, they’re still continuing to carry out additional fact-finding.

QUESTION: All right, but no --

MR TONER: No updates.

QUESTION: -- no new information?


QUESTION: Can I ask you if you got answers to the two – the TQs on Moldova and – and Ukraine?

MR TONER: Yes, on Moldova, yes. And on Ukraine I thought --

QUESTION: And Ukraine.

MR TONER: I answered that, I thought. Did I not answer that adequately?

So on Moldova – let me start there.


MR TONER: I don’t know if I – I thought I answered your question on Ukraine, but --

QUESTION: I’ll go back and check.

MR TONER: -- let’s do Moldova first. So we have seen reports that parliament is considering a draft anti-propaganda law which could negatively impact LGBTI persons in Moldova and undercut protections in the 2012 anti-discrimination law that did improve equality and tolerance in Moldova. So we urge Moldova to uphold its international commitments and obligations to protect the fundamental freedoms of expression – excuse me – peaceful assembly, and association for all citizens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And we believe that diversity does not pose a threat to Moldovan society, but instead helps it to thrive.

QUESTION: And do you have any reaction to the Peruvian election?

MR TONER: I don’t believe I --

QUESTION: Because --

MR TONER: Yes. It’s – they’re undecided, right?

QUESTION: -- Ms. – no, she – Mrs. Fujimori has conceded.

MR TONER: Oh, that’s – okay.

QUESTION: She’s conceded now. She hadn’t --

MR TONER: Well, look, I mean, I – we – okay. I mean, I had not seen that news. We do congratulate Peru on conducting orderly presidential elections, but on that news, I’d have to get back to you to comment.

QUESTION: And I have one last one, which will be very brief --

MR TONER: Please. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- because I know you’re going to have to take it. In Bahrain recently – well, one, is it – do you have any timetable from this report that’s now 100 and --

MR TONER: This is the report – the --

QUESTION: To Congress --

MR TONER: To Congress, okay.

QUESTION: -- that you guys were supposed to submit to them 120-odd days ago. Do you know – just – I don’t expect that you have it right now, but do you have a better timeline, better idea of when it will be sent?

MR TONER: I’ll check on that.

QUESTION: All right. And then just – we had talked in here a bit about the – this woman who had been – they had promised that they would release on bail for humanitarian reasons. And there were apparently several other – cases similar to this, although involving less – perhaps less high-profile people. And I’m just wondering if your conversations with the Bahraini authorities are limited to these high-profile cases, or are you continuing to press the Bahrainis on releasing people for – political prisoners or people who you believe to be political prisoners --


QUESTION: -- for humanitarian reasons?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, my – our – my understanding is that it’s the latter; that we continue to press the Bahraini authorities to make improvements on their human rights record and also to address ongoing human rights concerns, and not just affiliated with high-profile cases but across the board.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR TONER: Goyal.

QUESTION: Two questions, quick, on India.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: As far as terrorism is concerned, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Congress and lawmakers and also the think tank people in Washington, meeting hundreds of them, that there should not be a distinction between good and bad terrorism. Terrorists – or terrorism is terrorism whether they are – they are all bad anyway, because if they are good, then they are not terrorists. So – and also he mentioned about cross-border terrorism that – what message he was sending to whom and are they going – are there – anybody getting his message? And also recently, President also celebrating or gave address about five years of killing of Usama bin Ladin, and he was also talking about terrorism that after five years. Anything change or what message you think Prime Minister Modi was sending to who?

MR TONER: Look, I’m certainly not going to speculate on what his intended audience was or what his intended message was, beyond saying that there’s no zero-sum game here. We need to pursue closer relations with India, with Pakistan, and they need to also pursue closer relations on the security front, certainly, with each other. And that’s to the benefit of all of us, to be frank, and that includes Afghanistan as well, because there continue to be serious terrorist threats. And I do agree with him; there’s no justification for terrorism, and we all need to work in a concerted and coordinated fashion to address it, and we’re trying to do so.

QUESTION: And second --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- just quickly. As far as his visit is concern, is it debate in think tank and around the globe and the U.S. also, and when he entered the U.S. Congress for the first time, he made history by saying that this is a temple – this is a temple of democracy, and he was telling the U.S. Congress hall. And this is similar what he did in 2014 two years ago when he entered the Indian parliament for the first time and he bowed down on the steps of the Indian parliament, and same thing he did here. So debate is going on.

Also yesterday at the Heritage Foundation, including Indian ambassador, Mr. Arun Singh, and U.S. ambassador to India, Mr. Verma, and among others – and so what kind of debate do you think going on in the Administration about his visit, because talk of the town?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, in terms of his words or recognition of Congress as a – I don’t know – temple of democracy is what you said? Those are kind words about an institution that reflects --

QUESTION: Are they deserved? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: -- U.S. democracy. We are only one form of democracy; there are many forms in the world. India is obviously the world’s largest democracy. We believe it’s the best political system out there, but we’re not saying that our brand, so to speak, is the one for everyone. We’re all working to create the – I guess the perfect democracy.

QUESTION: And finally, also, he was saying the meetings of the minds – the largest and oldest democracies.

MR TONER: Yes. Thank you for the last word there, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, sir.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 9, 2016

Thu, 06/09/2016 - 16:06

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 9, 2016

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1:43 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Just one thing at the top and then I’ll get to your questions. I wanted to speak out briefly about the attacks earlier today in Baghdad, also give an update on Fallujah.

The United States strongly condemns the barbaric terrorist attacks in Iraq today that deliberately targeted civilians, killing at least 25 people and injuring many more. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims, families, and friends, and remain steadfast in our support for the Iraqi people in their fight against Daesh. These attacks by Daesh, including the cowardly attack on June 7th in Baghdad and Karbala that targeted dozens of innocent Iraqis celebrating the beginning of Ramadan, are stark reminders of why we must defeat this enemy. The United States will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi people as they confront and defeat Daesh.

Also just on Fallujah, we commend the progress being made by Iraqi forces on the battlefield. We’re encouraged by statements made by Iraqi leaders over the past several days urging for the protection of civilians who are fleeing Daesh and the pledge to investigate any cases of abuse and to hold violators accountable. The United States and our coalition will continue to provide training and support to the Iraqi Security Forces so they can continue to defend and protect the Iraqi people.

That’s it. Matt.

QUESTION: I have one housekeeping thing --


QUESTION: -- before we go back to policy.


QUESTION: And that is the response to Congressman Chaffetz. Has it happened? Has you – have you sent it?

MR TONER: It has. Yes, it’s been sent.

QUESTION: It’s been sent? Can you give us a little more clarity about what’s in it?

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, I think it’s simply – well, it’s at least partially in response to the letter that Representative Chaffetz sent to the Secretary. But it addresses what we know about the incident and what we’ve been able to determine by interviewing this person, the technician, and also looking at emails and basically giving a laydown of the events as we know them – a timeline, if you will. And then that’s essentially it, and then also speaking to the fact that we have taken steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future.

QUESTION: Well, what is it that you have determined? Have you gotten any further than --


QUESTION: -- what we already know?


QUESTION: What you’ve already told us?


QUESTION: So there’s no new – there’s no new detail --


QUESTION: -- in the letter --


QUESTION: -- that’s been sent?


QUESTION: And did you turn over any documents, which, of course, the congressman had requested?

MR TONER: No, not to my understanding. No, we did not. No.

QUESTION: How come?

MR TONER: I think we talked about the fact that we have gone through the emails, but I don’t think we felt necessary – that it was necessary to share those documents with the committee at this point in time.

QUESTION: Well, are they relevant? Did you find any that are relevant to this?

MR TONER: No, no. I mean, we said this --

QUESTION: Well, if --

MR TONER: We went through all of – we didn’t find any documents and we’re not going to just hand over all of the emails that are, as you said, not relevant to the investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but the question – the question is that the reason that you didn’t send any documents with the letter is that they didn’t --

MR TONER: Is that they were not – yes, they were not relevant to it. Yes.

QUESTION: They didn’t have anything to do with this?

MR TONER: Yes. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: What are the email systems – so you’re – you said you’re looking at emails. Are you looking at both classified and unclassified email systems?

MR TONER: I would assume both.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR TONER: I’ll check on that. And I have not gotten an answer about personal emails. I don’t believe that’s the case.

QUESTION: You don’t believe that you’re looking at those?

MR TONER: That we’re looking at personal emails.

QUESTION: And can you – and this may be just me that’s interested in this, but can you get the names of the email system or systems that you’re looking at?

MR TONER: How so? You mean --

QUESTION: I believe there’s more than just classified and unclassified and there are other systems.

MR TONER: Sure, I can see if that’s – if there’s – if it’s --

QUESTION: Okay. I --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.


QUESTION: And that’s gone up to his office just recently in the last couple hours, or was it yesterday?

MR TONER: Yeah. Yeah, I believe – you’re talking about Representative Chaffetz?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m just wondering – I’m just wondering if he has had time to respond. (Inaudible.)

MR TONER: I think it’s – I think it was --

QUESTION: You have not gotten --

MR TONER: It was sent in the last hour or so. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. So you have not heard back from him?

QUESTION: So it didn’t go yesterday?

MR TONER: No, it did not go yesterday.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR TONER: We were just finalizing it – dotting i’s, crossing t’s.

QUESTION: On your – related to your opening statement on the attacks in Iraq --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday there was also – there was an attack in Israel in Tel Aviv. I know that you put a statement out, a written statement out about it, but do you have anything more to say about that in the same vein as you --

MR TONER: Well, obviously, as you said, and we --

QUESTION: -- spoke about the attacks that –

MR TONER: -- and I’m happy to once again condemn yesterday’s terrible terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms. We extend our deep condolences to the families of those killed and our hopes for a quick recovery of those who were wounded in this attack. And as I said in the statement yesterday, these kinds of attacks can never be justified.

QUESTION: On the subject of the attacks --


QUESTION: -- the defense minister over there, Avigdor Lieberman, has said that in future Palestinians that are killed while carrying out attacks will – their bodies will not be returned to their families. They’re going to be interred somewhere. Israel has a cemetery for enemies, I think. Is that something that you’re concerned about? Is that – or is that par for the course?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look – I mean, this is obviously an internal matter for Israel to debate. This is – I think a couple thoughts on that is – one is that we would just hope that any measures that Israel takes would be designed to not escalate tensions any further. But we certainly respect their desire to express outrage and to protect the safety of their people.

QUESTION: Is that an appropriate way to express outrage, to keep the bodies of the killers?

MR TONER: Well, again, we – I guess – again, the dynamic here is that we don’t want to see any further escalation of tensions. That’s something that they obviously should weigh when they consider these kinds of measures.

QUESTION: But you then went on to say that you respected their desire to convey outrage --

MR TONER: Well, I’m talking more specifically about--

QUESTION: -- and that --

MR TONER: -- frankly, about their reaction – or our reaction to their reports that they’re going to freeze entry visas, or permits rather, and they’re also going to plus up their troop --

QUESTION: Well, that was exactly what I wanted to get to next.


QUESTION: I mean, they said that they’re going to revoke permits for 83,000 Palestinians and, as you said, that they’ve said that they’re going to send several hundred more troops to the West Bank.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, are you trying to say in a very delicate way that that could increase tensions, which presumably it will since it makes it harder for people to work?

MR TONER: I think what I’m trying to say, Arshad, is that we understand the Israeli Government’s desire to protect its citizenry, or its citizens rather, after this kind of terrorist attack, and we strongly support that right. But we would hope that any measures it takes are designed to – would also take into consideration the impact on Palestinian citizens, or civilians rather, who are just going – trying to go about their daily lives.

QUESTION: Yeah. But what about the impact on the victims of this?

MR TONER: I understand that. And which is why I --

QUESTION: I mean, I’m not sure exactly how it is that the Israelis are escalating tensions here.

MR TONER: Matt, I’m simply saying that --

QUESTION: I mean, two guys went into a restaurant with a --

MR TONER: I understand that. And that’s why --

QUESTION: -- started shooting people point blank.

MR TONER: And why I prefaced my response by saying that we understand their desire to protect their citizens and to send a message, but we would only urge that any measures that it takes be done under – with the consideration towards the many innocent Palestinians who are simply trying to go about their daily lives.

QUESTION: So what does that mean? Does that mean you frown upon the measures that they are taking and think that they are escalating tensions? Or does this fall into the purview of being an appropriate response to a terrorist attack?

MR TONER: I think ultimately, first of all, that’s something for the Israeli Government to ultimately decide about, decide on. I’m just simply trying to give a full sense of the dynamics here, which are that this is going to affect thousands of Palestinian civilians who are, again, just trying to go about their daily lives.

QUESTION: Right. Tens of thousands of civilian – Palestinian civilians.

MR TONER: Tens of thousands. Correct.

QUESTION: But the initial attack affects the lives of --

MR TONER: Of course. And I strongly --

QUESTION: -- many, many, many Israelis.

MR TONER: I understand that as well.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on this. Now, the Israelis --

MR TONER: And I strongly condemn these attacks.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: The Israelis thus far are saying that it was an individual. They could not tie it to any particular group and so on. So in this regard, and since they said that thus far there is no evidence indicating that they belong to any one group, are you calling on the Israelis to – for restraint and if – I know you alluded to that in your response to Matt and Arshad. But are you calling on them to sort of refrain from, let’s say, vengeful thing against Yatta, the village which is now completely besieged? They come from a village in Hebron where they have been – the village has been subjected to a great many attacks by the settlers. Are you calling on the Israelis to refrain or have a restrained response against the village of Yatta or other places in the West Bank?

MR TONER: Said, again – and let me be very clear – we condemn yesterday’s attack. We completely understand the right of Israeli authorities to ensure the security of their civilians and to carry out measures that they believe will, in fact, provide for that security. I would simply caution – and we’ve said this before – that in carrying out those kinds of measures that they do take into consideration the impact on innocent Palestinians and that they exercise restraint.

QUESTION: Have you been in contact with the Palestinian Authority or with – I know you have probably been in contact with Israelis on this incident or other possible incidents on their coordination, security coordination with the Israelis. Weeks back --


QUESTION: -- the head of the Palestinian security claimed that they thwarted some, like, 200 attacks and so on. Are you in touch with them on this issue?

MR TONER: Said, I’m not sure that we’ve been seen this attack yesterday. But I can – I know that we’re in regular contact, talking about these security issues.

QUESTION: Okay. And I just wanted to ask you, Fatah, whose head is actually the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – they issued a statement basically saying that Israel must realize the consequences of its persistence to punish violence – to push violence and house demolition policies for its displacement of Palestinians, raze on Israeli – by Israeli settlers and so on. So is that – how do you perceive their – the statement of this group, which you basically support? You support the authority.

MR TONER: So a couple of things. There were a number of statements yesterday. I think President Abbas made a statement rejecting all violence against civilians regardless – and I’m quoting here – regardless of their identity and irrespective of the justifications. We certainly support the spirit and the words of President Abbas. We have consistently called on the Palestinians to condemn terrorist attacks, and this incident’s no different.

There was also a statement by Hamas that we found deeply troubling that essentially tried to glorify the attack. And there was also a statement, as you mention, by Fatah – a Fatah official, rather, that – saying it was somehow justified. And again, we reject that. There’s no justification for these kinds of terrorist attacks.

QUESTION: You saw the statement from Hizballah?

MR TONER: I believe so. And we --

QUESTION: You also have issues with that --

MR TONER: We would, yes.

QUESTION: -- with what it’s saying? Okay.

QUESTION: One thing. I misspoke. I suggested that the permits that had been canceled were work permits, but they were not. They were to visit relatives.

MR TONER: That’s correct, yeah. Yeah. Thank you for clarifying that. Yeah, just entry permits.



QUESTION: Mark, can I ask an Israeli question?

MR TONER: Hey. Yes. Good to see you.

QUESTION: Just to --

MR TONER: A question – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: It’s an Israel question. I just want to clarify something.

MR TONER: Oh, okay. Great. Sorry.

QUESTION: A few days ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he would be open to peace talks based on a revised version of the Arab peace plan. I’m just wondering whether the U.S. would support that or whether it wants the parties to stick to the original version of the Arab peace plan.

MR TONER: It’s a fair question. I recall the statement as well. I think – like, I mean, I think in the wake of last week’s conference in Paris – and again, Secretary Kerry has spoken to this before. I think we’re willing to look at all serious proposals, regardless of whether they involve a new or somehow revamped proposals – previous proposals, rather. Sorry. So I think we’re open to any kind of serious effort and intent by Israel or by the Palestinians to, again, start direct negotiations. That’s what we’re – direct talks, rather. And that’s what we want to see.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the Israel question?

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure, Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask if you would comment on this frequency of visits between the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, and the president of Russia, Putin – you know, that it’s happening more frequently and so on, whether this is a result of a waning U.S. influence in the region, as some suggest, or is it basically they’re trying to sort of --

MR TONER: I can’t speak to --

QUESTION: -- to show contempt for some U.S. --

MR TONER: -- I can’t speak to why Prime Minister Netanyahu would – is engaging more frequently with Russia. I would simply say that we continue to engage with Prime Minister Netanyahu on a weekly basis. I know Secretary Kerry speaks to him frequently. So as long as we’re talking, we can’t – we’re not certainly going to restrict their ability. They’re a sovereign nation and can speak to whomever they’d like to speak with.

QUESTION: So the Administration has, for some time, said that it is fully supportive of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and potential ratification by the Senate, although it does – not going to be ratified by the Senate, at least in its current form. I’m wondering if, in fact, it is still something that the Administration is interested in. And I ask this in the context of the fact that there’s an anniversary, the 20th anniversary of the treaty, coming up on Monday.

There is a big meeting where all of the five – the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council were invited. All of them but Secretary Kerry are going. And although Rose Gottemoeller is going for the U.S., I’m just wondering – there used – there was a time not so long ago when you couldn’t pry Secretary Kerry out of Vienna or stop him from going there for any reason. And I’m just wondering if CTBT is still an issue of priority for the Administration why it is he wouldn’t be going when his four other perm-5 colleagues are?

MR TONER: I mean, I – certainly it’s still a priority. I don’t have anything to announce in terms of Secretary Kerry’s travel, but he will be, I think, traveling next week. And I don't have details on why he’s unable to make it to Vienna, other than that he has previously scheduled commitments. But I don’t --

QUESTION: So this is not any indication --

MR TONER: This is not kind of a signal-sending, no.

QUESTION: Signal sending of what?

MR TONER: That we’re somehow no longer interested in CTBT.

QUESTION: Can we – Syria?


QUESTION: The – Staffan de Mistura has said that he’s received assurances that Syria will allow aid conveys – I think it’s from this weekend – to all 19 UN-designated besieged areas. Have you, via the humanitarian task force or the ISSG, received the same assurances? Do you give them any credence? And will there be any consequences for Assad if he does not --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- carry through with this assurance?

MR TONER: Sure. Sorry. Didn’t mean to cut you off there.


MR TONER: Well, obviously this is potentially very positive news. But again, as I said yesterday, we’re skeptical and we’re looking for action. We are, in fact, monitoring the first food delivery since, I think, 2012 to Daraya. And that should take place today. We understand a convoy is already en route and we hope that the people in Daraya are able to break their Ramadan fast this evening with food from this UN convoy. It is also our strong expectation and hope that all of the assistance that is in this UN convoy will reach Daraya, as well as to other besieged areas. We continue to call on Russia – we continue to call on all ISSG members to uphold the basic principle that it should be the UN who determines what assistance is necessary and what besieged community should receive that assistance. And we believe that the UN’s full request should be met. There’s no other standard. This is not something that the regime should be able to somehow edit or provide their own viewpoint on. The UN, we believe, should be the arbiter of these besieged areas and what they should receive.

So to answer your question more directly, look, we’re cautiously optimistic. Again, we are very hopeful that this delivery will be made to the besieged community of Daraya and, as I said, that they can break their fast with much-needed food.

QUESTION: That’s Daraya now. But he also talked about the other besieged areas.

MR TONER: Aware of that. And again, we’ll be looking for evidence that this is being carried out. We’re, again, cautiously optimistic.


QUESTION: Should these deliveries be an incentive to restart the talks, in your view?

MR TONER: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Will they play a role?

MR TONER: I mean, I think it’s all – look, we’ve said there should be no preconditions for talks.

QUESTION: Right. I understand.

MR TONER: But the reality is that with a very spotty ceasefire or cessation of hostilities or a cessation of hostilities that we’ve seen seeking to strengthen and reaffirm in many places and with the fact that the regime is still withholding assistance from reaching these areas, it’s hard. It makes it harder for these talks to get back up and running in Geneva. So we would look to any steps taken by the regime and by the opposition – but certainly, in this case, by the regime – as a way to build a more positive climate.


QUESTION: Did you hear from the Russians why they are not taking actions through – any --

MR TONER: We’ve not, no. I don’t have anything. I asked that very question today and I – we don’t have any updates. I would ask – I would direct you to the Russians, but I don’t think they’ve responded.

Please, sir.



QUESTION: Just a follow-up from yesterday, have you received any communication from Japan regarding the incursion by the Chinese military vessels near the Senkaku Islands?

MR TONER: Hold on, I think – I don’t know that I have an update on that. I apologize. I think I’d still refer you to the Japanese authorities to speak to it. We have been informed – I can report we have been informed by the situation – of the situation, rather, by the Japanese Government, and we’re obviously in close communication with them. But I’d refer you to them for any further details.

QUESTION: Mark, can you explain what this situation is in Qatar that led to the ambassador to apologize for the video to --

MR TONER: Sure, I’ll explain as much as – as best I can, I guess. So – and perhaps it’s – it is an example of the ability of social media to send the wrong message. But my understanding is that there was a video posted during an event, a social event celebrating the establishment of the Army – the U.S. Army. And apparently, that video offended some who saw it, some Qatari citizens who saw it, and Ambassador Smith took it upon herself as ambassador to Qatar to issue an apology on Twitter, and also convey in person her apology to the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs.[1]

As to the specific content of the video, it’s really a matter for the Department of Defense to speak to.

QUESTION: Okay. But --


QUESTION: -- I mean, did you agree that it was offensive?

MR TONER: Do I personally agree or do I --

QUESTION: Well, did the building agree? Or did she do this – did she --

MR TONER: I think it’s not a matter of – Matt, I wouldn’t say – so regardless of whether I personally or we – the matter is it’s – people took offense to it, and so as a result, we felt and clearly Ambassador Smith felt that it was best to apologize for any misperception or any insult that was conveyed by this.

QUESTION: All right. And then just at the very top, you said --


QUESTION: -- it’s an example of the ability of social media to send the wrong message. Well, I mean, social media doesn’t send the wrong message on its own. Someone’s got to actually actively put it up there, right?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: So do you know --

MR TONER: All I’m saying is we all need to be conscious of what we put out on social media. Let’s put it that way.


QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on this --

MR TONER: Sure thing, please.

QUESTION: -- as well?


QUESTION: You said she took it upon herself to apologize in person. Did she take it upon herself or was she summoned by the Qataris?

MR TONER: No. My understanding is that she issued on Twitter and conveyed in person an apology to the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs. I don’t believe that – I think she did this voluntarily and on her own volition.

QUESTION: She made an appointment to go see --

MR TONER: That’s my understanding.


MR TONER: That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: Can we go to Fallujah where you started at the top?

MR TONER: We can go to Fallujah, sure.

QUESTION: Okay. First of all, could you give us an update of what’s going on? And second, there seems to be, like, some sort of a campaign to aid the “Sunnis,” quote-unquote, in Fallujah in places like Saudi Arabia and other places. A spokesman for the ministry of interior in Saudi Arabia says we cannot stop people’s sentiments and so on. Are you concerned or would you sort of take this up with the Saudis to --

MR TONER: You – I’m sorry, just – I missed it. You’re saying that there seems to be a – yeah, sorry, sorry. Yeah.

QUESTION: No, two things. First of all, can you give us an update? And then I’ll follow up with --


QUESTION: -- other one.

MR TONER: Sure thing, hold on one second. Apologize; my book has grown too large.

So as I think I said yesterday, Iraqi forces are making progress, are advancing on the city. I’d obviously refer you to the Iraqi authorities to speak more about what progress has been made. I do know that – and I think I’m speaking to your – maybe your second question – but we are concerned about the plight of civilians who are fleeing Fallujah, and I spoke about this yesterday. Our understanding is that ISIL or Daesh is holding tens of thousands of civilians hostage and under terrible conditions. Iraqi Security Forces are trying to screen those who are fleeing the city to ensure that Daesh fighters are not hiding among these innocents – civilians. And it’s difficult work, but we expect it to be conducted in a way that respects human rights and the safety of these civilians who are fleeing the fighting.

QUESTION: And it seems that the Fallujah battle is stirring or polarizing the Sunni-Shia schism; and in fact, in places like Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated countries are collecting contributions and money and so on being sent. Some fear that it might find its way to ISIS, or others fear that it will only exacerbate this --


QUESTION: -- sectarian schism.

MR TONER: Well – and we’ve, again, talked about this the last couple of days. I mean, look, we’re obviously aware of the underlying dynamics and tensions inherent to this assault or this offensive to retake Fallujah. We understand Prime Minister Abadi has opened safe passageways for civilians to be able to escape. We’ve talked a lot about messages from Prime Minister Abadi as well as Ayatollah al-Sistani’s message that Iraqi Security Forces involved in this offensive should protect civilians and civilian properties.

We are troubled by reports that civilians in Fallujah and the surrounding area have been subject to torture or abuse and in I think some cases even murder. I know Prime Minister Abadi has pledged to investigate all credible reports and hold those accountable – the perpetrators. He’s issued clear instructions to Iraqi Security Forces, including the Popular Mobilization Forces, to protect civilians and respect their human rights. And we firmly support this approach.

I think that the Iraqi Government is saying the right things, pledging to do the right things, and we’re obviously working closely with them to ensure that they follow through.

QUESTION: Finally, are you troubled by reports that suggest that Iranian General Qasem Soleimani is giving personal advice or field advice to – personally to Prime Minister Abadi on how to conduct the Fallujah battle? Are you aware of those reports?

MR TONER: I mean, look, this offensive – we’ve seen the reports, certainly, and I acknowledge that we’ve seen them. We’re not in a position to confirm any of these images as accurate. We don’t know about his travel schedule or where he is. I’d have to refer you to Iranian authorities to speak to that.

The Fallujah operation though, writ large, is under the command and control of the Iraqi Government, and we’d refer you to them to answer any questions about that. But this is a large-scale operation involving tens of thousands of Iraqi forces and with the support of these Popular Mobilization forces, and thus far it’s a difficult fight. It’s a long fight. As we talked about, there’s – we’re watching closely reports of – credible reports of abuses on civilians, but thus far we’re hearing the right things from the Iraqi Government.

Please, sir.



QUESTION: Thank you. Mark, day before yesterday Turkish president signed constitutional amendment to remove immunity from MPs at parliament, most of them involved with the Kurdish MPs. Couple weeks ago you stated your concerns about what would happen if this happened. So now the president sign. I’m wondering if you have any comment on this.

MR TONER: I’d just say, again, that we’re very concerned that this amendment will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech across Turkey. Look, it’s a common tenet in democratic societies that – or, rather, a common tenet is equality before the law. We believe that the freedom to engage in free speech and political speech is – or should be, rather, protected under the law. And this certainly involves speech by elected representatives of a country’s citizens. So we’re going to continue to closely monitor it. We’re going to express our concerns with the Turkish Government.

Please, sir.


MR TONER: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: According to today news report, the Pentagon has dispatched a second carrier to the Mediterranean. A) can you confirm; second, can you tell us what it is behind that unusual step in --

MR TONER: Unusual of having two carriers in the --

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s been more than 20 years. The Navy hasn’t had two carrier in the same time in the Mediterranean.

MR TONER: I – honestly, I have not seen those reports. I’d have to refer you to the Pentagon to confirm them. And as to the reason behind them, again, they can speak to the overall strategy and the mission of these particular carriers. I don’t have anything to offer.

QUESTION: Is it related to what’s taking place in Syria and Iraq, as they report (inaudible)?

MR TONER: I would be – I just can’t conjecture to why those two carriers in the Mediterranean – if they are indeed. I just don’t have that information in front of me.

QUESTION: Mark, can I follow up again – sorry – on the --

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: -- China-Senkaku issue?


QUESTION: So you can’t shed any kind of light on the communication between you and the Japanese Government on this?

MR TONER: I can’t – I’m sorry, what was your question? I can’t shed any?

QUESTION: Any more light on, like, the details, the content of the communication between the Japanese Government and this building?

MR TONER: No. I mean, look, I mean, we’re obviously – Japan is a close partner and ally. We – they have informed us about the situation. You know our position on the Senkakus is longstanding. We don’t take a position on the question of ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but we do acknowledge that they’ve been under Japanese administration since, I think, 1972. And as such, we believe they fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

We’re obviously always concerned by these kinds of reports – something we watch closely and we’ll continue to consult closely on with the Government of Japan.

QUESTION: Are there any steps that you’re looking to take?

MR TONER: Not at this point, no, I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: And finally, sorry --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- do you think that this incursion is a direct response to U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, we just left the S&ED in Beijing where, again, we had a very full and frank conversation with the Chinese about our commitment to freedom of navigation. That’s not something we’re going to shy away from. We’ve been very plain-spoken about it. We believe it’s within our rights and within international law and we’re going to continue to carry out these kinds of operations. As to whether this is related to that, we hope not, but we can’t conjecture.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Yeah, you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you, Mark.

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I have a question about Eritrea.


QUESTION: The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea held a press conference yesterday to report its findings to the media. The Commission of Inquiry says, I quote, “The commission has concluded that Eritrean official have committed crimes against humanity, the crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution, rape, murder, and other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign against the civilian population since 1991.” And also, if you remember, the State Department also released its own Human Rights Report on Eritrea.

So what is the U.S. reaction regarding --


QUESTION: -- this new report from the United States --

MR TONER: Well, we’re --

QUESTION: -- the United Nations?

MR TONER: Sure. We’re reviewing the – I think it’s the second report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. We’re concerned by the commission’s assertion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea since 1991. We have, as you know, repeatedly expressed grave concern about the human rights situation overall in Eritrea, and the findings of the commission only, I think, reinforce our concerns. We continue to support international efforts to improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea.

QUESTION: And a quick question. The Eritrean Government --


QUESTION: -- and its supporters rejected the report, claiming that it’s politically motivated. Do you think it is?

MR TONER: Again, we’re reviewing the report. The concerns – or the allegations it raises are concerning to us, and I think we would encourage the Government of Eritrea to honor its commitment to return the duration of natural – there’s several steps that they can take, let’s put it this way, to address some of the concerns about human rights. One, they can return the duration of national service to 18 months, they can also develop an independent judiciary, and they can also release persons who’ve been arbitrarily detained, and that includes journalists and members of religious groups. So we would urge them to take action to improve the overall human rights situation in Eritrea.

Sorry, you had a question.


QUESTION: Just speaking of UN reports, the secretary-general has come out and essentially acknowledged that the Saudis threatened to cut off tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars of funding for various UN organizations and programs unless they were removed from this child – this report on children. Is this the kind of thing that’s acceptable to you (inaudible)?

MR TONER: So we are – we have seen his comments. We share his view, the secretary-general’s view, that the report describes, quote, “horrors that no child should have to face,” end quote. And we believe that it’s important that the UN be permitted to carry out its responsibilities pertaining to human rights and the protection of children without fear of reprisals.

QUESTION: Okay. So that means that you do not think that what the Saudis did was appropriate?

MR TONER: Again, we’ve seen his comments. We’ve seen reports about countries, governments, Saudis threatening to cut off funding.

QUESTION: I mean, is that an okay way --

MR TONER: It’s --

QUESTION: -- to get your way at the UN?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think it’s – we agree with the secretary-general that the UN should be permitted to carry out its mandate, carry out its responsibilities, without fear of money being cut off.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I mean, one of the reasons that I ask this is that it’s pretty standard diplomatic procedure or procedure – pretty standard behavior of nations, including the United States --

MR TONER: I’m aware of our own track record.

QUESTION: -- to threaten to cut off funding to UN organizations if it doesn’t do or if it does do things that it doesn’t like. So why is it not hypocritical for you to be – raise an eyebrow or say that what the Saudis did is wrong when this government, through multiple administrations and sometimes required to by U.S. law, threatens the UN on an almost daily basis?

MR TONER: Again, I’m speaking to this very specific report that pertains to protection of children.


MR TONER: And I would say that our focus is on the way forward, which is that the secretary-general has invited the Saudis – the coalition, I think – to send a team to New York to talk about the report and to work through it. And we would certainly strongly urge the Saudis and others to participate in that process.

I said I fully acknowledge our own track record regarding the withholding of funds. That said, the UN should be able to carry its mandate and also carry out its ability to report objectively on these kinds of issues without fear of reprisal.


QUESTION: Well, does that mean – does that mean that you are willing now to ignore U.S. law and fund UN organizations that --

MR TONER: I’m speaking about this specific incident.

QUESTION: -- recognize the Palestinians?

MR TONER: I’m speaking about this specific issue and this specific incident.

QUESTION: So – but – so it’s inconsistent. You’re acknowledging an inconsistent U.S. position, yeah?

MR TONER: I’m acknowledging that we, in the past, for different reasons, have withheld funds, yes.

QUESTION: Was it appropriate for the UN to have removed the Saudi-led coalition from this blacklist in the face of these threatened reprisals?

MR TONER: Look, I’m not going to second-guess the UN’s decision and the secretary-general’s decision. It’s up to him to explain and defend his rationale for doing so. But I think, again, he has offered a way forward here, which is that – it’s to sit down with the Saudis to look at the report and to ensure that it accurately reflects the situation.

QUESTION: So do you expect that once the review is done – because your counterpart at the UN --

MR TONER: I’m not going to prejudge the outcome.

QUESTION: -- Stephane Dujarric, said that this is – we are going to review it. So --

MR TONER: I’m aware of his comments, but I’m not going to prejudge what the outcome of this process may be.


QUESTION: Have you had any direct contact with the Saudis about this issue?

MR TONER: Fair question. I’m not sure. Probably through our UN, but – through our mission in the UN, but I’d have to confirm that.


MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Why the Secretary canceled his visit today to Jeddah?

MR TONER: Oh, I – that was just simply I think scheduling problems. I don’t think he could get the meetings he wanted.

QUESTION: I got two very brief ones.

MR TONER: Sure, and then I’ve got to step – yeah.

QUESTION: Both have to do with LGBT issues.

MR TONER: Of course. Okay.

QUESTION: One is there’s going to be a march – a Pride Week march – in Ukraine – in Kyiv I believe this weekend, and there has been some threats to it. You are probably aware that there was some violence at previous ones; one had been canceled. I know that Randy Berry was just there. Have you guys expressed any concerns to the Ukrainian authorities about the – about this, about the threats?

MR TONER: Matt, I just don’t have the –

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I don’t know – I mean, I’m sure that we’ve sent a consistent message about LGBT rights and the rights for citizens to peacefully march and demonstrate. I don’t know specifically if we’ve conveyed our concerns about this.

QUESTION: All right. And then there’s some legislation --

MR TONER: I’ll check.

QUESTION: -- in Moldova that is causing some concern. Do you know anything – it’s – I believe it’s similar to the Russian propaganda law.


QUESTION: If you don’t have anything on it --

MR TONER: I’ll check on that as well.

QUESTION: -- can you --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check. Fair enough. I don’t have anything in front of me.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

[1] Ambassador Smith was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. .


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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 8, 2016

Wed, 06/08/2016 - 18:04

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 8, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:09 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: My goodness, look what the cat’s dragged in. (Laughter.) Happy --

QUESTION: Wednesday. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: I was looking at David. He was giving me nothing. He raised his eyes up to heaven. (Laughter.) Happy Wednesday, everyone.


MR TONER: Just very quickly at the top – well, first of all, I wanted to welcome – we have some Ukrainian visitors, I know, in the back of the room from the ministry of foreign affairs in Kyiv who are here on an International Visitors Program, so welcome to the State Department briefing.

A couple of things at the top: First, I wanted to give you an update on the issue many of you have been seized with, which is the edited State Department video of December 2nd, 2013 daily press briefing. As you know, Secretary Kerry spoke out about this incident last week and highlighted his strong interest in determining what exactly happened, which is why the Office of the Legal Adviser here at the State Department is continuing to look into this matter.

Also, as many of you have noted, Chairman Chaffetz from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has also requested information about this incident, and we expect to provide a preliminary response to the chairman later today. And we’re going to continue to provide additional information as we are able to. So just a brief update there.

Also, I wanted to speak about Haiti. The United States regrets the decision by the Provisional Electoral Council to restart the presidential elections from the first round. This will increase time and resources needed to complete the 2015 electoral process and further delay installation of a constitutionally elected president. The Haitian people deserve to have their voices heard, not deferred. The United States regrets that the electoral process has extended yet again, with the president-elect unlikely to be installed before February 7th, 2017.

As noted in the June 6 Core Group statement, Haiti has an urgent need to have elected representatives at all levels of government, including at the most senior level. We look forward to the prompt seating of a democratically elected president who can work with the United States and with other partners to address the many challenges facing Haiti. The United States welcomes steps to make Haitian elections more credible and more transparent.


QUESTION: Right. Well, on Haiti, just – I mean, is it – what’s more important? For them to have a president that was elected under suspect circumstances, or for them to have a president that was elected in a clean and --

MR TONER: I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. And I think our concern is that by now taking this back to zero, or from the starting line, it’s just going to add --


MR TONER: -- the length of the – to the length --

QUESTION: But I’m --

MR TONER: Sorry. It’s going to add to the length of the process. And there needs to be leadership installed there.

QUESTION: So speed is better than --

MR TONER: Again, we don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

QUESTION: Well, but weren’t there issues with the first round?

MR TONER: There were, but we believe they can be addressed without, again, restarting the entire process.

QUESTION: On the --

QUESTION: Can we go to the video?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the video.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: What – can you preview at all what you are going to say in your response to Representative Chaffetz?

MR TONER: I can’t, and part of the reason is we have not yet replied or provided that partial response. Beyond saying --

QUESTION: I mean, are you going to be able to tell him anything more than you have told – you or Kirby have told us from --

MR TONER: Again, without getting in front of our response to Congress, look, what I think we’ll be able to say is that we have looked at additional areas of information. You can guess probably that that includes emails, other documentation that pertains to the issue. Up until this point, we’ve not found any – any evidence, any conclusive evidence, of what happened or why. And that’s still where we are, but we’re going to continue to look at additional troves of information in an effort to find out, again, what happened.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I mean, you said that the Office of the Legal Adviser was continuing to investigate. But I thought that last week you had said that you had run into a dead end, and that if somebody else brought you information, you would look at it. So the investigation continues?

MR TONER: So you’re absolutely right; I did say that last week and – which is why I came out and offered this change, if you will, in our assessment. And that is basically because the Secretary said he wants to dive deeper into this, look more into what happened, and try to get to the bottom of what happened.

And so what our Office of Legal Adviser did was go back and look at what are other areas where there could be information. And again, some of that is emails, and we talked about that last week. So we’ve – again, we’ve – we’re trying to collect emails of – that are pertinent or relevant to the issue at hand and go through those systematically.

QUESTION: Are there --


QUESTION: Are there any emails that are pertinent?

MR TONER: We’ve not found the – what we’ve basically done is try to determine, based on the individuals who were in the Public Affairs Office or the Spokesperson’s Office at that time. We’ve not found anything that indicates, as I said, yet why this was done and by whom.

QUESTION: So the Legal Adviser’s Office prior to the Secretary’s statement that this was clumsy, stupid, and I think inappropriate --

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- had not looked at or for emails?

MR TONER: They had not looked at the email traffic. What they’ve done is – and we talked about this last week – they had conducted interviews – or an interview with the technician.

QUESTION: I have a question here.


QUESTION: Why – look, the people in the Legal Adviser’s Office are very smart and highly qualified people, and they choose to work in government rather than making many, many, many multiples of their salaries in the private sector. But in at least two signal respects, it seems that they failed to do things that you would assume anybody seriously interested in looking into this would have done.

One, they didn’t, until the question got raised in public, look at phone records, right? You guys didn’t even look into that until we asked you about it. And it turns out you don’t have phone records from three years ago. Fine, but they didn’t even, apparently, ask that question.

Secondly, they didn’t, in the course of their review, didn’t even look at emails. So why is it that theirs is the office that where this review or investigation should now be – they missed two obvious things right off the bat, so why should they carry out the --

MR TONER: So a couple of --

QUESTION: Why not have somebody else do this who will be more rigorous?

MR TONER: Right. Well, I think – so a couple of responses. First of all – and we talked about this last week – is that in spite of the fact that this was an ill-advised action that was taken, there were no rules broken. This was – and we talked about this – the fact that there was nothing governing the editing of State Department video at the time. We have remedied that going forward so that it will never happen again. But the fact was that, as unfortunate as this incident was, it didn’t break any known regulations or policies.

That said, based on an individual coming forward to say I was the person who was contacted about this, they did interview that person. There are always other leads you can follow, and you raised many of them last week when you were asking questions about this. And so given the Secretary’s strong interest, given Congress’s strong interest, and given the media’s strong interest, we’ve decided to continue to look at that.

And we also said last week that as new information does become available, if it does become available, we would certainly pursue that as well.

QUESTION: But why – I still don’t understand why – why you do not --

MR TONER: Why them and why not us?

QUESTION: -- why wasn’t – well, two things. One, why wasn’t a more rigorous review conducted in the first place, right?

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And then second, given that the original review carried out by the Legal Adviser’s Office does not appear to have been as rigorous – well, manifestly was not as rigorous as it might have been – why have them do it? Why not find somebody --

MR TONER: Well, they are – they are an outside entity not within the Bureau of Public Affairs.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But the Bureau of Public Affairs --

MR TONER: And they’re --

QUESTION: -- is not the whole world. They’re part of the State Department.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: So why not – investigations are typically – if you want an independent investigation, go get somebody who is independent who doesn’t report to the same boss to investigate.

MR TONER: First off, this – and again, we’re using different terminology here and I understand that. And we’ve used investigation – “investigation” is probably overstating it. Look, we’re looking into the incident. But again, no rules were broken, no laws were broken, no policies were broken. But we are trying to get to the bottom of what happened so that we can know what happened, we can understand what happened, why it happened going forward.

As to the rigor of that examination or whatever you want to call it, I think we’re looking again at other possible leads. That includes emails. That includes phone records, as you raised. We’ll continue to look at this, and as we get more information we’ll happily share it.

QUESTION: Right. You said that there are always other leads you can follow, but that wasn’t the message we were getting last week and the week before.

MR TONER: Well, and it would also --

QUESTION: It was that you had run into a dead end --

MR TONER: I would also say that – I would also say what I just said, which is that we’ve pursued other leads and found no information, conclusive information, about what happened.


MR TONER: We’ve found no information.

QUESTION: Okay. But --

QUESTION: What other (inaudible)?

QUESTION: But you’re saying that --

MR TONER: Looking at email records primarily.

QUESTION: But you’re saying that you are continuing to look – if you’re not – if you’ve already gone through the emails and found nothing, where else do you look?

MR TONER: We haven’t gone through all the emails. We’re continuing to do that.

Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: No, actually --

MR TONER: Oh, Margaret.

QUESTION: Actually, some questions about this.

MR TONER: Sure, Margaret. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mark, can you tell us – you said looking at email records from people in the Public Affairs Office. That includes the spokesperson, the deputy spokesperson, or is this just staff? I mean, how are you defining the parameters?

MR TONER: Sure. We’re looking at leadership at the time, so people who were in leadership positions. I’ll put it that way.

QUESTION: And have you – and in the search so far, you’ve found no record of any request for this or interest in this --


QUESTION: -- or any evidence of tampering so far?

MR TONER: No, no.

QUESTION: Then can you be more explicit about who leadership is? Does that mean the assistant secretary? Does that mean the DASs in the bureau? Does that mean the spokesperson? Does that mean the deputy --

MR TONER: We’re looking at all – all the relative people who were occupying leadership positions. So spokesperson, deputy spokesperson, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries at the time who would have had purview over the video. So – and again, while we’re looking at all of this, let me again be very clear that both the spokesperson at the time and the deputy spokesperson at the time both came out strongly with statements publicly that they had nothing to do with it, no knowledge of it, and we’ve found nothing thus far to – that in any way indicates otherwise.


QUESTION: But to be clear, you know that the request came from the Public Affairs Office but you don’t know who the request came from within that office?

MR TONER: Yes, and we’ve talked about that. The person who was interviewed, who did actually carry out the edit, said that they were called on the phone by someone in Public Affairs Bureau who directed them to make this edit, but they don’t remember who that person was.

QUESTION: Was it only one person who --

QUESTION: But so that – yeah. And can you take orders from anyone? I mean, or is it just anyone who works in Public Affairs can ask for an edit and it’s not like it has to come from a certain office?

MR TONER: Well, again, the person who carried out this edit said that they were contacted by someone from an office who would have been able to ask for such an edit, but they don’t remember who that person was.

QUESTION: Or even the gender of the person who asked?

MR TONER: They do, but I’m not going to get into that right now.

QUESTION: How about the office?

MR TONER: Again, we’re looking at all of this. We know what the office was, but we haven’t found any kind of leads or any links to indicate who that person was.

QUESTION: And who – was only one person interviewed? You said “the person who was interviewed.” Was only one person interviewed as part of their review?


QUESTION: So again, and I don’t meant to belabor this, but I don’t understand why you feel that a sufficiently rigorous review is going to be carried out by the office – estimable though many of its lawyers are – is going to be carried out – they interviewed one person. They didn’t look for phone records. They didn’t look at emails. Why on Earth don’t you get somebody who will go at this with greater rigor and independence rather than give it to the office that didn’t do three pretty obvious things?

MR TONER: Well, look, Arshad, again, they’re the ones who have carried out the initial examination of this incident. They’re able to take this as far as we’re able to take it. But we can only follow the leads that are viable and we can only look at the records that are available.

QUESTION: But they didn’t follow the leads or look at the records that were available when they initially looked at this.

MR TONER: But we’re doing that now.

QUESTION: They talked to one person.

MR TONER: Who came forward. Yes.

QUESTION: Who came forward. This is not looking high and low.

MR TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: Does this person work inside Public Affairs or are there other parts of the State Department in which video editors work?

MR TONER: No, work inside the bureau.

QUESTION: Do you know, Mark, and – you said that you had an – you do know what the office was and you do know the – what you were – what they were told the sex of the person was. Is that the kind of information that will go to Congressman Chaffetz, or is that --

MR TONER: I believe so.

QUESTION: Are you providing Congressman Chaffetz’s committee with any actual documents today, or are you just writing a letter of response?

MR TONER: We’re writing a letter, obviously, first of all. I’m not sure of what amount of documents we’re providing with them – providing to them.

QUESTION: Do you expect to provide any or are you not sure of that?

MR TONER: I’m not sure. We’ll provide certainly an assessment of the documents that we’ve looked at, but as to whether we’ll provide the actual documents, I’m not sure.

QUESTION: And have you come across any evidence at all of any other instances of such editing?

MR TONER: No, we haven’t. We haven’t. And again, that’s a – that’s also a fairly large task to look at all that, but we haven’t – we’re not aware of any other incidents like this.

QUESTION: But you – and the last thing. I think you said last week that you were not looking for such evidence anymore. It’s not like you’ve assigned somebody to watch every briefing for the last four years.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: So you’re not actually looking for it.



QUESTION: Mark, and to clarify, State has not sent this information yet to the Hill? It’s going to --

MR TONER: No, we’ll do so later today. We’ll get back to them with a preliminary response, and then probably a fuller response in about a week or so.

QUESTION: Mark, I came in late, so forgive me --


QUESTION: -- if this has been asked.

MR TONER: Yes. Yeah, sure, Carol.

QUESTION: Roughly how many people are in the pool of potential suspects?

MR TONER: I don’t know if I would put it that way – (laughter) – Carol, but appreciate your direct question. Again, you know, we – what we’ve looked at over the past week or so, and what I talked about earlier, was the fact that we looked at those who were in leadership positions at the time who might have had some connection with this incident. You know, if you ask me for a number – again, I don’t want to call them – term them suspects, but they might have been aware of what was happening, or what happened, and it’s probably about four or five people.

QUESTION: Is the intention just to find out what happened, or will the person if discovered face disciplinary action?

MR TONER: Well, there is no – again, there was no policy, there was no law, there was no regulation broken. You know, we’re trying to get to the bottom of this, partly for closure, partly so we understand what happened and why it happened.

QUESTION: So there’s no reason why this person shouldn’t just save you time and come forward?

MR TONER: Well, you know, that’s not for me to answer.

QUESTION: If you don’t find the person who issued the instruction, who is ultimately responsible?

MR TONER: Who is ultimately responsible for this?

QUESTION: Well, if I --


QUESTION: If I commit some kind of journalistic crime, my editor will be held responsible for it if I can’t be --

MR TONER: Well, look, I like to think that – I don’t know about being held responsible, but I like to think that Assistant Secretary Kirby has been very forthright in accepting ownership of this, and then trying to remedy it going forward, but also, as I said, being as transparent as we can with respect – while respecting the fact that there’s people’s privacy at stake here, with the media, and certainly as responsive as we possibly can to Congress.

QUESTION: Can we go to --

QUESTION: So you said this is definitely a call that was made from someone within the Public Affairs Office, though?

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Well, we --

QUESTION: It’s just that the person – the level and title of that person is what is unclear.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: I thought last week you had said that the person who received the call said they believed it to have been someone --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- in the Public Affairs Office. Do you now know for a fact that it is someone who is in the Public Affairs Bureau?

MR TONER: No, this is based on – again, this is based on the recollection of the technician who carried out this edit, which is that they were – that the request was made over the phone, and that the caller was passing on a request from elsewhere in the bureau.

QUESTION: And this is – since you only interviewed one person, I’m not going to unfortunately have to ask some of the questions that I asked last week, but have you now interviewed the supervisor of the person who received the call?

MR TONER: I don’t know if we’ve had a formal interview of that person – with that person. I know we’ve talked about it to that person, I don’t know if we’ve – if the Office of Legal Advisor has held a formal interview with him.

QUESTION: So the reason I’m asking --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- is that we were told either last week or the week before that the person who received the call discussed it with their supervisor --


QUESTION: -- and they concluded that it came from the Bureau of Public Affairs, and from a level of authority and responsibility that they should act on this. And so if you – I guess the next question is, has the supervisor who discussed this with the person who got the call have any more granular recollection since they concluded that it was someone of responsibility?

MR TONER: No, I don’t believe so. We’ve asked that question, and they haven’t.

QUESTION: Is the supervisor the same person as their intermediary? The editor --

MR TONER: You mean the technician?

QUESTION: -- received a call from someone who was passing on a call?

MR TONER: No, different person.

QUESTION: So there’s two other people --

MR TONER: Different person.

QUESTION: -- the technician has spoken to?

MR TONER: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: Now I don’t remember what I said.


QUESTION: Do you – have you heard --

MR TONER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- the point about the ISIS pulling out of the Aleppo area, or can you confirm these reports (inaudible.)

QUESTION: I’m so sorry, could I ask one last --

MR TONER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: Please, ask him.

MR TONER: Go for it.

QUESTION: Just last –

QUESTION: We basically asked every possible question --

QUESTION: No, here’s one that we haven’t asked.

QUESTION: -- under the sun relating to this, but go ahead.

QUESTION: It – on emails, are you reviewing not merely the State Department emails, but do any of the people who are – who you’re looking at have private emails that they use for official purposes, and are you asking to look at those?

MR TONER: My understanding is we’re not asking to look at their private emails. We’re just looking at their official email.

QUESTION: And are you going to ask them if they communicated about official matters on their personal email?

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

QUESTION: Because that’s another way in which this could have been --

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: -- communicated, and you’re not going to get to the bottom of this, assuming you want to get to the bottom of it, unless you, as you said, look at every lead you can.

MR TONER: I can check on whether we’ll do that.

QUESTION: Except – well --

MR TONER: But it’s --

QUESTION: -- I mean, Arshad has a point. But the technician that did this doesn’t remember --

MR TONER: Precisely.

QUESTION: -- getting an email or --

MR TONER: She got – it was – the request was --

QUESTION: It was on the phone.

MR TONER: -- relayed by phone. And we’ve gone into it with that understanding, that this was relayed by telephone. And so that partly explains why we didn’t go immediately into looking at email records, but now they’re doing so.

QUESTION: But isn’t it – is it not conceivable, since they received it – they – the person who received the call says they believe that it was from someone who was passing on a message from somebody else. So is it --

MR TONER: It’s always conceivable, yes. Sure.

QUESTION: It’s conceivable somebody sent a private email from the person who requested it to the person who transmitted it to the technician, who talked to her supervisor and who then cut it. So --

SYRIAREGION">MR TONER: I mean, all things – I mean, sure. That’s conceivable, yes.

Please. You were asking about Aleppo.

QUESTION: I was asking you – yes.

MR TONER: And I apologize, I completely forgot your question.

QUESTION: My question is: There are reports that ISIS have pulled out --


QUESTION: -- from the Aleppo area.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Or disengaged – or separated themselves from other groups and so on.

MR TONER: So a couple of updates. We certainly, as you noted – we do welcome the advance of Syrian opposition fighters against Daesh along the Marea Line in northwest Syria. This advance increases the pressure on Daesh, which is a positive development, and it’s a critical area along the Turkish border as the Syrian Democratic Forces simultaneously continue to advance from the east near Manbij City. So this is a continuation of the pressure from various sides that we’re – that the anti-Daesh coalition is exerting on Daesh in Syria, and certainly it’s having an effect.

QUESTION: Okay. Now this – ISIS, or purportedly ISIS withdrawal, does it also include groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah and others? And the reason I’m asking this --


QUESTION: -- would that then allow for maybe heavier strikes by the coalition or by the Russians or by the Syrian Government and so on? If they are really delineated.

MR TONER: Right. I don’t have clarity on whether Nusrah is part of this withdrawal. I just don’t at this point. But I would note when you’re talking about the situation around Aleppo, we would also like to condemn today’s bombings of three hospitals or medical facilities in Aleppo. The fact that the regime is once again targeting medical facilities is unconscionable and should be strongly condemned, and we are. This is inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. It’s inconsistent with commitments that the ISSG has made and regime has made itself, and it continues to exacerbate the suffering of innocent civilians.

QUESTION: What is your reaction to Bashar al-Assad’s statement that there is no political solution on the horizon and that only in essence a military solution can be achieved, or victory, or what he calls victory?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, what’s my reaction? He’s sadly mistaken if he thinks there’s a military solution in Syria. And the ISSG has laid out a roadmap for a political resolution. It is up to all members of the ISSG to exert influence on the parties on the ground, and that includes the opposition as well as the regime, to adhere to the ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities, and to engage in the political process. But of course we’re not expecting some sea change in Assad’s behavior. As I said yesterday, his speech was vintage Assad. He’s been in this for five – over five years. He’s carried out horrific violence against his own people. So it’s not surprising that he’s still fully committed to what he believes is a military victory. But that said, there is no military solution here.

QUESTION: Finally --

MR TONER: Yeah, go --

QUESTION: -- what is the status with the aid? Can you update us on --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Sure, sure. Absolutely. A little bit of updating on the humanitarian assistance front. We have learned – or heard, rather – that the regime may approve ground transport for some humanitarian assistance to the besieged town of Daraya on Friday. We’re obviously skeptical of these reports, but again, we have heard that they may allow them.

We continue to call on the Assad regime to allow all humanitarian assistance to reach all besieged areas as designated by the UN, not those areas that the UN – or that the regime deems are allowable. The UN needs to be the arbiter here of where these besieged areas lie – excuse me – and the international community needs to focus on the regime’s willful obstruction of full access to the delivery of humanitarian assistance and also to the complete contents of such shipments, because the regime continues to, for lack of a better word, cherry-pick or take out medical supplies and food supplies from some of these convoys. If the regime does not allow full supplies, we will consider it to have reneged on its commitment and continuing a policy of denying food and medicine to needy people as a military tool.

So an update on airdrops: We are working with the UN – and that includes the World Food Program and other relief agencies – to plan appropriate use of air assets for the delivery of humanitarian assistance should the regime continue to deny ground access. We are obviously disappointed, to put it mildly, that after – in the weeks following the May 17th consensus statement that Russia has not taken any demonstrable steps to support the International Syria Support Group’s call for the delivery of humanitarian relief by air. We know that the World Food Program is looking at four communities in need – and that includes Daraya – that haven’t received any outside food assistance since 2012.


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Are they going to ask permission from the government to do those airdrops?

MR TONER: “They” being the World Food Program?

QUESTION: Yeah. Because, I mean, if they are, what’s the point?

MR TONER: What’s the point of --

QUESTION: Of asking permission when they’ve denied it on the ground and are continuing to.

MR TONER: Well, again --

QUESTION: With the exception, potentially, of Friday.

MR TONER: Right. Well, again, I mean, I think we’re going to – we’re – although skeptical, we’re also going to wait and see what happens on Friday.

QUESTION: But I don’t get the --

MR TONER: But I understand your question.

QUESTION: I mean, it doesn’t seem to – I mean, why even bother to say it if they’re going to – that you’re going to do it when you have in the past said that you have to get permission from the government to do it --


QUESTION: -- and they’re clear that – it’s clear that they’re not going to give it.

MR TONER: Well, look, I think we’re looking – once again, we’re looking to Russia to exert the influence that it claims to have on the Syrian regime. Russia – Foreign Minister Lavrov was in Vienna when the ISSG made this call for the delivery of humanitarian aid by air if ground access was not available. And --

QUESTION: By June 1st.

MR TONER: By June 1st. And I --

QUESTION: It’s now --

MR TONER: -- am fully aware of the date. And that’s why the WFP is looking at different options. But you talk about air assets and permission – look, Russia actually has air assets on the ground in Syria and ostensibly has the permission of the Syrian government to fly.

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that, instead of WFP, the Russians can do the airdrops?

MR TONER: I am suggesting.

QUESTION: Okay. Have you raised it with them?

MR TONER: I’m not going to get into specifics, but they’re aware of our concerns.

Please, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Are they aware of your desire that they do these airdrops?

MR TONER: Again, they are on the ground with air assets in Syria and are able to carry out these kinds of operations. The point here is that there’s a lot of assessments now that June 1st has passed that once again the U.S. has allowed this deadline to pass, but there are more members of the ISSG than just the U.S. And Russia is a key member of the ISSG, and they were there in Vienna, and they committed to this deadline as well. So they can also step up and apply pressure.

Yes, David. I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Why should Assad doubt that he can have a military solution? He hasn’t lost any ground since the cessation came in. In fact, it has shielded him while he’s continued to bomb hospitals.

MR TONER: Well, look – I mean, that’s a legitimate analysis to say that Russia’s support for Assad has bolstered the regime. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality. But that assumption is predicated on the belief that Russia’s in it for the long haul. They have made clear to us that they are not, that they are committed to a political resolution. And so it comes down to whether they are in word and deed committed to that process. But if that’s the case, then Assad cannot depend on them for the long haul.

QUESTION: How about Iran?

MR TONER: Iran is also a member of the ISSG and is committed to that same process.


QUESTION: You said that there may be an approval for ground access on Friday?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: Is that based on a conversation with the Russians that just happened?

MR TONER: I believe so. I don’t have exactly that sourced. I just know that the regime has – may has – may have approved ground transport to Daraya on Friday.

QUESTION: Because hadn’t ostensibly --

MR TONER: (Coughing.) Excuse me.

QUESTION: -- the Russians been negotiating on behalf – or agreeing to things on behalf of the regime when the ISSG met in the first place? So it would seem that – if you’re saying that this is a new development --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- that this approval will happen --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- what is that based on? And was the idea that if it doesn’t happen, airdrops would then be the backup plan? Was that specifically discussed with Kerry and Lavrov? Was it yesterday, I think --

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have a – I don’t know if it was specifically discussed in that phone call. I actually spoke to him I think earlier today as well. I don’t know if – sorry. I don’t know where that – I can’t source that information. I just know that we’re aware that – of reports that they are going to allow humanitarian assistance in Daraya.

As for airdrops as the next step, that’s something we’re obviously looking at now, as this deadline falls to the wayside and – but we’ve also said all along that airdrops are not the most efficient way to do this.

QUESTION: How long do you think – I mean, your point’s taken that Americans aren’t the only ones --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- in the ISSG, but they are obviously a significant power here.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: At what point does this become too damaging to the credibility of American diplomacy to keep – keep doing? I mean, I understand the effort and the goodwill and the intent behind it, but when it doesn’t result in any action, it becomes a problem.

MR TONER: Right, it’s a fair question. And the same can be – you can raise – you can ask the same question about the cessation of hostilities. And I talked about a little about – a bit about this yesterday, but the very fact that we have a cessation of hostilities, as imperfect as it is, has saved lives; that’s without question. It’s reduced violence. It has at least gotten a fledgling peace – a political process underway in Geneva, although that has now stalled. But you’re absolutely right in that this entire process is predicated on the fact that the parties on the ground – the regime and the opposition – are willing to adhere to the ceasefire or the cessation of hostilities, and in the regime’s case, allow humanitarian access. If it doesn’t, the whole thing falls apart. And then you’ve got a return to internecine warfare.

QUESTION: Mark, if airdrops take place, they will be conducted by WFP airplanes, correct? I mean, you’re not going to be involved in that. They will be the World Food Program, because they do have --

MR TONER: That is my understanding, Said.

QUESTION: -- they do have airplanes that they are using.

MR TONER: That is my understanding, yeah, yeah. You know about this very well --

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MR TONER: -- given your background on this one.

QUESTION: But you’re not involved in any way?


Please. Are we done with Syria?

QUESTION: On North Korea?


QUESTION: Oh, do you know anything about PYD being invited to the next round of whenever that happens?

MR TONER: I don’t actually. I mean, we’ve talked about it before just in the abstract, saying that as we go forward --

QUESTION: Right, on the side of that.

MR TONER: -- but I haven’t – I haven’t seen – yeah. But I – and that we stay engaged with them clearly, but as for any formal invitation, I’m not aware of that. Let me check into it. But I’d also refer you to Staffan de Mistura.

I’m sorry. DPRK?



QUESTION: There are reports that North Korea has restarted production of plutonium fuel, reprocessing it from the Yongbyon reactor. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Well, I – I’m aware that – I think the IAEA has put out a statement earlier today about their assessment that North Korea has resumed operations at Yongbyon, so I’d just refer you to their statement.

QUESTION: You don’t have a – any concerns or --

MR TONER: Well, of course, we have concerns. Yeah. I mean – I mean --

QUESTION: You don’t have a statement? You don’t have a statement?

MR TONER: I thought you were asking specifically about the – that statement. I mean, look, we’re very clear that – and have been very clear that North Korea’s continued provocations raise serious concerns about the security of the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to consult with our other partners in the Six-Party Talks to – on steps that we can take. We’re trying to implement the sanctions and trying to enforce those sanctions in a way that convinces the regime in Pyongyang to come to the table.

QUESTION: Are there any specific actions that you’re looking at taking?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, this was obviously a topic of discussion over the – at the S&ED over the last couple of days. I don’t have anything specific to point to out of that. But the fact is that we do have hard-hitting sanctions. It’s – as always with sanctions, it’s in the implementation where the sting is felt.

QUESTION: Yeah, Mark --

QUESTION: Sorry, I had one on China.

MR TONER: Why don’t you finish and then I’ll come around.


MR TONER: Yep, okay. Oh, let’s finish North Korea then. Please.

QUESTION: There has been a lot of concern expressed by this Administration about some of North Korea’s recent actions. Can you kind of put into context a little bit more why this particular report, the reprocessing of plutonium, would be of special concern to the Administration?

MR TONER: Well, I’d probably refer you to the testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper – I think in February spoke about the potential to reprocess plutonium. I don’t want to get into too much detail because it veers very quickly into intelligence. But of course, speaking broadly about the issue, we’re concerned that North Korea could have access to materials that would allow it to produce nuclear weapons – more nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: One last – one more on North Korea.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, let’s finish up.

QUESTION: Last week – last week there was in Tokyo Six-Party representatives – South Korea, United States, Japan – they have a meeting up there. Do you have anything on that they talking about this issue or resumption of Six-Party Talks?

MR TONER: You’re talking about the meeting held in Tokyo last week?


MR TONER: Let me look into that. I don’t have a readout in front of me, so I just don’t have anything to --

QUESTION: Okay. You take the question?

MR TONER: I will.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So I have one on China.

MR TONER: Are we done with North Korea?

QUESTION: Just one on North Korea. In the past, North Korea has collaborated with other regimes seeking nuclear proliferation, including Iran. Are there any concerns that if Yongbyon producing plutonium again, that it could lead to it being exported to other actors around the world?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, proliferation is always a concern, so yes, that’s something we always try to keep an eye on, and we’ve seen that work in various different ways, and it’s something we continue to look at and --

QUESTION: It would be a violation of the JCPOA if Iran was to seek nuclear materials from North Korea?

MR TONER: Of course, and the JCPOA does cut down all the various pathways by which Iran could attain a nuclear weapon. That’s one of them.

Please. Pam, did --

QUESTION: I have several on South Sudan. First of all --

MR TONER: Okay. I’ll get to you, China, I promise.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar had an op-ed in The New York Times in which they basically ask the U.S. and Britain and other world powers to oppose the establishment of a hybrid court that would try war criminals. First of all, what is State’s reaction to this proposal?

MR TONER: Disappointment. We’re disappointed. We firmly support the African Union’s efforts to establish this hybrid court, which is called for by the peace agreement, which was signed by Presidents Kiir – or President Kiir and First Vice President Machar in August 2015. And we expect the parties to fulfill their responsibilities. Reconciliation and justice are not mutually exclusive, which is why the peace agreement includes both elements and why the United States will make every effort to support the formation of both as critical steps in – towards peace and reconciliation and stability in South Sudan.

QUESTION: They’re calling for, as an alternative, a sort of truth commission. Is there U.S. concern that there could be a lack of accountability for those responsible for murders and other atrocities if this truth commission process went forward?

MR TONER: Well, again, we’re not against a commission for truth and reconciliation and hearing – and healing, rather. That’s – that could be an important part of this peace agreement, and that could look at the root causes of the conflict and lead to, as they have in the past in places like South Africa, some kind of reconciliation and some kind of healing. And in fact, we’ve given $6 million in grant money to support the efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches to promote reconciliation in the country. But again, they’re not mutually exclusive, and you’re absolutely right that there needs to be accountability. And so that’s why we strongly support the hybrid court, and urge all sides to live up to their commitments in the peace agreement to create that hybrid court.

QUESTION: And overall, is there U.S. concern about the lack of overall progress with South Sudan’s traditional – transitional government, that the traditional – transitional government has made so far, and if so, is the U.S. at a point where it is considering either cutting back or withholding aid to South Sudan?

MR TONER: Your question, though, is more broadly about – is about the progress for the transitional government.


MR TONER: I think – on the contrary, I think we have seen the first vice president, the president, and vice president – they did make significant progress last week by agreeing to a wide range of steps on security, on – and political disagreements, and that included ending the state of emergency, proceeding with the cantonment provision, as well as releasing prisoners of war, and establishing a technical committee on state boundaries – and these are important steps. Now, they need to be implemented, but they do demonstrate a willingness, I think, to take leadership to keep South Sudan’s transition on track.

QUESTION: Can we go to a different topic?

MR TONER: We can.

QUESTION: Okay, very quickly – very quickly --

MR TONER: I want to get – can I get to China, and then I’ll go to you, Said --

QUESTION: Yes, please. Go to China, yeah.

MR TONER: I promise I’ll move up.


MR TONER: I’ll get to everybody.

QUESTION: Sorry. The Japanese Government earlier today reported that Chinese military vessels had entered waters adjacent to the territorial waters of the Senkakus. Do you have any --

MR TONER: I had just seen those media reports. I’d have to refer you to the Government of Japan. Before I walked out, I just saw them, so I don’t have any reaction yet.

Go ahead, Said, then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I have a question on China.


MR TONER: Oh, Janne. Sure.

QUESTION: Mark, (inaudible) from the foreign affairs ministry today, there was a comment in regard to the unsafe incident that happened in the East China Sea, where the foreign ministry called for an end to all U.S. reconnaissance flights, and basically blamed Washington for that incident that Pacific Command commented on overnight. There have been a few of these that have happened. Secretary Kerry was really strong when he spoke about it on Sunday. Was the Secretary aware that when he was in Beijing, this had happened?

MR TONER: Was he aware of it? I think we learned about it when he was on the ground, yes, but I believe they might have even been wheels-up when we heard about the – you’re talking about the intercept?

QUESTION: The intercept in the --

MR TONER: Yeah, right. Right.

QUESTION: -- East China Sea that happened on --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- this – yeah.

MR TONER: That’s right. No, I believe we were already wheels-up when – he was already wheels-up when we found out about that.

QUESTION: So it’s not something that came up in his conversations?

MR TONER: No, not specifically, but of course, East China Sea, and also freedom of navigation, all that did come up in a broader context.

QUESTION: But the foreign ministry --


QUESTION: -- not their defense ministry – their --


QUESTION: -- foreign ministry made this comment today. Can you give us any insight into whether the Secretary had made any headway in his conversation, or what the message was that he conveyed personally, if it was the same one that he conveyed publicly in terms of calling for this kind of action to stop?

MR TONER: Well, I think he obviously discussed a broad range of security issues with Chinese counterparts, but that included South China Sea, they have included our belief that there needs to continue to be a reduction in tensions, and a commitment by all claimants to the South China Sea to legal – mechanisms to address their claims, and that all sides – and that includes China – need to take steps back from escalating the situation, and that was certainly a topic of conversation while he was on the ground in Beijing, and part of that was also our continued commitment to carry out freedom of navigation in the waters of the South China Sea as we do around the world.


QUESTION: Was there any thought that this intercept was deliberate, given the timing?

MR TONER: I was asked that yesterday, and I – honestly, I don’t know. I mean, it --

QUESTION: But the statement overnight from --


QUESTION: -- Pacific Command said it was going to be raised diplomat – through diplomatic and military channels.

MR TONER: Right, and it will be. I mean, it has been, and we’ve commented obviously publicly about it. I just am not – I can’t speak to what was in the mind of the Chinese when they carried out this unsafe maneuver.


MR TONER: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Okay, can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MR TONER: We can.

QUESTION: The Israeli Government approved construction of 82 housing units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo. I wonder if you have any comment on that. The Palestinians are saying that this is basically Israel’s response to the Paris conference.

MR TONER: You’re talking about specifically --

QUESTION: I’m talking about specifically Ramat Shlomo, which is in occupied East Jerusalem.

MR TONER: Oh, right. Okay. Well, again, our longstanding positions on these kinds of actions in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank is very clear. We view this kind of settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive.

QUESTION: But other than, with all due respect, your robotic response always that you --

MR TONER: With all due respect. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: With all due respect, okay – I mean, what are you – okay, I take “robotic” back --

MR TONER: That’s okay, I’m just --

QUESTION: I mean, other than your standard response --

MR TONER: Thought I put a little bit of emotion in it.

QUESTION: -- what else can you do – what can you do to basically sort of leverage your power with the Israelis to back down on these issues?

MR TONER: We talked a little bit about this yesterday and certainly in the aftermath of Paris, and that is – and the Secretary spoke about this before he went to Paris. He still went to Paris because he’s committed to the pursuit of all efforts to bring about a peace process, a legitimate peace process. But we’ve talked about this before, which is that ultimately, as closely as we are allied with Israel, it’s up to Israel, it’s up to the Palestinians to take those steps to create the conditions by which a legitimate peace process can take place. And we are – we can – I mean, part of it – and I recognize that it’s – it is public statements and they are limited in their impact, but part of that is by saying this is not helpful, this kind of activity.

QUESTION: The reason is because there seems to – your statements or your positions seem to go nowhere. You also have now a more emboldened or more blatant calls by – let’s say, by the Israeli minister of agriculture, Uri Ariel, who is saying that we ought to move the Palestinians from Area C and basically annex it. Do you have any comment on that? Because it seems that Israel feels that it can take action with impunity.

MR TONER: Well, I mean, I’m not going to – I’m going to resist the temptation to respond to every comment from Israeli officials, but for a member of the Israeli cabinet to say what Minister Ariel said is concerning. It’s – I just say we continue to look to steps, rhetoric, comments, actions that we believe will set the conditions for a peace process to take hold and to avoid inflammatory and provocative rhetoric.

portugalitaly">QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the dual U.S.-Portuguese citizen, Sabrina de Sousa, whose appeal against extradition from Portugal to Italy to serve her sentence --

MR TONER: I’ve seen the reports. I’d have to refer you to the governments of Italy and Portugal. I don’t have any comment.

Please, sir.

QUESTION: Regarding ISIS --


QUESTION: -- there’s been nearly 500 suicide attacks this year, 119 in May alone. Is this what progress looks like?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about this, frankly, in light of – there was a spate of suicide attacks specifically in Baghdad I guess a month or so ago. And they were horrific and they killed a lot of civilians – innocent civilians – as they often do. And I think what we said at the time still holds to an extent, and even President Obama spoke about this when he was talking – I think he was referring to the attacks in Paris – when he said that when you’ve got a few individuals who are willing to sacrifice themselves and have access to bombing – bomb material or weaponry, they’re going to be able to carry out some pretty horrific attacks.

What it means on a larger scale is that we all need to be vigilant. We need to cut off the recruitment techniques that allows these people to be, again, recruited and convinced that this is a viable means of expression, which it isn’t. As much as we have degraded Daesh on the battlefield over these past months – and we have; we’ve put pressure on them – significant pressure on them. But they are, as many terrorist organizations are, still able to carry out these kinds of attacks and cause suffering. And that’s just, again, something, as I said – others – as I said, the President and others have spoken about this. They only have to be right once, or successful once, I guess. And we, the Western world, we have to be successful 100 percent of the time.

So it does speak to, more broadly, to the fact that we need to continue to work on countering violent extremism and those kinds of efforts, even though it’s the less – how do I put this – it’s not an area we talk about. We always talk about battlefield successes and our work with the Syrian defense forces and all of that. But this kind of – I don’t want to say “softer” because that’s not the right way to put it, but that kind of engagement also is really important because, as I said, we have to be proficient in that sphere where we’re cutting off the ability for groups like ISIL to recruit suicide bombers.

QUESTION: Is it just the Western world?

MR TONER: Please. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that. Obviously, places like Iraq and other places in the Middle East and certainly in South Central Asia have been – and Asia – I mean, we can go around the world, unfortunately.

QUESTION: Have you been able to establish whether the latest attacks in Jordan in the refugee camp were actually done by ISIS?

MR TONER: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: Are you – yeah, a --


QUESTION: A couple of days ago, there was an attack --


QUESTION: -- on the intelligence office for – Jordanian intelligence office and a Palestinian refugee --

MR TONER: Yeah, no, we – we haven’t gotten any – obviously, the Jordanian Government is investigating that incident. I don’t have any more details, but we certainly condemn the attack and we offer our heartfelt condolences to the victims, but we don’t have any more additional details.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: So I realize that it has long been the case, perhaps forever, perhaps since the founding of the nation and the Executive Branch and the Cabinet --

MR TONER: It’s late in the briefing to ask a question like that.

QUESTION: -- that federal agencies do not talk about presidential politics or the election.

MR TONER: Time-honored, yes.

QUESTION: But it’s been a long time since a secretary of state ran for president or was a nominee of their party to be president. And I’m wondering if, in this case, you might make an exception to the general rule, because one candidate has made it very clear that he is going to criticize the other candidate’s performance as – in running this building, and foreign policy and diplomacy a very big issue.

Last night, Candidate Trump said that Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her private hedge fund; the Russians, the Saudis, the Chinese all gave money and got favorable treatment in return to the – gave money to the foundation; for favorable treatment in return.

This is – this has directly to do with the State Department and I’m wondering if you would like to respond.

MR TONER: I’m going to resist the temptation, and first of all, these are – this is a political campaign, it’s an election, there are now – well, almost two candidates, and they’re going to debate a lot of issues and they’re going to debate each other’s records. And that works both ways, and so I will leave it to them and their respective campaign staff to raise and discuss these issues.

Now, as specific allegations are made that we can provide guidance on, I’ll speak to them. I don’t have a ready comeback to that allegation, because frankly, it’s so broad and outlandish that it’s hard to --

QUESTION: Okay, so – but we can expect, then, if there are specific allegations made --

MR TONER: We’ll do our best.

QUESTION: -- about the conduct of the State Department --

MR TONER: We’ll do our best to speak to our record as the State Department, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Related, have you heard that the Secretary of State, Secretary Kerry, basically endorsed Secretary Clinton on his flight? Or he told journalists that (inaudible) --

MR TONER: I know – he did speak on the record about the fact that she has crossed the threshold --

QUESTION: Or make a great president or --

MR TONER: -- and spoke about the historic significance, and he also spoke in his comments, no matter where you lie on the political spectrum, you have to acknowledge that this is a significant event. And as the father of four daughters, I also acknowledge this is a significant event in our political history.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: Thank you, everybody.


(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 7, 2016

Tue, 06/07/2016 - 17:26

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 7, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:11 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hi, guys. Happy Tuesday.

QUESTION: Today’s Tuesday?

MR TONER: Yeah, fortunately. Just at the top – and then I’ll take your questions – I did want to speak briefly about the terrorist attack earlier today in Istanbul. The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack that took place earlier today in Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed, and we wish a quick and full recovery to those injured.

The United States reaffirms our strong commitment to work with Turkey, a NATO ally and a valued member of the Counter-ISIL or Counter-Daesh Coalition to combat the shared threat of terrorism.

Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Oh, that’s it?

MR TONER: That’s it.

QUESTION: Nothing else? No grand announcements?

MR TONER: No, no.

QUESTION: Before we get into policy substance, I want to just do a couple little housekeeping things.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: One, is there anything new on the look into or the response to Congressman Chaffetz on the briefing video edit?

MR TONER: No, all – I mean, all I would just say in – by way of update is that we’re discussing the letter with the committee and his request, the request in the letter to – for Secretary Kerry to testify. And we’re discussing it with the committee, as we would any request, but I don’t have any additional details to – or updates to provide.

QUESTION: Okay. Actually, that’s not the letter I’m talking --

MR TONER: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: I’m referring to the one where he asked for the documents.

MR TONER: Ah, okay.

QUESTION: But thank you for the answer on the other.

MR TONER: That’s right. But we are also planning to respond to that letter, the initial letter, tomorrow. They did request a pretty extensive amount of information, so we’re going to provide what we can tomorrow, and we’ll continue to try to provide additional information.

QUESTION: Do you know what that will include?

MR TONER: I don’t, and I’ll try to get a better grasp of what precisely we’re going to be able to answer tomorrow. I think we’re trying to simply manage this as one of – I think it’s one of 10 outstanding requests that we have from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a broad range of topics, so we’re just trying to, obviously, be responsive but with the understanding that we’ve got a lot of requests from that committee.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, has this bounced to the front of the line in terms of what you’re responding to?

MR TONER: Well, that’s a fair question. I think we’re trying to be responsive to the deadline for tomorrow, so we’re trying to answer what we can by tomorrow

QUESTION: Okay. And then on the request for the Secretary to appear and testify --


QUESTION: -- I mean, is it the department’s position that this is a legitimate, valid request or legitimate, valid use of the Secretary’s time to go up and testify? Or do you --

MR TONER: Well, I think we’re still having that conversation with – through our H office, Congressional Liaison Office, with the committee directly, looking at a number of factors, including his availability as well as other issues.

QUESTION: So there’s – and do those --

MR TONER: No decision has been made yet.

QUESTION: Do those other – right. Well, could you just give us an idea of what the other issues are?

MR TONER: Just, again, whether he’s the appropriate --

QUESTION: I mean, does the department believe that he is the --

MR TONER: Right. Whether he’s the – sorry, go ahead. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: No, no. You were about to answer.

MR TONER: Yes, that’s okay.

QUESTION: Is he the appropriate person to --

MR TONER: Well, that’s one thing we’re looking at, whether he’d be the best person to answer the questions that they have and to speak to the issue. And then again, as many of you know, he’s going to be on the road again next week.

QUESTION: Right. Okay.

MR TONER: So he’s not often in Washington.

QUESTION: So he’s --

QUESTION: Yes, you can say that again.

QUESTION: Where is he going next week?

MR TONER: We’ll announce when we’re ready to announce. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I thought you were about to say something.

MR TONER: No, no.

QUESTION: And then on the second issue --


QUESTION: -- which is actually two issues, on the email, former Secretary Clinton’s email. These two filings that were made, one in – the TPP one about – I understand that this is a rather large request, involving large amounts, but – of email that would have to be gone through and looked at, but is it really the case that it would take until almost December to --

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, look – and you’re right to say we don’t comment on ongoing FOIA requests. But maybe to give you a little bit of context, and because there is – in the actual article that referred to this request, there are some additional details which allows me to give a little bit more context.

But based on the information in the original article about this FOIA request, this is a very broad request. I think it asks for any correspondence sent over a four-year period between – so 2009 to 2013 – between the staff of the Office of the Secretary and the staff in the USTR, U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, that mentions TPP. So that’s a – that’s going to be a broad spectrum of emails. And so it’s not just related to Secretary Clinton’s emails.

So given the scope of that, we’re trying to – and the fact, frankly, that we’ve got, as many of you are tired of hearing me say – but we’ve got – we received approximately 22,000 FOIA requests in the last fiscal year. There’s a lot to go through. So it’s not simply an estimate that we’re throwing out a date like that. It’s based on our best estimation right now.

QUESTION: Right. But do you have any idea of how – what the universe is of emails that you would have to go through to – I mean, is it like every single email that was sent between here and USTR that would have to be looked at?

MR TONER: I mean, that is the – again, that’s the parameters. It’s --

QUESTION: But that is – but that is smaller universe --

MR TONER: It is.

QUESTION: -- than every single email everyone sent.

MR TONER: Well, of course. But it is – but it’s over a four-year period and it’s between – and that’s on a very hot-button issue of the time.

QUESTION: And the date given? I mean, does November 31st exist as a date in the State Department calendar? Or is – what’s the deal with that? I mean, is that some – of these weird alternate universe kind of things?

MR TONER: No. Look, I assume they – whoever gave that date meant to say the last day of November. And again – excuse me. Again, just with the understanding that, as you guys know from the FOIA requests that we did with Secretary Clinton’s emails, is these dates are subject to change as we work on them and process them. If we need more time, we’ll let you – we’ll let folks know.

QUESTION: So, and in fact, the correct date should have been the 30th of November?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one on this.


QUESTION: And the other one, the RNC FOIA request that you guys say it’s going to take 75 years to complete?

MR TONER: And I actually did a little digging on this. And I mean, I’ll – I mean, that is an incredible number. But – so I can’t comment specifically because it’s a matter of ongoing litigation, but I would ask you guys to look at the court filings that do provide the details on why we arrived at that figure. I mean, it’s an enormous amount of emails, or rather – sorry – it’s an enormous amount of FOIA requests and very broad and very complex.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But this stuff would be released sooner than 75 years just under the regular records, wouldn’t it?

MR TONER: Again --

QUESTION: I mean, Foreign Relations of the United States, the volume – I mean, that’s longer than most classifications last until.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, a lot of the stuff that’s classified is for only 20 years. Seventy-five years seems --

MR TONER: Again, I’d refer you to the court filing. It’s a very broad range involving a number of people over a period of, I think, four years. And it’s not an outlandish estimation, believe it or not.


QUESTION: It’s not outlandish? (Laughter.) I mean, it just – I mean, if something --

MR TONER: I’ll refer you to the – I refer you to the court filing. It gives the rationale behind this estimate.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?



QUESTION: I want to get on to the story of the UN removing Saudi Arabia from – the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist. The UN report actually said that children – and it was report on children in armed conflict. It was released last Thursday. It said the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year. Yet they’ve now removed the Saudi-led coalition from that blacklist after a lot of pressure, cajoling, and all kinds of things. And first of all, do you have a comment on this specific development? And number two, did the U.S. – has the U.S. raised this issue with the UN or the Saudis?

MR TONER: So first of all, just a comment on the report and the latest development that the UN will conduct a further review of the information. We have – we obviously note this latest development and we have urged the Kingdom’s expedition – expeditious and transparent participation in the review process.

We take very seriously the protection of children in armed conflict in Yemen, and frankly anywhere in the world, and continue to urge all sides in the conflict in Yemen to protect civilians and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. And that includes the obligation to distinguish between military and civilian targets and to take all feasible steps to minimize harm to civilian. We have regularly engaged with Saudi officials as well as other coalition members on the importance of mitigating attacks on civilians or injuries to civilians and the need to investigate all credible reports of civilian casualties.

And just – what you said – but you also asked me – we – whether we played a role. I mean, we have repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and to uphold their obligations, as I said. And Saudi Arabia has pledged to establish a commission to investigate credible reports of civilian casualties and deaths resulting from Saudi-led airstrikes – Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, rather, and they promised a clear and full – an objective report on their findings, and we’re encouraging them to move forward with that as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: So when you said you spoke --

QUESTION: That’s not an answer, though, to whether you --


QUESTION: -- lobbied the UN.

QUESTION: Did you --

MR TONER: I apologize.

QUESTION: Did you talk to the UN about this report after the publication?

MR TONER: We did not. I don’t believe we spoke directly to the UN about this report, no.

QUESTION: So would you not think that the UN – that a UN report, a UN investigation, is an independent report in itself? I mean, why would the Saudis – it’s like investigating my own murder in some ways.

MR TONER: Well, again, I’d refer you to the UN to explain the rationale behind their decision now to look again or conduct a further review of this report. All I can say is that – or all I would point you to is the fact that Saudi Arabia said that they would also look into these, that they would establish an investigatory body. We’re going to obviously encourage them to do so and to do so in an expeditious manner. They have said that they are concerned by these civilian – reports of civilian casualties and they’ll look into it.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on that?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure, Said.

QUESTION: Because the ambassador of Saudi Arabia --


QUESTION: -- basically said that that’ll never happen again. I mean, that was his suggestion today or yesterday.

MR TONER: That what would never happen --

QUESTION: In response to a possible review by the UN that the UN may revisit this issue again. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: I apologize. I just want to make sure I understand what his comments were that --

QUESTION: His comments were that it was wrong to begin with and that it will not – the UN will not do the same thing again. That’s what he said.

QUESTION: In other words, that the removal --

QUESTION: Removal, yeah.

QUESTION: -- of Saudi from the list is irrevocable, and no matter what happens in any follow-up --

QUESTION: Right. Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: -- subsequent investigation, probe, review --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- whatever, they won’t be put back on even if it finds that they should be.

MR TONER: Again, I’m going to let the process play itself out. I think that’s where we are. The UN said they’re going to look again at the findings of this. Saudis said they’re going to cooperate with them in this effort. Let’s see what comes of that process.

QUESTION: Does the United States welcome the decision to look again?

MR TONER: I think we respect the UN’s decision on this.

QUESTION: Well, we would expect though that if a – this review that’s going to take place was to determine what was found initially, that it would be restored, right? That the findings would be restored?

MR TONER: Precisely. I said let’s let the process play itself out. They have said they’re going to look again at the findings, review the information in the report --

QUESTION: Right, but if the --

MR TONER: -- and they’ll reach a conclusion that will respect --

QUESTION: I realize – I realize that this is a hypothetical question --

MR TONER: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: -- but presumably, if there was to be this review and if it were to come up with the same finding that they had initially – that it had initially found, you would – the United States would believe that the Saudis should be put back on this list, right?

MR TONER: Again, there’s going to be – I’ll just leave it where I left it --

QUESTION: So in other words, if the --

MR TONER: -- which is there’s going to be a joint – there’s going to be a joint review of the report’s findings --

QUESTION: I got it. And if that joint review finds the same thing that had initially been determined, you would think – I mean, it would be logical to assume that the United States Government --

MR TONER: It would be logical for us to – it would be logical for you to assume that let’s let the process play itself out. I --

QUESTION: Well, you’re – you don’t – you’re not saying that if it finds the same thing that it found the first time, that they – that it should stay the same, they should be left off the list, are you?




QUESTION: They just sent this --

QUESTION: That just sounds --

QUESTION: Was it odd to have it added on – suddenly on Friday, then taken out on Monday? Do you find that odd?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak to the --

QUESTION: Because it was not on the list --

MR TONER: I can’t speak to the internal processes of the UN. I would have to refer you to them on why they made the decision --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) respect the decision to reopen it. Do you think there was some weakness in the report as it was?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak on behalf of the UN. All I can say is that in their estimation --

QUESTION: No, I’m asking you to speak --

MR TONER: No, but in their estimation --

QUESTION: Does the United States believe there was some weakness in the repot?

MR TONER: Well, I think in their estimation, they acknowledged that they want to review the findings of it. I’ll take that for what it’s worth.

QUESTION: But the UN has done that before. Israel was on that list; it was taken out, but they never really revisited the issue. I mean, if you want to look at precedent, the UN record is not quite good, is it?


MR TONER: Again, let’s let the process --

QUESTION: I know you’re going to do the process, but I just want to come back to on the record that the U.S. – just want to make sure that the U.S. did not participate in the – in putting pressure on the UN to remove Saudi Arabia from the list until the next review had been done.

MR TONER: Again, no, I’m not aware that we had any – put any pressure on the UN. I – I mean, beyond what I have said --

QUESTION: Well, the Saudis are an ally.

MR TONER: -- is that we take these reports very seriously of civilian casualties. And all credible reports, as we’ve said many, many times, need to be investigated, and Saudis have pledged to do so.

QUESTION: Have the Saudis asked the U.S. to lobby on their behalf before the UN on this matter?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of that and I don’t know that I would even acknowledge that if that was the case.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. even be – would that even be an appropriate request from a country with whom the U.S. has close relations?

MR TONER: Look, Ros, I think what’s important here is that if there were concerns within the UN itself about the credibility of this report or even the integrity of this report – that it be the strongest possible report possible – that they should look again at it. And they have pledged to do so jointly with the Saudis. As to what role we would possibly play in that, I – we have said that we support investigations into allegations of civilian casualties.

QUESTION: What’s really important here is that civilians, including children --

MR TONER: Precisely. Thank you.

QUESTION: -- not be killed in – not the integrity --

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: -- of a report --

MR TONER: I would agree. I would agree.

QUESTION: That would be more important, right?

MR TONER: I would agree, and, as we’ve said, that all sides in this conflict take every possible precaution to avoid civilian casualties.

QUESTION: This is just slightly related --


QUESTION: -- and I don’t know – I can’t honestly remember: Has the U.S. – is the U.S. a state – a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

MR TONER: You know what, I will take that question. I don’t know off the top of my head.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?


QUESTION: Have you had a chance to review the speech made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before the People’s Council? And do you have any comments on that? I mean, he basically --

MR TONER: It’s a wide-open question, Said.

QUESTION: No, no, okay. Let me --

MR TONER: No, it’s okay. I’m – yeah.

QUESTION: A bit more – let me narrow it down.

MR TONER: I mean, no, that’s --

QUESTION: Because he said that he is intent on liberating every inch of Syria, which means that this war will go on until what he called all terrorists are rooted out.

MR TONER: I mean – okay, first of all, it was vintage Assad. There were no surprises in what he said, unfortunately. Would I – would all of us have liked to see him get up and say that – recognize his role in the carnage in Syria and to pledge to step aside and for that a political transition can take place? Sure. But I think --


MR TONER: I think I said would we have all liked that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: But he did not. He was – I said this was vintage Assad. He basically got up and said what he always says, which is that he’s going to never back down, never step aside; going to keep up the fight and never recognize the role that he has directly played in creating the conditions that exist today in Syria, where Daesh has been able to get a strong foothold and establish itself, where you’ve got segments of the population cut off from humanitarian assistance deliberately by the regime. This is a reality that he has singlehandedly created.

QUESTION: I could never understand --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) plan to recapture the entire country, do you regard Syrian Government forces as being party to the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: I think that – well, look, I mean, there’s a lot of rhetoric, obviously. I think we spoke yesterday about their – the authority that the Syrian regime has to go after Nusrah and Daesh, and that we respect that authority for them to do so as long as they don’t go after parties to the --

QUESTION: But he said every inch of Syrian territory. That includes areas that are held by groups that are party to the cessation. He’s declared an intent to attack them. Should they refrain from counterattacking?

MR TONER: Again, it’s typical of his rhetoric. I think that --

QUESTION: And of his prior actions.

MR TONER: And his prior actions. Legitimate question – or legitimate point. I think what we’re going to look – going forward though is the fact that we still believe that Russia, that Iran can at least appeal to those in the regime who still have influence on him to refrain from letting this political process, this cessation of hostilities, fall completely apart. But it is – again, there’s nothing surprising in what he said today, but it was discouraging.

QUESTION: Let me just go back to a point that he said. He accused Erdogan --


QUESTION: -- of sending lately – he used a word in Arabic which means “lately,” connoting like a recent time –


QUESTION: -- thousands of fighters into Aleppo. Do you agree? Do you have information that thousands of foreign fighters have crossed into the Aleppo area in recent weeks or months?

MR TONER: No. I mean, I don’t know – this is – these are – again, these are not new accusations or allegations thrown by the Syrian regime at Turkey or at Turkey’s – Turkish leadership, I guess. Again, Aleppo is a very dynamic, very difficult place in terms of trying to delineate the good from the bad, and we recognize that. But we’ve seen no effort by Turkey to --

QUESTION: So you reject the accusation that Turkey sent in thousands of fighters into Syria, at least in recent times?


QUESTION: Hey, Mark --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- you said that you still hope that – or you still believe that Russia and Iran can appeal to those who have influence with Assad. Does that mean that you no longer believe that they have influence with Assad himself and – I mean, are we seeing what we were seeing back in the early days of this conflict, where there was an active attempt by the U.S. and by Europeans to split the government, to isolate Assad within his own regime --

MR TONER: I just --

QUESTION: -- or is that --

MR TONER: I was simply – sorry, I don’t mean to – finish.

QUESTION: Or do you still think the Russians and the Iranians have influence with Assad himself?

MR TONER: I – we are hopeful that they do. I mean, because much of this hinges on that.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t look like that, given the speech that he gave, correct?

MR TONER: That’s why I – which is why I --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- couched my response in that way.

QUESTION: And then you said, well, we’d like to get – see him get up and say to his parliament or to whoever, “Yeah, this is all my fault and I’m going to leave.” But you don’t --


QUESTION: -- honestly think that he’s ever going to do that?

MR TONER: No. That’s – no.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. take Assad’s assertions --

MR TONER: I – yes, I was --

QUESTION: Does the U.S. take --

MR TONER: -- being somewhat facetious.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does the U.S. Government take seriously Assad’s assertion that this new parliament to which he was speaking today is a legitimate government and thereby implying that his own leadership is legitimate?

MR TONER: Now, I mean, we’ve – thanks for bringing that up, Ros. I mean, we said at the time that calling for and holding parliamentary elections under the conditions such as they existed at the time and continue to exist, which the regime continues to carry out attacks on civilians that it purports to represent, rings especially hollow. So – and the fact that more than half of the country’s citizens are displaced either within the borders of the country or outside the borders of the country, it calls into question the integrity of any kind of election.

QUESTION: So no commendation for electing a woman speaker of the house?

MR TONER: As – no. As – I’ll let that stand.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR TONER: Please, go ahead. Are we done with Syria?


MR TONER: Yeah, let’s stick – let’s finish the Syria. Sure.

QUESTION: When you – it seems the regime, backed with the Russians, are advancing into the province of al-Raqqa. Will you consider it positive if they liberate al-Raqqa from ISIL?

MR TONER: Well, so we’re not – I’m not able to speak on behalf of what the Syrian military offensive may look like, where it may be in terms of advancing on Raqqa. I can’t really confirm those reports. All I can say is that we, the counter-ISIL coalition, are supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces in taking the fight against – or to, rather, ISIL – trying to retake land, trying to hit their transportation links, communication supply routes into Raqqa to weaken its grip on the city. And those efforts continue. And we recognize it’s going to be a long process.

QUESTION: But you just said that you recognize that Assad regime had authority to fight ISIL and al-Nusrah.

MR TONER: I said I just – but I can’t – I can’t confirm the reports that they’re --

QUESTION: No, I’m not asking about confirming.


QUESTION: I said if they liberated, will you welcome that?

MR TONER: I’ll say what I’ve said before, when they liberated Palmyra, which is it’s I guess relatively better than ISIL, but not much.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: One more on Syria?

MR TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sure.

MR TONER: Yeah. Let’s finish up.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to the statement put out today by The Washington Post editorial board, which was very critical of the Administration’s policy on humanitarian assistance in Syria, specifically of the Secretary himself?

MR TONER: Well, I mean – yes, I mean, speaking about humanitarian assistance and the difficulties that we’re still having – and by “we,” I mean the international community and the UN – in getting that assistance to these besieged areas, we’ve said it before, it’s unacceptable. The international community has pressed the regime to provide access, unimpeded access to all of these besieged areas. And these are areas that have been determined to be besieged by the UN, not by the regime, and that’s really the only acceptable standard. I would just say that we expect the regime to approve the UN’s request for access either by air or by land, and we’ve said before land is the preferred method, and we’re going to keep pressuring them to adhere to the UN’s demands.

More broadly, recognizing fully that we’re not where we need to be in terms of humanitarian assistance and access, we can point to the fact that since the cessation of hostilities came into effect, I think something like 700,000 Syrians have received aid, and many but not all besieged areas have been reached. Again, it’s not perfect by any means and I’m not going to claim that it is, but it’s better than it was. But we need to keep the pressure on them.

And also, just the idea that this is somehow the U.S. – I mean, this is – we all agreed on this in Vienna. Russia, Iran, all the members of the ISSG who were in that room agreed that complete and utter – and full access to the besieged areas needed to be provided. This isn’t some U.S. wish list. This is – all of the members of the ISSG and the UN agreed on this. So we need to continue to pressure and look at options, and the World Food Program is doing so.

QUESTION: Can I – just on the --

MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to make – clarify or see if I can get clarified the --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- your use of the word “expect,” which often has several meanings. When you say you expect the regime to approve the request, why? In what sense do you expect them to? You think that that’s – that they should or you have some indication that leads you to believe that they are going to? Because as far as I can tell, they have said no to everything and for quite some – for quite some time to these – the besieged areas that were mentioned in Vienna in particular.

MR TONER: Sure. I’ll go with the first definition. Look, the World Food Program is in communications with the regime regarding airdrop logistics because the regime has, up till now, not provided overland access. I know they’re looking – I think they’re looking at four specific communities. Daraya is one of them. And yes, we’re going to keep pressuring them to provide access. We can’t – I can’t say that they’re going to agree or not, but we’re going to keep the pressure on them, and we expect Russia and Iran especially to put pressure on them.

QUESTION: Well, that’s different than them – than expecting them to agree.

MR TONER: I agree. That’s why I said my – I went with your first definition, which is that --


MR TONER: -- common human decency would --




QUESTION: Can I get a – just to be clear about --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- you said pressuring them, but you’re not doing that directly; you’re just asking the Russians to pressure them.

MR TONER: Correct. We are – we fully expect Russia to use its influence on the regime to get it to grant access to --

QUESTION: But you don’t have any direct leverage of your own. It’s just your association with Russia through the ISSG that’s (inaudible).

MR TONER: Well, that’s – yeah, I mean, that’s the structure of the ISSG. That’s how it works, for better or for worse.

QUESTION: Mark, something that you have --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- left over, which is the refugees. I mean, we’re coming into the end of the fiscal year --


QUESTION: -- in October and you’ve already allowed no more than 2,500 to the best of what I gather. So you have about 10,000 that were promised to be allowed in by the end of the fiscal year. So where are you with that?

MR TONER: So we are – we do remain committed to the President’s plan to resettle some 85,000 of the world’s most vulnerable of these refugees from around the world. And that includes, as you note, 10,000 from Syria. I think increases in processing capacity have improved our ability to meet the 10,000 target for Syrian refugee admissions. I think up – as of May 25th, we’ve – we’re at the 2,500 mark. So we’re not there. We’re a good ways from it. But we do expect the arrivals to increase exponentially as we move through the summer, so we are still saying we’re going to meet that 10,000-person commitment.


QUESTION: Going to Iraq --

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: -- since we’re still talking about trying to fight ISIL, among other things: Last week you talked about Fallujah. There are more reports about Shia militiamen detaining Sunni men who are trying to flee Fallujah, and there are more allegations that they’re being abused, that they’re being tortured. Dozens is one rough estimate. Even the UN high commissioner for refugees is saying – for human rights, excuse me – is expressing concern about the situation, and he is also expressing concern that the Abadi government isn’t doing enough to restrain the Shia militia from carrying out sectarian attacks. One, what is the U.S. assessment of the situation right now? What is the U.S. Government saying to Prime Minister Abadi? What is the U.S. prepared to do in order to basically keep the Shia militia away from Fallujah so that people who are trying to escape the fighting can do so safely?

MR TONER: Sure. Lots of very good questions, and obviously, it’s a very difficult situation in and around Fallujah. The reports – and we’ve seen these reports as well – are obviously concerning. We do believe, though, that Prime Minister Abadi has made an effort to investigate abuses of Iraqi civilians at the hands of Iraqi Security Forces. I think he’s even pledged to form a committee or has created a human rights committee to look at some of these abuses. We believe the Government of Iraq has made an effort to avoid civilian casualties and to hold accountable those in isolated cases of misconduct.

Now, there have been – and we talked – I talked about this last Friday – there have been efforts to screen citizens as they flee Fallujah.


MR TONER: And I think – I’m looking at my thing – I think some 15,000 civilians have already fled the fighting in and around Fallujah and have arrived and are safely being held at camps, and there have been screening measures put in place, and we have talked about that.


MR TONER: And partly that’s common sense that Daesh or ISIL isn’t using – trying to exfiltrate or get out of Fallujah, use it as an escape route. So – but let’s be very clear that any kind of screening, while justified, needs to be done in a manner that is respectful of human rights and common dignity, and also done in a transparent manner.

QUESTION: There’s already been a lot of talk, though --

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: -- about the fact that in the effort to liberate these communities from ISIL, that the U.S. would not want to see Shia militia going in because of the very fundamental symbolism that represents. Is it appropriate for the Iraqi Government to rely on these militia, the PMF, to do the screening? Should the Iraqi military be using some of its own forces to do this screening? And should the Shia militia even be allowed anywhere near Fallujah? Why can’t they be held to barracks, to use an expression?

MR TONER: Well, I would refer you to the Iraqi Government to talk about the composition of forces in and around Fallujah and how they’re being utilized. I think that given the scale and scope of this operation, that they, frankly, need all the capable fighters that they have. But of course we’re concerned about the sectarian tensions inherent to the dynamic that you just raised. And again, we have raised our concerns with the Iraqi Government, and they have also expressed a clear understanding of that dynamic as well and an effort to avoid it. The need – so if Shia militia are there, they are under the command and control of the Iraqi military. And they --

QUESTION: But then we hear about people being dragged away, bodies being turned up, some people so badly injured that they’re now in hospital trying to get medical treatment that may not be easily attainable given that these are conditions of war. Here’s an alternative suggestion: Perhaps the U.S. doesn’t want to have its own people screening people leaving Fallujah, but there are other members of the coalition. Is it possible to ask the Arab countries that are part of the coalition to do the screening of people as they’re trying to leave Fallujah?

MR TONER: Well, again, those are all good points and good questions better directed to the Iraqi Government. I would say that thus far in Fallujah, fully recognizing that we have seen reports and we’ve raised those reports on our concerns about them with the Iraqi Government, but we have seen thus far an effort by Prime Minister Abadi and his leadership to manage the offensive carefully, deliberately, with respect to ordering safe passageways – and I talked about the 17,000 Fallujah residents who have gotten safe passage out of the city – and made an effort to respect both property and the well-being of the civilians.

But again, as there are cases or allegations of these abuses – and you cited some of them – the Iraqi Government has pledged to create a committee to look at these allegations in cases, or rather incidents, and follow up on them. And I think that that is absolutely commendable and necessary.


QUESTION: Do you have confidence in this committee that they’re standing up?

MR TONER: I think, again, we’ll wait and see. But they have pledged to do so. Thus far, what we’ve seen largely from the Iraqi Government has given us confidence that they are aware of these tensions on the battlefield and are taking steps to mitigate them.


QUESTION: Did you confirm the reports by the UN human rights commissioner today that he said he have credible reports about these violations? Are you confirming his position?

MR TONER: I have not seen those. I do note that we’ve seen reports of violations and are concerned about them. I’m not speaking to his – I have no idea what he said. I’m sorry, I don’t – I haven’t seen his comments.

QUESTION: He said they have – he have credible reports about very sad violations against civilians fleeing from Fallujah.

MR TONER: I mean, again, we’re aware of some of these reports and we’re concerned about them as well.



MR TONER: Are we done with Iraq? Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: There has been another unsafe intercept of fighter jets over the East China Sea. Do you have any comment on that, especially given that Secretary Kerry is in Beijing? Do you know if he has communicated the issue with his Chinese counterparts?

MR TONER: I mean, honestly, I would refer you to – he did a press avail earlier today with his Chinese counterpart obviously talking more broadly about the S&ED. He gave a – he and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave a press avail with their Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang, and, as I said, talked more broadly about all the issues in the relationship but also spoke about our ongoing concerns about the South China Sea.

QUESTION: Do you think that, I mean, this incident sort of undermines the – any of the discussions coming so soon right after their discussions?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, again, I think they had a very candid discussion about that issue. That’s part of why we have these meetings so we can sit down and talk frankly and honestly and candidly with China about our concerns about their behavior regarding the South China Sea. We want to – look, our message hasn’t changed. We continue to encourage all South China Sea claimants to avoid taking unilateral actions to change the status quo and to clarify their maritime claims in accordance with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. That message hasn’t changed. It’s been consistent. We continue to make that point to China and continue to look for ways that we can reinforce those peaceful mechanisms by which all claimants can have their voices heard.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that this was intentional --

MR TONER: No indications, no.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: North Korea --

MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll get around here.

QUESTION: Today --

MR TONER: I’ll get – first you and then --

QUESTION: All right, thank you very much.

MR TONER: Thanks. No worries.

QUESTION: Today Secretary Kerry has mentioned that the United States and China would not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Would that mean that the United States, they think that can China can persuade North Korea for nuclear states, or they not accept North Korea --

MR TONER: Well, I think, again, this was one of the – obviously one of the topics of conversation over the past couple of days is concern over North Korea’s continued provocative behavior in the region and the impact that has on the security of the Korean peninsula and, frankly, the entire region. And that’s obviously an issue that we discuss frequently with China. China is concerned about North Korea’s behavior, and we are looking at how we can apply adequate pressure on the regime in North Korea to convince it to respond to the international community’s concerns.

QUESTION: Have the – do United States trust the Chinese – what they saying, or --

MR TONER: Do we trust the Chinese --


MR TONER: -- to maintain pressure on them?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR TONER: It’s been an ongoing conversation that we’ve had with China, as you know, and I think it’s something that – China has concerns, but they also have influence. And so we would – we value China’s influence on North Korea. And they can play a very pivotal role, so we’re always talking with them about ways to enhance that role.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR TONER: No, let’s finish up with – yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just wanted – on what my colleague was saying – so can you confirm that it came up in the conversations that the Secretary had with his Chinese counterparts?

MR TONER: North Korea?

QUESTION: No, the intercept over the East China Sea.

MR TONER: I cannot confirm that that actually – I mean, I know the South China Sea, but I don’t know that this intercept came up. Frankly, I hadn’t heard of it until I was just out here, so – please.

QUESTION: Just want to quickly ask you – so Judicial Watch yesterday released another transcript of Ambassador Mull’s deposition, I guess on Friday.


QUESTION: And throughout it, at least according to the transcript of the deposition, he repeatedly said there was a lot he couldn’t remember when he learned of Secretary Clinton’s email setup; also why he couldn’t remember emailing her suggesting she set up a State Department account. Obviously, he’s held several senior positions here at the department, is now in charge of implementing the Iran deal. Just wanted to get your explanation – I mean, how can that be that there’s just so much that he doesn’t remember from his times --

MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to parse his testimony or his deposition, rather. He’s spoke to his recollection of what happened and his knowledge of her use of email. And Ambassador Mull is a well-respected and very experienced Foreign Service officer, and I’ll let his words stand for themselves.

I think that – and we talked about this with the inspector general’s report a couple of – I guess last week – there was an incomplete understanding or knowledge of the extent of her use of personal email at the time she was in office, and we have acknowledged that. We’ve acknowledged that as a result of that we are now trying to improve how we in-process secretaries of state and senior officials at the State Department so we don’t have that kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding in the future. But again, having a – some knowledge of personal use of email is far from having a complete knowledge of the extent of it.

QUESTION: But you don’t think it’s odd that – he was, I believe, her executive secretary – that he – there’s so much about her email, the server, the setup that he doesn’t recall?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think that – I don’t think it’s odd, necessarily, given how the system was constructed at the time. We’ve talked about this in the past. We’ve talked about the fact that really no one among the senior staff had a full and comprehensive knowledge of how much she was using her personal email. And if they had, they probably would have done it differently. She’s also acknowledged that as well, so I’ll leave it there.

QUESTION: Can I go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue very quickly?

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: You’re done? I have couple questions.


QUESTION: The secretary-general of the Arab League claimed that Secretary Kerry thwarted a strong French initiative last Friday, and in fact suggesting that he was responsible for that lackluster statement that came out of the meeting. Do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Look, Secretary Kerry went to Paris out of a desire to sit down with the other participants to really help shape a constructive conversation or a discussion about a Middle East peace process --


MR TONER: -- and as I said, shape it in a constructive way. I’m not going to get into the internal deliberations about --


MR TONER: -- the final communique, but it’s a joint communique. It reflects the views of all the participants, and not just the United States.

QUESTION: But Nabil al-Araby has always made very positive and enthusiastic statements about Secretary Kerry and his efforts and so on. This is – I mean, this is the first time I saw a statement where it’s the opposite.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: So are you saying that he’s wrong? Is he wrong in suggesting that?

MR TONER: I mean, again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: He’s your boss. I mean, you can say, no, he didn’t – yeah.

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I’m going to say exactly what I just said, which is --


MR TONER: -- it was a joint communique. The Secretary went there – and he spoke about this before he went there, that he is willing to sit down with likeminded governments and leaders around the world to talk about this issue, but ultimately, it’s going to take the two parties to sit down at the same table to negotiate these tough issues. And as much as he can help set the parameters and set the conditions for that, he’s going to work hard at doing so.

QUESTION: But even statements made by U.S. officials, whether it’s the advisor to national – to the President on national security or others, or even the Secretary himself, saying that chances for face-to-face negotiations under the present conditions – indeed, the current Israeli Government – are probably a far, far-fetched kind of idea. So in the absence of that, why not put the weight of the United States behind some sort of an international effort? I mean, I listened to Dr. Rice’s speech yesterday, and on the one hand, she’s saying this but on the other, she’s saying we will stand against any kind of – any international effort, basically.

MR TONER: No, that’s not true, but --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, that’s basically what she said. She says we stand – in UN forums and so on where Israel’s not perceived in a friendly way.

MR TONER: Well, that is true. I mean, and we’ve been clear about that in the past in some of the statements and other efforts that have – we believe have been politically slanted. But again, I don’t think – look, I don’t think – there’s nothing wrong with having efforts like the French put on last week, trying to bring people together to talk through some of these issues to try to set the conditions, but again, let’s be very clear – it is incumbent on the two parties to decide that they are at a place where they can sit down and talk through some of these issues. And once that – we get to that point – and we’re all for working to create conditions that lead to that effort or that point in time – then we’re going to – but until you get to that point, you’re not going to make real progress.

QUESTION: Let me have a couple more questions.

MR TONER: Yeah. Sure. Quickly.

QUESTION: The UN adopted a resolution to support Palestinian women last Friday and it was overwhelmingly voted for, and – except for the United States and Australia. And my question to you: Why would you oppose a UN resolution that is intended to sort of empower Palestinian women?

MR TONER: Well, I think we put out an explanation of vote on this, Said. I mean, obviously, we remain committed to supporting the Palestinian people, along with many of our international partners, and that certainly includes Palestinian women in practical and effective ways. But in our view – and it speaks to your last comment – in our view, we felt this resolution was one-sided.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: That it, guys? Thank you.

QUESTION: No, no, no, wait. I got two. They’re brief. Don’t worry.

MR TONER: Please. Yeah, Matt. Okay.

QUESTION: One, semi-related to this: Do you, this building, or do you know, more broadly, the Executive Branch of the federal government in general have any comments on this – these regulations that Governor Cuomo of New York signed – put into effect yesterday on the anti-BDS – or on the BDS situation?

MR TONER: Matt, I’m going to – I’ll take the question. I just don’t – I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: I don't know if you would or not.


QUESTION: I’m just curious, if you do, what it is.

MR TONER: No, we’ll look at it. Yep, we’ll look at it.

QUESTION: And then secondly, have you seen this announcement out of Iran that the Iranian foreign ministry has rejected visa applications from three Republican congressmen, all of them critics of the Iran deal who wanted to go to Iran to check out the implementation?

MR TONER: Yeah --

QUESTION: And is this the kind of – regardless of what their motive was --


QUESTION: -- or is in terms of going, is this something that, in your contacts with the Iranians, you might object to?

MR TONER: I just – I found out about this just before coming out. I know we’re aware of the Iranian response to visa applications by some members of Congress. And the response came to us, I understand, and then we then passed it on to these members of Congress. I don’t really have any specific comment on it.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you – would you like to see members of Congress travel to Iran to take a look around?

MR TONER: Look, I mean, it’s – if they would so desire to travel there, we don’t want to impede them the ability to do so.

QUESTION: Right. I know. But I mean --

MR TONER: We don’t have any – we don’t have any diplomatic presence to provide support for any kind of congressional --

QUESTION: No, I understand, but this not like a – these aren’t private citizens.

MR TONER: Yeah. So I mean, we wouldn’t --

QUESTION: They are members of one branch of the government. Would you be --

MR TONER: And we certainly wouldn’t want to --

QUESTION: -- willing to --

MR TONER: We certainly wouldn’t want to impede their ability to travel.

QUESTION: Right. But would you be willing to go through the Swiss or whoever to see if they would reconsider?

MR TONER: I don’t know. We’ll see what they come back to us with. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)

DPB # 98

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Mon, 06/06/2016 - 16:50

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 6, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:03 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good morning, everyone. Happy Monday. I have a --

QUESTION: Good morning?

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon. Thanks, Matt. Doesn’t it feel like morning?


MS TRUDEAU: Maybe it’s just Monday. Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, it feels like it should be about five o’clock.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I stand corrected. Thank you for the correction.

So a few things at the top. First, on Yemen, we continue to express our hope to see a successful outcome to the UN-led Yemeni-Yemeni peace talks. We call on the parties to continue to engage in good faith in the talks in Kuwait and to quickly follow through on the agreement to unconditionally release child prisoners. We also express our strong condemnation of the attacks in densely populated civilian areas of Taiz, Yemen, in which over a dozen people have been killed and more than a dozen injured. We express our condolences to the families of those killed and wish a speedy recovery to those injured. Such attacks threaten to undermine progress in the peace talks and the cessation of hostilities. We are deeply concerned about the devastating toll of the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Especially during this month of Ramadan, we call on all parties to redouble their efforts to work quickly to making the hard choices and compromises necessary to reach a final agreement. As we have said before, we firmly believe the solution to this conflict is political, not military, and the ongoing talks in Kuwait offer the best chance for reaching a comprehensive political solution to the conflict.

On Syria, the Syrian regime continues to renege on the agreement it reached with the UN, and so far has failed to authorize the UN and its partners on the ground to deliver badly needed food to Daraya. In other words, the regime continues to use the denial of food as a military weapon against its own civilians. The people of Daraya have not received food since 2012. This is unconscionable, and we expect the regime to live up to its commitments and allow for full delivery of assistance to all besieged areas. The people of Daraya are being brutalized by the regime through its blocking of food and basic supplies. We ask that Russia use its influence to end this inhumane policy. The only thing preventing UN deliveries to several besieged areas is the regime’s violation of its own commitments and its ignoring of international calls and UN Security Council resolutions. In fact, the regime is stringing along the UN and international community by habitually reneging on promised deliveries, and when there are deliveries, the regime often removes needed supplies from convoys before allowing them to proceed. This is inhumane and unacceptable.

We’re also deeply concerned about the escalating fighting in Aleppo and its impact on the cessation of hostilities. This includes the Nusrah Front offensive in southern Aleppo and the regime’s offensive in northeast Aleppo. Southern Aleppo province – as per the terms of reference for the cessation of hostilities, the regime does have the right to respond against Nusrah in areas under its control. However, in the north, the regime’s air offensive this weekend against participants to the cessation caused the collapse of a vital overpass, threatening closure of a key means of getting humanitarian supplies to Syrians in desperate need. We call on all those who are party to the cessation of hostilities to reaffirm their commitment to the cessations, particularly as many Syrians are now observing Ramadan.


QUESTION: Right. We’ll get back to Syria, but I just want to start with a couple housecleaning – or one housecleaning item --


QUESTION: -- which is about the edited briefing video.


QUESTION: So last week we were told that you guys intended to respond to Congressman Chaffetz, and have you? Have you turned over the documentation that he has asked for? Does such documentation exist?

MS TRUDEAU: So we have received the letter. We’re working on a response. We are hoping to provide at least a partial response by June 8th. So yes, we will be responsive.

QUESTION: “At least a partial response?”

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: What is – can you explain what that means?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage we’re still looking at what the letter requested.

QUESTION: He’s asked for – right, he has asked for documents, though. I’m wondering, are you aware that there are documents out there that are related?

MS TRUDEAU: So yeah, we are looking at creating a – at least a partial – we’re going to be as responsive as we certainly possibly can be.

QUESTION: So there are documents?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that we can be partially responsive.

QUESTION: But not fully?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage we will continue to try and meet that goal by June 8th, which is the deadline they’ve set.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. And is there a --

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

QUESTION: Well, I just want to know if there’s a – are there any updates on the – what happened, why?

MS TRUDEAU: No. I think we – we obviously had a couple exhaustive conversations about this last week in this briefing room. Assistant Secretary Kirby’s focus is really on moving this forward. You guys saw the message he sent out to the Public Affairs Bureau. We are very focused on ensuring this does not happen again, and the procedures are in place.

QUESTION: But there is no new information that has been uncovered since last week?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage I am not aware of new information.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: A follow-up on that is that they’ve asked for the Secretary to appear before the Oversight Committee. Have you received that request?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, we have received this request. We will discuss it with the committee, as we do with any request to testify.

QUESTION: So is there a chance that the Secretary can – will agree to this?

MS TRUDEAU: We just received it. I just don’t have any other details for you.

QUESTION: Did you receive it today?



MS TRUDEAU: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MS TRUDEAU: We can. Are we good on Syria?


MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, great. Why don’t we go here and then we’ll move around. Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, how do you determine the scope and – of the tragedy that is going on in Daraya? I mean how you independently measure or gauge the kind of – whether there is a starvation or famine, or the kind of siege and its effect on the public that is besieged. How do you do it independently?

MS TRUDEAU: So what we do is we look at a range of sources. We look at individuals on the ground. We talk to our partners in the ISSG. We speak to the UN. This is something obviously we’re very focused on, I think as, broadly, the international community is. This is a tragedy that we’re seeing.

QUESTION: But this is not something that you can on your own say, this is it. This is what we have --

MS TRUDEAU: Are you asking if we have people on the ground in Daraya?

QUESTION: Right, right, I mean --

MS TRUDEAU: No, we don’t.

QUESTION: No, whether by other means.


QUESTION: Not necessarily people, but that the United States is doing or gauging on its own as it probably would do in other places.

MS TRUDEAU: No, I think the international community is looking at this.

QUESTION: Okay. And I just also wanted to ask you – you said that the regime continues to – I’m sorry, that the regime has a right to defend itself.


QUESTION: Okay. Now, but then you – with the caveat that they have to spare whatever groups that may be intermingled with al-Nusrah.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, we’ve been very clear on that.

QUESTION: How would they do that? I mean, this is an issue that is really nagging.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, and I know we’ve spoken about this.

QUESTION: How do we – yeah, we have, but you keep saying the same thing. But there’s always that caveat. So in essence, they don’t really have the right to defend themselves.

MS TRUDEAU: So we have called on the Assad regime to carefully distinguish between terrorists and parties to the cessation of hostilities – Russia as well. We all agree that ISIL, the Nusrah Front, and other UN-designated terrorist groups throw a – pose a real threat to regional and international security in Syria. But the regime and Russia cannot use the claimed presence of Nusrah to undertake offensive activities against other groups.

QUESTION: But can the --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve been – let me finish, please. We’ve been clear about this. We’d also point out the regime continues to strike civilians. This only drives more support to the terrorists that they purport to fight. So I understand this. We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about the need for groups to disengage, but we also call on those parties to also understand that this is a situation.

QUESTION: And the last one from me.


QUESTION: There are reports that the Kurdish forces that you support are actually cooperating with the Syrian army to root out elements of ISIS and Nusrah and others. Are you aware of these reports? Are they true? Would you continue to support the Kurds if they are cooperating --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not aware with those reports.

QUESTION: -- with them? Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Dave.

QUESTION: How can --

QUESTION: Just before we came in here, Foreign Minister Lavrov said he was aware of these requests. He continued to distinguish between the HNC and the – and Jabhat al-Nusrah. But he rejected them. He said you’ve had enough time to get the so-called moderates away from the terrorists, and he said that the Russian Air Force would now be actively and directly supporting a Syrian army offensive around Aleppo.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we’ve seen that. And again, we would reiterate that Russia and the Assad regime need to distinguish between the terrorists and parties to the cessation of hostilities. We’ve said this all along.

QUESTION: But he says that you haven’t had – you haven’t succeeded in persuading the rebels to distinguish themselves or to space themselves appropriately. And he says he’s briefed Kerry on this and that Kerry’s aware of --

MS TRUDEAU: No. We have had those conversations. We would just reiterate our point.

QUESTION: Well, his argument is that this has been – it is now June. For months now, since February, you guys have been making this case to them, to the moderate – the opposition that you support, and they don’t seem to have taken the message to heart, or at least done anything about it. So his argument is that it’s taking too much time and that they’ve had more than enough time already to do this, and that --

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to have conversations with those groups on the ground.

QUESTION: Well, I know you do. But you --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve spoken about this.

QUESTION: Do you think that they should – do you think he has a point?

MS TRUDEAU: We think that, frankly, the situation, as we’ve said before in here, that the situation writ large --

QUESTION: In four months?

MS TRUDEAU: -- in Syria has gone on too long.


MS TRUDEAU: But Russia has an obligation. The Syrian regime has an obligation. We have spoken out against them hitting civilians – against hitting parties to the cessation.

QUESTION: You said also that the Syrian Government is not living – stringing along the UN and --


QUESTION: -- not living up to its promises. Did the Syrian Government actually commit, make a promise to the UN that aid would get to Daraya?

MS TRUDEAU: So in the May 17th ISSG statement, there was a commitment.


MS TRUDEAU: It’s my --

QUESTION: Remind me who represented Syria at that ISSG meeting?

MS TRUDEAU: So the Russians agreed to this.

QUESTION: Did the Syrian Government actually go to the UN and say, “Yes, okay?” Or did they not?

MS TRUDEAU: So this is an ongoing conversation the Russians are having with the Syrians on this.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the Syrian Government hasn’t made any promises to this effect, have they?

MS TRUDEAU: To – I think the idea that a government, however punitive they are to their own people, it needs to make a commitment to allow aid deliveries – I find that --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not trying to defend the government. I’m just trying to figure out where it is that they made a promise to the UN to allow these deliveries. Because I --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. This was in --

QUESTION: The ISSG statement, the Syrians aren’t there.

MS TRUDEAU: It’s our understanding that that commitment was made by the Syrians.


QUESTION: How can the U.S. accuse Russia or anyone else of hitting legitimate Syrian opposition when the U.S. itself can’t separate them from terrorists, particularly in and around Aleppo?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so I think we’ve actually talked about this. We’ve talked about the need that we’ve actually spoken to the groups on the ground, but we also call on the Russians and the Syrian regime to make that distinction as well.

QUESTION: Can you give us some specific results of Washington’s efforts to separate rebels in Syria from terrorists?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that those are ongoing conversations, and we would also ask – as I’ve said – for the Syrian regime and the Russians to also continue to do that.


QUESTION: For weeks now – I’m sorry --


QUESTION: I have a few more. For weeks now we’ve been hearing just that, that the U.S. is working on it, that it’s a challenge to getting – to get rebels groups in Syria to separate themselves from terrorists. What we don’t hear is what the result of those efforts is.


QUESTION: But we are seeing reports of their joint attacks. This weekend al-Nusrah and Ahrar al-Sham have together attacked a Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo; over 40 people died. Does the U.S. still insist that because those groups are intermingled, they shouldn’t be targeted?

MS TRUDEAU: Our view is that the UN-identified terrorist groups are not parties to the cessation of hostilities. We’ve spoken about that. We’ve also spoken extensively about the needs for those groups on the ground to separate themselves, to distinguish themselves. The responsibility, though, also lies with the Russians as well as the Syrian regime to not target parties to the cessation of hostilities.

We’re going to move on. Michel.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the --


QUESTION: But you didn’t say what the result of those efforts has been.

MS TRUDEAU: You know what? We’re going to move on. Michel.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Are you aware of the offensive that the Syrian regime is leading towards al-Raqqa?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes. So I’m aware of those reports. I cannot confirm it. For our part, we continue to work with the Syrian Democratic Forces, our partners on the ground in Syria, to retake land from ISIL and further isolate ISIL’s transportation, communications, and supply routes into Raqqa to weaken its grip on the city. We believe the SDF has seen progress in recent months in retaking land from ISIL. Again – and we’ve spoken about this – this is not an easy fight. This is a slow slog. So I’ve seen the reports. I just can’t confirm them now.

QUESTION: But you support such offensive --

MS TRUDEAU: So we support the SDF as they continue to take land back from ISIL. I’m not going to speak to the Syrian movements. And we’ve actually had this conversation. No person should have to choose between a regime that has targeted as – against ISIL. So I’m going to leave that, but unfortunately, I can’t confirm that.

QUESTION: But it looks like Russia is supporting this offensive too.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’d refer you to the Russians to speak to that.

QUESTION: Can we --


QUESTION: The Security Council --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. I’ll go to you, Ros.


QUESTION: The UN Security Council agreed on Friday to ask the Syrian Government formally about the airdrops.


QUESTION: Has there been any initial feedback on whether or not it looks like this will be able to go forward?

MS TRUDEAU: So we support the World Food Program moving forward on its plan to carry out those air operations. The World Food Program has provided briefings to the U.S. on a series of approaches that could be taken. We did discuss those with our Russian counterparts. We understand the World Food Program will be submitting a plan for airdrops soon.

QUESTION: If Syria says no or if Syria does not respond to the request one way or the other, what’s the plan B? What’s the alternative? Could the airdrops take place without the Syrian Government’s approval?

MS TRUDEAU: That’s a complex question. I think we’ve talked about that. And one thing I also want to back up and sort of emphasize here is that the airdrops were never anyone’s first choice. Ground transportation for aid deliveries remains the most effective means to get these individuals the help they need. As the World Food Program develops its plans and we remain in close coordination, we’ll take a look at that, but it’s a complex – it’s a complex effort. It has happened in the past, I think you remember, but ground transportation is always number one.

QUESTION: And I have one more.

MS TRUDEAU: And then we’ll go to Ros. Yeah.

QUESTION: One more. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke last week. They’ve had several recent conversations.

MS TRUDEAU: They have.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. aware, as a result of this, of a Russian proposal to send a significant amount of ground troops into Syria? There is a report from a former foreign minister – deputy foreign minister of Russia that Putin was considering such a request. Has this come up in any of the Kerry-Lavrov talks?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen the reports on what this former official is reported to have said. First and foremost, we’re focused on engaging Russia to get the cessation of hostilities back on track and on proposals for sustainable mechanism to support the cessation. We’re really focused in our conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov to ensure that all parties live up to its commitments and that Russia continues to use its influence on the regime.

QUESTION: You said you’ve seen the reports. Do you know if it’s an issue that the Secretary’s raised with Lavrov or --

MS TRUDEAU: I do not. I do not.


MS TRUDEAU: It’s a former official. We’ve just seen the same reports you have.


QUESTION: The town of Manbij, which has about 100,000 --


QUESTION: -- people apparently is being targeted by Syrian defense forces to try to liberate the town from ISIL. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that that might be all well and good, except that these people are in an impossible location. They try to flee north to the border --


QUESTION: -- ISIL still has control of Jarabulus. They can’t go south to Raqqa. They can’t go west to Azaz. And they are very worried that not just the citizens of Manbij but another 100,000 people in that area could end up being not just displaced but without food, without medicine, and could possibly be caught in the middle of an all-out slaughter. What is the U.S.’s concern about this, given that the SDF assault is being supported by the U.S.-led coalition?

MS TRUDEAU: Thanks for the question. As with all territory under Daesh’s control, we’re concerned by reports of those who are displaced by the fighting that takes place to recapture territory from this barbaric organization. We continue to urge Syrian opposition forces to take all measures to protect civilian populations during this operation. We’re closely monitoring the situation. We remain in close contact with our partners on the ground to provide assistance to those impacted areas.

QUESTION: Is there enough aid coming across the rebuilt bridge across the Euphrates to at least --

MS TRUDEAU: I think it’s going to be hard to quantify that.

QUESTION: -- come in from the eastern side?

MS TRUDEAU: You take a look at some of these areas that have been starved of aid. It’s one of the issues that we’re very focused on in this region as well as other regions. In terms of specific deliveries, I’m going to refer you to the World Food Program, but it’s absolutely a priority for this building, for this Administration.

QUESTION: Would there be any thought, from a humanitarian perspective, to try to persuade the Syrian opposition to perhaps change course in its efforts to retake Manbij given that their efforts could end up pushing people into more harm’s way than otherwise? I mean, they can’t just all easily get across that one bridge into the eastern – far eastern parts of Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I would say that we remain in communication with them. One of the points that I’ve heard is liberating Manbij City is actually a key route that ISIL has used to move fighters, finances, weapons in and out of the remaining territory. So it’s not only people; it’s a supply route for ISIL. As they move forward on this to isolate Raqqa, this is actually a critical step, but I will say that we do remain in communication with them.

Did you have one? Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, just on the aid deliveries. No one here is saying that you have never – that the ground deliveries were never your – not your first option. The point is, is that it was the ISSG itself – not us or not anyone else – that raised the – that said in its statement that if ground deliveries haven’t happened by June 1st, airdrops were going to begin. It’s now June 6th.


QUESTION: And the World Food Program has still not presented a report on how to do this.


QUESTION: What was the point of the June 1st date?

MS TRUDEAU: I think it was a – what’s the word I’m looking for – a forcing mechanism. The World Food Program --

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Force --

MS TRUDEAU: -- it’s my understand – will present its plan soon. We have been in consultation with them. This is a priority, absolutely. It’s a complex situation.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, it’s not a June 1st priority.

MS TRUDEAU: This is something we continue --

QUESTION: Why did they say June 1st if they weren’t going to – if it wasn’t going to happen?

MS TRUDEAU: I think they continue to have conversation on how to do this and how to make it happen quickly, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s not June 1st.


QUESTION: So why did they say June 1st?

MS TRUDEAU: I think that as we set dates, these are always good milestones, and we will continue to try and work to make those plans in conjunction with the World Food Program as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Can we have another topic?

MS TRUDEAU: Are we done on Syria, guys? Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask a question about the S&ED? Do you have any readouts on the U.S. participation in the S&ED Beijing?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. In terms of the exact readout, I don’t have a list. I think you’ve seen the extensive transcripts that have come out of Beijing. We’ve had some very good remarks coming out of there.

I can say a few things. Today, Secretary Kerry joined Treasury Secretary Lew and their Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang, for the first day of S&ED. Secretaries Kerry and Lew chaired a joint session on climate change where the two sides discussed their efforts to implement the Paris climate agreement and expand bilateral cooperation. Secretary Kerry and State Councilor Yang led small meetings in which they held in-depth discussions on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including North Korea as well as maritime issues. Secretary Kerry then hosted a Blue Oceans public event, speaking to a crowd of Chinese students about the importance of ocean conservation and areas of U.S. and Chinese cooperation.

Tomorrow is the second day. I expect that we will have even more information. And it’s my understanding that there will be a press briefing at the end.

QUESTION: According from what I gather, more than 400 delegates and about 10 ministers are involved. Can you verify?

MS TRUDEAU: In terms of the granularity on who was there, I can’t. I would refer you either to the host – I can also look and see if we can get – enormous event, very important event.

QUESTION: And also, at the opening ceremony, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a keynote speech and he pointed a few new points, like he said, “The broad Pacific Ocean should not become an arena for [big] rivalry, but a platform for inclusive cooperation.” He also points out disputes are not excuses for confrontational attitude.

How do you comment on those remarks? And is U.S. on the same page with China on this?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I’m not going to speak specifically to his remarks. He should speak to those. However, as we have consistently said, we support peaceful resolution of disputes, including the use of international legal mechanisms such as arbitration.

QUESTION: And also, experts say this is the last year of Obama, and so the S&ED is more about bilateral cooperation instead of difference, so as to provide more Obama legacy and to lay a solid foundation for the new president. Do you agree?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that our partnership and our relationship with China is important now, it’ll be important in the future, it’s been important in the past. I think we’re having serious, substantive conversations right now in Beijing, and we look forward to having them tomorrow as well.

QUESTION: And in September there will be G20, and people say there will be more outcomes in G20 instead of the S&ED. Do you agree with the logic?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’m not going to get ahead of the G20. We’re very focused on the S&ED right now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just on the --


QUESTION: -- arbitration issue, which you mentioned, did the Chinese say that they’re going to ignore the decision by the arbitration panel?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, we’ve seen those remarks. When the Philippines and China became parties to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, they agreed to the compulsory dispute settlement regime set out in the convention. In accordance with the terms of the Law of the Sea Convention, the decision of the tribunal will be legally binding on the Philippines and China.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the Chinese say they’re going to ignore the --


QUESTION: So what’s the – what do you do about it?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of that. We understand the decision is coming within the next few weeks. So this is our understanding.

QUESTION: Right. But the United States, which is not a party --


QUESTION: -- has standing, or does not have any standing to --

MS TRUDEAU: So we --

QUESTION: -- make its – to make this point?

MS TRUDEAU: So the U.S. – and we’ve talked about this – strongly supports the convention. Since 1983, U.S. policy has been that the convention’s provisions relating to traditional uses of the ocean reflect customary international law, and the U.S. Government acts in a manner --


MS TRUDEAU: -- consistent with those provisions.

QUESTION: But what’s your standing as not – since you’re not a party to the treaty --

MS TRUDEAU: As you know, the U.S. --

QUESTION: -- what’s your standing to complain if the Chinese ignore --

MS TRUDEAU: I think it’s a standing of the international community, when you have parties that have agreed to this --

QUESTION: No, no. I – you can say anything you want, obviously. But you don’t actually have any legal standing to bring a complaint against the Chinese for violating the provision of a treaty that you’re not a member of, right?

MS TRUDEAU: The U.S. can only become party to the convention after it’s received the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. You’re correct.

QUESTION: Right. So you don’t have any standing – legal standing, under this – under the treaty?

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: So – all right. So this is basically just your opinion of --

MS TRUDEAU: We believe that they have both agreed, they are both members, that the arbitration is set out there.

QUESTION: Topic of – about Okinawa?


QUESTION: Anti-Futenma relocation plan assembly members win majority in the Okinawa election on Sunday. So that result of the elections shows the Okinawa people willing or opposed to construction new air base in Henoko. So would – I would like to have a – State’s comment. And also, will U.S. Government reconsider that the current plan, Futenma relocation plan?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to comment on the specific vote that you’re talking about. Our position on the relocation of Futenma has not changed. We continue to work with the Government of Japan to move ahead on that.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question?


QUESTION: I just want to go back to the first question here. You said you were going to provide a partial response by June 8.


QUESTION: And to what request is that?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe that is to Representative Chaffetz’s letter.

QUESTION: About – but about what? He was asking for information. He’s also asking for Secretary Kerry to testify. So you’re going to give him a response by the 8th about whether he’s going to testify or not?

MS TRUDEAU: The information.


MS TRUDEAU: The information. We continue to work with the committee on the Secretary’s availability, as we do with the committee on all requests.

QUESTION: Have you agreed to testify and you’re just looking for a date, or --

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage we’ve just received the letter. We’ll work --


MS TRUDEAU: -- with the committee on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then also, Secretary Kerry said that he was going to – he wanted to get to the bottom of who was responsible and why they did that. Has he asked the Inspector General to do an audit, or what --

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen that Secretary Kerry obviously was very seized with this issue, spoke out very strongly about it. In terms of the path forward I don’t have any other information to share with you on that.

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: You don’t have any --


QUESTION: There’s no plan in place, or --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, the plan in place, obviously, is, as Kirby has said, is to make sure it never happens again. In terms of what they would do if more information becomes available, more information comes to light – as Kirby has said, we’ll continue to take a look.

QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. But that’s – there’s a difference between if more information just happens to fall in your lap and what the Secretary says, which was: I want more information about who was available. So I --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I just don’t have details on that. The Secretary did make himself very clear on that, though.

QUESTION: And the – from the partial response, is that new information that is coming to light?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe that in the letter to the department, they detailed some materials that they were interested in. It’s – we will work to provide those materials. And it’s our understanding that at the very least we’ll have a partial response on those.

QUESTION: And then can I change the subject?


QUESTION: This is – today the British followed up on a U.S. warning, a terror alert, against South Africa – in South Africa.


QUESTION: Can you give us a little bit more specifics? Is this particularly one group or – that the threat is from? Is it ISIS or is it al-Shabaab?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So on June 4th, the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria issued a security message to U.S. citizens warning them that the U.S. Government has received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where U.S. citizens congregate in South Africa, such as shopping malls and shopping areas in Johannesburg and Cape Town. As you know, the Department has no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas. When we receive specific, credible, non-counterable threat information, it is our worldwide policy for U.S. embassies and consulates to share that information.

In response to your question, I’d note, as the security message said, this information comes against a backdrop of ISIL’s public call for adherents to carry out terrorist attacks globally during Ramadan.

QUESTION: So given that militancy – this kind of militant group is not really a factor in that part of the world. It’s more West Africa and up in Central Africa. Does this in any way – do you in any way believe that ISIS is actually expanding into the rest of Africa or getting deeper into it?

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t speak to that, but I would say that we have a concern about the rise of violent extremism anywhere in the world, and we work with the local authorities around the world to share information on terrorist threats.

QUESTION: And one more --

MS TRUDEAU: One sec, Said.

QUESTION: -- question on this one. Given that the British also now put out a --


QUESTION: -- was there some kind of sharing? Is this the same threat that you’ve both seen?

MS TRUDEAU: I’d let the Brits speak to their threats.

QUESTION: You can’t do it?

MS TRUDEAU: I couldn’t speak to that.


QUESTION: Can I go to Iraq?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yeah. There is --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. Said, do you mind?


MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to clarify: You were saying that the Pretoria issued the warning to U.S. citizens because places that they tend to go may be attacked. Is that because Americans go to them, or do you have a specific threat against places that Americans happen to go to?

MS TRUDEAU: That’s a good question. Let me take that and see if I can get that nuance. Our security messages like this are addressed to U.S. citizens. Let me see if I can dig a little deeper, because I don’t want to speak wrongly on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I – just as a – just follow up --


QUESTION: Because their – yours said specifically “U.S. citizens” --

MS TRUDEAU: Which is what our security messages say.

QUESTION: -- so – and the British say “foreigners.”



MS TRUDEAU: Our messages are directed at U.S. citizens overseas.

QUESTION: Just one technical question. Is there a timeframe for when this thing – when it’s lifted? Or is it just something that continues?

MS TRUDEAU: Let me see. So there is no timeframe on the message I’m looking at. You can also find it on the U.S. embassy’s website in Pretoria.


QUESTION: I wanted to go to Iraq.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you if you could share with us or shed some light on the very confusing situation in Fallujah --


QUESTION: -- or the American role in the advance towards the city. First of all, if you have any information that you could share with us? Then I have a couple questions.

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to get into sort of operational details.


MS TRUDEAU: I believe Mark spoke to some of this --


MS TRUDEAU: -- on Friday. We continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces with precision airstrikes, tactical intelligence, military advice, equipment. The fight to liberate Fallujah from Daesh continues. We believe they are making progress, though it’s a hard slog.

QUESTION: Yeah. But there is also a great deal of fear by the communities in the area from the Shia militias and mobilization committees and so on. Are you having any conversations with the Iraqi Government, or maybe directly even with the militias themselves, on – to alleviate these fears or to have some sort of a contingency plan to ensure that some excessive use of force, let’s say, against the population is not carried out?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’d point you, actually, in fact, to Prime Minister Abadi’s comments himself. He was in Fallujah this weekend; he spoke to this. He has spoken about the need to protect civilians and their property. We continue to have those conversations.


QUESTION: And lastly, my question is: Despite so many years of training, the Iraqi army, it seems that they – the battle for Mosul has been put back. And they say that the Iraqi army is still equipped with some Soviet-era military equipment and so on. I mean, this is after what, 12, 13 years of training and equipping and so on? Could you explain this to the --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I wouldn’t speak to specific equipment, but I would say we continue to support the ISF as they continue. We believe they’ve made extraordinary gains and extraordinary progress even in the last three years. So actually, Ambassador Jones spoke to this earlier too, and commended them for the work that they’re doing.



QUESTION: Sorry, going back to Okinawa.


QUESTION: I mean, given the results of the election, and especially the response of the drunk driving incident over the weekend, I mean, there’s no concern that there’s going to be increased pressure against the FRF plan?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’m glad you brought up that incident, because I would like to say we deeply regret that incident. We are concerned about the accident victims. We wish them a full and fast recovery, and our hearts – heartfelt sympathies go out to them and their families. The U.S. military is cooperating fully in that investigation. In terms of our position on Futenma though, again, it hasn’t changed. We remain in partnership with the Government of Japan as we move that forward.

QUESTION: What type of actions, I mean, are you thinking of to sort of combat this renewed pressure against the Futenma replacement facility?

MS TRUDEAU: This is an ongoing conversation that we are having with the Government of Japan. I think the military took some immediate steps this weekend I’d refer you to them to speak to. Okay.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Why the kind of incident that occurred by U.S. service member is continuing in Okinawa? Why a U.S. member – U.S. service personnel, like the commander order, so – because the Okinawan indigenous people used to doubt – have a doubt that why are U.S. military personnel violate their commander order, usually?

MS TRUDEAU: So I can’t speak to the actions of individual U.S. forces overseas, but I will say I believe the Defense Department has spoken about this. We are taking this extremely seriously. You know, they can speak about additional steps they’ve taken actually even over this weekend on that, but I’d refer you to them. Okay.

Hi, Michael?

QUESTION: Hi. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, last Friday issued a pretty strongly-worded statement against the murder of a prominent LGBT rights advocate. Do you have anything to add to that? And then on top of that, can you provide a little bit more information about some of the assistance that the U.S. has provided to the Honduran officials to investigate this murder?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, we have actually, in fact, already offered our assistance to the Honduran authorities bringing justice in this case, and I’m glad you brought this up. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the apparent murder of Rene Martinez, who was a leader in the LGBTI community in San Pedro, a rising political figure in Honduras. We do offer the condolences to his friends, his family, and his colleagues. In terms of the assistance that we have offered to the Government of Honduras, I don’t have that granularity. I don’t have those details, but we did proactively offer that.

QUESTION: One follow-up to that. This is the latest in a long series of murders of prominent activists, whether they’re LGBT folks or otherwise. Do you have confidence that the Honduran Government can effectively investigate and prosecute those folks who are not only responsible for Rene’s murder, but the other human rights advocates who’ve been murdered in recent months?

MS TRUDEAU: As well as the environmental activist --

QUESTION: Yeah, Berta Caceres too.

MS TRUDEAU: -- that we – that we have actually spoken about --


MS TRUDEAU: -- before. In each of these cases we continue to stay in close contact with the Honduran Government on it. In the previous case, we publicly and privately called for the prompt, thorough investigation. We have offered resources on this. It’s something that we remain committed to seeing through.

Okay, guys.


MS TRUDEAU: Yep. Oh, no, Matt won’t let me get away.

QUESTION: Bahrain.


QUESTION: It’s been more than 120 days since you guys were supposed to have given a report to the Hill on the situation in Bahrain.


QUESTION: Why – what is taking so long? What’s the – what’s the delay? Why is it, what, four months --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So --

QUESTION: -- late?

MS TRUDEAU: -- we have checked on that. They’re continuing to work on it. It’s my understanding that the department right now has convening the group of experts to provide a thorough, accurate report derived from a variety of sources. We have a commitment, understanding that it is late, that we’ll provide this report to Congress as soon as we can.

QUESTION: But why is it taking so long?

MS TRUDEAU: I believe it’s a process issue. We are late. We recognize we’ve missed the deadline.

QUESTION: Why did you agree to give it to them 123 or -4 days, or whatever it is --

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: -- ago? And this is the same thing as the ISSG in June 1st.

MS TRUDEAU: I was wondering when you’d make that link.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I just --


QUESTION: Well, what is the point of setting out dates or agreeing to deadlines if you’re just going to miss them?

MS TRUDEAU: I think – I think our plan is that we will strive to meet those deadlines.

QUESTION: Right. Well, is there a – is there a good reason for – an explanation for why this is four months late?

MS TRUDEAU: I think – I think on this particular report, which is the committee of inquiry --


MS TRUDEAU: -- on Bahrain, is they’re very focused, making sure it’s thorough, it’s accurate, it’s complete. There’s a number of sources they’re pulling from, and I’m told that they have every commitment to get it to Congress soon.

QUESTION: All right. Do you know if people have reached out to the – to those who are expecting it on the Hill and explained to them --

MS TRUDEAU: I can check on that.

QUESTION: And do you know when – when might it see the light of day?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to when it will be. I am told soon, and I’m not told what “soon” means.



QUESTION: So this summer? This year?

MS TRUDEAU: We have a commitment to get it to Congress as soon as we can.

QUESTION: I know. You had a commitment to get it to Congress a hundred and whatever days ago.


QUESTION: Are you going to get it to this session of Congress?

MS TRUDEAU: We have a commitment to get it to Congress as soon as we can.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Last one.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to go back to my question about --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I think we’ve answered.

QUESTION: -- U.S. effort --

MS TRUDEAU: If you have another question --

QUESTION: But I didn’t hear an answer. Maybe there is no answer – you tell me – about U.S. efforts to separate rebels from terrorists in Syria.

MS TRUDEAU: We continue --

QUESTION: Can you give us --

MS TRUDEAU: Let me --

QUESTION: Can you speak to any results of those efforts, any results?

MS TRUDEAU: I think we continue to have conversations. This is a complex battlefield situation. This is a situation where you have a lot of movement, a lot of people. We continue to have conversations with people on the ground and we also continue to have conversations with the Russians and the Syrian regime[1] on their respect for the cessation of --

QUESTION: In those conversations, did Ahrar al-Sham specifically tell Washington, “We’re done hanging out with al-Nusrah,” for example?

MS TRUDEAU: We continue to have those conversations.

Do you have any or are we good? Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)

DPB # 97

[1] There are no discussions with the Syrian regime on this issue.

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing - June 3, 2016

Sat, 06/04/2016 - 19:21

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 3, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:03 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: Hey, everybody. Hey, Arshad. Welcome, everyone, to the State Department. Happy Friday, as David noticed – noted, excuse me, noted. (Audio feedback.) A little feedback, a little Jimi Hendrix feedback there.

QUESTION: A glitch. (Laughter.)


MR TONER: Too soon.

QUESTION: It’s too soon? Sorry. Too raw? (Laughter.)

MR TONER: All right, guys, let’s get started. A couple of things at the top and then I’ll move to your questions.

First of all, beginning with Fallujah. I wanted to update you on the ongoing effort to retake Fallujah. Contrary to some media reports, efforts have not stalled. In fact, as the fight to liberate Fallujah from Daesh proceeds, we would reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Iraqi Government and Iraqi forces in their struggle as well as to the civilians of Fallujah who have suffered under the scourge of Daesh now for nearly two years. We continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces with precision air strikes, with tactical intelligence, with military advice, as well as much-needed equipment. And we note that the Government of Iraq has committed to making every effort to avoid civilian casualties in its efforts to liberate the city.

I also wanted to note – moving to Syria and Aleppo – the United States strongly condemns today’s reported airstrike on the Syrian American Medical Society building in Aleppo. This is a group that bravely provides medical services to those in dire need and it’s unconscionable that its offices would be struck. We’re still trying to gather the facts surrounding the circumstances of today’s attack, but we would like to reiterate that all parties must cease any attacks on – against, rather, civilian and humanitarian targets, including medical facilities and first responders.

And then lastly, while we’re on the subject of Syria and humanitarian assistance, I’d like to express the United States’s deep appreciation for the efforts of the UN team on the ground in Syria. Day after day, this group of individuals pushes for access to besieged areas to get badly needed food and basic necessities to civilians who are in dire need. And in doing so, they often risk their own lives as they are potentially caught in the crossfire. So in all of our talk about humanitarian access and the need for humanitarian assistance to reach some of these besieged areas, we thought it would be worthwhile to focus on those who are out there providing this humanitarian assistance, risking their own lives to do so. We want them to know that their work is deeply appreciated and we commend them for their efforts.

And with that, Matt, I will hand it over to you.

QUESTION: Right. I want to get back to Syria, but --


QUESTION: -- let’s start with the – trying to tie up any loose --


QUESTION: -- the loose ends from the editing of the briefing video.

MR TONER: Great.

QUESTION: You will have seen today that Congressman Chaffetz and Congressman Royce have each written – Congressman Royce to the Inspector General, asking him to open an investigation into this; and Congressman Chaffetz directly to the Secretary, asking for the department to turn over all of the documents related to the investigation into what happened. Well, first, have you gotten those letters? Have you responded? What will your response be? And you had been resisting – well, let’s start with that.

MR TONER: Okay. So we’ve – we have seen the letters. Obviously, we’ve received – on the receiving end of the letter from Senator Chaffetz.

QUESTION: From who?

MR TONER: Senator – what did I --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Representative Chaffetz; I apologize.

QUESTION: I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being a senator.

MR TONER: Representative Chaffetz; sorry.

QUESTION: You gave him a promotion.

MR TONER: I apologize. Representative Chaffetz. We are in the process of studying the letter, and of course, we will make every effort to be responsive to his questions.

QUESTION: Does that mean you responded?

QUESTION: It’s a pretty short letter.

QUESTION: When you say “responsive to his requests,” I mean, when you say you’re going to make every effort to be responsive to his request, does that mean you’re actually going to produce all the documents and the communications by June 8th, like he requested?

MR TONER: I would just say we’re looking at the letter; we’re in the process of seeing how we can be responsive and under what time constraints.

QUESTION: Well, do you know, is there an issue that might prevent you from being responsive and prevent – that could prevent you from turning over the fruits of the legal advisor’s investigation?

MR TONER: No, I mean, look, I mean, we are always responsive to Congress and always strive to be --

QUESTION: Well, you can be responsive by saying no.

MR TONER: -- and always strive to be responsive to Congress, certainly. I just don’t – I can’t stand up in front of you today and say we’ll meet their demands by X date. We’re looking at the letter and we’ll get back in touch with them.

QUESTION: All right. Yeah, earlier both you and Kirby have been somewhat resistant or the building, through you, has been resistant to the idea of an IG probe because you say that it – this is a very specific incident and the IG generally focuses on broader thematic issues. Has that position changed or do you think that Chairman Royce has a point when he says that --

MR TONER: Certainly, we don’t – as we’ve made pains to – or take pains to make this point frequently, the OIG operates as a separate entity, and so it will decide for itself whether it wants to look into this incident. I think our – my point yesterday was that – the point about looking at doing audits, investigations, what have you – but also that there was no, as we talked about at length yesterday, there was no rules broken here. We did conduct an internal investigation, but the letter’s been sent to the IG and it’s up to the IG to make that call.

QUESTION: Right. Yeah, but – so but you’re not going to get --

MR TONER: I’m certainly not going to – I’m not going to pronounce one way or another or make that decision for them. It’s not my --

QUESTION: Well, but you had said before – both you and Kirby had said before that you didn’t think it was necessary. Is that still the position of the building?

MR TONER: We didn’t. We didn’t, but we’re certainly not going to --

QUESTION: Sorry, you didn’t what?

MR TONER: We conducted an internal review within the State Department.

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MR TONER: We did not think it fell into the purview of the IG.

QUESTION: And do you – right. And do you still – is that still your position?

MR TONER: It’s still our viewpoint, but it’s up to the IG to decide whether they look at --

QUESTION: I understand that. But you still don’t think it’s necessary?


QUESTION: So given that you still don’t think it’s necessary, are you now planning to continue your own investigation or your own review of this? Because the other day you said no, you still don’t know who did it. Has that changed?

MR TONER: We don’t. Look, I mean, we’ve looked into it, as we talked about yesterday. We still don’t know who made the request.


MR TONER: But we also said if there is more information that comes to light, we’re going to look at it and we’re going to consider it. But --

QUESTION: But there’s a difference between, like, standing and hoping that information drops out of the sky into your hands and actively going out and looking for it. And I just want to know – there’s been a lot of criticism from up on the Hill about this and them called – saying what has been done so far is fine but it’s incomplete and that there needs to be --

MR TONER: We feel --

QUESTION: There needs to be more information about this.


QUESTION: Why it was done, who did it, and some kind of accountability even if no rules were broken.

MR TONER: Well, and that’s precisely the point is whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, there were no rules or regulations broken.

QUESTION: I mean that’s a separate – completely separate category of thing here.

MR TONER: We believe that we have investigated the incident to the point where – to which we can. And what we have sought to address is the fact that there was an absence of a clear policy --


MR TONER: -- about this and we have addressed that, as you saw.

QUESTION: Last one.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: So the criticism that you have been on the receiving end of over the course of the last couple of days has not at all swayed or changed your viewpoint as to reopening or continuing to press ahead to try and get the answers that people – the lawmakers and others – are demanding; is that correct?

MR TONER: It’s correct to say that we believe we have conducted an inquiry into this incident. We have, to the extent that we can, that – given that no rules or regulations or policy was broken, that we have sought to correct that going forward but that we believe we have exhausted our efforts to look into the incident and responsibility.

QUESTION: Right, but – and I know I said the last one. Right, okay.

MR TONER: That’s okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Then this definitely will --


QUESTION: It’s not a – I don’t think – the point is not that the – whether a specific rule or regulation was broken, but it’s kind of a – it’s a public trust issue that was broken, credibility that was broken issue here. It didn’t have to be about this. It could have been about anything. It could have been about aid to Borneo. It’s not the – I know that a lot of people are saying that it’s more important, perhaps, because it was about the Iran negotiations, but in fact any deletion or editing of any part of a briefing on any subject should be wrong and not acceptable. Isn’t that correct?

MR TONER: So a couple of points on that – a couple of points on that. First of all – and we’ve said this from day one, when this allegations or this incident first came to light – one product, a video, was edited. We have acknowledged that and we have made steps to correct the policy going forward so that that never happens again. But there was always a transcript available of that briefing and there was always a video available of the full briefing on DVIDS. So I understand – and I understand and I appreciate the tough questions that you all are asking us in this room, and we are doing our best to answer, but there’s a lot of overblown rhetoric beyond this room about what happened and what transpired. We believe we have conducted an inquiry into what happened. We don’t have the answers, ultimately, why this was done or why this was requested. And so like many of you, we’re asking ourselves the same questions, but we don’t have any further leads to investigate. So we’re at a – as I said yesterday – a bit of a dead end. But we’re going to continue to, as we get information, more information, we’ll pursue that. But what’s important here is that we take steps so it doesn’t happen in the future.

Matt – or Arshad, sorry.

QUESTION: Did you get an answer to my question regarding whether or not the State Department has internal telephone records that would allow you to figure out who did this, or whom – who – what phone made the phone call?

MR TONER: Right. So we did actually check with IRM, and the system is such that internal phone call records are only available for a 24-hour period. So those records – internal calls – would no longer be available.


QUESTION: When you say they’re only available, does – do they go somewhere else where they’re inaccessible after 24 hours?

MR TONER: No, I believe they’re just simply gone.

QUESTION: Gone. Okay. Did the --

MR TONER: That’s my understanding. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Did the Office of the Legal Adviser seek to find out if there were telephone records?

MR TONER: They did not.

QUESTION: Okay. Why not?

MR TONER: Well, again, because, Arshad, it returns to the point I was trying to make with Matt, which is, as regrettable as this incident was – and we’ve acknowledged that – they – there wasn’t a legal premise on which to base a further investigation into the incident. We did interview the person, who, by the way, came forward and offered their recollection of what happened. But beyond that we didn’t feel like we – or they – the legal office didn’t feel like they needed to pursue this further – did not have the grounds to pursue this further.

QUESTION: So – well, but either you want to find out or you don’t. And if you want to find out, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t ask a question that even somebody like me, who’s not a lawyer and doesn’t – would think of, which is, gee, maybe there’s a record here since this involves a phone call. And I don’t understand why they wouldn’t – I understand that you don’t have a broken rule or a broken law. What I don’t understand – I mean, this all goes to credibility, and if the idea is to do a credible review, even if it’s not an investigation, why wouldn’t you turn over every stone?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we also have to be mindful of the privacy of individuals involved and we also have to be mindful of the authority by which we can carry out any kind of, again, examination of what happened. And there was no legal basis on which to continue to look into this incident.

Now, like I said, if we get more information, new information, and we would certainly pursue that.


MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Another thing. I’m told that – you’ll recall that on Wednesday, Kirby said that all that the person could recollect was that someone had asked that this be done. I don’t – I can look up his exact quote.


QUESTION: But basically, all the person could remember was that they were called and asked to do this, and that they believed it came from elsewhere in PA. I’m told that the person also, however, said that they had no – that they didn’t think it was former spokesperson Jen Psaki. Is that correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Why weren’t we told that on Wednesday? I mean, you said all they can remember is X, but now it turns out it – they remembered more than just X. And I don’t understand why you would say they only remember X and then it turns out they remember more than that, and then we – we learn about it later.

MR TONER: It’s a legitimate point, Arshad, and one we have now obviously corrected by putting that out there. Look, I think we were concerned by some of the coverage that Jen Psaki was being sullied by allegations that she somehow – this came from her. And so we recognized that we needed to very clearly refute that point, and so we did.

QUESTION: Did the person recollect anything else about the communication that they received that we have not been told? Did they say, for example – and I – that they recollected that anybody else – that it wasn’t anybody else specifically? Did they remember that it wasn’t the deputy spokesperson at the time or that it wasn’t the assistant secretary at the time?

MR TONER: To my knowledge, no, that there was no other – that --

QUESTION: Pertinent information?

MR TONER: -- pertinent information conveyed, but we have since seen that – and you have also seen this – that the deputy spokesperson at the time, Marie Harf, and others – the assistant secretary at the time – have all come out and said that they had no parts in this.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I’m asking because I want to know if there was anything --

MR TONER: Yeah, I understand --

QUESTION: -- as they remember it.

MR TONER: I understand why you’re asking.


MR TONER: I will triple-check that, but that is my understanding, is that – that’s --

QUESTION: Well, is there anyone else you can rule out?

MR TONER: You mean – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, the only person that you guys feel comfortable – seem to be comfortable ruling out as the source of this is Jen. Is that correct, or are you able to extend that to other people? And if so, how many other people have been ruled out?

MR TONER: Well, again, part of – this is the reason why we don’t want to go down this rabbit hole.

QUESTION: Well, but you went down this slippery slope --

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: -- by saying this is who didn’t do it.

MR TONER: I understand that, but that was part of the reason why we didn’t get into this information in the first place. I mean, to the extent that what this individual shared in terms of who she spoke with and who she was able to rule out or to confirm that was not on the other end of the line or was not part of this, it’s only been Jen. But other people have, as you know, stepped forward and said --

QUESTION: Right. And you have no reason to doubt any of those?

MR TONER: And we have no reason to doubt any of them.

QUESTION: One more. I had asked whether, as a general matter, there is any State Department rule against lying to someone conducting an internal review. Is there?

MR TONER: Lying against anyone conducting an internal review?

QUESTION: Lying to anyone – if somebody is conducting an internal review, is there a rule against lying to them?

MR TONER: I would presume so, yes. I don’t have – I apologize.

QUESTION: Can – no, it’s okay.

MR TONER: I will check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I mean, it’s in the same category of if you don’t have a rule --

MR TONER: No, I understood.

QUESTION: -- then – yeah, okay. So I would like to know if there is. If there isn’t, maybe you would want to institute such a rule, but – yeah.

MR TONER: No, I – and just to take that one step further, I mean, this is an organization in which the majority of people have security clearances, and all of those require significant background checks, but also require people to be interviewed on occasional basises and tell – be truthful about – in those interviews, so I would presume it to be the case.


QUESTION: I want to move on, but I think Olivia probably has some questions on that.

QUESTION: Hi. How are you? I have a quick question: Was there no – was there a look into the email back-and-forth of the editor to see whether they said – whether it was confirmed that they had edited a piece? Was there – I know we talked about phone calls, but was there any look into the emails? Because I know that that’s widely --

MR TONER: The email records – the – right, whether there was an email exchange that --

QUESTION: With one’s superior --

MR TONER: So my understanding is – and if this is wrong, I will correct myself – but my understanding is that this was all done over the phone.


MR TONER: Yeah. So there’s no email record.

QUESTION: Was it just one phone call, or could it have been more than one?

MR TONER: I believe it was just one phone call, is my understanding.


QUESTION: Can I move on to Iraq?

MR TONER: Yep, sure.

QUESTION: Fallujah.

QUESTION: Can I do one more, a quick one?

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s finish up.


QUESTION: Has the Secretary reacted or does he plan to react to any of this in the next days?

MR TONER: Well, he’s certainly aware of it, and he’s very concerned. And his concern is based on the fact that he wants, as we’ve done once the policy changed so that this kind of incident can’t occur in the future – the Secretary takes very seriously a commitment to transparency and integrity of the organization, and in that regard, yes, he’s very much aware of this incident and of the steps we’re taking to correct it.

QUESTION: So on that, just before we lose the topic, I wanted to thank you for pushing out the email that Kirby sent to the bureau yesterday --

MR TONER: Yep, thank you.

QUESTION: -- in response to the request to do so.

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah. Thanks.

QUESTION: One other thing about that.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: And I read it late yesterday when it came out, and I don’t remember – did you – it’s clear that that email made reference to the integrity of transcripts. I just want to make sure for the record that there are indeed rules in place regarding the integrity of transcripts and not tampering with them.

MR TONER: Yes. Yes, there are.

QUESTION: And there already were before Wednesday?

MR TONER: Yes, there were. Yes.


QUESTION: I have a couple questions on the eighth session of S&ED in Beijing --

MR TONER: Let’s finish – I know Said had a question. I promise I will get to you, but he was just --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Do you have another one on the --

QUESTION: Yes. Pat Ward, Fox News.

MR TONER: Yeah, that’s okay.

QUESTION: So yesterday we saw Admiral Kirby publicly thank James Rosen for his conduct during this case, saying that he had, quote, “great respect” for him. Hours later, we saw White House Communications Director Jen Psaki accuse her of – accused Rosen of vilifying her and attacking her character throughout. What do you make of that discrepancy?

MR TONER: Well, I would let Jen Psaki speak to her response to James Rosen. Excuse me. I think she was simply defending her integrity, and that’s something that she takes very seriously and felt that she was – that she needed to respond to some of the allegations that were out there. And again, it’s one of the reasons why I came out yesterday and said that we have no reason to believe that Jen Psaki did anything wrong or was in any way aware of this incident or behind it at all or in any way connected to it.

I think John Kirby was simply, when he noted the fact that James Rosen was the one who called this to our attention and deserves credit for that.


Can we go to Fallujah?

MR TONER: We can go to Fallujah.

QUESTION: Okay. Today, Osama Nujaifi, the former speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said that there are summary executionings happening, that there are all kinds of violations of human rights of the communities around that presumably are conducted by the Shia militias and others who are trying to liberate Fallujah from ISIS. Do you have any comment on that? I mean, he’s making some really creative accusations.

MR TONER: Sure, a couple of points to make. Sure. Prime Minister Abadi has ordered Iraqi Security Forces to open safe passageways for civilians to depart from Fallujah and has ordered them to make every effort to protect civilians. We also would welcome Ayatollah --

QUESTION: Sistani.

MR TONER: -- Sistani’s message that Iraqi Security Forces should protect civilian property as well as civilians themselves. We have seen these reports – the reports that you raise. We’re very concerned by them. We’re raising them with the Iraqi Government. But the Iraqi Government has made every commitment – or rather, committed to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and has issued clear instructions to Iraqi Security Forces, and we obviously support them in this position.

QUESTION: Now, there were reports by, I think U.S. News & World Report, saying or illustrating how Iran’s thumbprints or fingerprints are all over this operation, and they’re saying that the tactics used by the Mobilization Forces, Hashd al-Shaabi, is basically creating sympathies among the Sunni population and, in fact, sympathies for ISIS, in this regard.

Are you concerned that if this continues in the fashion it is conducted now that this may actually have sort of counterproductive results?

MR TONER: Well, of course, we’re concerned about sectarian tensions and any actions that could heighten those tensions. As Iraqi Security Forces control more and more territory, it’s essential that they do so in a manner that will help maintain the support of the local population. That’s absolutely integral to the success of their efforts.

In Fallujah, we’ve seen Prime Minister Abadi manage the offensive very carefully, very deliberately, especially, as I said, with respect to opening these kind of safe passageways. Thus far, from what we’ve seen, we believe Iraqi Security Forces have been following these orders and acting with professionalism with regard to the civilians. But as we do hear reports about allegations of abuse or targeting of civilians, we certainly look into those.

QUESTION: Very similar.


QUESTION: A neighboring country. There are reports and now I’m seeing on Twitter footage of the YPG element --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- of the SDF firing on unarmed protesters in the village of Sluk north of Raqqa.

MR TONER: North of Raqqa.

QUESTION: Yeah. Apparently, this is an Arab village that the YPG liberated from ISIS, but they have not allowed the original inhabitants to return. And when they protested today, they were fired upon – or yesterday, possibly.

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have – I’m sorry, I don’t have any details on that incident. We’ll certainly look into it. But as we’ve said many times, we take those kinds of – reports of those kinds of incidents very seriously. We’ve been very clear about – in our discussions with the YPG that as they liberate territory, they have to return it to civilian control and they have to allow those populations that were displaced to return and to not feel pressured or --

QUESTION: The village in question, Sluk, apparently was liberated 11 months ago --

MR TONER: Is that right?

QUESTION: -- and the civilians have not been allowed to return.

MR TONER: Well, we’ll certainly look into it and see if we have more to say about it.

QUESTION: So, Mark --

MR TONER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: -- in keeping with the same --


QUESTION: -- area and theme, Foreign Minister Lavrov said today that the United States – and I don’t know if he specifically said it was Secretary Kerry or not – but said the United States has asked Russia not to, in its air operations in Syria, attack al-Nusrah because of the possibility that such strikes could hit either civilians or members of who you call the moderate opposition. Is that correct?

MR TONER: So what – look, yeah, so I’m not --


MR TONER: -- going to get into the details of the conversation beyond saying that we conveyed, Secretary conveyed to Russia and the Assad regime the need to carefully distinguish between these terrorist groups operating on the ground and those parties to the COH. And this is something that we’ve – this is a common refrain, a common theme that we’ve been conveying to the Russians over the past weeks.

We obviously all agree that ISIL and the Nusrah front pose a real threat to the security on the ground in Syria, but what also happens is when you’ve got airstrikes that are not just hitting these groups – al-Nusrah – but also hitting opposition groups and also hitting civilian targets, you’re creating only the dynamic that you have more – you’re driving more support into the arms of these terrorist groups. And that’s a dynamic we’ve seen play out in Syria for years now because of the regime’s actions.

QUESTION: So, in fact, yes, you have told the Russians that they should not attack or conduct airstrikes against people – against a group that is specifically --

MR TONER: We have only --

QUESTION: -- excluded from the cessation of hostilities?

MR TONER: What we have – what we have stressed is that they need to carefully distinguish between al-Nusrah and the parties of the COH in their attacks.

QUESTION: So you’re okay if they continue to attack al-Nusrah and hit nothing but al-Nusrah? As long as these attacks don’t hit civilians or guys that you like --

MR TONER: But --

QUESTION: -- the rebel groups --

MR TONER: Precisely, and that’s a big if. I mean --

QUESTION: -- that you like, then it’s okay?

MR TONER: -- and we haven’t seen that to date.

QUESTION: You have not? You haven’t seen the Russians attack any – just al-Nusrah?

MR TONER: Well, we haven’t seen the – look, what we’ve seen – and the reason this was raised, again, is that we continue to see attacks that also hit groups affiliated with the cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: Right. I guess --

MR TONER: So to answer your question, of course we support strikes focused solely on either Daesh or al-Nusrah, but that a greater effort, a more complete effort needs to be made in order to distinguish between al-Nusrah and the parties to the COH.

QUESTION: Okay. So it is not, from your perspective, incumbent on the moderate opposition rebels and civilians to get away – to get away from --

MR TONER: There is an element of that. Absolutely, there’s an element of that, and we’ve talked about that as well, yeah, that there --

QUESTION: Or is it impossible, do you think? I mean, is it --

MR TONER: Not --

QUESTION: Like, is it – whose fault do you think it is that they are so close together or, in fact, intermingled? Is it Nusrah, which is glomming themselves on to civilians? Or is it civilians who potentially are glomming themselves onto them because – for potential protection?

MR TONER: I don’t have a granular answer to that question except to say that the reality is that there is intermingling. And we’ve talked about this and that it – this for a while, and we’ve also talked about the fact that it’s incumbent on the U.S. and other governments who have influence on the opposition to convey to them that they do need to disentangle, disconnect themselves from the --

QUESTION: Right. That’s been going on for weeks if not months, and it hasn’t seemed to work yet, so --

MR TONER: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s an ongoing challenge.

QUESTION: Right. And then the last one is that did – it’s now June 3rd. The one solid accomplishment that came out of the last ISSG meeting in Vienna was that airdrops of food aid would begin on June 1st. And as far as I know, there haven’t been any, and it’s now three days in. The need is still there.

MR TONER: Yeah. And --

QUESTION: It’s still a disaster. And so I just – WFP says it needs the permission of the Syrian Government to do this. Why? Why can’t the ISSG live up to its pledge?


QUESTION: Start the airdrops three days ago or two days ago.

MR TONER: So first of all, the UN Security Council is actually taking this issue up today. We still believe that the best way to get this assistance to those in need is via ground transport.


MR TONER: And we’re still pursuing those efforts. But we’re also – as I said, we’re also looking into – with the World Food Program on plans to carry out air operations. So let’s let the meetings today at the UN Security Council take place and see where we are.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. But, I mean, that was the whole point of the meeting in Vienna that this came out. This should have been a done deal, shouldn’t it have been? I mean, does anything that the ISSG resolve to do actually get done as it relates to humanitarian aid? I mean, you can say that the best way to get the aid in is by truck all you want to, but unless the Syrian Government allows it, that’s not going to happen, and they haven’t been allowing it.

MR TONER: Which is – which is why --

QUESTION: So – which is precisely why the ISSG said it would do airdrops starting on June 1st if the – and that – and now they aren’t happening. They aren’t happening.

MR TONER: So we’re now a couple days into June, but we are looking at – the World Food Program is looking at how to carry out those airdrops.

QUESTION: Mark, is it --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Did you hear what Bouthaina Shaaban said on – I’m sorry, what she said on the aid?

MR TONER: Sure, go ahead. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Did you get to review what she said? She said that --

MR TONER: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: -- in fact, Daraya is not suffering from any kind of food shortage.

MR TONER: Who said this? I apologize.

QUESTION: The advisor to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban. I wonder if you reviewed what she said. She said that they are – first of all, they are in talks with the UN to allow these shipments to go in, and she said that Daraya was not suffering from any food shortage. It is the breadbasket of Damascus. I mean, many of the other things. Were you able to review what she said, and do you have any comment on that?

MR TONER: Only to dismiss it out of hand and to --


MR TONER: I mean, look, I’ll control myself from expressing the contempt I have towards that particular individual and for that person to somehow claim that – or civilians who have not received any food assistance since 2012 are somehow in the land of milk and honey is just beyond the pale.

QUESTION: Well, she didn’t say the land of milk and honey, but she did say that area is quite lush and it has historically produced food and so on and it does and all these things.

MR TONER: We – look, we base our assessments off of the UN but also on our very clear knowledge of the extent of the suffering of the civilians in some of these besieged areas that I think Staffan de Mistura has called the besiegement of these places, something out of the Middle Ages. It’s beyond the pale.

QUESTION: Mark, on --

QUESTION: Mark, back on the airdrops for – sorry.

QUESTION: Well, can we just stay with the --

MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I just want to know, because I think this is more of a Treasury question than it is for you --


QUESTION: -- but what is the Administration’s response to this woman appearing at this conference whether it was – even though it wasn’t in person – she didn’t get a visa. Is there – was there any sanction violated in her appearance or are you looking – still looking into it? What’s Treasury had to say about this?

MR TONER: Yeah. I’m – and I apologize, Matt. I know that Treasury was looking into whether – so she did speak at this conference, as you note, and --

QUESTION: But they didn’t get back to us what we asked, so if you could --

MR TONER: Okay. I’ll follow up on it. I mean, she – the question, I think, is whether the organizers violated --


MR TONER: -- any existing laws or regulations.


MR TONER: So I will look into that. I’ll --

QUESTION: So you don’t know?

MR TONER: I will – I will take the question.

QUESTION: Also Skype, so maybe Microsoft. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: Fair enough.

QUESTION: Mark, a couple things first. Back to the airdrops. Is it the U.S. position that the World Food Program would need permission from the Syrian Government to do the helicopter or airdrops into the besieged area? And then a follow-up: If the Syrian regime continues to say no, does that mean the airdrop plan is in essence dead in the water?

MR TONER: The first part of your question is – I’m sorry, I apologize. The first part of your question was whether we support?

QUESTION: No. Does the U.S. believe that the World Food Program --

QUESTION: If it needs – needs the Syrian Government’s permission.

QUESTION: -- needs permission from the Syrian Government to land?

MR TONER: Well, yes in the sense that they need to be able to – I mean, the level of the airdrops – my understanding is that they need to have safety concerns addressed that their airplanes or helicopters are going to be safe or granted safe passage. I think that’s the concern and I think that’s a legitimate concern. As to whether that’s dead in the water, we’re going to continue to push hard on this through the ISSG working with, obviously, Russia to exert influence on the regime, that if we don’t get access via land routes, that we do get access via air.


QUESTION: And can I ask you --

QUESTION: Sorry, I’m on airdrops.

QUESTION: Sorry, okay.

QUESTION: If that’s where you are, then please. On – just on the airdrops, I mean, I’m looking at the language from the ISSG statement, and it says: “Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and airdrops for all areas in need.” When we began talking about this at the beginning of the week, I asked the question: Well, why – why wasn’t this ready June 1st? Right? If you’re in a besieged area and you’ve been starving since 2012, as you say, and you have all the major countries of the – all the major powers, including Russia, including Iran, saying this, right, then one, why do you have to – why is it only June 1st that, to use Kirby’s words, the World Food Program or whoever is telling you this began looking at it, quote, “in earnest”? So that’s question one.

Question two, it then goes on to say the ISSG pledges to support such a program and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. But if carrying out that program is entirely contingent on the consent of the Syrian Government, what makes you think they’re going to give their consent to feed people from the air when they have denied it, in your telling, on the ground?

And then my third question is: Well, jeepers, if you knew it was going to require Syrian Government consent, why did you kind of put this out there when it was perfectly possible that the Syrian Government would not provide consent?

Anyway, let’s start from the first question, okay?

QUESTION: I think we should start with “jeepers.” (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I asked the question a few days ago and Kirby said he didn’t like my tone. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: So beginning with the first question, we have been in conversations with the World Food Program --

QUESTION: Well, why wasn’t the plan ready for June 1? That’s my first question, yeah.

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s – again, I don’t have a clear and ready answer for you on that other than to say that we have been given briefings by the World Food Program on a series of approaches that could be taken, and we’ve certainly discussed those with our Russian counterparts. But we’re not there yet. We’re obviously not at the execution phase. That’s part of the goal of today’s discussions at the UN Security Council. Why --


MR TONER: And then in answer to your last question: Why does this all hinge on --

QUESTION: Let’s go to the second question --


QUESTION: -- because I think it kind of goes in order.


QUESTION: The second question is, if this – and I understand that there are safety concerns. But if this requires the consent of the Syrian Government, what made you think the Syrian Government would permit airdrops of food when they have refused to permit ground convoys of food and other humanitarian goods?

MR TONER: Basic human decency.

QUESTION: But you guys have – you --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: That has not been – in your telling, that has not been in great supply from the Syrian Government for the last five years. And so I don’t know why you would think that you would suddenly see an outpouring of basic human decency when they’ve been denying the ground deliveries.

MR TONER: Well, you’re right. It – you’re right, we have not. And I was being probably inappropriately facetious, but I wanted to shed – to shine a light on the fact that their behavior in preventing assistance to reach – from reaching these besieged areas is beyond morally reprehensible. But I think as with so much of our strategy with Syria, via the ISSG, much of it depends on the ability of members like Russia to enable, enforce, empower – however you want to put it – the Syrian regime to uphold the cessation of hostilities, which is what I was thinking of. We need – that they’ve been inconsistently supportive of.

And then secondly, with access to humanitarian assistance, we’re going to keep up the pressure. Just because they’re showing a continued reluctance to support this access, it doesn’t mean we can simply step away from it. And also, the ISSG statement that you quoted from was predicated on the Syrian regime’s stated commitment that it would allow access to these besieged areas. They have since, obviously, not lived up to their commitments, but we still need to hold their feet to the fire.

QUESTION: So – and forgive me, but --

MR TONER: Yeah, it’s okay.

QUESTION: -- I think my third question was why did you hold out this – I mean, let’s say that you are somebody who’s starving in one of the besieged areas and you think, “Oh, well great, maybe there’s food going to show up on June 1st.” Why even hold this out as a possibility if it hinged completely on the consent of the Syrian Government?

MR TONER: Well, primarily because we had been given, again, assurances that the regime was going to honor its commitment to allow that access.

QUESTION: And then I have one last one --

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: -- which is – although it’s not clear to me that it’s a good answer in the sense that the airdrops were contingent on their failing to provide the access that they had committed to provide, right? So, I mean, you – it’s – the idea of the airdrops was raised on the assumption of failure on their part to meet their commitment. So why you would think they would need – let you do something else –

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: Here’s the last question, which is why – the statement says that the ISSG pledges to support such a program and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. Now that excludes Syria. Syria’s not – actually, no, it calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities, so --

MR TONER: Which would include the regime.

QUESTION: Right. But there isn’t really much of a cessation of hostilities at the moment. But the question is, and maybe you would argue that you’re not part of the cessation of hostilities, right? That applies only to the combatants.

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: But my question is: What is the U.S. Government going to do? Because the ISSG, of which it is a part, is calling for everybody in the cessation of hostilities that doesn’t really exist to provide a secure environment. Well, the U.S. Government actually has the capability to provide a secure environment for airdrops, right? I mean, you’ve imposed no-fly zones; in other places you have the capability to take out the kind of ground radars and stuff that – I mean, you actually have the capability to provide that secure environment that you’re calling for. Are you giving any thought to U.S. Government action to actually provide a secure environment for such airdrops?

MR TONER: I’ll just say that our focus remains on exerting the pressure on the actors on the ground via the other members of the ISSG to provide that secure environment.

QUESTION: On Fallujah still?

QUESTION: Hey, Mark.

MR TONER: Yeah, Fallujah.

QUESTION: Can we just finish Fallujah?

MR TONER: I’ll get to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Similar to Said’s question but involving the PMF, the Popular Mobilization Force.


QUESTION: If – we’ve got some eyewitness accounts from a camp south of Fallujah, people who have escaped the fighting there, saying that the PMF has separated the men from the women and children, beating, handcuffing for security screening purposes the men. And then the government denies any of this abuse is happening. Does that suggest that the government is reluctant or incapable of reining in some of the purported abuses of the PMF?

MR TONER: Again – and I’m aware of the, as you talked about it, the separation. I’m hesitant to get too into the weeds in terms of what’s happening on the ground there. My understanding is that part of that is simply an effort to ensure that members of Daesh aren’t trying to escape Fallujah. So there has – there does need to be some measure of screening conducted. Now, how that’s conducted is certainly important, and whether it’s done respectfully is also important, and we’re looking at that closely as we see these allegations.

QUESTION: There are quite a few warnings from human rights groups and others saying that the potential for abuse is imminent as the city and then other cities are cleared. Is there some kind of mechanism beyond the good faith assurances from Baghdad that they are attempting to rein in the PMF; as was alluded to earlier, that --


QUESTION: -- a lot of this – that sectarian division is what lead to some of these – ISIL to be able to take hold, et cetera?

MR TONER: I’m – we are in close contact with the command and control of the Iraqi Security Forces and – as well as the Iraqi Government as they conduct these operations. This is an Iraqi-led operation, and we’ve been very clear about that. But we still believe that the government is committed to conducting an operation that is respectful of the civilian population, and we’ve seen it by the fact that they have opened some of these safe passageways for civilians to escape from the city. But it’s something, obviously, we’re keeping an eye on.


MR TONER: Thank you. Please.

QUESTION: Alex Emmons with The Intercept. I wanted to ask about Secretary Kerry’s comments this week on MSNBC about Yemen.


QUESTION: He said, “I think the Saudis” – and this is a quote – “expressed their desire to make certain that they’re not endangering civilians.” And the statement that he is referencing there from the coalition said that coalition forces have fully complied with international law and have a robust process to ensure all targets are genuinely military. And it goes on to say they’ve never use cluster bombs. So my question is: This is a coalition that has targeted clinics and hospitals and schools and factories. How can Secretary Kerry possibly take their assertions that they’re trying not to endanger civilians at face value?

MR TONER: So a couple of points to make on that. One is Saudi Arabia has created an investigation commission to look into and evaluate its military targeting to ensure the protection of civilians as well as to investigate any incidents of civilian casualties or civilian harm during the conflict in Yemen. We’ve also engaged regularly with Saudi Arabia as well as other coalition members on the need to investigate all credible reports of civilian casualties allegedly caused by coalition airstrikes and have reminded the Saudis of their obligations under end use provisions – I’m talking about cluster munitions in this case – as well as encouraging them to do their utmost to avoid harm to civilian populations and to avoid damaging critical infrastructure.

QUESTION: Sure. But the only strike we’ve seen them investigate so far publicly was the attack on an MSF hospital back in October.

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: And their ambassador to the UN later said that – although he said that that was a mistake, he said that it was because MSF provided the wrong coordinates. So I guess – are we trusting them to investigate their own war crimes? Should they accede to UN investigation of their war crimes?

MR TONER: I think this is obviously something that we are in continued dialogue with Saudi Arabia about. We have been very clear about our concerns about civilian casualties. We do believe that they are able to conduct credible investigations into some of these incidents, but our emphasis more largely, or more broadly, rather, is on the UN political process. We have been very clear that there is no military solution to what’s happening in Yemen, and there is a UN process that needs to be adhered to and pursued by all parties.



QUESTION: Hi. Nice to see you again.

MR TONER: Nice to see you too.

QUESTION: So sort of a follow-up.


QUESTION: We’ve been talking about different wrong things that your friends and allies are doing around the world. And so the UN has looked into what Ukraine is doing, what Kyiv is doing, and they have come to the conclusion that the Kyiv government allows torture, runs secret jails. What is your response to the UN report?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, you’re referring to what report exactly?

QUESTION: Ivan Simonovic, and it’s in the Times today, in the Times of London. The SBU is systematically rounding up and torturing suspected rebel sympathizers. UN assistant secretary-general for human rights made the presentation in Kyiv today.

MR TONER: Oh, okay. I think I know what --

QUESTION: And then he presented the report.

MR TONER: Yeah. So we have read the report.

QUESTION: You have?

MR TONER: We have. I know you’re shocked we actually read reports. We’re deeply troubled that the conflict in Ukraine has now claimed over 90 – 9,000 lives, injured more than 20,000 people. We once again call on the so-called authorities in the separatist-controlled areas to cease their human rights abuses, including killings, tortures, ill treatment, illegal detention, forced labor, as well as restrictions on freedom of movement, peaceful assembly, and expression. We also call on them to allow in UN monitors whose mandate would cover the entirety of Ukraine, including Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine.

And at the same time, we also call on the Government of Ukraine to ensure a prompt and thorough and transparent investigation and appropriate prosecution of all persons responsible for alleged incidents of abuses perpetrated by its forces, including those contained – that are described in the UN report.

QUESTION: So it’s a UN report. It’s alleged --

MR TONER: It is a UN report.

QUESTION: Alleged means what? UN alleges that?

MR TONER: Yes. And we – as I said, we call on the UN – or the UN – the Ukrainian Government to hold its own forces and own people accountable for their actions in these incidents.

QUESTION: One incident that we’ve been calling for Ukraine to have people accountable is the massacre in Odessa, the holocaust in Odessa two years ago.

MR TONER: Yeah. That’s --

QUESTION: What’s – this same guy, Mr. Simonovic, the same UN person, said there’s been, quote/unquote, “no significant progress” in that investigation. How much more time do we need for the investigation to become significant, to make significant progress?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, obviously it was a terrible tragedy what occurred in Odessa, and we’ve been very clear since the immediate aftermath of that tragedy that we believe it should be promptly or fully investigated by the Ukrainian authorities. And we continue that, to urge that.

QUESTION: And lastly --

MR TONER: But it’s really for them to --

QUESTION: Do you, since --

MR TONER: It’s really for them, rather, to speak to the timeline for that investigation.

QUESTION: Since this is a government that you – I would call it sponsor and defend at any turn, at every turn – do you accept any responsibility of your own for what that government is doing and not doing in terms of upholding human rights?

MR TONER: Well, Andrei, I would respond to your question by reminding everyone in this room what has happened in Ukraine, which is that Russia seized territory belonging to the country of Ukraine – Crimea – and then supported separatists in eastern Ukraine to create a conflict that the Government of Ukraine and the armed forces of Ukraine have been struggling to deal with for the past several years.

So let’s be very clear on the fact that a sovereign nation had that – had its sovereignty violated by its neighbor, Russia, and continues to respond to that threat on its soil. It has made a number of reforms, both economic and political, and has made a consistent effort to comply with its commitments on the Minsk agreement. We have not seen, frankly, Russia or the separatists it backs meet that same standard. So let’s be very clear about where the responsibility for the situation in Ukraine lies.


QUESTION: And if I may, I just want you --

MR TONER: One more, yeah.

QUESTION: -- to take one question, because I don’t expect you to have an answer for that.


QUESTION: A Russian citizen has been detained somewhere in Illinois. It’s a family situation. She is the mother of a child whom she, I understand, take – took out of the country. So can I ask someone at the Press Office to find out what really happened?

MR TONER: Sure, we can look into it. I mean, hard for me to – I don’t have any specifics in front of me, but we’ll look into the case. But obviously, consular visitation would be expected, but I don’t have any more details about – yeah.

QUESTION: Hi, Mark. Let’s get down – yeah.

MR TONER: Yeah, let’s do it. I know, I know.

QUESTION: Yeah. On the eighth session of the S&ED in Beijing, and when will the U.S. delegation arrive in Beijing? And can you tell us more about the scale of the U.S. delegation this year to attend the S&ED and the associated dialogues? How many U.S. government agencies will be involved?

MR TONER: Well, it’s a joint delegation, if you will, with the Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew and then Secretary of State John Kerry. We have done a background briefing, but I don’t have a lot of details to share with you at this point in time, except to say that it runs the gamut of our relationship with China and it’s an opportunity for us to sit down with our Chinese counterparts on both the security realm, economic realm, and really talk about, as I said, the breadth of issues that we jointly focus on – everything from our ability to combat climate change to increasing trade and trade standards to dealing with difficult issues like human rights.

QUESTION: And do you have any numbers? How many government agencies will be involved this time?

MR TONER: I don’t. I will try to get those for you. I don’t have them in front of me. I apologize. Please.

QUESTION: And also, the S&ED speaks to the larger relationship between the U.S. and China. What are the hot spots of the relationship this year, and briefly, what kind of agreements do you expect the U.S. to reach this time?

MR TONER: Well, I don’t want to point to any agreements before they’ve actually had a chance to meet and to talk. Look, I mean, I think we all know the U.S.-China relationship is incredibly significant, incredibly important strategically, to both countries and to the region. It’s pretty clear where some of the hot spots are with regard to – as you put it – with regard to the relationship, among which are our ongoing concerns about the human rights situation in China. And we will raise those concerns with the Chinese Government.

We’ll also, no doubt, talk about some of the concerns about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and our commitment to ensuring that ships and airplanes are allowed to freely navigate that space and that territory, and that the United States takes no position on any of the competing sovereignty claims of the South China Sea, but we do believe that there needs to be a consistent position among the countries with regards to upholding the principles of international law and freedom of navigation. So that’s going to be another issue that we likely are going to discuss with the Chinese.

QUESTION: So what proportion is it for the South China Sea issue in the whole dialogue? How much it will make --

MR TONER: I don’t want to overstate it. Again, there’s a lot, and we’ve seen this in so many regards, including on COP 21, our climate change agreement, where we can cooperate effectively with China. We saw it with the JCPOA and the Iran nuclear deal, where, when we find areas of commonality and common purpose with China, we can also accomplish great things.

QUESTION: And in the past seven years, how effective do you think it is for the S&ED between U.S. and China?

MR TONER: We believe it’s a very effective mechanism. And any time when you can get senior members of the Chinese Government and the U.S. Government to sit down and talk about the issues that bind us, it’s effective and it’s important.

QUESTION: Can we move on to other --

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Yeah, a follow-up on China?

MR TONER: Sure, let’s finish.

QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned human rights a couple times. Today marks the 27th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. In your statement you called for the full public accounting of those killed, detained, or missing. Can you expand on how specifically you would like to see China address this issue?

MR TONER: No, I’ll leave it right there. I mean, we’ve made this request in the past. We believe it’s important for the Chinese Government to provide a full accounting to the Chinese people and to the international community of what happened in Tiananmen Square.

QUESTION: And what does that mean specifically?

MR TONER: Again, I think it’s – we’ll look to the Chinese Government to address the international community’s concerns over what happened on that day, and I’m not going to dictate what we’re looking to see them address, only that there are questions that remain.

QUESTION: Can I ask some questions about the THAAD system?

MR TONER: About?


MR TONER: THAAD system. Sure.

QUESTION: Wait, can I follow up on the Tiananmen Square?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. No, let’s finish with Tiananmen. Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that the statement that you put out today will have a negative response from China, negatively impact the S&ED?

MR TONER: No, and precisely because of what I just said, which is that we believe that our dialogue with China is strong enough and expansive enough that we can talk about areas where we disagree, but we can also talk about areas – and many – there are many – on which we can cooperate.

QUESTION: So senior U.S. officials said the plans are moving forward for the THAAD anti-missile system, but do you have any specific timeline for the deployment?

MR TONER: I don’t.

QUESTION: By moving forward with THAAD, is the U.S. dismissing other options to protect South Korea that would not violate neighboring countries’ territorial security?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, what was the second part of your question? I apologize.

QUESTION: I mean, is the U.S. dismissing other options to protect South Korea that would not violate neighboring countries’ territorial security?

MR TONER: No, I don’t think so. Look, I mean, we’re always going to – as we say not just about the security of the Korean Peninsula but in other parts of the world, we never take any option off the table. But I think in response to the evolving threat posed by North Korea, we did make a decision to begin formal consultations regarding the viability of THAAD, which is Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, and those consultations are ongoing.

QUESTION: Yeah. So my colleagues and I have repeatedly asked whether the U.S. has any concern over China’s response with no direct answer given. Would you be willing to answer the question now?

MR TONER: In addressing Chinese concerns --


MR TONER: -- what we’ve said is that THAAD is a purely defensive system designed to counter short and medium-term – or medium-range regional ballistic missiles, so it would not impact China nor would it impact Russia’s strategic deterrent.


QUESTION: One quick question on Latin America?

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

QUESTION: Great. So recently the U.S. joined the OAS in expressing concerns about Venezuela’s democracy, and yet we have yet to see any concerns displayed about what’s happening in Brazil. This week it was reported that the new ruling government, which, again, was not elected – came to power in an unelected fashion – has been using the military to spy on the PT, which of course was the incumbent party before they took power. I mean, is that really consistent with democratic norms? And why is there sort of an inconsistency in that we’re willing to criticize Venezuela sort of violating democratic norms, but we’re – we haven’t done the same for Brazil yet?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of the particular allegations that you’ve raised, and what I’ve said about Brazil previously remains. We believe it is a strong democracy, that it has the kind of institutions that can weather the political crisis that it’s undergoing. But in terms of your specific allegations, I just don’t have any --

QUESTION: Do strong democracies allow the military to spy on political opponents?

MR TONER: I just said I don’t --

QUESTION: No, I mean in theory – in theory.

MR TONER: I just said I don’t have any – I don’t have any – I don’t have any details of what you’re alleging.

QUESTION: Mark, when you say that you have confidence in Brazil’s democracy, I mean, you believe that the impeachment proceeding is legit and that – as an outside observer, recognizing that you’re not wanting to interfere in an internal political dispute in another country, but as you look at it from the outside, do you believe that the impeachment proceeding is a valid one and that they are – the Brazilians are, in fact, handling this situation in a way that comports with their constitution and their broader commitment to democracy?

MR TONER: I’m going to leave it where I left it just now, which is that --

QUESTION: Or are you concerned that maybe no?

MR TONER: No, I think – look, I mean, there’s no doubt that it’s a time of political upheaval in Brazil, but we remain confident in their ability to --

QUESTION: So you remain confident in the ability of the Brazilian – of Brazil’s institutions to weather this storm --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: -- and return to a --

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can I move on to --

QUESTION: Can we back up to --

QUESTION: -- the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

QUESTION: Well, can we back up to Venezuela for a minute?

MR TONER: Of course.

QUESTION: First, do you have any comment on the OAS report on the state of democracy in Venezuela? And also, what’s the U.S. position on the delays related to the recall referendum for Venezuela?

MR TONER: So, first of all, we do welcome the secretary-general’s report, which we view as indicative of the concern that the OAS and its members have regarding the state of democracy in Venezuela. The secretary-general’s invocation of Article 20 of the Inter-American Dialogue – or Democratic Charter, rather, will open a much-needed discussion of Venezuela’s – about Venezuela within the OAS Permanent Council. And it corresponds with other efforts to fashion dialogue within Venezuela to address political, economic, social, and humanitarian dimensions of the crisis that confronts the country.

The OAS, we believe, is an appropriate forum for the region to express concerns, to offer assistance, and to make recommendations. We must continue defending the fundamental rights articulated in the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and other international instruments related to democracy and human rights.

And you said about the postponement recall?


MR TONER: Yeah. Well, we’re concerned about the ongoing pattern by Venezuelan authorities that has resulted in delays of the review of the opposition’s request for a recall referendum. We call on Venezuela’s authorities to allow this process to move forward in a timely fashion, and we encourage the appropriate institutions to ensure that Venezuelans can exercise their right to participate in this process in keeping with Venezuela’s democratic institutions, practices, and principles consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

And last question.

QUESTION: Hold on, Mark.

MR TONER: Yes, sir. Please.

QUESTION: You said – I wanted to – I might have misheard you. You said the OAS was the “appropriate,” not inappropriate, right?

MR TONER: It’s – the OAS is an appropriate fora.

QUESTION: “An, an, an” appropriate?

MR TONER: “An” appropriate, yes, thank you.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, I mean, you just – those are two very long responses, critical responses, about the situation in Venezuela. And yet Brazil, which is a much bigger country and with – a country with which you have enjoyed better relations merits, what, two sentences?

MR TONER: I just – again, I don’t have anything to comment on the ongoing political dimensions of the crisis there. I don’t.

QUESTION: Wait, but you – but yet you have plenty to say about the --

MR TONER: We do.

QUESTION: -- political situation in Venezuela.

MR TONER: We do.

QUESTION: Why is that?

MR TONER: Well, we’re just – we’re very concerned about the current --

QUESTION: Why aren’t you very concerned about Brazil?

MR TONER: Again – well, look, I’ve said my piece. I mean, I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION: Really? Okay.

QUESTION: Last week, you said that the makeup of the Israeli cabinet --

QUESTION: Can I – can I ask --

QUESTION: -- raised questions. Does the makeup of the new Brazilian cabinet raise any questions?

MR TONER: Look, guys, I will see if we have anything more to say about the situation in Brazil.

QUESTION: Can I squeeze in a question on the peace process?

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Today, there was a conference that was supposed to be but it seemed to be anticlimactic or tepid. The statement did not really come up with anything.


QUESTION: So I’m just asking you, what would be the role of the United States going forward? I mean, what is the role of Secretary Kerry as a result of this meeting going forward?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, look, I do think today’s ministerial – we found it to be an opportunity to demonstrate that the international community still is very much committed to the goal of achieving a two-state solution. Obviously, you saw the communique that the French put out. I don’t know that there’s any follow-up role that we immediately see for ourselves. I think there was a good discussion about what makes sense in the current period of time that we find ourselves in and how to create the kind of conditions that we believe can lead to a meaningful – a rather meaningful progress. I think we all share – all the governments and countries that were there today share the same goal of advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and a two-state solution. It remains a priority. But there’s also a recognition that what we really need is solid leadership on both sides to create the conditions for a two-state solution.

QUESTION: But you keep saying “on both sides.” The Palestinians have been occupied this weekend for 49 years. I mean, must they continue to endure that military occupation and, I mean, indignities that come along with it and so on? I mean, should – isn’t it time, perhaps, to move this process into a serious international effort, so to speak --

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: -- maybe so you can place some measures that can be implemented?

MR TONER: It’s long past – it’s long past time and we remain committed to doing that and advancing that process. But it’s up to, ultimately, the two parties to make progress in that regard. So we’re going to continue to work with both sides as well as key international stakeholders to try to get there.


QUESTION: Mark, extremely briefly on Iran --


QUESTION: -- did you see the supreme leader, the – Iran’s – Iranian supreme leader --


QUESTION: -- the top guy there --


QUESTION: I realize you don’t like to call him the supreme leader or maybe you do, but that – you saw his comments today about how the U.S. has violated the nuclear deal, that he kind of criticized Rouhani for having – for having negotiated the agreement and said that the Americans are not trustworthy, and also that the U.S. and Britain, et cetera, remain Iran’s big enemies and – that Iran will never cooperate on anything with you guys. Do you have any (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Not really, Matt. I mean --

QUESTION: -- response to that?

MR TONER: His rhetoric is always somewhat hyperbolic and so we take it with a grain of salt --

QUESTION: A grain of salt.

MR TONER: -- and don’t necessarily rise to the bait, as the – if I could put it that way. So, no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)

DPB # 96

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Thu, 06/02/2016 - 18:17

Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 2, 2016

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2:32 p.m. EDT

MR TONER: All right. Hello, everyone.


MR TONER: I said hello, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. (Laughter.)

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR TONER: Beginning with Honduras, the United States, as part of its effort to promote good governance and economic prosperity through the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, announced today a contribution of $5.2 million to establish a secure foundation to advance the work of the OAS Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras. This is commonly known by its Spanish acronym, which is MACCIH. MACCIH continues momentum initiated by the Honduran Government and people toward meaningful action against corruption, including criminal investigations and prosecutions of those who offer or receive illegal inducements. And we urge other states and international organizations to help ensure that MACCIH has the resources necessary to achieve its mission.

Also I just – before moving to your questions, I did want to mention some good news out of Ukraine. We do congratulate the Ukrainian Rada on the passage today of – excuse me – constitutional amendments and implementing legislation to improve judicial independence, accountability, and efficiency. This is an important step in Ukraine’s fight against corruption and towards fulfilling the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a more open and transparent judiciary that works for all Ukrainians.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So I have – I want to start with something that came up yesterday.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: I was not at yesterday’s briefing and I don’t want to go belabor or go tread the same ground that was trod yesterday as it relates to the video, the editing of the video of the December 2013 briefing. But I did the – in reading the transcript of yesterday’s briefing, it raised – raises more questions, kind of, I think, than the explanation that your colleague offered.


QUESTION: And so I just want – I want to get to a couple points, and I’ll try to be very quick about it.


QUESTION: Is it correct or am I understanding correctly that until yesterday or until whenever it was that Kirby made – came down with these new rules, that it was not specifically a violation of any rule or State Department regulation to manipulate a video of the briefing? Is that correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct. It was not --

QUESTION: Was it – why?

MR TONER: As far as we have checked in terms of our Foreign Affairs Manual, but also in other rules and regulations, there was not a clear policy or regulation prohibiting editing of transcripts before they were publicly posted.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, yet you – obviously you edit transcript – we’re talking about the video here, not --

MR TONER: I’m sorry, video, yeah.

QUESTION: But, I mean, obviously if someone – there can be cleanup editing of things, but I – this is – this would seem to be – this stuff was deleted for content reason, not because – not for a technical hitch in audio or the video.

MR TONER: No, understood. I mean, I understand your --

QUESTION: That was not a violation of the rules until yesterday?

MR TONER: Again, there was no rule in place, and we only discovered this when we actually had the occasion to investigate it.

QUESTION: I know, but why not? I mean, now – I guess I understand now why people have to put warning labels on mattresses and stuff like that. I mean, this would seem to be just pure common sense that you don’t mess around with what has been said on – from the podium.

MR TONER: And that may be partially the reason there was no rule in place, is that we all --

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: -- understand, working in this business, whether on your side or on our side, that there are --

QUESTION: Well, but apparently not. You say “we all,” but someone out there didn’t, right?

MR TONER: Well, understood, and that’s why we’ve – we’re correcting it going forward.

QUESTION: All right. The – am I correct in understanding that you guys – you, Kirby, your office didn’t do – and had no part of this? It was all done by the Legal Adviser’s Office, the – in terms of --

MR TONER: The actual investigation into the incident was conducted by the legal office, yeah.

QUESTION: And they found that there were no rules violated?


QUESTION: No, they did not find that?

MR TONER: They found that there were no rules – yeah. There was no existing policy or regulations in place that would have been violated by editing this video.

QUESTION: That’s just mindboggling. I mean – so --

MR TONER: We were equally surprised.

QUESTION: Yeah. So did they – to the best of your knowledge, did they ask the technician who they spoke to, who said that she was asked to do this – did they ask her what the reason was for the request to edit the video?

MR TONER: And I want to be careful here not to get too much into the substance of their investigation. They did talk to the person who did edit the video, who told them that – this person told them that they were acting in direct response to a call that they received --

QUESTION: Yeah, I know that. I read the transcript from yesterday.

MR TONER: -- asking them to edit the video. What’s – I’m sorry, what’s your --

QUESTION: Did they say – did they ask the technician why that request was made of --

MR TONER: No, I mean --


MR TONER: Well, I’m sorry. When you say “why the request was made -- ”

QUESTION: Did the Legal Adviser’s Office, in speaking with the technician who did the edit, ask the technician what the reason was that the person, whoever got in touch with, he or she, gave for saying, “Let’s remove the seven, eight minutes”?

MR TONER: So my understanding of this is that that question was posed. The person was simply acting under order to change it and did so but was not given a reason why.

QUESTION: So there was – was not given a reason why. Okay. I mean, it just seems like there would be – there’s a bit of a – there seems to be a lack of curiosity here on the – I mean, if someone was to ask me, a superior asked me to do something like that, I think I would want to know why before I would even consider doing it. But in this case, the person just got the request and did it of their own volition?

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: Was everything contained – the request and that – the initial request, which I understand was like secondhand --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- to this building?


QUESTION: Was there any – so it – and it was all contained --


QUESTION: So not --

MR TONER: So my understanding is that --

QUESTION: It didn’t come from outside, not the White House?

MR TONER: My understanding is that, yes, it was – so the request was – and we still don’t know, obviously, who made that request – but that that was passing on a request from somewhere else within the Public Affairs Bureau.

QUESTION: Okay. And you’re – that – but you’re certain of that? If this – I don’t --

MR TONER: I mean, that’s what this individual said and that’s what we’re --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: But yeah, there’s no way that you can – I just --

MR TONER: No, we can’t – I mean, we obviously can’t – I mean, we have one person’s word to go by. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, okay. And is – do you consider now that this whole case is closed?

MR TONER: No, and I think Kirby said as much yesterday that if we get new information --

QUESTION: You mean if someone volunteers it?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, we’ve – we’ve pulled on this particular thread as far as we can go. The individual in question here does not remember who told him or her to carry out this order. It was a phone call that took place three years ago. We’re not going to question their memory. But at this point, we believe that we’ve done the forensics, we’ve identified that there’s a problem here, which you identified, which is that there’s no policy regarding editing of video, and we’re correcting that going forward. But if we get new information as to where this request came from, we will investigate further.

QUESTION: But you’re not looking at – you’re not going through the roster of staff that there was at the time --

MR TONER: We’ve looked at all that. I mean --

QUESTION: And you --

MR TONER: I think you can rest assured that we have actually taken common-sense steps to look at --

QUESTION: Well, apparently – (laughter) – I don’t know if we can rest assured that you’ve taken common-sense --

MR TONER: Well, we have.

QUESTION: It would be common sense not to edit the video in the first place. If common sense were the – what we were operating on here, or an assumption of common sense, this – we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

Anyway, but is there is a – is the Office of the Legal Adviser or anyone else still actively trying to find out who and why, or is it just done now?

MR TONER: There’s – we believe we’ve carried out the necessary investigation. We have hit a dead end in terms of finding out more information. If more information does become available, if we are made aware of more information about who might have been behind this request, we’ll, of course, investigate.

QUESTION: Well, but to what end, though? If it was not a violation --

MR TONER: You’re right. I mean, that’s a fair point, is there’s – is that there’s no --


MR TONER: -- there isn’t any – sorry, I’ll get to you in a second – I mean, that’s a fair point to make. This was not in any violation of existing policy or regulations.

QUESTION: But should have been, correct?

MR TONER: We’re correcting that going forward.

QUESTION: So here’s my question.

MR TONER: Arshad. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, yesterday Kirby made very clear that he believed that this was wrong, this shouldn’t have happened, correct?


QUESTION: Do you believe that the State Department should have working for it people who would deliberately alter the historical record of the public statements of the State Department spokesperson?

MR TONER: I’m sorry. So your question is directed at?

QUESTION: Should people who would deliberately tamper with the historical record be working here?

MR TONER: Well, Arshad, I mean, I guess that’s a fair question to ask. Our posture on that is that without having an existing policy in place clearly laying out that this sort of action was prohibited. We need to give this individual the benefit of the doubt that they were acting under orders of their supervisor or supervisors or other people who directed them to carry out this task.

QUESTION: The question’s not about the supervisor.

QUESTION: Sorry, but I’m just – wait, wait, wait --

MR TONER: Oh, okay. I --

QUESTION: The question is not about the person who actually --

QUESTION: I’ve got a – sorry, I’ve got a – forgive me, I’ve got a whole bunch more questions that are raised by your answer, then. So I’m not talking about the editor, okay, because you know who they are.


QUESTION: I’m talking about – and I’m not even really talking about the person who placed the phone call at the behest of someone else, because they could have been just ordered, “Please do X.” I’m talking about the person who made – who originated the request.

MR TONER: So – okay. So let me answer that question.

QUESTION: So should they be here in Public Affairs?

MR TONER: So as Kirby said yesterday and I’ll reiterate today, we believe that this was an inappropriate request, an inappropriate action, but it did not violate any rules that were in place at the time that governed that sort of action.

QUESTION: So it’s fine if – for them to still be here? Tampering with historical record is okay as long as there’s no rule against it?

MR TONER: Well, Arshad, first of all, we don’t have that individual or that individual’s name.



QUESTION: But the signal you’re sending is anything that isn’t explicitly prohibited is fine, even if you regard it as wrong or inappropriate. And I don’t see how that’s a position --

MR TONER: That’s not at all the signal we’re sending, and in fact --

QUESTION: It is. It is.

MR TONER: -- Assistant Secretary Kirby just today sent an email out to the entire bureau explaining the change in policy and explaining the actions we’ve taken thus far to get to the bottom of this. We have carried out an investigation – actually, we had the legal office carry out that investigation; we didn’t do it internally, for obvious reasons – and until we find reason to pursue that investigation further, we’re at a dead end.

But that in no way excuses the action that was taken. And I think Assistant Secretary Kirby has shown his commitment to the integrity of the bureau and to the integrity of the State Department by taking the actions he’s taken and being as transparent as possible in explaining why he’s taken them.

QUESTION: You said that you had done the forensics. Yesterday I asked if you had, for example – or the Office of the Legal Adviser – had sought to obtain the telephone records, and the answer was not to his knowledge. Why not? I mean, “forensics” is a strong word. If you’re doing the forensics to figure out how something happened, you don’t just necessarily ask people, you also look for digital trails.


QUESTION: So why didn’t you look? Or can – if you don’t know, can you take the question of – well, did they look for digital trails? I think a lot of phone calls around here are tracked, right? And I think PA phone calls in particular sometimes are tracked. So if you didn’t look for the phone records, I don’t understand how you can argue that you did a thorough – you did thorough forensics on this.

MR TONER: I can’t confirm that we did all of the tracking of phone calls or whether we’re even able to do so. I know we did check our records as much as we could to see what might have happened that day. And you’re right, there are records that exist. But if I have more to share on that, I certainly will. But --

QUESTION: Can you check whether you looked for phone records, please --

MR TONER: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: -- and answer that? And then – and I don’t like dwelling on this, but I feel like the integrity of the public record is an important thing.

MR TONER: It is.

QUESTION: It was clearly and deliberately violated by someone, right? And even if there wasn’t a rule against it, presumably the State Department has basic codes of behavior, right? I mean, isn’t there something that says you should be honest in your dealings with the public?

QUESTION: Apparently not.

MR TONER: Well, look, of course. And we’ve talked about --

QUESTION: But then it is a violation. If of course there’s a rule that says you should be – or a basic precept that you should be honest in your dealings with the public, then somebody violated that.

MR TONER: And again, I’m not – it’s impossible to – for me, without knowing who directed this individual to carry out this task, what the rationale was, what the justification was, what the reasoning behind it was. So that’s point number one.

Point number two is there was no existing regulation or policy in place. We’ve addressed that. Moving forward, we’re putting in a clear policy in place that this kind of action is not going to be tolerated in the future. I think we can certainly – and you’re right to point out the fact that this was an inexcusable incident, but we also have to look forward and how do we correct this for the future. And we’re setting in place a clear procedure and clear guidelines in how to avoid any action like this, because we do obviously take our role seriously.

QUESTION: You – we were told by a State Department official yesterday that the person who received the phone call discussed the matter with her superior and that they concluded that the request had come from a place of sufficient credibility and authority within the department – within the bureau, excuse me – that they then acted on the request. Have you or did the Office of the Legal Adviser go to people of credibility and authority in the bureau and ask them, “Did you do this?”

MR TONER: We have asked those questions.

QUESTION: And nobody said they did it?

MR TONER: That’s correct.


MR TONER: We’ve asked so far.

QUESTION: Yeah. So what I don’t – I continue to not understand how there could have been a conversation between someone and their manager that concludes that a request has come from a place of sufficient credibility and authority from the bureau they work in that they should do this, but that they have no other recollection of anything about the call – the gender of the person who called. Do you know the gender of the person who called? Because that would cut your list of suspects in half.

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: Do you know the gender? Do they remember the gender?

MR TONER: Again, it was a secondhand call. Somebody was conveying this. And we do know that, and I’m not --

QUESTION: Right. So they – do they know the gender of the person who called?

MR TONER: And we do know that, and I’m not going to share that.

QUESTION: Okay. So – no, that’s – okay. I mean, it’s not very transparent of you, right? But then you have eliminated half the potential people --

MR TONER: I understand that.

QUESTION: -- who made the call, and that makes it easier for you to find out, well, gee, who actually made the call and then who told them to make the call.

MR TONER: And let’s be very clear, when we’re talking about transparency, I’m not going to get up here and reveal to you from this podium every detail of what is an internal, albeit by our legal office, an internal investigation into what happened. I’m under no obligation to do that, and that’s out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved. What I am obligated to do is to explain to you, and I think John did as well yesterday, that we realize that this was an intentional action, we’ve taken steps to address it, we’ve investigated the incident as far as we can take it at this point in time, and we’re taking steps to correct that this incident – that a similar incident doesn’t happen in the future.

QUESTION: And do you know the identity of the person who placed the call, relaying the message from the place where it originated?

MR TONER: No, we’ve not been able to clarify that either.

QUESTION: Sorry, Mark, you may not have an obligation, but apparently there was no obligation before yesterday not to mess around with the video transcript, so – or the video. So I just – in the interest of transparency, in the interest of trying to set this aside, why not reveal the details of what the legal adviser found beyond what you have already done, or is that it? Is that all that they know?

MR TONER: That’s more or less it – right.

QUESTION: Because it doesn’t seem like that’s very – it doesn’t seem like a very thorough investigation. Well, someone got a phone call passing on a request from someone else and that’s the end of it – that doesn’t sound like – anyway. Can you at least tell us what the new policy is specifically?

MR TONER: I can --

QUESTION: Like what does this email that Kirby sent around today say --


QUESTION: -- in terms of what the regulation is? Thou shalt not edit --

MR TONER: (Laughter.) I mean, thou shalt not – fair point. I don’t have it in front of me, but --

QUESTION: Okay, can we get it?

MR TONER: Yeah, of course, I can get you – I can get you the text. I mean, we’re going to make clear that all video and transcripts from daily press briefings need to be immediately and permanently archived in their entirety and that --

QUESTION: Including anything with glitches like audio or video glitches?


QUESTION: So it will be naked, unedited?

MR TONER: Unedited and naked, if you will.

QUESTION: Can I – can I make a point about the edit --

QUESTION: Well, wait. Wait, can you finish that --

MR TONER: No, no, I’m just saying in the unlikely event that narrow, I don’t know, compelling circumstances that require edits be made, like the inadvertent release of privacy-protected information – just as an example – that that would only be made with the express permission of the assistant secretary and with an --

QUESTION: So any edit at all has to go through the assistant secretary?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s what Kirby said yesterday.

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: But he also said yesterday, if I’m not mistaken, that it would be annotated so that the omission was noted?

MR TONER: That’s correct, yeah. I was just going to get to that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does that policy also apply to the transcripts, State Department transcripts? And I do not want anybody to think that I have anything but the highest regard for the transcribers, but --

MR TONER: No, no, I – and I – that should already be the case.

QUESTION: Well, but it should have been the case that --

MR TONER: We always asterisk if we do a – if we do an annotated – an annotation to the transcript, of the written transcript.

QUESTION: It pains me to ask the question --


QUESTION: -- but it should have already been the case that tampering with the video violated a rule, but it didn’t until yesterday. So are there going to be similar rules regarding the transcripts?


QUESTION: For all State Department officials who speak on the record, including in the briefing?

MR TONER: Yes. And there should be.

QUESTION: And you will annotate any changes to the actual spoken word, as transcribed?


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So one point I have to make and a question I had about the edits--

QUESTION: I’m sorry, is that in the latest email? Is that in his latest thing?

MR TONER: I’ll double-check on that.


MR TONER: This may just pertain to video, but that’s a fair question. I’ll check.


QUESTION: Okay. So one question is the edit itself was – anybody who’s looked at video could see that it was a flash edit. It wasn’t – it in no way resembled a technical malfunction. In fact, it resembled experienced editing. So why then – the question is: Why then was it initially called a technical glitch, when, in fact, it just didn’t appear to be that at all? What – where did that come from?

MR TONER: Look, so what I’ll say to that is I’m not sure that as a layman I would have been able to say that it was a professionally done editing job or a glitch.

QUESTION: Well, that’s not – frankly, that’s not plausible.

MR TONER: I’m just saying – I’m just saying, so understand that we’re all not broadcast experienced press officers here at the State Department. That said, we did recognize, Justin, very shortly after that initial response, that it clearly was. And we were told that internally. And so we corrected ourselves once we found that out.

QUESTION: Not only do I not find that plausible, but I also don’t find it plausible that the technician, as Arshad mentioned, does not remember who gave this order. Did anybody ask the technician if this was the only time she had been asked to edit a video, or was this a standalone, one-time deal?

MR TONER: My understanding is it was a standalone request.

QUESTION: Okay. Which they would remember doing, but not remembering who gave the order. Do you have any reason to believe that it was the then-spokesperson, Jen Psaki, who ordered the edit or have you ruled her out?

MR TONER: So Jen has – Jen Psaki has gone out publicly --

QUESTION: I’ve heard, yeah. I’ve seen that.

MR TONER: -- and said that she had nothing to do – no knowledge of this and nothing to do with this incident. Jen Psaki is a highly regarded professional and colleague, and I take her at her word.

QUESTION: And last one for me. Do you find it necessary maybe to do – for the Press Office to do its own investigation, or are you totally satisfied with the legal office’s own investigation of this? I mean, if anybody would know --


QUESTION: -- it would – I would think it would be you all.

MR TONER: Sure. I mean, what we did was we specifically picked the legal office to do this because we didn’t want – we wanted an objective and unaffiliated body to look at the incident. And that’s what they were able to do. As to your questions about what this person knew or what they didn’t know, ultimately we have to take them at their word, that they don’t remember who gave them the order. And as I said, if we come across more information that sheds light on that, we’ll certainly pursue it.

QUESTION: Did you ever consider punishing the technician?

MR TONER: We have not, no.

QUESTION: And why not?

MR TONER: Well, again, because they were simply carrying out an order and they were not violating any existing regulations at the time.

QUESTION: So you’re told. I mean, you’re taking their word for it that they were carrying out an order.

MR TONER: We are.

QUESTION: And you have no proof of that.

MR TONER: We are.

QUESTION: Mark, I just --

QUESTION: Look, (inaudible).

QUESTION: You probably answered this before.

MR TONER: Independently. Please.

QUESTION: But did you say that that’s the only time this happened? Was that – like it’s (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Well, I mean, Kirby spoke to this yesterday. We have no – well, I don’t want to say we have no capability, but unless you wanted us all to simply spend all of our time going through every --

QUESTION: Right. I mean, to the best of your knowledge, that’s the only time?

MR TONER: No, right.

QUESTION: And also a clarification. You probably talked about it before when you explained it. Was that immediately after – I mean, the day after, the day following? When did this happen?

MR TONER: I’m sorry, what --

QUESTION: When was it excised? When the – when was it edited?

MR TONER: We believe it was the day of.

QUESTION: The day of.

MR TONER: And in terms of our knowledge – to our knowledge, it has not happened before or since. But we have no way of answering that definitively, because we just don’t have the manpower or the technology to go back and look at every videotape.

QUESTION: You don’t have the what?


QUESTION: I mean, you might not have the manpower, but you certainly have the technology, right?

MR TONER: I mean, we – well, I mean, yes.

QUESTION: I mean --

MR TONER: We have YouTube.

QUESTION: If you want to spend like five weekends looking through --


QUESTION: I mean, that’s not – was there any thought given --

MR TONER: I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Sorry. Was there any thought – you just said you wanted an independent and objective, impartial look at this, and you went to the legal adviser. Why not the IG?

MR TONER: IG doesn’t really do this. We talked about that, actually.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR TONER: And they don’t really do this.

QUESTION: Yesterday?

MR TONER: I mean, they do broader investigations.

QUESTION: You say that the person who originally ordered this cut didn’t break any existing regulations at the time.


QUESTION: You’ve now – you’ve since asked a lot of people whether they did it. They’ve all said no. If they were lying, would that be a breach of regulations?

MR TONER: That’s --

QUESTION: To lie to this inquiry.

MR TONER: I mean, that’s highly --

QUESTION: I mean, they’re weren’t under oath, but they --

MR TONER: I mean, it’s a hypothetical.

QUESTION: They have a duty of honor.

QUESTION: Well, that’s a reasonable question.


QUESTION: Does the State Department have a rule against people lying to its own internal inquiries? Because if it doesn’t, apparently it’s a-okay to lie and maybe somebody will write a policy the first time you catch somebody doing it. So I mean, I think that’s a very reasonable question. Do you have a policy against lying?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I mean, I can’t answer that definitively, that we --


MR TONER: I assume we do, but I don’t --

QUESTION: In the opinion of your office, is it – is the person honor-bound to come forward? Enough time has been wasted, the person who ordered it knows they did it; do they have a duty to stop wasting everyone’s time?

MR TONER: If somebody wants to come forward with that, then we would welcome that, obviously.

QUESTION: But do they have a – are they honor-bound to do so? Is it the honest thing to do?

MR TONER: I mean, certainly, it’s the ethical thing to do. But – but --

QUESTION: Is the legal office an unaffiliated body? You said it was an unaffiliated --

MR TONER: Yes, it is. I mean, it’s not connected to the Public Affairs – I mean, it’s obviously a State Department office, but they were able in this particular instance to play an objective role.

QUESTION: Why not do a truly independent investigation though, like bring in an outside counsel? Often companies, when they have issues, and sometimes they ask for a general counsel to investigate things. Other times they decide – and I realize it costs money --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- that you should have an independent law firm come in and figure out what happened, because there are no relationships, no conflicts of interest, no – people are not all reporting --

MR TONER: Understood.

QUESTION: -- up to the Secretary of State.

MR TONER: Understood. We believe in this instance that the legal office was able to carry out an objective investigation.

QUESTION: Mark, how many people work for the Bureau of Public Affairs here?

MR TONER: I knew you were going to ask me a hard question like that. (Laughter.) I’ll get the --

QUESTION: That seems to be pretty easy.

MR TONER: I know. I should know that off the top of my head. I’m going to casually look over here and ask Elizabeth.

MS TRUDEAU: About 300.

MR TONER: 300.

QUESTION: Have you interviewed all 300 of those individuals?

MR TONER: No, we have not.

QUESTION: And why not?

MR TONER: Again, I mean, they’re all aware of the incident. And if they, as David offered --

QUESTION: They read the paper the next --

MR TONER: -- if they wanted to put – step forward – no, we only actually focused the investigation on those who would have been involved, and that is the people in the Office of Video Services.

QUESTION: And you’re confident that it was someone from the Bureau of Public Affairs that made this request?

MR TONER: That’s our – again, recognizing that we only have the testimony of one person to go by, that is our understanding that that request came from elsewhere in the Bureau of Public Affairs. Correct.

QUESTION: And you only looked at the Office of Video Services? You didn’t ask people outside like in the PA --

MR TONER: No, no, we did. As we --

QUESTION: Did you ask people in the PA front office --


QUESTION: -- which is where authority is vested for PA’s running, right?

MR TONER: Well, it’s a different front office now, but yes.

QUESTION: No, no, I got that.

MR TONER: All these conversations were had, yes.

QUESTION: Following up on an earlier question that Arshad asked --


QUESTION: -- couldn’t you call the telephone company to figure out the records?

MR TONER: I’m not sure.

QUESTION: You said you would take --

QUESTION: How are you not sure?

MR TONER: I can look into it, but I’m not – okay.

QUESTION: You said you would take the question about whether --

MR TONER: I will. I will take the question.

QUESTION: Whether the telephone company was called? Is that the question?

MR TONER: Whether we have records of phone – phone records. I’m not --

QUESTION: And whether you tried to find them for this – it’s one day. You know the date.

MR TONER: I’m aware.

QUESTION: Given the inconclusive nature of the investigation by you and the Office of the Legal Adviser, why wasn’t this matter referred to the State Department’s Office of Inspector General?

MR TONER: Well, I just tried to answer this to Matt. The Inspector General’s Office has a little bit of a different writ, if you will, and looks at broader issues or institutional processes. I mean, it does audits of embassies, it does audits of programs, it does audits – this is a specific incident.


MR TONER: Now --

QUESTION: It doesn’t do email as well?

MR TONER: Yeah. But I mean – no, I mean, but in all honesty, we felt like this was a little too specific for their purview.

QUESTION: Couldn’t his office choose to take it up, though? It’s not just things you refer to him.

MR TONER: I’m – I suppose they could, yeah.

QUESTION: Harf, Marie Harf. Did you ask her, as long as we’re checking off names here?

MR TONER: Marie, and – yes, and she said she also had no knowledge of this and certainly wouldn’t have condoned it.

QUESTION: And finally, yesterday you stated that – or excuse me, Admiral Kirby stated that both Ms. Nuland and Ms. Psaki did their jobs, quote, “credibly, honestly, and with integrity” on the relevant days in question. Given that it is the universal conclusion that one of those briefers spoke falsely from the podium on one of those days, it seems appropriate to ask you for the purposes of the record the same question Ms. Psaki was asked, quote: Is it the policy of the State Department where the preservation of the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned to lie to achieve that goal? Because only if you could answer “yes” could you come to the conclusions you have about the job done by Ms. Nuland on that day.

MR TONER: No, I mean, I think if you ask Ms. Nuland, Toria – and certainly we have, and I’ve spoken with her personally about it – she had no knowledge at that date that we were conducting bilateral talks with Iran. And if you extrapolate or go forward in time to Jen Psaki’s comments on that date, she was simply stating that sometimes negotiations – or, rather, diplomacy needs a level of secrecy. She wasn’t condoning --

QUESTION: But that wasn’t the false statement.

MR TONER: It wasn’t a false statement.

QUESTION: Right, it was Ms. Nuland’s statement that was false --

MR TONER: And I said she had no knowledge at the time that she made that comment that there were, in fact, negotiations going on with Iran.

QUESTION: But if she had no knowledge, why would she say they’re not going on? Isn’t proving a negative a little difficult?

MR TONER: Because she was speaking on what she knew. I mean – if – I mean, pick a issue. If you’d asked me what – I would certainly – I wouldn’t offer that it was possibly happening if I – to the best of my knowledge I believed it wasn’t, and that was her starting point.

QUESTION: Couldn’t she say, “I’ll find out?”

MR TONER: Look --

QUESTION: Can I ask to --

MR TONER: -- I’ll let my statement stand.

QUESTION: Can I ask to clarify one important point here? You basically said your rule – you ruled out that the White House was involved, yet you have no idea who made the order. How do you rule out the White House?

MR TONER: I mean, look, Justin – I mean, we’ve taken it to the level that we’ve pursued this.

QUESTION: But you can’t rule out the – look, the --

MR TONER: I can’t rule out the --

QUESTION: You can’t rule out the White House. Is that correct?

MR TONER: I mean, I can’t rule out categorically that --

QUESTION: Santa Claus?

MR TONER: -- Santa Claus didn’t call and order it.

QUESTION: Or the White House.

MR TONER: I mean --

QUESTION: You would agree with that statement?

MR TONER: I just can’t definitively say that anyone – what – I mean, all we know and all I have shared --

QUESTION: Right. Well, that’s why I’m asking, because you kind of – yeah. I was just asking for clarification.

MR TONER: And I – no, but I’m not --

QUESTION: Can’t you say you’ll find out?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, are you interested in finding out, or is it just – this is – it is a done deal? I mean, is it just now you’re going to treat it as water under the bridge? I don’t understand why you’re satisfied with the legal adviser’s investigation that stopped with the person who actually just did it and on instruction from someone else, and you don’t – doesn’t go any higher.

MR TONER: I mean, we’ve hit a dead end. Arshad’s point notwithstanding that we could maybe unearth phone records and pursue that – I don’t know if that’s even viable. But we’ve hit a dead end, and we’re not an autocratic government that can force someone to say what we’ve – what they’ve already offered. We – this is – this was a civil conversation with --

QUESTION: Right. Waterboarding is out of the question, I assume. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And Mark, one of the reasons I ask about the White House is because it’s important to note that Ben Rhodes has been sort of accused of trying to manipulate the press on the whole scope of the Iran negotiation. So I’d ask you this: Did you ask Ben Rhodes if he was – if he made the call to edit the tape?

MR TONER: We, as we often do, have talked to our colleagues in the White House and the NSC about this and about a lot of issues. And look, I mean, that’s a huge conclusion to jump to. We are at this point satisfied that this came with – from within the bureau. We don’t have any indication to believe that it came from outside the Public Affairs Bureau. If we get an indication that that was the case, then we’ll pursue that. But at this point we don’t have that, so all we’re doing based on that knowledge is taking steps, moving forward to put in place procedures and regulations that will keep this from happening in the future.

QUESTION: Mark, are all --

QUESTION: And can I just – can I just repeat my appeal – my plea for the --


QUESTION: -- to get the new guidance, the new regulation?

MR TONER: Of course, yeah. I think we can share that.

QUESTION: Mark, are all of your talking points here at the State Department scrubbed by the White House when it comes to the subject of Iran?

MR TONER: No. No, but we often share with them, I mean, and they share theirs with ours. We often talk about – whether it’s Iran or any issue, as much as possible we try to share information.

QUESTION: Is it just a coincidence that this particular exchange between my colleague James Rosen and Jen Psaki was on the subject of Iran?

MR TONER: Oh, I have no idea whether it’s coincidental or not. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: One more thing on this.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, it is the Telecommunications and Wireless and Data Services Division of the IRM Bureau that is responsible for – or maybe IRM is a subset of another bureau – but that is responsible for – but I thought they were their own – is responsible for telecoms for the department. Do you know if the Legal Adviser’s Office went to IRM to say, “Hey, do we have these records?”

MR TONER: I don’t. I’ll have to check.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you take that one?


QUESTION: And then also if you can see if there are records – I mean, it may be they don’t keep them for three years. I have no idea. Maybe they keep them for five, maybe they keep them for six months. I don’t know. But if you can check how long they keep records if they keep them.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

QUESTION: Wait, I’ve just got – I just want to make sure I got this from yesterday and also from today, and that is the conclusion that you have reached based on the limited investigation that has been completed so far is that this stuff was deliberately removed or edited out because of what the content was; is that correct?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) was too long.

MR TONER: Given --

QUESTION: Based on what you know --

MR TONER: Based on what we know, yes, that is accurate.


MR TONER: Because it was a particular piece of the – of the video that was removed, a particular exchange.

QUESTION: And because of that you have reached the – there is no other reason that you have reached that conclusion? The only reason that you’ve reached that conclusion is that it’s just that one part?

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: And do you think, or is there a sense in the building, that what was said in that edited portion was somehow embarrassing or incorrect or --

MR TONER: No. And in fact, I mean, so two points on that. One is even though that portion was excised or edited, it was always available on DVIDS, the digital --

QUESTION: Right. Which makes it – which would --

MR TONER: The Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System. So --

QUESTION: Which would make it – if it was an attempt to hide something – a particularly inept attempt.

MR TONER: Precisely.


MR TONER: Which --

QUESTION: And really kind of stupid. So --

MR TONER: And secondly – and secondly, we didn’t view the exchange to be all that sensitive.

QUESTION: Precisely. I was sitting here in this same seat when it happened, and I didn’t think much of it at the time. So I don’t understand --

MR TONER: So what that begs the question is the rationale behind this, and I just don’t have a good answer for you, Matt. I just don’t.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Can we move on?


QUESTION: Can we please move on? Syria? We’ve (inaudible) --

MR TONER: Yes. Syria, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, a little less dramatic though. (Laughter.)

MR TONER: How sad that Syria is less dramatic.

QUESTION: Can you update us on the aid situation on --

MR TONER: I can. So yesterday, as many of you saw, the United Nations, the ICRC, and the Syrian Red Crescent did deliver some badly needed humanitarian assistance to Darayya as well Moadamiyeh. We have seen, however, reports that a full food shipment to Darayya that was anticipated for today did not move ahead[1]. This is unconscionable, and we expect the regime to live up to its deal to allow full delivery to go forward.

QUESTION: So it did not move ahead – it was blocked?

MR TONER: It was blocked. Yes, that’s our understanding.

QUESTION: So it continues to be blocked. What is your contingency plan or – you have agreed to do perhaps some airdrops or something like this.

MR TONER: Right. So --

QUESTION: So what is next?

MR TONER: So a couple of points to make on that. First, we look to Russia to exert influence on the regime to live up to the arrangement that it agreed to, because ground delivery does remain the best means to provide this kind of assistance to these besieged communities. And recent deliveries are far from sufficient to provide relief to the hundreds of thousands of people who have not received any relief in years. I think Darayya was 2012.


MR TONER: Yeah. So – but at the same time, we are actually – and I believe the UN is meeting on this later today, but we do support the World Food Program moving forward on logistics on how to carry out air operations to provide humanitarian assistance by air. They have looked at – they are looking at a number of approaches. They’ve tried this in the past. It’s just a very inefficient way to do it, and it would also have to be under – or with the permission of the Syrian Air Force. So there are some logistical hurdles to overcome if we do decide to move to air drops.

QUESTION: My last question.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: If the Syrian Government allows these shipments to go through and so on, would that be an incentive to get the talk moving immediately or going right away?

MR TONER: Well, we’ve long said there should be no preconditions to the talks moving forward. But this simple follow-through on allowing humanitarian assistance to reach these besieged communities would be, frankly, an easy way for the regime to send a message to the opposition and to the international community that it is willing to do the right thing.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: Do you know --

MR TONER: You and then --

QUESTION: The Syria issue.

MR TONER: Yeah, but she had her hand up --

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

MR TONER: Oh, okay. I’ll do – go to Syria --

QUESTION: Just to clarify – I mean, do you have a specific number quantitatively what is the size of this humanitarian aid and what is – in compared to whole thing – I mean, like, is it 25 percent of the – or 50 percent or 40 percent of what you are trying to do? And then you are going to the – I mean, the aid, humanitarian aid targeting what, how many people?

MR TONER: You’re talking about – you’re – the first --

QUESTION: Today’s – whatever (inaudible).

MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, the first question you asked, you’re talking about --

QUESTION: What is the size of this humanitarian aid?

MR TONER: You mean what is the size that we’ve been able to deliver thus far?


MR TONER: Yeah. I did have that in here, but I don’t seem to have it in my – what was delivered yesterday. I don’t have it in front of me. What was your second question, if I can answer that?

QUESTION: And the second question, another number, which is the – those who are going to be affected by this aid, humanitarian aid: 100,000 people, 40,000 people?

MR TONER: Well, it’s hundreds of thousands. And if you group in all of the besieged areas, I believe it’s in the hundreds of thousands of people. But let me get you those numbers, okay, in terms of what needed to be delivered and where or what was delivered. What are you asking for? What we did – what has been delivered thus far?


MR TONER: Yeah, we can get that for you. But that’s also – I can also refer you to the UN. They’re the ones who obviously are --


MR TONER: -- overseeing this process.

Please. Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Afghanistan. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Pentagon released the heavily redacted results of its internal investigation into a night raid in Afghanistan in 2010 in Gardez, which killed seven people, including two pregnant women. The U.S. military had already apologized for that raid, but the internal investigation concluded that although, quote, “tactical mistakes were made, the soldiers acted within their rights, followed standard operating procedure,” so no one involved in that raid faced disciplinary measures or anything. I understand you will probably not comment – not speak to the details of this specific incident, but what should countries hosting U.S. soldiers expect when even with apologies, there is little to no accountability when things go terribly wrong? In other words, can other countries really expect justice from the U.S. military’s internal investigations?

MR TONER: Well, a couple of thoughts – and again, not having in front of me the specific report or incident that you’re referring to, and I would have to refer you to the Department of Defense to really talk about the details of that incident. But generally speaking – and I think we talked about this, frankly, in light of another tragedy, which was the attack on the hospital in Helmand a few months ago, and --


MR TONER: Kunduz. Did I say Helmand? I apologize. Kunduz, thank you. But the fact that we carried out very rigorous internal investigations into that incident that did hold individuals accountable – again, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to specifically what actions were taken, but it was career-ending for many of the – or some of the military officers involved in that incident, to my understanding. But I think generally speaking the U.S. military holds itself accountable for its actions, and if there are credible allegations of either abuses or mistakes on the battlefield, that we carry out very stringent investigations looking at culpability.

QUESTION: Well, there are credible allegations the U.S. soldiers tried to cover up the killing of the women in Gardez, but the witnesses’ accounts apparently had no effect on the results of the investigation. Do you think internal investigations are appropriate when it comes to horrible incidents like that night raid in Gardez?

MR TONER: I would say that the U.S. military does have a system in place that allows it to credibly investigate the actions of its personnel overseas – well, overseas and in the United States as well, but on the battlefield. And I don't have the specifics of this incident in front of me, so I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: And would the U.S. welcome an independent investigation by perhaps an international body into this night raid in Gardez, in Afghanistan?

MR TONER: Without knowing the specifics, I’m just not – it sounds like an investigation was carried out by the U.S. military. I’d have to refer you to them to speak to whether an additional investigation would be warranted.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever welcomed an international independent investigation into an incident that involved the military overseas?

MR TONER: I – off the top of my head, I can’t speak to one or I don’t have one on the tip of my fingertips. But again, I’ll reiterate the fact that our internal investigatory services are second to none, and we do hold people accountable.

QUESTION: Except for the video.

MR TONER: Yeah, right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, that’s only going to make it --

MR TONER: I’m talking about the U.S. --


MR TONER: I’m talking about the U.S. military.

QUESTION: Maybe you should give the briefing video thing over to the Pentagon --

MR TONER: I’m talking about the U.S military.

QUESTION: -- if you have such confidence in their investigations, no?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) DVIDS.


MR TONER: India.

QUESTION: If I may, with your permission, before my question on India, can we go back quickly on terror report please? He mentioned about two things – one, foreign fighters and foreign donations. Who is providing?

MR TONER: Who’s providing foreign donations or foreign fighters? I --



QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR TONER: Look, I mean, in terms of foreign fighters, we’ve talked about this a lot. These – many of these individuals are recruited through social media. He spoke a little bit about that. It’s something we need to address through countering violent extremism efforts – extremism, rather – or efforts to counter violent extremism. And we’re working with governments around the world to accelerate those efforts. But in terms of financing or funding, there’s a variety of sources of funding for groups like ISIL, for example. And one of the efforts – the counter-ISIL efforts that we’ve had success with in the past six months has been really hitting those sources of funding, whether it’s oil wells, whether it’s money laundering, whatever, but being able to dry up the sources of it that it uses for its financing.

QUESTION: And finally --


QUESTION: -- as far as Prime Minister Modi’s visit and U.S. and India relations are concerned, so much has been going on in town about his visit next week. What role do you think this building or diplomacy is playing as far as Prime Minister Modi’s visit next week in the White House, in Washington? I mean, is there any functions here or Secretary hosting any functions for him or to hosting him?

MR TONER: Well, I don't have anything to announce yet. Certainly, the Secretary will be involved with Prime Minister Modi’s visit. I can imagine there will be meetings at some level here at the State Department and perhaps some events. I just don’t have anything to announce at this point in time.

But obviously, we’re very much looking forward to Prime Minister Modi’s visit. The U.S.-Indian relationship is of incredible significance, not only to the region but to the world. We have a broad bilateral and multilateral relationship with India and look forward to engaging on all those issues.

QUESTION: And Mark, finally, this may be the last visit of Prime Minister Modi under this Administration. Anything new we are expecting? Because Modi – Prime Minister Modi will be there, still the prime minister of India, but maybe not this Administration.

MR TONER: I mean, again, I don't have anything to preview today. As we get closer to the visit, perhaps we will. But the breadth of the U.S.-Indian relationship is wide. As we mentioned earlier, it addresses security; it’s got a strong economic component. We’re looking to build closer relationships across the board with India, because we see it as a vital partner in the region.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR TONER: That’s it?

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR TONER: Thanks guys.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

DPB # 95

[1] This aid delivery is actually anticipated for tomorrow, June 3.

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Categories: News Pit Feeds

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

Wed, 06/01/2016 - 18:35

John Kirby
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 1, 2016

Share Index for Today's Briefing


2:45 p.m. EDT

MR KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Sorry for the delay coming out today.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR KIRBY: Did somebody say it was okay?


MR KIRBY: All right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry. I’m cutting into your nap time, Said, and I apologize for that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m an insomniac (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: The early bird special starts soon. I know we’ve got to get you there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) insomnia. I don’t even – (laughter).

MR KIRBY: I just want to – a quick note at the top on Syria. The United States is pleased to see that the United Nations, the ICRC, and the Syrian Red Crescent have confirmed the ground delivery of some humanitarian assistance to Darayya and Mouadhimiyeh this morning – and I apologize if I didn’t get that right.

QUESTION: Mouadhimiyeh.

MR KIRBY: Mouadhimiyeh. Ground delivery remains the most effective means to providing aid to all besieged communities. We’ve said that before. While this delivery today is an important step, it is far from sufficient to providing the kind of relief to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian people who are in need – who need, frankly, sustained and regular access to aid.

So per the meeting in Vienna two weeks ago of the International Syria Suppo